Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Get These Things Out Of Your Purse Or Wallet Now!

Your wallet can easily become cluttered with loyalty cards, coupons, cash, checks, store credit cards, and a host of identification cards. Not only is an over-stuffed wallet a hassle to carry, it may make identity theft easier.

Give your purse or wallet a good once over. Look for things you don’t regularly need, and take them out! Some things should never be in your purse or wallet. If you see these items as you’re trimming down your daily carry, take them out immediately.

1.) Your Social Security card 
It’s easy enough to stuff the card into your wallet when you need it for identification and then forget about it.

That could be a big mistake. Thieves can use your original Social Security card to apply for all kinds of unsecured debt in your name. Canceling your Social Security number and getting a new one is a complicated, time-consuming process, and you may be liable for fraud as you do so.

Keep yourself safe, and get the card out of your wallet! Put it in a secure location in your home, like a safety lock box.

2.) Receipts 
This is by far the easiest way to accumulate paper in your wallet. You never know which might be needed later and you stick them all into your wallet. Before you know it, you’ve got a novel-sized stack of transactions.

This could be serious trouble if your purse or wallet is ever stolen or lost. Thieves can use the last four digits of your credit card number on a receipt to build a profile of your purchases, and can fish for more information with a merchant who has the card on file, like a cable company or an online retailer.

Think about going paperless. Turn your phone into a digital file box. Information can be encrypted to keep it out of the hands of malicious people, but still accessible to you if you need to check a purchase.

3.) Tons of credit cards 
Every store offers its own card and incentives. Those cards can really add up. Tack on an extra couple of cards for gas purchases, everyday expenses, and work-related stuff and you could easily end up with a wallet or purse full of plastic.

If your wallet or purse is stolen, each one of those cards has to be canceled individually. Forgetting even one can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Thin your collection down to the one or two you use regularly. Look for those that can be widely used, provide the lowest fees and best acceptance rates. Put the rest of them into a safe place at home, using them only when you need them.

Once you’re down to your top cards, make a list of their numbers and the steps you’d need to take to cancel them if necessary.

The Digital Age has made having all but the most necessary of physical items completely obsolete, and has also made it easier than ever to keep your world clean, neat, and organized. Make it a priority to clean out your purse or wallet to keep your personal information secure.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Charging Ahead: Five Ways to Build Credit

You've got to give yourself some credit. Literally. Fewer than half of Americans use a credit card, and having a financial clean slate could mess things up when they want to get a house or a loan. Build your credit with the following tips:

1. Check your credit score(s). 
Get a free report at annualcreditreport.com and check for correct addresses and bank accounts.

U.S. law entitles you to a free report every year, but because creditors report to three bureaus, credit counselors recommend you pull a copy from each bureau every four months.

2. Monitor your plastic. 
If you're in college and living off ramen noodles, you might not need a credit card yet. These cards are not for supplementing income. You want to build credit so you can buy a house or buy a car later on. If you sign up for a credit card, put something small on it each month like gas for your car, and get into the habit of paying it off right away.

If you already have a credit card and want another, be discerning. You don’t want to open up more lines of credit than you can handle. 

3. Pay on time. 
Start healthy repayment habits now to entice future lenders. Paying for rent, your cell and utilities won't build credit, but not paying on time can ruin it. Good habits will get you what you want later in life.

Budgeting can also help. Aim to spend no more than 29 percent of your income on housing and 35 to 38 percent on your whole household budget, which includes food, car insurance and health care.

4. Care for the credit you have. 
Most states let you do a security freeze on your credit to prevent identity theft, which prevents people from opening new accounts without your knowledge. Do this. Such freezes typically cost $10 or less for all three agencies that track your credit, so skip the expensive companies.

5. Watch your credit limits. 
You don't want to use more than 30 to 50 percent of your available credit. This means if you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit, you shouldn't use your card for more than $500 each month. If you go over, creditors see you as mismanaging your credit because you over-obligate yourself. That shiny new smart phone will have to wait until next month.

In short, as long as you pay off your credit cards on time and in full you're on the right track -- and your scores will reflect that behavior in a positive way. Need help understanding your credit report? Community Financial is here to help and will provide a free credit review. Simply visit a branch near you or call (877) 937-2328.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Holiday Budgeting Lessons for Parents

The holiday shopping season is in full swing. Offers and promotions from retailers are probably flooding your inbox, and your physical mailbox is getting overloaded with catalogs from shops you haven’t bought anything from in years, if ever.

If you’re wondering how you’re going to pay for this frenzy of shopping while keeping your checking account in the black, you’re not alone.

According a T. Rowe Price survey, more than half of parents will aim to get everything on their kids’ wish lists this year, spending an average of $422 per child. Many of these parents will be paying for these gifts for months, or even years, afterward. But what’s a busted budget next to holiday cheer, right?

Of course, before approaching any large-cost event, it’s smart to create a budget. Unfortunately, 58% of the parents surveyed admitted that they thought they had created a budget, but didn’t stick to it. Nearly two-thirds admit they spend more than they can afford.

Short-term effects 
Tipping your budget just a bit every once in a while isn’t a disaster. You can plan to spend less the next month or pay off your debt with an expected surplus of funds. But the spending hangover some parents can face from their holiday shopping is too large to be easily forgotten.

Over half the parents surveyed will pay for their holiday gifts with credit cards. Just 61% of them plan to pay off their spending within three months, and 16% say they will pay it off over the course of six months or more. That’s half a year spent catching up on holiday spending!

Think carefully this shopping season before you drop another item into your cart. Is this gift really worth trimming your budget for the next three – or six – months?

Long-lasting effects 
Even more alarming than paying off holiday debt for half a year is the one-quarter of the parents who have taken extreme measures to fund their purchases: 11% have used money from their retirement accounts, 14% have taken funds out of their emergency savings and 11% have taken out a payday loan. While their kids may be delighted with their loot, parents can be paying for it for longer than they think.

Taking $500 out of a 401(k) at age 35 translates into giving up $6,000 that was earmarked for retirement. Parents are forking out additional taxes and penalties to gain access to the money, and are also losing the opportunity for that money to grow.

Life Lessons 
There’s nothing quite as exciting as unwrapping a present. Kids wait all year for the holidays and as their parents, you want to make them happy. This is why 60% of the parents surveyed claimed they try to check off every single item on their child’s wish list.

Aside from the financial drain, purchasing every gift your kids have their hearts set on teaches them a host of lessons they’re better off without. Do you really want your kids thinking they can always have everything they want? Do you want them to feel that everything they own must always be the best and most expensive?

This holiday season, teach your kids that true happiness can’t be bought.

Be proactive 
You can beat the budget-busting this season by saving up for the holiday season throughout the year. While it may be too late for this year, it’s never too early to start thinking about next season! Just a little bit of money put aside each month can take you through the holiday season without any long-lasting scars.

Be an informed shopper this holiday season and your decisions will pay off in more ways than one.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Warming Hearts & Homes is Back. You Click and We Donate!

Community Financial Credit Union is excited to kick off the holiday season with the return of our 5th annual Warming Hearts & Homes charitable campaign!

Throughout the month of December, Community Financial will donate up to $40,000 to local nonprofit organizations that provide heat, food, shelter and clothing to low-income families.

The winter months can put an extra strain on some families, forcing them to choose between paying utilities and putting food on the table.

That’s why the Warming Hearts & Home program was created and why Community Financial remains dedicated to supporting the fight against cold and hunger in Michigan this winter. As a member of our community, you’re invited to participate in this year’s campaign by getting social with us!

HERE'S HOW YOU CAN HELP 

  • Like or share our Facebook posts – @Community Financial 
  • Like or retweet our posts on Twitter – @cfcreditunion #CFCUwarms 
  • Like our pictures on Instagram – @communityfinancial 

Giving back to your community has never been easier! Each week in December we will make social media posts about the different organizations below. Each Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram interaction equals a $25 donation to help the following:

Community Relations Manager Natalie McLaughlin said this is one of her favorite annual giving campaigns that Community Financial runs.

“Warming Hearts & Homes is an easy way for people to get involved and help others in their local communities. Each winter, local families are faced with challenges. Through this campaign, Community Financial is honored to help the community face the cold with heat for their homes, coats for their children, safe shelter and food.”

To learn more about the Warming Hearts & Homes Campaign visit www.cfcu.org/warms. Together we can make a difference in our communities this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Staying Healthy When You're Broke and Hungry

News flash: If you're still buying unhealthy pizzas and burgers instead of salmon and veggies because you think it's too expensive, you're wrong. In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that it only costs $1.50 more per day to eat what's considered to be the "healthiest" diet -- one rich in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins -- than it costs to eat the "unhealthiest" one.

And now that your financial excuses are gone, here are 3 easy tips to make your diet a little healthier without shelling out extra cash.

1. Don't Pay for Convenience 
While premade foods like hamburger patties, shaved parmesan cheese and fruit salads can be a life-saver when you agreed to bring a dish to a party but got too caught up with class/work/life to actually make something, they have no business being in your healthy, cost-effective kitchen.

 For example, it takes five minutes to wash and chop a $2 head of romaine lettuce that can make a week's worth of salads. Prepackaged salads will easily cost double that.

 An easy way to combine convenience and health without the extra cost is to start meal prepping. Spend a few hours on a Sunday chopping your fruits, vegetables and cooking meats so that you won't be tempted to pay for that $6.99-per-pound salad bar in the middle of the week. Need inspiration? Check out some of these tips to get started.

 2. The Freezer is Your Friend 
Decent-quality meat is expensive. Like, really expensive. But it can often be the easiest way to incorporate healthy proteins into your diet (hello, crock pot meals). Learn when your grocery store runs its weekly sales and buy meat in bulk.

 This rule doesn't just go for meat. Consider buying fruit in bulk and keeping the extras in the freezer to use at a later date.

 Wondering how long something will keep in the freezer? Save this infographic from Huffington Post so you never have to wonder -- or waste food -- again.

 3. Buy in Bulk But be Smart About It 
So when you buy food in bulk, it's important to only buy things that you know you’ll use, or that have a long shelf life. Look for places that sell loose, unbranded options for kitchen staples, like a bulk-food store. Some good things to stock up on are steel-cut oats, nuts, dried fruits, meats and spices. 

Still looking for some healthy meal planning inspiration? The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has great tips for healthy eating on a budget. With a little extra planning you too can eat better and save money at the same time!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Keep Your Finances in the Black This Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. In fact, the day after Thanksgiving is commonly known as “Black Friday,” because retailers typically go from being unprofitable (in the “red”) to profitable (in the “black”).

Unfortunately, beginning the holiday shopping season by blowing your budget can lead to debt that lingers well into the New Year. Community Financial wants to help you bring back the magic of the season by offering tips on how to budget and plan ahead for the holidays. To help keep your finances “in the black” this holiday season, consider the following tips:

Make an attainable budget for the season. 
The National Retail Federation estimates the average American will spend $935 on gifts this year. Financial experts recommend putting no more than 1.5% of your annual income in your holiday budget. This should include gifts, food and hidden expenses like wrapping paper, cards and shipping costs. If holiday travel expenses are not in your annual budget, add them to your holiday budget to make sure they aren’t overlooked.

Complete a holiday shopping list. 
Once you have your holiday budget established, create a list of everyone you’d like to buy a gift for. Be sure to include hostess gifts for parties, too. Refer to your list often to keep from forgetting a gift for an occasion. If you are a frequent party-goer during the holiday season, it might be a good idea to buy a few items that could easily be gifted at the last minute.

Shop around before buying. 
The feeling you get after seeing an item you just paid full price for is now half off is the worst. Avoid it by doing your homework and shopping around early to scope out deals. If you’re a Black Friday shopper, develop a strategy for the day instead of just winging it. Shopping online can also help—you will save a lot of time and comparison shopping is a breeze. 

Think outside the mall.
Use your time to decorate for the holidays or address holiday cards. Start the season off right by giving your time to the less fortunate. Consider serving meals to the homeless or paying a visit to a local nursing home, hospital or animal shelter. Don’t forget to make time for what might be some much-needed exercise.

Create a payoff plan. 
Here’s where you can really take the stress out of the holidays. If you establish a plan on how to pay off all of your holiday expenses, you’ll enjoy the festivities much more. It’s important to set a payoff plan that you’re comfortable with and that fits within your current budget. 

Let Community Financial help. 
Just in time for the shopping season, our special holiday loans are back again. With rates as low as 4.24% APR*, a holiday loan will help you get the funds you need to make shopping easier.

Use these tips this upcoming gifting season for stress-free budgeting and purchasing! Community Financial wishes you and your loved ones a very merry holiday season. 

*Actual rate may vary depending on individual credit history and other factors. Rate includes a .25% discount when payments are automatically deducted from Community Financial checking account. Not available for refinance of existing Community Financial loan, offer expires 12/31/16.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

5 Holiday Meal Hacks for Your Budget

There are as many holiday traditions as there are families. No matter your traditions, there’s one thing most of them have in common: getting a large group together for a meal.

Holiday meals are always a delight, but paying for them might be a challenge. If you’re used to cooking for 3 or 4, changing your plan to cook for 10 can cause some serious budget shock. Here are 5 budget-friendly ways to feed a crowd this holiday season.

1.) Leggo your legumes 
At the intersection of versatility, price, and nutritional value, it’s hard to beat beans. Since you’re working in bigger numbers, it’s a big cost savings to buy dried and cook from scratch. A pound of navy or garbanzo beans can be soaked overnight and cooked on the stove for about an hour. Just follow the directions on the bag.

By themselves, they may not seem like much, but try mashing them up with your mashed potatoes. The beans will make the potatoes creamier and add some protein to make them more filling. Add a sprinkle of garlic and top with a handful of shredded cheddar cheese for a side dish that’s filling and delicious. Toss in some green onions for decoration, and your boring side dish just became a hot feature.

You can also try black beans and sweet potatoes. Make a pound of black beans following the package directions. Drain them and set aside. Chop up 5 or 6 sweet potatoes, put them and the black beans in an oven-safe roasting pan, and toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper – or add your favorite seasonings. Try cumin, chili powder, and garlic for a southwestern flair! Roast them between 350 and 400 for 30-45 minutes for a budget-friendly, healthy take on sweet potato casserole.

2.) Use your oven wisely 
In the winter your grill works much less effectively than it did during summertime. Since it has to heat the air around it to reach its cooking temperature, there’s a much faster consumption rate of your cooking fuel. You’ll also run the furnace more from going in and out of the house. Shifting away from grilled foods can also help you focus more on healthy vegetable dishes.

Using your oven can help add heat to your home, meaning your furnace will have to do less work. Try to time dishes so no oven time is wasted. Use it on less sensitive items, like casseroles, vegetables, and cakes, while the oven is pre-heating. Use the residual heat after roasting is done to finish pies and keep leftovers warm.

3.) Use efficient appliances 
Your oven is really big, and heating it takes a lot of energy. Look to use smaller, more efficient appliances where you can. You can make most roast meats in a crock pot, which you can also use for casseroles. The much-maligned microwave is likely the most efficient appliance in your house and can be used to boil or bake many foods. A quick search for “microwave X recipes” will give you approximate cook times. When you do use the oven, make sure you’re using it to the best effect. Avoid stacking pans on top of each other, as this will prevent proper air flow. Stagger pans as much as possible to ensure even heating.

4.) Use seasonal foods for variety and savings 
While winter doesn’t boast as many seasonal goods as summer or spring, you can still find incredible deals on versatile produce. Winter squash (butternut, acorn, and spaghetti) are hearty and delicious, and they can usually be found for less than a dollar a pound. They can be used in a variety of foods.

For starters, try butternut squash in a soup. Peel it, chop it up, boil it, and blend it, then add your favorite seasonings. It’ll be a warm, sweet sensation to greet your guests.

The possibilities are endless and the price can’t be beat. Winter squashes are also an excellent source of vitamins that are difficult to come by in a season that’s lacking many fresh vegetables.

5.) Turn the heat down 
You’ve likely set your thermostat for ordinary oven usage and a small number of people in your house. Doubling or tripling the number of people and doing a ton of cooking can seriously alter those calculations. Add to that the inevitable holiday sweater display and your guests might even be a little toasty.

Turning the heater down a few degrees can help you save on your energy bill, and it might encourage your guests to slow down a bit on the beer and wine. Everyone will be more comfortable and you can rest easy knowing your holiday meal will go off without a hitch.

Do you have any budget friendly hacks for your holiday meal? Let us know in the comments section!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Common Mistakes During Open Enrollment

Fall is a time for change, but there’s one thing people often leave untouched: their workplace benefits packages. November is the beginning of the open enrollment period for many workplace benefit plans, making it the ideal time to review your insurance information and other benefits.

Watch out for these common pitfalls when enrolling in workplace benefits.

1.) The Passive Opt-In 
When starting a new job, the numerous decisions you need to make are overwhelming. Consequently, health insurance decisions often get minimal attention. For many people, though, those choices remain in place for much of their careers.

Sticking with the default option may be detrimental for two reasons. First, your life situation has likely changed. As you age, you need more comprehensive health coverage. You may also need more extensive dependent coverage or have more disposable income to contribute to an HSA or FSA.

Second, most companies renegotiate their insurance rates annually. Your employer may have negotiated lower premiums or better coverage. You’ll only discover these options by discussing your coverage for the next benefits year with your HR representative.

2.) Forgetting Spousal Benefits 
Being covered by both your own and your spouse’s plans can be a serious financial hazard. First, you may be overpaying for insurance. Adding a spouse to a workplace policy can be cheaper than having two separate policies. Study both policies and determine which one is more advantageous.

Spousal surcharges also continue to be part of the benefit strategy for a growing number of employers. A spousal surcharge usually applies only if the spouse declines coverage in his or her own employer’s plan when eligible to enroll. Be sure to check with your employer to see if these fees apply to your plan.

 3.) Ignoring HSA/FSA Options 
Enrolling in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can sting, as unspent dollars leave your paycheck. Don’t let that deter you.

HSAs and FSAs are similar in function with important differences. Both allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars for health care-related expenses. The principal difference between them is that HSAs rollover their entire remaining balance to the next year, while most FSAs only rollover up to a certain pre-established limit. With an FSA, you have access to your entire annual election amount any time during the year, even if you have not had all of the money deducted yet from your check.

With an HSA, you only have access to what has actually been deposited into your HSA to date, like any other bank account. Enrolling in one of these accounts requires estimating your healthcare costs for the next year. Assume you’ll spend the same amount you did last year. For a planned medical expense, such as a surgery, you can get an estimate to guide your contributions.

Funding an HSA or an FSA is free money off your taxes. You’ll have to pay for medical expenses; by designating money for it early, you avoid paying taxes on that money.

It’s crucial to revisit your benefits options once a year. Save your insurance paperwork and attend the informational meetings. Being an active participant in your benefits decisions will make sure you are choosing the best option for you and your family!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Thankful Thursdays and Sharing Our Gratitude

Did you know that November is “National Gratitude Month?” With Thanksgiving almost here, it’s the perfect time of year to practice being grateful and appreciative for what we have.

Gratitude helps us enjoy, appreciate, and be more satisfied with our lives. Grateful people deal with life’s ups and downs more gracefully. And now research suggests that being grateful can make you happier and is good for your health. A positive attitude can give you more energy, reduce stress and even boost your immune system!

So how can you get your family started on a journey to becoming more grateful this November? It’s easy. Hang a big piece of paper on the wall and bring out some fun writing tools. Encourage each family member to write what they’re grateful for. The goal is to add to the list every day until the end of the month.

At Community Financial we are so grateful for our members and the communities we serve. To help spread our gratitude this November, we’ve started a program called “Thankful Thursdays.” Every Thursday until December 1 we will be making a donation to local food pantries in our north and south districts. In total, we will donate $50,000 to help feed our communities!

Check out our social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) every Thursday to see which organizations in your community will receive a donation.

#ThankfulThursdays is just one way we can show our appreciation. What are you doing this November to show gratitude?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Halloween Safety Tips for Your Family

Halloween is almost here! The costumes have been chosen and the candy bowls are ready for trick-or-treaters. With all the fun festivities going on, we want to make sure everyone has a fun and safe Halloween! Here are some friendly safety reminders for Halloween night:

1. Light Up the Night
Dusk is supposed to start at 6:57 p.m. on October 31st. While most houses will turn on their porch lights for trick-or-treaters at 6 p.m., it’s important to provide children with flashlights & fresh batteries. Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and trick-or-treat bags for greater visibility. This will make your children visible to any cars driving through the neighborhood. Instruct your children to travel only in familiar, well-lit areas and avoid trick-or-treating alone.

2. Choose the Right Costume
Make sure that your little trick-or-treaters have shoes that fit well and costumes that are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame. Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes. Lastly, makeup should be tested ahead of time on a small patch of skin to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises on the big day.

3. Neighborhood Safety
To get your home ready for receiving visiting trick-or-treaters, remove anything from the porch and front yard that a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations. Any wet leaves or snow should be swept from sidewalks and steps. Replace any outdoor lights or burned-out bulbs. Lastly, if you have any pets, be sure to restrain them from inadvertently jumping on or biting a trick-or-treater.

4. Candy Check!
Checking candy for potential hazards before allowing your children to consume it is a great way to keep your family safe. Many local police departments provide community support by scanning candy for potential contamination. Here are a few additional tips from that will help you distinguish potential hazards.
  •  Throw out any items that have: 
    • An unusual appearance or discoloration 
    • Tiny pin holes, tears in wrappers 
    • Spoiled or unwrapped items 
  • Disregard anything that is not commercially wrapped, such as homemade baked goods.
  • Parents of young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum or hard candies. 
  • If you find any candy that has been tampered with call your local police department immediately. 
Always remember when in doubt, throw it out! Sticking to some of these basic safety tips should ensure a fun and safe evening for everyone. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing – Tips to Avoid Being Taken By Rental Scams

Renting an apartment can be scary. As you consider available options for your new home, you likely search for a clean, affordable apartment in a safe neighborhood. But before you can check if those qualities are being met, you first have to make sure it’s a real listing.

Rental scams are one of the fastest-growing types of fraud nationwide. With help from the internet, apartment-searching is easier than ever. Unfortunately, that convenience has a price. Anyone can list a unit “for rent” for any price. While most listings are legitimate, some are not. With a few pictures and emails, scammers can convince you they actually have a luxury apartment available.

Here are three ways to keep your money safe from rental scammers:

1.) Know what ‘too good to be true’ looks like 
Check rental prices of similar-sized apartments in the area. Research the average renting price in most major cities. If an apartment is being offered for considerably cheaper than most others, it’s probably a scam.

 If the landlord has a supposedly tragic reason for the low rental cost, don’t be fazed. Odds are the story isn’t true. If it is, let someone else help your poor landlord-to-be.

If the posting is written in poor English, be cautious. Legitimate companies usually use listing agents who have experience writing postings; individual lessors are rare. If you’re asked to wire money – especially if you haven’t seen the apartment yet – that’s a scam. “Showing fees” and “pre-screening charges” do not exist. Don’t ever rent an apartment, sign a lease, or pay a deposit without seeing the actual apartment.

2.) Guard your personal information 
Don’t give anyone unnecessary personal information. Your email address and phone number are important for communication–your credit card number is not. You may need to leave a copy of your driver’s license with a rental agent while touring an apartment, but no one else should need personal information prior to showing you a house. Anyone asking to run a credit check before showing you a property wants you as a victim, not a tenant.

Wherever possible, try to work with someone local. Ask the person offering the apartment to meet you in person and show you the property so you can see it’s real and not inhabited by someone who doesn’t want to move.

3.) Trust … but verify 
If something seems fishy, research it. Search online for the name of the person or company listing the property to verify that they’re actually listing it.

There are many online forums dedicated to outing scammers. If you notice something off-putting about your potential landlord, add a post and move on.

Wherever there’s money changing hands, someone will take advantage. Scammers can quickly produce photographic proof that a place exists and then ask you to pay them immediately. As a renter, you’re taking risks, but following these rules can keep you safe. With a little caution and a lot of common sense you can find your dream apartment.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bring Back the Brown Bag: Saving Money on Lunch the Old-Fashioned Way

Move over, breakfast! Lunch is the new king. Recent studies show that employees who take a lunch break are more likely to be productive in the afternoon and avoid long-term burnout. But lunch’s sudden popularity has negative effects, specifically the enormous amounts of money Americans spend each week dining out for lunch. Looking for an alternative to sushi five times a week? The best answer is the simplest: brown-bag it.

Studies show that eating out for lunch can cost between $1,500 and $2,500 per year. However, with some planning, you can spend as little as $5 per brown-bag lunch. Five meals a week, times $5 per meal, times 48 working weeks equals only $1,200, adding $1,300 to your year. Interested?

Here are three tips to jump-start your new lunch habit!

1.) Save while you shop 
There are several money saving ways to outsmart your supermarket while grocery shopping. First, bring your headphones! Listening to upbeat music makes you shop faster and buy less of what you don’t need.

Second, do a pre-checkout audit of your cart. Grocery stores design their checkout lanes to discourage people from returning items to the shelves. Don’t be afraid to pass off any items you realize you don’t need to a nearby employee.

2.) Think DIY 
In the land of lunch, sandwiches rule. One thing that can change, though, is pre-sliced deli meats, which can get very expensive. There are a few alternatives.

First, you can order large cuts from the butcher counter and have the butcher trim it for you. You’ll get sandwich-sized cuts of deli meats for a fraction of the cost. That can save you about 30 percent compared with buying everything pre-cut.

Second, think barbecue. Most proteins cooked in barbecue sauce are delicious; a slow cooker makes it easy. Drop your cuts of meat in the pot, cover with sauce, and cook on low for a few hours. You can shred them with a fork for delicious barbecue sandwiches all week long.

3.) Plan ahead 
When you’ve finished your economical shopping, you’ve still got to make and eat your lunches. After your first few bagged lunches, you may start missing your old going-out-to-eat lifestyle, but stay with it. Luckily, there are money saving strategies to help you adjust to the change: 
  1. Pack ahead. Prepare the pieces for all your lunches at the beginning of the week and store them in the refrigerator for easy grabbing at a moment’s notice.
  2. Double your dinners. Doubling recipes and making larger dinners is an easy way to ensure lunch for the next day. This tip will save you time and cut down on food waste. 
  3. Be prepared to turn down co-workers who invite you to eat out with them by thinking of a response in advance. 
  4. Still getting a “break” with your lunch will make the transition easier. Brown-bagging your lunch doesn’t mean being chained to your desk. Weather permitting, you can eat in a nearby park, or sit in your car. 
You can easily save at least $1,300 a year by brown-bagging your lunches. Try it today! Have any money saving lunch tips of your own? Share them below.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

#PicturePerfectMI is Back! Post a Photo for a Chance to Win $25

Fall is one of our favorite seasons here at Community Financial. We love the changing colors of the leaves, pumpkins, hayrides, and of course, 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 Community Financial’s Instagram at Instagram.com/communityfinancial. Make sure to use the hashtag #PicturePerfectMI and tag us @CommunityFinancial to give us permission to share your photo. Each week, one photo will be randomly selected to win a $25 Amazon 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 $25 to your wallet! For complete details visit PicturePerfectMI.org. Happy fall and we’ll see you on Instagram!

*Amazon.com is a registered trademark. Amazon does not endorse or support this offer. Amazon.com Gift Cards may only be redeemed toward the purchase of eligible goods and services provided by Amazon.com LLC and its affiliates.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Don’t Sleep On Your Savings: Avoiding Dormant Accounts

One of the best things you can do with a savings account is to forget about it and let it earn dividends. However, don’t forget about it so long that it becomes dormant. A dormant savings account is one that has had no activity in a while. While it varies by institution, generally accounts that have been inactive, no deposits or withdrawals made, for more than 2 years are considered dormant.

All dormant accounts cost financial institutions money since they are required to keep records of the account and send statements. Often, those statements are returned due to incorrect addresses and then require additional effort from the institution. These minimal costs add up when involving hundreds of accounts.

In Michigan, after three years of no activity, financial institutions are permitted to close these accounts and transfer the funds to the state treasury department through a process known as escheatment. State treasury departments hold those funds in an unclaimed property fund. This money isn’t lost, but it is difficult to access. To reclaim it, you must complete numerous forms and wait several weeks while your request is processed. It’s much harder than visiting your credit union!

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid this.

1.) Keep track of your accounts. 
You should always know where your money is. Money management apps let you monitor all your accounts in one place by combining them in one screen. This way, you’ll never risk dormancy by forgetting about an account.

If you prefer a physical approach, keep your account statements in a file folder and create your own ledger so that you have one place where you can see all your accounts.

2.) Automate your savings. 
An account can’t go dormant if it’s getting transactions regularly, even if it’s only $5 a month. But who can remember to do that every month, or would want that burden?

To achieve this easily, set up automatic transfers between your primary account and your savings, even for a minimal amount. This form of automatic savings keeps your account active.

3.) Clean up and roll over old accounts. 
If you create different accounts for different savings goals, you might accumulate a dozen accounts over time, some of which you’ll forget to close when they’ve served their purpose. Each of those accounts is at risk for dormancy!

One way to avoid this is to make a general-purpose savings account and consolidate your funds there once every few months. Use that money for any purpose – anything is better than taking the risk of it being lost.

If you haven’t checked your Community Financial account in a while or need to update an address on file we are here for you! Act before it’s too late; clean up your dormant accounts today!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How to Get By In an Emergency: Personal Loan or Credit Card?

Unexpected expenses, by nature, can come out of nowhere. Your check engine light comes on, and your car demands you put another thousand dollars into keeping it on the road. That cough that just won’t go away turns out to be more serious than you thought. No matter what causes these personal catastrophes, they all have one thing in common: they’re expensive.

The best financial advice suggests a rainy day fund for situations like these. However, for many people, that’s just not practical. An emergency fund is one of those things it’d be nice to have, but sometimes there’s just no room for it after the bills have been paid.

If you feel the pressure of not knowing where your emergency spending could come from, you’re not alone. A Federal Reserve survey found that 47% of Americans would not be able to come up with $400 in an emergency. So how would they cope with that emergency? They’d borrow.

As a credit union member, you have options when it comes to borrowing. Two of the most popular choices for emergency funding are a personal loan and a credit card. There are pros and cons to both, so let’s take a look at a few.

1.) Limits 
Credit cards have credit limits in the thousands, enough to cover a small emergency. The value of credit cards is their convenience; there’s no need for a new loan each time you incur an expense.

However, many people don’t have sufficient credit to cover major financial emergencies and instead choose to utilize a personal loan. Your personal loan approval amount depends on several factors: income, credit score and other assets. For borrowers with good credit history and a strong ability to repay, these loans could be $50,000, enough for serious unexpected expenses.

2.) Repayment Options 
Credit card repayment is handled monthly. There’s a minimum payment and no fixed term to repayment; if you continue charging and only pay the minimum, paying off your loan could take forever.

In contrast, a personal loan, includes a fixed monthly fee that lets you repay the loan in a set amount of time. It’s amortized so you’re making equal payments of both interest and principal over the loan’s life. There’s also no penalty for early repayment.

3.) Usability 
Credit cards only work at a merchant terminal; they’re difficult to use for paying back friends.

A personal loan is deposited directly into your checking account. You can withdraw it as cash, write checks or use auto draft features.

If you’re negotiating a reduced price for a major expense, many businesses offer a cash discount. They pay for processing fees and prefer cash. If you’re paying a hospital, they may also accept a lower fee if you pay cash.

4.) Interest Rates 
Credit card interest rates can be high; the global average is 15%. Some credit cards fluctuate their interest rates based on the prime interest rate and can alter your rate if your credit score changes dramatically, making it difficult to plan your financial future.

A personal loan has a fixed interest rate that never increases if you don’t miss a payment. You can make a future budget that involves paying a fixed amount over approximately 5 years. Interest rates on personal loans are usually lower than on credit cards. For people with average credit, interest rates can be 5% lower; for those with better credit it can be even lower.

As a member of Community Financial Credit Union, you have access to competitive rates for personal loans. If you’re in a hard place, we can help. For more info, visit cfcu.org/personal. What’s your emergency financial plan for unexpected expenses?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Prevent ID Theft: Destroy Those Documents!

Protecting oneself from theft used to be as basic as securing the doors and windows of your home. But in today’s modern age, an enterprising thief can take control of your assets without breaking a window. Identity theft continues to be one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), approximately 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

So how do you secure your identity? 
Clues to your personal and financial information are often buried throughout your personal paperwork and mail. One search through your mailbox or trash could garner enough evidence for a thief to take control of your identity — and your finances. Thieves use credit cards, financial statements and utility bills to obtain and exploit that personal information.

The first line of defense is to destroy documents that contain your personal information before anyone can access it. Private documents and credit or debit cards, which contain sensitive information, should be destroyed once you no longer need them. Here are four suggestions for properly destroying those personal documents:

Fire 
Reducing your documents to a pile of ash is a surefire (pun intended!) way to destroy them. Use documents as kindling, or add them to a fireplace, wood-burning stove, or bonfire. You can add other scrap paper to the fire to confuse anyone who may be looking through the ashes for pieces of documents that may not have fully burned.

Water 
A good soaking will render any document illegible. Simply immerse a stack of junk mail in a tub filled with water before dumping it.

Confetti 
This option is more time-consuming, but it can be a great rainy day activity. If only a small area of a document contains sensitive information, hole punching that area will make the document useless, and you’ll get lots of homemade confetti.

Expired credit cards still contain important data and need to be disposed of properly. Rubbing a magnet across the card a few times will disable the magnetic strip on the back. You should also cut the card into pieces, making sure that each set of four numbers is cut in at least two places. Then smash the chip (if applicable) and dispose of the pieces in different garbage bags

Shredding 
A paper shredder will transform your documents into unidentifiable strips of paper. If you don’t have a shredder, but there’s one at your workplace, check with your management to know if it’s okay for you use it for your personal paperwork.

Or… bring your documents to Shred Day! Community Financial is offering a community Shred Day event on Saturday, September 17 from 2 - 4:30 p.m. Bring your confidential documents to securely shred at three of our branch locations:

Livonia Branch 
 34000 W. Seven Mile Road 

Canton Branch 
6355 N. Canton Center Road 

Gaylord Branch 
1360 W. Main Street

Using these basic steps to destroy your personal documents can protect your information, and your finances. As a general rule, it is better to have as few physical documents on file as possible. Switch to online banking, and opt-out of paper statements. Keeping your finances digital will help simplify your daily chores and help protect you from fraud.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Three Easy Ways to Make Your Dorm Room Feel More Like Home

The first few weeks in a dorm room can be tough. Between adjusting to a new roommate and being in a new place, you might dwell on how nice mom and dad’s house is compared to your dorm room. 

Don’t despair! There are a few low-cost hacks that can turn the institutional discomfort of your dorm room into the comfort of your parents’ home. Make a list, pop down to the home improvement store, and check out these three quick fixes:

1.) Soften your bed 
Most people don’t get a good night’s sleep in college. Part of it is staying up all night to study, but part of it is the terrible institutional mattresses. Dorm mattresses are somehow simultaneously too rigid and too squishy. Compared to the nice mattress you had at home you may notice your dorm bed is kind of lame.

You don’t need to break the bank on a new mattress. A memory foam mattress topper can give you endless comfort at a fraction of the price. For less than $100 you can sleep on an inch and a half of pure bliss.

2.) A shower landing place 
One of the worst parts of dorm showers is stepping out of a warm shower onto cold tile floors. Your parents fixed this problem with a cushy bathroom rug, but that’s not an option for you unless you want to share it with the whole floor (ick!). What’s a student to do?

Consider a pair of bathroom slippers to complement those sandals. Slippers can help you step out of the shower and onto a cloud. Look for footwear with moisture-wicking soles. Hang them up to dry when you’re not using them.

3.) Fix the lighting 
Institutional lighting is the worst. The hum and flicker of institutional lighting is obnoxious. That’s why your parents put concealed, indirect lighting in every room but yours. How can you recapture that feeling?

A table lamp or clamp lamp can get the same charm of indirect lighting without breaking the bank. An LED bulb will last forever and the fixture can be had for as little as $20. Put it on your desk, on your headboard or on your dresser for all-year class.

There are plenty of ways to make a door room feel more like home. Check out DIY sites like Pinterest for ideas on decorating on a budget. With a few small changes you can make your space your own and focus on your studies and making it a great school year!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It’s Back to School Time for Our Student-Run Credit Union Team

Julie Blaylock, Erin Ilg, and Jeremy Cybulski hold their
awards from the NYIB Conference.
It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over and the school year is about to begin! Back to school time means another busy and productive year for our Student-Run Credit Union Team.

Each year we partner with Michigan school districts to operate student-run credit unions and expose thousands of students to money management skills. Selected students learn the banking business as credit union tellers, branch managers, marketing representatives, computer operators and accountants. Between our north and south districts, we are currently up to 47 school partnerships!

Our Motivation 
We continue to invest a lot of time and energy into teaching financial education because we believe children are the future of our communities. Community Financial is very serious about our commitment to education and as the credit union grows, so will our number of school partnerships. Whether it is through new classroom presentations, student credit unions, or some form of financial education event, we are always looking to break new ground and further our efforts in the communities we serve.

“The most important things I think students take from their volunteer experience is learning about the process of getting a job (applying, interviewing, training, etc.) but also the expectations and responsibilities that come with having a real job,” said Senior Education Partnership Coordinator Jeremy Cybulski. “We know that not all of the students will go on to have careers in finance, but our program teaches them skills that are important for whatever professional path they choose.”

New Programming 
In addition to running the student-run credit union program, our Education Partnership Coordinators give classroom presentations on financial topics throughout the school year. This year our team will introduce fun new lessons to teach students about managing their money.

We’ve incorporated a number of new curriculum based, in-house presentations at the elementary and middle school levels. Most are interactive, mental math lessons with different, fun themes like “Teddy Bear Picnic” and the “General Store.” We even have one that involves surviving a zombie apocalypse! Our classroom presentations reached over 21,000 students last school year. We’re aiming for at least 24,000 this year!

National Recognition 
Recently Community Financial received some national recognition for our youth outreach. The National Youth Involvement Board (NYIB) annual conference was held in San Antonio, TX from July 25-29th and brought together financial educators, marketing and youth experts from all over the country. At the awards ceremony, our team members were recognized for their financial education efforts in two different categories:
  • For Students Reached ($500-$999 million asset category)  
    • Julie Blaylock- 1st place (3930 students reached) 
    • Erin Ilg- 2nd place (3629 students) 
    • Jeremy Cybulski- 4th place (3290 students) 
    • Suzanne Sundberg- 5th place (3148 students) 
  • For Presentations Given ($500-$999 million asset category) 
    • Jeremy Cybulski- 2nd place 
    • Julie Blaylock- 3rd place 
We are proud to lead the way nationally in financial education! If you know a school that is looking for financial education or some other form of partnership, please let us know. We also work with libraries, scout troops, church and other community organizations to offer assistance with financial education. To learn more about our school credit union program visit cfcu.org/scu.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How to Build Your Emergency Fund on a Budget

At this point, you're probably sick of hearing about the importance of an emergency fund. Yes, you get it: It's important to set aside money for the rainy days. But if you can barely save a month's worth of expenses, how can you possibly save up enough money for six months?

Luckily, you don't have to tighten the proverbial belt until you choke. By the time you're done with this list, you'll learn not only the specifics of starting an emergency fund, but also how to keep that fund nice and healthy.

Start Small, Think Big 
It's okay to aim for a specific goal, like saving up $1,000 in six months, but if you're not a habitual saver, that large goal might discourage you. Instead, set "micro quotas" and "macro goals" when you start building your emergency fund.

For example, let's say you need $600 six months from now. That's $100 per month, or $25 per week. Factor those figures into your weekly and monthly goals, whichever works better for you. The idea is to have a "macro goal" ($600 in six months), and break it down into smaller, more manageable "micro goals" ($100 per month or $25 per week).

Dial Back on Your Monthly Subscriptions 
Once you set your goals, your next step is determining how to achieve them. Your monthly expenditures are a good place to start.

How about your cable TV subscription? Assuming you're on the expanded basic package, you probably shell out around $65 per month. Since it's likely you don't even use half of your subscription, it may be a good idea to let it go. Services like Netflix and Hulu are often priced at a tiny fraction of cable TV services.

Use Your Credit Cards Wisely 
Don't be afraid to negotiate with your credit card company. Ask the credit card company if your annual percentage rate (APR) be lowered and always use your card (or cards) wisely. That means paying down those balances each and every month and only charging what you can afford to pay off when you get your statements. It's also wise to shop around, do some research and find the best credit card for you. That means looking into the benefits that come along with some cards, like receiving cashback offers for groceries and gas purchases, and what the APR is for each card.

It's smart to shop around, read objective customer reviews and decide which card best suits your needs.

Save, Save, Save 
Think about it: If you save a dollar a day, you'll have $365 by the end of the calendar year! Now, imagine doubling or tripling that number. The results put things into perspective.

Sift through your daily expenditures, and decide where you can cut back. For example, instead of buying coffee from your fave coffee shop every day, try every other day or a few times a week. Instead of buying separate insurance coverage for your car, try purchasing combined coverage packages for both your car and renters insurances. You'll be surprised at how small discounts can add up when you look for opportunities to reduce monthly bills.

Automate Your Emergency Fund 
Sometimes you’ll forget you have an emergency fund. Considering all the other things you have to worry about, who can blame you? However, you still need a way to stash extra cash without too much effort.

One solution is the automatic savings plan. As the term suggests, it automatically funnels cash into your emergency fund account on a regular basis. Ask your financial institution if this is an option you can utilize. "Set it and forget it" is always a handy feature.

Get Creative 
Building an emergency fund can be stressful. The temptation to dip into it ahead of time is overwhelming, and there's always the feeling that you're depriving yourself in some way. But believe it or not, saving money can be fun!

With careful planning, perseverance and patience, you can have adequate cash for the rainy days or those big financial goals in your future before you know it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

CFCU Named One of Metro Detroit’s "101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For"

We are excited to announce that for the 11th year in a row, Community Financial Credit Union has been named one of Metro Detroit’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies To Work For™! This award recognizes companies for excellence in human resources practices that create exceptional work environments.

So how does a company receive this honor? Awards are based on detailed questionnaires completed by nominated companies and their employees. Companies provide information about things like: work place communication, work-life balance, employee education, diversity, employee recognition, and retention. The employees then fill out an extensive survey, and winners are selected based on independent research on key measures in those various categories.

“This award depends in large part on data collected from Community Financial team members and we appreciate their recognition of Community Financial as a great place to work. We participate in this program as a way to help attract and retain the best team members to fulfill Community Financial’s purpose of enhancing the financial well-being of every member,” said Kathleen Hinchcliff, Manager/Education and Development.

So what makes CFCU stand out among our peers? We try to create a culture of team work and fun! Here are a few of the perks our team members receive:
  • Massage days
  • Volunteer days off with pay
  • Longevity program with rewards
  • Community involvement opportunities
  • Employee referral reward program
  • College scholarships for team members and their children 
  • Tuition reimbursement 
  • Generous vacation time and 401(k) match 
  • Paid day off during birthday month 
  • Car detailing service days 
  • Fun activities/competitions throughout the year 
“I was able to use my Volunteer Day Off with Pay in August and volunteer with an organization called Life Remodeled to help clean up neighborhoods in Detroit. It is so important to me to be able to give back to the community by volunteering with local non-profit organizations,” said Jean Sterioff, Marketing Rep. at CFCU. “Community Financial is a credit union that supports employees who want to make a difference in their communities.”

The credit union also conducts ongoing training and leadership development programs to maintain a talented and dedicated team. Team members and their families are provided with the resources they need to protect and enhance their financial security and to balance the priorities of work and personal life.

The 2016 award competition included 1,000 nominations and more than 400 applications. At Community Financial we recognize our employees as our greatest assets, and we are proud that they have chosen us once again as the “Best and Brightest.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Paying for College with Crowdfunding

There are some people out there who keep insisting that the college bubble is eventually going to burst. And while that very well be the case one day, for now, the cost of higher education seems to be going nowhere but up. For the 2015-2016 school year, tuition costs average $9,410 for a public four-year in-state college, $23,893 for a public four-year out-of-state college and $32,405 for a private four-year college.

Oh and here’s the best part: These figures don’t even include room and board. And as we all know, students are typically charged thousands of dollars each year to share a dorm room with another human. Now in the absence of wealthy parents or winning the lottery, most college hopefuls have no choice but to borrow money to pay those high tuition costs. The problem, however, is that paying off student loans is easier said than done.

The Project on Student Debt, which was created by The Institute for College Access and Success, reported that 69 percent of 2014 graduates took out loans to pay for college, racking up an average debt load of $28,950. That's a large sum to chip away at on an entry-level salary. If the idea of racking up debt to finance a college education sounds unappealing to you, fear not. There may be another avenue to consider if you’e willing to swallow your pride and appeal to the masses: Crowdfunding.

Why Borrow When You Can Beg? 
You’re probably familiar with the concept of crowdfunding. Plenty of people use online websites to raise money for charity or new business ideas. But these days, some college students are taking the trend one step further by asking complete strangers to help fund their education. According to GoFundMe, a well-known fundraising site, tuition campaigns rose 4,547 percent between 2011 and 2014. And in 2013, students were able to collect a combined $4.63 million for education costs.

There’s Even an App for That 
Using crowdfunding to pay for college has become so mainstream that there’s now a dedicated app you can use to make the process easier. Launched in 2014, GoPYT, which stands for Go Pay Your Tuition, works like a traditional crowdfunding platform, only its scope is limited to raising money to cover education costs and reduce student loan debt. All you need to do is complete a profile to sign up, and once your account is verified as legit, you’re free to set up your own personalized campaign.

The Awkwardness Factor 
Of course, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of asking strangers for money. But consider your options: banking on the kindness of strangers, or racking up a pile of debt so high you’ll be buried under it before you can even utter the word diploma. It makes the whole idea of crowdfunding seem savvier than you thought.

Be Realistic 
If you do decide to move forward with a crowdfunding campaign for college, don’t go into it thinking you’ll somehow manage to plead your way toward a free ride. Despite your most earnest pleas, you may only succeed in shaving a few thousand dollars, or even a few hundred, off your total education costs. But when it comes to paying for college, every little bit helps. So remember: any money you raise via crowdfunding is money you don’t have to pay back, with interest, down the line. And while setting up and publicizing your campaign might take some work, it’s a small price to pay for what could potentially be free money coming your way.

 *Community Financial does not endorse the information, content, presentation or accuracy, nor make any warranty, expressed or implied, regarding the websites and/or apps mentioned above.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Bid For Safety: Keeping Yourself Out Of eBay Scams

Summer is the perfect time for clearing out the stuff cluttering your garage. And any forward- thinking entrepreneur looking to sell thinks of eBay. Though some of it may not be valuable to you, some items – like clothes, electronics and collectibles – might fetch a fair sum if you were to sell them on eBay. The global reach of the world’s largest bidding site offers tremendous potential.

Unfortunately, the big audience and big bucks also attract lots of scammers who abuse the site’s good name and your trust. Here are three common eBay scams and how to avoid them:

1. The fake payment.
You’ve sold a big-ticket item and you’re thrilled. But before you’re paid, the buyer offers more than they agreed to if they can skip the PayPal fees and instead send a certified check. Alternately, you get an email from what appears to be PayPal telling you that the payment — more than you agreed to — is in transit, but won’t be released until you provide a shipping number. Once you ship the item, the promised check never shows or bounces, or the “in transit” money from “PayPal” never comes. You’ve lost your money and the item.

The rules are simple: Never send an item until you have the cash and never accept non-electronic payment from someone you don’t know.

2. The 3rd party payment system.
A buyer refuses to use eBay’s checkout system. They insist you remove your listing, send the item to them directly, and they’ll pay you directly.

After you’ve shipped the item and received payment, they’ll contact you again, claiming the item was broken or it wasn’t as described. They’ll demand a full refund or threaten to have your eBay account banned. Since agreeing to settle a transaction outside of the service is a violation of eBay’s terms, they’ve got you cornered; you refund their money or stop selling on eBay.

If you use a site to sell, use it to finish the deal. This keeps the company involved if things go sideways and ensures you’re using the site legally and following the rules.

3. It was like that when I got it!
In this transaction, when the buyer receives the item, he sends you pictures of it with serious damage. He demands a refund, stipulating that you cough it up or take it up with eBay’s Buyer Protection Program, which will force you to issue a refund.
  1. Quite likely, the buyer is showing pictures of another, similar item. Here are two ways to prove it: Insist buyers purchase shipping insurance on all expensive or fragile items and take time-stamped pictures of the item before it’s sent. You now have proof the device was working, and the buyer can take up damage claims with the shipping company.
  2. Include a disclaimer in the item description about refunds; a statement like “no refunds” puts you in the clear.
eBay is a great way to get rid of unwanted belongings while earning a little cash on the side, but it’s also a great way for scammers to take your money and leave you feeling burned. Selling safely on eBay means paying attention, following the rules and protecting yourself as much as possible. One last piece of advice as a reminder; if the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summertime Fun in Michigan with CFCU Guest Blogger Michele

Since summer is in full swing we asked our team members what they love the most about summertime in Michigan. Michele, a Mortgage Underwriter at Community Financial, weighed in about her family’s personal favorites and is today’s guest blogger.

Outside Activities 
My favorite thing about summertime in Michigan hands down is being outside. Whether it is going camping with family, hiking in the woods, kayaking on a lake or river, swimming, sitting around a fire, the list goes on and on.

From a cost approach, being outdoors is one of the cheapest things you can do. Make sure to USE your State and Metro Parks! For a nominal fee when you register your vehicle you can buy the rec pass and it gets you into all the State Parks in Michigan. We tend to spend most of our time at Island Lake State Park, which is close to our house. There are a few lakes, hiking trails, and even a canoe and kayak rental. If you like bike riding they cater to that too. Look up the activities that the park has going this summer. I am certain you will find something that will cater to you and your family. Or even better yet, step out of your comfort zone and try something new!

Michigan Traditions 
We are all fortunate to live in the best state in the country. The Great Lakes are AMAZING! You don’t have to worry about salt, sharks, alligators, or jelly fish! We have beautiful beaches. The towns that line the water are typically full of cute shops and delicious dining experiences. Some of the beaches are lined with parks for the kids. We also have beautiful State and National Parks. If you haven’t been to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park you are missing out on one of Michigan’s greatest treasures.

Michigan also hosts some great events each summer. One of my favorites every June is the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest in Howell! If you have kids this event is a must! Or if you are like me and LOVE hot air balloons it would be right up your alley. They launch the hot air balloons and you can see them take off. NOTHING beats seeing 30 plus air balloons launching at the same time! We also spent one weekend in July at another summer event that I think is pretty cool, and that’s Art in the Park in Plymouth. There are quite a few unique vendors that come to this event. Lastly, I haven’t been, but the Traverse City Cherry Festival sounds like it would be a lot of fun and I am already building our bucket list for next year!

Must Do’s 
Sunsets! If it has been a while since you watched a sunset, DO IT! Go somewhere quiet and peaceful and just watch as the sun with all its vibrant yellow, reds, oranges, and sometimes hints of pink and purple melts into the Earth. Take the time to appreciate the beauty of summer while it’s here. Lastly, I love stargazing. At the beginning of August there is a meteor shower. I highly recommend you find a dark place and take a blanket or a lawn chair and watch as shooting stars light up the sky. If you have children, it is a must do family activity. The kids get so excited every time they see one! 

Summer is definitely one season that goes by too fast! Do you have any favorite summertime activities? Let us know in the comment section below.

 *Community Financial does not endorse the information, content, presentation or accuracy, nor make any warranty, expressed or implied, regarding the websites and/or apps mentioned above.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Chip-Enabled Cards: The Future of Credit Card Security

We’ve all heard the beeping at the cash registers as chip-enabled cards are being added to consumers' wallets. Just what is that noise all about?

This technology, also referred to as EMV, uses a microchip on your credit card to encrypt your financial information. It’s a more secure version of the magnetic strip that’s on the back of your credit card now. It’s verified at a point of sale terminal, just like a normal credit card. The more advanced technology makes it possible to have a stronger form of encryption, which makes your data more secure.

The cost of implementation has always held EMV technology back, because that cost was greater than the amount of fraud loss it would prevent. Now, with data theft affecting more and more retailers and consumers, the calculations are changing. In addition, regulatory changes have made retailers liable for more fraud damages, and that makes this technology more cost-effective. So what does this technological change mean for you? Let’s look at three differences you’ll see with your chip-enabled card:
  1. More security
    The greatest benefit is the increased level of encryption to protect your data. The magnetic strip cards can be read and copied from a point of sale terminal. This vulnerability allows one of the most common forms of high-tech identity theft. EMV technology encrypts your data from the point of sale terminal to your financial institution.
  2.  New ways to confirm your identity One of the features of EMV technology is the ability to store a unique personal identification number (PIN). You can use it in place of your signature to show that you’re the rightful owner of the card. This will make in-person shopping more convenient and more secure. Says one security expert; “It’s easier to forge a signature than steal a PIN.” Some retail workers don’t receive much training in verifying signatures, so a PIN provides a more secure way of completing transactions.
  3. Fewer hands on your card One of the benefits of having more data processing power in your wallet is that it’s easier to integrate it with other machines. EMVCo, the company behind the technology, is exploring mobile connection options for their cards. The big idea here is to make it possible to complete a transaction without ever having your card leave your pocket or purse. You can just enter your PIN and approve the charges at a point of sale terminal, and the computers will do the rest. The risks of fraud and theft decrease because fewer humans actually see the card. 
EMV technology is the future of credit card security. Community Financial recently adopted this technology and will issue chip-enabled credit cards and debit cards to its members. Aside from getting a new card issued to you and maybe learning a new PIN, you don’t have to do anything special. These new cards will provide a greater amount of protection against fraudulent activity and an increased number of benefits.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trust Your Intuition to Shop Online (And Offline) Safely

In one way, shopping online is very similar to shopping at kiosks, in shops and in malls. Personal and financial safety is always of great importance, but it’s easy to forget about safety when we’re distracted or in a rush. Either way, searching for the best item at the best price can be very distracting.

Sadly, unscrupulous online vendors are well aware of that fact. They may set up a website, or a Craigslist or eBay listing, based upon the fact that most shoppers are too busy and distracted to consider their personal shopping safety.

Trusting your intuition is a very useful safety measure 
If you just don’t feel right about a particular brick-and-mortar store, you probably avoid it, right? But do you avoid a website or auction listing just because something doesn’t look or feel right about it? 

Online dating can teach you a lot about using your intuition when you shop online. Even if you haven’t explored online dating yourself, no doubt you’ve heard stories about fakers and scammers who compromised the personal and financial safety of someone they met online. Sadly, it’s not an uncommon experience.

That’s why internet shopping safety is primarily a matter of considering the real person or company behind every website and each listing you visit. Trust your intuition to guide you. To do this, you have to set aside distractions and you can’t be in a rush. Things you should look for include:

  • Product descriptions that are too short, clipped and inadequate. If a normal person needs more information to make an intelligent purchase, move on to another site to make your purchase. Something may not be right.
  • Spelling and grammar errors that stick out and detract from your shopping experience. Reputable companies hire experienced copywriters and editors to eliminate basic spelling and grammar mistakes. Scammers, many of whom are not located in the United States, skip the expense and try to do it themselves.
  • A physical address in the United States. If you can’t find a physical address at the bottom of a website, or on the ‘About’ or ‘Contact’ pages, there’s a problem. The CAN-SPAM Act requires commercial emails to include the physical address of the sender in the email and on the website to which any commercial email is linked. But, CAN-SPAM does not require websites to list a physical address, and it does not impose a fine as it does on commercial emails without physical addresses.
  • A secure payment portal. Look carefully at the website address in the address bar at the top of your browser screen. It should begin with "https://" because the “s” indicates a level of security you need whenever you enter credit card or other personal information. 
Do you trust your own intuition when you’re shopping online, and make sure you take the time to protect your personal and financial safety wherever you shop? Taking extra precaution when you make online purchases could save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and shop elsewhere.

Community Financial Credit Union, P.O. Box 8050, Plymouth, Michigan 48170-8050;
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