Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Newlyweds: Don’t Let Financial Stress Take the Cake

Of all the things to discuss before marriage, finances are the least exciting. Statistically, money is the top reason couples argue and financial arguments are among the top predictors of divorce. So, how can you avoid becoming a statistic? Here are some ideas from the experts:

Talk to Each Other 
A 2013 poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found 68% of engaged couples have negative attitudes about discussing money. To 45%, it’s “necessary but awkward,” and 7% say it’s “likely to lead to a fight.” 5% predict it would call off the wedding. The result? Couples don’t talk finances. A Fidelity survey found that over one-third don’t know their partner’s salary, of which 72% think they communicate “very well” about finances.

It’s not surprising: What’s romantic about debt, budgets or taxes? Nobody can ensure newlywed happiness, but experts agree: Don’t wait. Discuss taxes now. If you’re both employed, the “marriage penalty” may cost you more; consider marrying in January. But if one spouse earns the majority, you’ll enjoy a “marriage bonus” and a December wedding might be wise. Whether you talk money weekly or monthly, agree on a system and stay open to change.

Get Started 
Start easy: “What’s your first money memory?” “How did you spend your allowance?” Then, go further with these questions:
  • “Are you a spender or saver?” – If one saves and one spends, create a budget considering both styles. Studies show that men and women spend differently. Women tackle daily expenses (groceries, utilities, clothes); men make larger purchases (TVs, cars, computers). Amounts might be equal, but perceptions differ. About 36% of partners don’t discuss big purchases; that’s a recipe for disaster. 
  • “Are you in debt?” – Your spouse’s debt doesn’t become yours, but it affects your choices. Heavy credit card debt complicates home buying. Make reducing debt a priority. A TD Ameritrade survey found 38% of partners unaware of the other’s debts. 
  • “What are your financial goals?” “Where do you want to be in five or 20 years?” – Goal-oriented people progress toward savings and investing targets faster. Decide on the targets: buying a home, starting a family, being debt-free. List your goals, then share and plan together. 
Know what’s important to each other: things or experiences? Saving for a house or for retirement? Clarify these values early on in the marriage.

Trust Each Other 
Be honest with your partner. If you made a foolish purchase, own up to it. Some 40% of partners have lied about the price of a purchase. Lying about money has huge repercussions. Support one another; finger-pointing or retreating won’t help. Instead, work together on a plan.

You’re Still Individuals 
Celebrate differences. Your bargain-hunter should do the spending while you invest the savings. Choose a monthly amount each can spend, no questions asked. Money claims the average is $150.

A joint bank account has pros and cons. SmartMoney found 64% of couples put all their money in joint accounts; 14% kept everything separate. Many newlyweds choose both: yours, mine, and ours. Calculate shared living expenses and then contribute your portion of those costs. The key is to take action now to ensure money won’t prevent your wedded bliss.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Kick Off A Safe And Healthy Summer

Since June 21 is the official start of summer, meaning outdoor time, swimming, picnics and travel, here are some tips to keep your family happy and healthy.

Not Looking Forward To Swimsuit Season? 
If you want to lose weight, says Lisa Lillien of the Hungry Girl website, don’t use crash diets, just make healthy choices. Spend weekend time prepping proteins and veggies. Then for a hot dinner, just throw the ingredients together. Have smart snacks around: jerky, protein bars, nuts, fruit. Eating more often seems counter intuitive, but prevents overeating at mealtime. More about food: At picnics, keep mayonnaise salads cool. Enjoy them straight from the refrigerator; don’t let them sit more than 15 minutes in the sun.

Water Inside 
Proper hydration is important, especially in hotter weather. Drinking enough water improves body function and keeps you from feeling unnecessarily hungry. Eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily will maintain moisture balance, but if you’re a caffeine drinker, triple that. Bonus: Staying hydrated gives skin that healthy glow.

Water Outside 
Remember being told, “You’ll drown if you go into the water right after eating”? That’s too strong, but Sue Leahy, president of the American Safety and Health Institute, says during digestion, “There’s less blood flow in your body and this takes away from strength. So if you really had to use your strength for undertow, you might have a problem.” Best to wait half an hour after you eat. Children pose different problems. The National Safety Council says more than one in five drowning victims are 14 or under. Find age-appropriate swim lessons for your child, and don’t rely on lifeguards; never leave your child unattended.

Be Good to Your Skin 
Just one blistering sunburn doubles your risk of melanoma. You have to apply the right kind of sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), frequently (every two hours), and enough: a teaspoon for the face, and about a shot glassful for the body. If you forgot, apply cooling botanicals generously at the first sight of a pink glow to reduce peeling and inflammation.

Be Good To Your Eyes 
To help prevent cataracts, as well as wrinkles, wear sunglasses that block at least 99% of ultraviolet A and B.

Watch For Heat Stroke 
This is a big problem for outdoor workers and older people in apartments without air conditioning, but can happen to anyone. “The first sign is cramping in the legs,” says Sue Leahy. “Cool off and drink fluids until it goes away. Cramping – especially in the leg – is a sign the body is losing salt and electrolytes, and you should heed it.”

Get Debugged 
Bugs can transmit Lyme disease, West Nile, Zika, and other illnesses. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend insect repellents containing DEET (10% to 30%), except on children under 2 months.

Move It But Don’t Lose It 
If your children travel by bicycle, skateboard or scooter, they need helmets that meet CPSC safety standards. Never let children ride near moving traffic. Don’t allow children too young to have a driver’s license on riding lawnmowers or off-road vehicles. Children are involved in 30% of ATV-related deaths and ER injuries.

Fireworks 
The Fourth of July is a big summer event,and emergency rooms brace for the injuries. Fireworks can cause severe burns, blindness, scars or worse – even sparklers can reach over 1000 degrees and can start fires. The National Safety Council says that in 2010, fireworks caused about 15,500 reported fires, including 1,100 structure fires. Families should attend professional community fireworks displays rather than using fireworks at home.

Your Turn: What’s most important to you about summertime safety? Have you had any close calls? Tell us what you do to keep the family happy and healthy in the hotter months.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Buying a Home in Today's Economy

The only thing certain about today’s economy is that it is uncertain. While things look relatively stable now, no one can guarantee what the next few years will bring. Fortunately, you don’t have to give up on the home of your dreams because of a fluctuating economy. Here are four steps you can take to make sure your money – and your house – are safe regardless of the state of the economy.

1) Maximize your down payment 
The magic number for down payments has been established at 20% of the home’s value. Often, though, new homeowners will put down a much smaller amount. If you can’t afford a down payment of at least 5% of the home’s value, you may not be ready to buy a house. Having little or no equity in a home could mean taking a loss should you need to sell it.

2) Get less than you qualify for 
It’s best to buy a house that comes in well under your approved mortgage limit. This will keep your mortgage payments from dwarfing your monthly budget. Also, if the economy worsens, you’ll have a smaller mortgage payment to scrape together each month.

3) Pick the right Realtor 
Here’s how to find the Realtor that’s best for you:
  • Speak to recent clients about their experience with this agent. 
  • Look up the licensing of your prospective agent. You can find this information online.
  • Choose a winner. A Realtor who has been recognized for their excellent work is one you want working for you. 
  • Research how long the agent has been in the industry.
  • Check the current listings under the Realtor’s name. Are they in the same price range as the house you’re hoping to buy? 

4) Look for red flags 
Aside from having a professional inspection done, check for the following yourself:
  • A sturdy roof. A flimsy roof can bring expensive repairs. If you don’t mind replacing the roof, use it as a negotiating point for a lower price. 
  • Efficient heating and cooling systems. These can be costly to fix and replace. Plus, inefficient systems can hike up your utility bills. 
  • Strong structural components. Don’t be fooled by a fresh coat of paint. Check beneath the surface for strong pipes, wiring and insulation. 
  • Overall functioning of the home. Try out everything! Open doors, turn on faucets, flick light switches, and flush toilets. If you find any major problems, rethink your decision to buy this home. Don’t mind a handful of minor repairs? Use these as a negotiating point. 
Stop by any Community Financial branch or contact one of our friendly Mortgage Specialists before you start your search. We’ll help you with the finances as you find the home of your dreams!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How to Use Your Graduation Presents To Build Your Financial Future

If you’re graduating from college this year, congratulations! As a college graduate you’ve survived four (or more) years of nose-to-the-grindstone studying, years of ramen noodle breakfasts and frantic, last-minute papers. Your family and friends are eager to celebrate your accomplishment, and one of the ways they know how to do that is by giving you cash.

Money you don’t have a plan for has a funny way of turning into concert tickets, electronics and other splurge items. Making a plan to use your graduation money to build your financial future can prevent you from relying on debt to cover your lifestyle startup costs. Consider making space in your graduation gifting for these must-haves.

1) A professional wardrobe 
If you have a new employer waiting for you to show up to work, chances are they won’t be as sympathetic to sweatpants and band T-shirts as your TA was. Getting two or three professional items of clothing will help you hit the ground running on day one. And if you don’t yet have an employer, buying a good “interview” outfit is a wise investment.

2) Start saving for retirement 
It’s weird to think about how your career will end before it starts, but it’s never too early. Starting a Roth IRA will keep your money growing tax-free. You’ll need to start this some time, and it’s much less daunting to add to a retirement account than to start from zero. Though early withdrawal of IRA funds should be limited for many reasons, the money is available for major purchases like your first home, or if you need it due to a medical emergency.

3) Build an emergency fund 
Right now, your financial future is very fragile. You’ve spent a lot of time and money developing your ability to work and making yourself more attractive to an employer. What would you do if you found yourself unable to work for several months? What if you needed car repairs to get to work? 

Right now, before you have to worry about a rent payment or a utility bill, is the best time to start saving for those emergencies. Stashing away a little money in a rainy day fund is one of the best ways to insure the significant investment you’ve made in yourself. You could even open a separate Community Financial savings account to accomplish this goal.

Congrats to all of the 2017 graduates! We wish you a bright financial future.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Summer of Sharing is Back! What GOOD Could You Do with $1,000?

Temperatures are rising and so is our community support. As we launch our 7th annual Summer of Sharing Campaign, we want to know, “What GOOD could you do with $1,000?”

This summer, Community Financial will donate $60,000 to nonprofit, educational and community organizations throughout Michigan! That's $1,000 a day every Monday – Friday from June 12, 2017 – September 1, 2017.

Community Financial will start accepting nominations on June 1. At that time, members of the community are invited to visit www.SummerOfSharing.org to submit an essay-style nomination explaining how their favorite nonprofit helps the community it serves. These essays will stay live on the site for others to learn about how the nominated organizations are making a difference.

Community Financial's Summer of Sharing program is one of the ways we help give back to the communities that support us, but we can’t do it alone. We need your input to let us know which groups are making the greatest impact. Past recipients have included animal welfare groups, school music programs, food pantries, veterans groups and many more!

President and CEO Bill Lawton is excited to keep the tradition of sharing alive in 2017.

“We are inviting the community to tell us which organizations are doing great work and deserve additional financial support,” Lawton said. “It is part of our culture to give back to our communities, and we are proud to bring the Summer of Sharing back once again.”

Throughout the next three months, Community Financial will announce the winning recipients beginning in June on www.SummerOfSharing.org. Community Financial has donated over $365,000 through its Summer of Sharing program since 2011.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Pros and Cons of Bridge Loans

Buying your next home is nothing like buying your first. This time around, you're coming to the table with the experience of being a homeowner. You know what to expect throughout the buying process, you know what to look for in a home, and you know what you can afford. After all, experience is truly the best teacher.

Another major difference this time around is that you're likely counting on proceeds from the sale of your first home to help cover the down payment and the closing costs of your new home. But what happens if selling that home is taking a bit longer than you'd anticipated? What if you need to move immediately because of a job opportunity, or because there's a great home on the market that will be snatched up if you don't grab it quickly? How are you going to come up with the funds if your own home isn't selling quickly?

This is where bridge loans come in. A bridge loan provides temporary financing until more permanent financing can be obtained. When taking out a bridge loan, it’s understood that once permanent financing is in place, some of those funds will be used to pay back the bridge loan. Bridge loans are most commonly used to help the borrower span the gap between the sale of one home and the purchase of another.

Terms vary tremendously, so take the time to talk with your loan officer. Some will completely pay up the outstanding mortgage on the old home, while others just pull out equity, leaving the borrower with two mortgages, or simply lumping the loans together.

Bridge loans understandably have shorter terms than other loans, and are typically more expensive as well. Also, a lender will usually only extend a bridge loan if the borrower agrees to finance their new home's mortgage through the same institution.

Bridge loans seem to provide the ideal solution to a less-than-ideal situation: You can now house-hunt freely and without waiting for your current home to sell. However, bridge loans are not as simple as they may seem. Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of taking out a bridge loan.


Pros 

1.) Freedom to house-hunt 
The most obvious benefit of taking out a bridge loan is also the most significant. With this financing in place, you'll be free to buy the home of your choice, without being bound by the sale of your previous home.

2.) Short lending term 
Another big benefit of bridge loans is their short lifespan. In most cases, low interest only payments are required. The interest accrues for as long as you have the loan and is added to the payoff when you sell your home. This, in turn, can give rise to further financial challenges as the borrower is hit with various penalties and fees, or is forced to take out another loan. The short payback term of bridge loans assures that this loan will not be a source of financial stress for years to come.


Cons 

1.) Total debt increases 
Any loan a buyer takes out will cause their total debt to climb. Sometimes, a bridge loan will split the purchase of the second home into two mortgages, leaving a buyer with three monthly mortgage payments; one from their previous home, and two from their new one. Other times, the buyer will be left with two mortgages to pay, which can also be a strain on their budget. In either case, an increase in debt means an increase in monthly financial obligations.

2.) High interest rates and fees 
 To compensate for their short lifespans and the amount of work the lender has to do for them, bridge loans generally have higher interest rates, than an equity or mortgage loan. There are also various fees involved, such as closing costs, origination fees and more. 

3.) Risky contingency 
Bridge loans are usually taken out with the understanding that the sale of your existing home will allow you to repay the loan. But what if your house doesn't sell before the loan is due? This can happen even if you have an interested buyer – they may not get the financing they need or they may back out. This will leave you with another monthly mortgage payment to pay.

It's important to speak to a Realtor about market conditions before taking out a bridge loan, even if you think you have a buyer. Make sure the odds are in your favor and that it is likely your home will be sold on time before committing to a loan that is contingent on its sale.

If you really need the funds from the sale of your home before the transaction is finalized, but the thought of taking out a bridge loan makes you uneasy, you may want to consider other options. You can borrow against a 401(k) plan or take out a loan secured by stocks, bonds or other assets. And of course, don't forget to call, click, or stop by Community Financial Credit Union for guidance throughout the process of buying and selling a home.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Choosing an Equity Loan in a Rising Rates Environment

Q: I’ve heard that interest rates will climb soon. If that is true, how does it impact home equity lines of credit and a typical home equity loan? And what are the differences anyway?

A: It’s true that financial experts predict an interest rate hike (or multiple hikes) in 2017. There are some key differences between a home equity line of credit (HELOC) and fixed home equity loans. Here are some of the things you’ll want to know:


HELOCs 

How they work:  
A HELOC is a revolving credit line that allows you to borrow money as needed, with your home serving as collateral for the loan. You can spend the funds however you’d choose, though some lenders have restrictions on the amounts and ways you can borrow.

1.) Pros
HELOCs allow for financial flexibility. You can borrow money as needed over an amount of time known as the “draw period.” This is especially beneficial if you don’t know exactly when or how much money you’ll need. Repayment options vary, but are also usually very flexible. When the draw period ends, some lenders will allow you to renew the credit line, and others might allow you to make payments over another set period of time.

Monthly payments also vary. Some only require monthly interest payments and then collect the entire principal at the end of the draw period. Others base the payment on a portion of the amount owed plus interest. This is an important question to ask as you research your options.

2.) Cons 
HELOCs have variable interest rates – the interest you’re paying on the loan fluctuates over the loan’s term. Taking out a HELOC in an environment of rising interest rates means your rates are likely to increase over the life of the loan.

HELOCs that require repayment of principal only at the end of the term can also prove to be difficult for borrowers. If you can’t pay the large amount, you may be forced to refinance with another lender, possibly at an unfavorable interest rate.


Home Equity Loans 

How they work: 
A fixed rate closed end home equity loan, also secured by your home’s equity, allows you to borrow a fixed amount in one lump sum. Most home equity loans have a fixed term and a fixed monthly payment.

1.) Pros 
Home equity loans have fixed interest rates – the borrower knows exactly what their monthly payment will be for the life of the loan. In an environment of rising rates, this is especially beneficial; the loan won’t be subject to increasing rates. Every monthly payment on your loan is made up of both principal and interest. You will pay back the entire loan, in manageable amounts, until the loan term is over.

2.) Cons 
Receiving all the funds at once may be problematic if you find you someday need more than the amount borrowed. Also, the monthly payments may be higher.

Both options may have fees or prepayment penalties attached, so be sure to ask questions about these when doing your research. Ready to start? Our knowledgeable representatives can help you decide if a home equity loan or HELOC is right for you. Give us a call at (877) 937-2328 or visit www.cfcu.org/HELOC for more info!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Money Smart Vacation Ideas in Michigan

Looking to get away this summer, but don’t want to break the bank? There are plenty of activities and places to visit right in your home state. Here are just a few ideas to get you inspired for this summer.

Beach Day 
Michigan has dozens of splendid beaches where you can swim, build a sandcastle, and explore! Check out Michigan.org/summer to see which ones have free public access. "Parents" magazine named Silver Beach one of the top 10 family beaches in the United States for its clean, wide beach; swimming; children's playground; and other activities. Michigan state parks also have hundreds of mini-cabins, rustic cabins, camper cabins and even yurts, $45-$80. Many are in prime locations on Lake Superior or in Lake Michigan beach parks.

Must See Museums
Looking for something educational and fun to do? Why not visit one of Michigan’s famous museums and maybe even venture back in time? The Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village and Ford Rouge Factory Tour in Dearborn all provide activities for the whole family to enjoy. Sign up for Model-T rides, watch artists as they work with glass, clay or tin, or take the only Detroit automotive plant tour available to the public. Michigan is also home to some fantastic art museums like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Grand Rapids Art Museum. With low cost admission, both options provide a great way to get out and explore your creative side!

Prepare for Takeoff 
The Air Zoo of Kalamazoo was voted the "Best Place to Spend a Day with Your Family" by the "Kalamazoo Gazette" for good reason. Kids of all ages can enjoy amusement park rides, experience a historic mission in the 4-D theater, navigate a World War II fighter over the South Pacific in full-motion flight simulators and view 50 historic aircraft. Entrance fees are inexpensive, and several local hotels often partner with the Air Zoo to provide package deals. Kids with an interest in airplanes might also like the free viewing park at Gerald Ford International Airport. The airport viewing park provides entertainment for aviation buffs and families, and the park-like space is furnished with picnic tables and litter barrels for picnickers.

Fun on the Farm 
Visit your local farmers market to sample area products and stock up on fresh goods. It’s a great way to support local farmers and also learn about other local businesses in your area. Another inexpensive idea is to visit a local farm or petting zoo. Visit Michigan.org for a complete list to take the kids to. And if you really want to experience farm life and have a little extra in your budget, take a farming class or consider a stay at Hillside Homestead in Sutton Bay. Experience what life was really like living on a farm in 1910!

Road Trip 
Lastly, what better way to experience Michigan than by taking a road trip? With gas prices relatively low now is a great time to adventure around the state. The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a scenic route across Michigan that showcases the most beautiful vistas in the Mitten State. Travel around the great lakes, visit lighthouses, and explore campgrounds along the way!

Have any inexpensive Michigan vacation ideas of your own? Share them in the comments section below!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What is a Mortgage Pre-Qualification?

Interested in buying a home soon? There are two phases to securing a mortgage. While it does make for some confusion, lenders may refer to either part 1 or part 2 as pre-approval, and the other as pre-qualification. Rather than focusing on the labels, focus on the steps involved and what they mean. We’ll keep calling them “part 1” and “part 2.”

What do I need for part 1? 
In part 1 of the process, you describe your financial situation to a potential lender. Usually, this information includes salary, savings and current debts. The lender may or may not pull your credit score at this point. Based upon that information, the lender will make a determination about the kind of loan you might qualify for, assuming everything you’ve said is true. You don’t need to prove anything at this point. It can be done over the phone, over the internet or in person, and no documentation is required.

During part 1, you might want to compare possible mortgage rates. There’s a lot less paperwork involved, so it’s much easier to ask a lender to run through a variety of scenarios. You can look for a loan situation that combines the monthly payment, interest rate, term and down payment that’s most comfortable for you.

Part 1 can be completed early in the house shopping process. In fact, it makes sense to do this before you view the first house. That way, you won’t fall in love with a house you can’t possibly afford or convince yourself to settle for a house that doesn’t really meet your needs. This also gives you the chance to straighten out any potential kinks in your financial situation before starting part 2. Don’t worry about multiple checks on your credit if necessary. Credit bureaus lump mortgage inquiries within 30 days together as one inquiry, so they won’t adversely affect your credit score.

What do I need for part 2? 
Part 2 is where the paperwork starts to fly. At this point, a lender is deciding whether or not to give you a loan. Successfully completing part 2 means a lender is ready and willing to provide you with a loan up to a specified amount.

To navigate this step, you’ll need to prove everything you claimed in part 1. This means you need to provide tax forms to substantiate your income and account statements to verify your savings. You’ll also need to sign a variety of forms giving your lender or their agents the power to talk to employers, landlords and the IRS about your financial security.

Generally, lenders will want tax returns for the past two years, including supporting documents like W-2 forms. If you’ve switched jobs a few times in that span, you may need to go further back to demonstrate consistent employment. If you’re an independent contractor or own a small business, documentation requirements are significantly steeper. You’ll need to provide enough financial disclosure to show lenders that you can make the payments.

Completion of part 2 is a conditional approval for a loan. If the house you’re buying passes appraisal, you will get financing on the terms you’ve agreed upon with your lender. Part 2 paperwork is a bit more cumbersome, so you don’t want to do this multiple times. Only complete this step with a lender you’re going to borrow from.

Part 2 is best to complete before you make an offer, especially in competitive markets. A letter of pre-qualification or preapproval that shows your financing is in place does a lot to reassure sellers that your offer will survive until closing. If you’re on the fence about what house you’ll put an offer on, this process can still be completed with the property identified as “to be determined.”

Community Financial offers free mortgage pre-approvals. Contact one of our mortgage specialists to get started. Don’t worry if this process seems confusing. You’ll be working with a qualified mortgage professional that deals with it every day and can answer all your questions. One of the benefits of working with an institution you trust for your mortgage is that it clears your mind to focus on the important stuff, like where to put the sofa!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How to Get a Summer Job: A Guide for Students of All Ages

Summer is almost here. That means it’s time to start planning trips, camps and summer jobs.

Though most school years won’t end for a few more months, it’s wise to start thinking about summer work now. The time frame for hiring can take up to a full month, so waiting until school is out can really shorten your working time. Try these four tips to jumpstart your job search.

1.) Ask friends and family 
Disrupt the lengthy hiring process of most big employers by going after small business. Where better to get your foot in the door than with someone you already know? Ask friends and family if they need help with their businesses.

Parents can also help in the search. They might ask about summer or seasonal positions at their own workplaces. But, even if your friends and family can’t connect you directly to employment, let them know you’re looking. If you’ve got a friend of the family you’re close to, ask if they’ll serve as a reference, because a good reference can really boost a short resume!

2.) Think seasonal 
If you only want to work during your vacation, look for a seasonal job. Fortunately, such jobs are common in the summertime. If you live near a major tourist attraction, or a traveling summer festival, they’ll likely be bringing in extra hands during these months, as will nearby restaurants and shopping centers.

Other businesses, like construction firms and lawn-care services, do booming trade during the summer and will also need extra hires. City park districts step up their programming to serve kids who are also out of school and may also be looking for extra workers.

3.) Hit the pavement 
It’s convenient to do your entire job searching from the computer, but it doesn’t do much to showcase you to potential employers. Remember that most employers are looking for someone who will show up regularly and be presentable. Putting on your dress clothes and hitting the streets with a resume shows responsibility and drive. That’s something no online resume can convey.

4.) Make a plan for the paychecks 
Getting that first paycheck can be an exhilarating experience – and a very short-lived one. It’s too easy for that hard-earned money to disappear. Making a plan can keep you on track. Decide how much you’ll save and for what purpose. How much will you save for new clothes in the fall? What will help cover college expenses? Don’t forget to leave yourself a little fun money, too.

Once you’ve made the plan, Community Financial can help you stick to it. Youth savings accounts are a perfect complement to having a summer job. They offer competitive dividend rates combined with other features that make them ideal for those summer checks. Plus, they’re only $5 to open!

If you haven't started looking for a job yet this summer, keep in mind that your job search is about more than earning some extra cash – it could give you the competitive edge you need to get more and better jobs in the future. Happy hunting!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It Costs How Much to Get Married?

According to a new report by wedding magazine, The Knot, the average American wedding cost has eclipsed $35,000. That’s more than half of the yearly median income! Most of that spending isn’t on lavish luxuries for bride and groom – it comes from the guest list. Couples are inviting more people and doing more for them. If you’re tying the knot this year, read on for five ways to save on the cost of your big day!

1.) Schedule smart 
Saturday is the most common date for weddings, since everyone has the day off and most churches aren’t available on Sundays. Consequently, venues are often more expensive on Saturdays.

Instead, pick another date that offers those benefits. Your special day can be the day before a holiday, or on the Sunday of a long weekend, like Labor Day. Your guests will still have time to enjoy themselves, and you’ll save as much as 15% on the cost of your venue.

2.) Untether yourself 
When picking a venue, look for a place that allows outside vendors to handle food, music, and photography. Places that host weddings often may have existing relationships with businesses who can charge more because they’re not competing with anyone else.

If you can get this kind of flexibility, shop around for better prices on catering, music and flowers. You’ll also be able to get exactly what you want from these services, such as a signature cocktail instead of a full bar.

3.) Keep the “W” word to yourself 
Every vendor has a “special” wedding price. Often, this means they charge more for any wedding-related service. You can save as much as 30% by keeping the occasion to yourself. For example, when shopping for a dress, buying a formal gown that’s not labeled as a “wedding dress” can translate to savings. Getting a custom-decorated sheet cake can save a few hundred dollars, too.

4.) Put your guests to work 
The biggest cost in most wedding-related items is the cost of labor. When you pay for flower arrangements, you’re paying about 10% for the flowers and 90% for the florist’s time. Instead of hiring professionals, consider putting your guests to work.

Many wedding guests would love to contribute to your special day. They’ll be happy to participate in making your wedding beautiful, and you’ll be happy to save a few bucks!

5.) Spread out the cost with a savings account 
A tremendous challenge for newlyweds is coming up with all that money, because all the wedding bills come due at the same time. For many couples, that means using consumer debt to finance the whole cost of their wedding. The ensuing interest and financing charges can make your wedding even more unaffordable.

Instead, consider opening up a separate savings account. Set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account into an interest-bearing savings account. When the wedding bills come in, you’ll have money set aside to defray the costs and you’ll be able to borrow less.

Your Turn: What are your best cost-saving wedding hacks? Share your wisdom in the comments!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Keeping Friends and Finances: How to Deal with Financially Challenging Friendships

Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. But some friends can be a serious drain on your savings. If you recognize these kinds of people in your life, it’s hard to know what to do. Here are several examples of financially dangerous friends and how to handle them.

1.) The Party Animal 
It’s great to blow off steam with friends at a happy hour every once in a while, but the key word here is “occasional.” Party animal friends want an “epic” night, every night, asking you to join them for dinner, drinks, movies, concerts, and other expensive outings. These happenings add up quickly; a nightly $20 bar bill can cost more than $5,000 in a year! Without being rude, what can you do?

First, try suggesting lower-cost alternatives. Instead of drinking at a bar, you and your friends could go running or play tennis at the gym. These options are cheaper – and of course, healthier! If you do go out for drinks, look for “BYOB” events that will let you have fun without breaking the bank. You can also volunteer to be the designated driver, keeping your friends safe while saving money.

Second, set firm limits. When going out with a “party animal” friend, develop an exit strategy in advance: after one drink, call it an early night.

2.) The Sales Friend 
This friend invites you over for a fun get-together, and before you know it, some stranger is selling you expensive Tupperware. There’s no official pressure to buy, but you want to be supportive of your friend’s new business.

Worse yet, some people get suckered into selling low-quality financial products like high-commission life insurance. They expect you to trust their financial wisdom because you’re friends. If you do, you could hurt your current finances and put your retirement at risk.

The best thing to do in these instances is just say “no.” Of course, “no” doesn’t have to be direct. You can be too busy to go to a product party, or too broke to buy anything once you’re there. Be proactive about financial services so you can say you’ve got those needs managed.

3.) The Borrower 
There’s nothing that jeopardizes a friendship faster than lending to a friend. Just say “no” to friends who ask you for a loan.

There’s no guarantee you’ll get paid back, and the debt will create an uncomfortable tension in your relationship. You might need the money suddenly, and not have access to it, forcing you to become the needy friend to someone else!

That doesn’t mean you have to leave them high and dry. You can tell them about personal loans from established lenders or credit unions. This way, you help get them out of a bind without harming your friendship.

Your Turn: Do you have any bad financial friends in your life? How do you deal with them? Let us know in the comments section below.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lessons for Kids During Financial Literacy Month

April is Financial Literacy Month, and a great time to teach children about finances. Whether you’re a parent looking to teach your children about money management or a professional looking for a few tips, here are a few lessons you can teach kids to encourage them to be financially responsible adults:

1. How Money Works 
Now that most consumers use credit or debit cards for a majority of their purchases, children may not realize they are actually spending money. For this reason, encourage young children to handle cash to pay for items. Take time to explain to them that products and services have different prices. They also need to understand that money can be spent only once, and that after buying something, a person needs to earn more money in order to buy something else. Play “grocery store” and take turns being the cashier and the customer.

2. Saving for a Goal 
Teach your children about the importance of saving and putting some money aside a bit at a time until they have enough to buy what they want. Kids can learn to keep money in a safe place and practice their math skills by keeping track of the amount saved for future spending. Consider opening a savings account just for them to practice this habit, and take them to withdraw the money and purchase the item they have been saving for. Community Financial also offers a Youth Club for members 12 and under, where children earn special rewards when they make deposits.

3. The Importance of Self-Control and Making Smart Financial Decisions 
 Help your children learn the difference between needs and wants. Explain that although everyone really wants things like toys and electronics, you have to pay for needs – things like food, shelter and heat – before you can buy items that are wants. Help them develop a plan to save and spend their own money that takes into account their wants and needs. Also, the next time you need to make a big purchase, talk it through with your child. Show them how taking the time to ask questions and learn about different choices helps you reach smart financial decisions.

How will credit unions celebrate Financial Literacy Month this year? During the month of April the Credit Union National Association will celebrate Youth Month. This year’s theme is “Give a Hoot about Savings.” To celebrate, we invite our young members to come into the branches, grab a coloring sheet, and enter a raffle. This year, Student and Youth Club members can enter to win a gift card to the Detroit Zoo (south branches) or to Avalanche Bay (north branches).

Remember it’s never too early or too late to learn about managing your personal finances! Find out more about our youth services and Student-Run Credit Union program at cfcu.org/youth.

From April 22-29 Community Financial will celebrate Money Smart Week. Money Smart Week is a public awareness campaign to promote financial education across all age groups. Launched in 2002 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the program is now active in more than 45 states. Find local events by visiting moneysmartweek.org.

During Money Smart Week, student and youth club members will get double punches/prizes. So be sure to stop by any of our branches and make a deposit for 2 times the fun! Happy Financial Literacy Month!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring Cleaning Your Finances

Springtime is about more than just cleaning out the attic and sprucing up your home. It’s about cleaning up and clearing out your finances as well. Here are some ways you can get your financial information in tip-top shape this spring.

1. Sort Through Paperwork. 
Tax season is the perfect time to go through all of your financial records since you have already gathered a great deal of paperwork to file your taxes. A number of experts advise keeping all returns and documentation related to your filing at least seven years. Discard papers if you have stored electronic copies. Download electronic copies of bank and insurance records and other important documents to your computer and back them up onto a separate hard drive or cloud storage.

2. Revamp Your Budget. 
Living within your means is an integral part of a healthy financial lifestyle. But we’re all human, and sometimes our wants overcome our needs or something unexpected comes along. Review last year’s budget and then recalibrate for this year. That may mean zeroing in on and consequently reducing purchases in a given spending category, such as eating out at restaurants.

3. Check in on Investments. 
If you have multiple 401(k) accounts leftover from various employers, take the opportunity to roll them over into one account or with one investment company where your money is. This will usually give you more flexibility when it comes time for withdrawals. Also, if you haven’t upped your retirement savings in a while, spring is a great time to check in and increase your contributions.

4. Consolidate Banking Accounts. 
Many families have multiple bank accounts – checking, savings, CDs, money market accounts, etc. You can often earn higher interest rates or qualify for loan discounts by moving all those accounts to a credit union. Spring is a great time to take a yearly look at all of those bank accounts. If you have too many, close the inactive ones. Shred any unused checks or registers from old accounts.

5. Create a Financial Calendar. 
It’s often too easy to ignore financial tasks right up until the last minute. That’s why it’s a great idea to setup a financial calendar. It’s simple: set reminders throughout the year to do things like review insurance policies, get a credit report or re-balance investments.

Whether it’s tweaking your budget or adjusting your withholding amount, there are plenty of ways to get organized this spring. Do yourself a favor by getting organized and saving for your future.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2016 Community Matters Annual Report Available

A Message from CEO Bill Lawton 


During 2016, Community Financial proudly celebrated our 65th anniversary. Throughout the year we celebrated our members, with appreciation days, service focused on their specific needs and special rate bonuses. We celebrated our communities, by donating both volunteers and dollars to help enrich the lives of the people living around us.

We continued our support of local nonprofits through Summer of Sharing, Warming Hearts & Homes, Thumbs Up For Charity, Community Shares, and a new campaign called Thankful Thursdays. Our award winning Student-Run Credit Union program helped educate thousands of youth through our partnerships with local schools.

I am proud of the work we do and as a not-for profit financial cooperative, Community Financial has made a significant impact on the areas we serve. Our volunteer board of directors understands the importance of having healthy communities for our members to live and work in. They want local consumers and businesses to enjoy sound financial health, and for our communities to be enriched through our existence.

As we move into 2017, our focus will remain the same. We will continue to stand strong on our commitment to outstanding service and the financial well-being of our members. Together with the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), we will be conducting a consumer financial health assessment, funded in part by The National Credit Union Foundation. This assessment will help us better understand our members’ and employees’ financial health and provide insights to help improve their financial well-being. You make this all possible as a member-owner of Community Financial Credit Union. I hope you feel a sense of pride in being a part of a cooperative that is making a difference for our members and our communities.

We are proud to present Community Matters, our Annual Community Report for 2016.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Month to Month Guide on Best Time to Buy Items

When you’re mulling over a major purchase, the right price can often tip the scales. If you’re patient, you can save quite a bit of green. Here are the best things to buy during each month for the rest of the year!

January: After Christmas clearance 
With the Christmas season over, there are lots of deals to be found in stores! New furniture is usually released bi-annually – in February and August. So retailers will lower prices in January in the hopes of clearing space for newer inventory on the way. It’s also the best time to buy Christmas and holiday goods at a discount. So stock up on things like wrapping paper, Christmas bags, Christmas cards, etc. in January to save some serious cash and to be prepared when the next holiday season rolls around.

February: Prepare for winter 
February is a great time to take stock of your existing cold weather gear. If you have a coat that’s seen its final winter, now’s a great time to replace it. Retailers are looking to clear out the last of the season’s merchandise to make room for spring clothes, so you can snag a deal on thermals. You can also find a bargain on heaters and humidifiers to make your house more comfortable.

March: Get in shape 
If you’re looking to reboot your New Year’s weight loss resolution, March is a great time to pick up exercise equipment at a discount. Treadmills and elliptical machines are past their peak buying time, so retailers are looking to get rid of them. Sports equipment, like golf clubs and athletic wear, are also facing deep discounts.

April: Tech out! 
Japanese manufacturers’ fiscal year ends in March, so they’re typically ready to roll out new product lines. If you’re ok with being a year behind the latest and greatest, you can pick up a fully functional digital camera, laptop computer or big-screen TV in April. Tax refund-themed sales may also make it cheaper to upgrade your technological goods.

May: Around the house 
Now that the weather’s getting nicer, many home improvement shops will begin running sales on tools and other supplies. It’s also graduation time, which means dorm-stocking essentials will get some discounts. Check out basic pots, pans and cooking appliances in May.

June: Think thrifty 
Everyone’s gotten a chance to get their spring cleaning done. That means thrift stores are stuffed with donated second-hand goods. Be on the lookout for bargains of all sorts, but especially for used furniture and clothes.

July: School supplies 
The end of July marks back-to-school time, which means this is the month retailers start gearing up for back to school shopping. Look for promotions, like tax-free days, if you’re in the market for a computer. Otherwise, you can stock up on pens, paper and other standard office essentials.

August: Beat the heat 
If you’ve managed through the heat of the summer with a busted AC, August may provide some much-needed relief. Major appliance retailers are looking to shift their inventories from cooling to heating. Look for discounts on window AC units, dehumidifiers and other cool appliances.

September: Big-ticket 
The new models of most major appliances start to roll out in October and November, making September an excellent time to grab last year’s model. If you need a new dishwasher or refrigerator, try to hold out until September. Also, new Apple accessories, like iPads and iPhones, typically come out in November or December, so September can be a great chance to upgrade your device, too.

October: Cars and cruises 
The new model year begins for cars toward the end of summer, so there are a lot of leftovers from the previous year that need to go. Dealers are desperate to move inventory, so you can get a good price on the current year’s models. October is also a quiet season for cruise lines, so many of them run specials and sales during the month.

November: Game on 
Christmas season is in high gear, and major retailers are competing for gamer bucks. Expect to see the best bundles with the hottest games for the lowest prices in November. Whether you’re trying to surprise a gamer in your life or just get the newest games for yourself, November is the time to buy.

December: Cheers! 
In a paradox of economics, champagne demand is very high, so the price goes down. Champagne companies are competing for the New Year’s crowd. If you’ve got a major event coming up, like a wedding or anniversary, December can be a great time to stock up on bubbly.

Your Turn: What’s your best deal-nabbing tip? How do you find the lowest prices for the best stuff? Share your bargain hunting wisdom with us in the comments!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

“Thumbs Up For Charity!” is Back March 13th!

When someone does a great job, a common sign of approval is to give them a “thumbs up.” During the month of March, Community Financial wants you to give a “thumbs up” to your favorite charity. That’s why we are bringing back our 4th annual “Thumbs Up for Charity!” program! So how does this program work?

Starting March 13th, you can nominate a local organization to receive recognition for its good work in your community, and a chance to receive a financial donation up to $10,000! Nominations will be accepted at cfcu.org/ThumbsUp until Friday, March 31st.

Once all the nominations have been received, five finalists will be chosen and voting will begin on April 10th. The community will be able to vote for one of the five nominees until April 21st, so don’t miss this chance to give recognition to the group you think deserves it most!

Winners will be announced on cfcu.org by April 26th.
  • The charity that receives the most online votes will receive the grand prize of $10,000
  • Second and third place winners will each receive $5,000
  • Fourth and fifth runners-up will each receive $2,500
“The nonprofit groups in our communities work hard and we are proud to support them throughout the year,” said Community Financial's Manager/Community Relations Natalie McLaughlin. “We want to provide the residents of our communities a chance to tell us which groups they think deserve recognition, and ‘Thumbs Up for Charity!’ gives them that opportunity.”

If you would like to nominate a charity, please make sure that it is a registered 501(c)(3) organization, recognized community support organization, or associated with an accredited educational institution serving the communities within Community Financial's field of membership.

For complete contest rules and more information about the “Thumbs Up For Charity!” program visit cfcu.org/ThumbsUp. Now is your chance to make a difference in your community!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

3 Benefits of Using Community Financial's ePay

Have you signed up for Community Financial’s ePay service yet? This convenient service allows you to pay all of your bills online or through our mobile app from your Community Financial checking account.

Using ePay saves time, creates an electronic payment history, and deletes mounds of paper that usually go along with paying bills. What are some of the major benefits of using ePay?

1. Convenience 
Paying online or with your mobile device is fast and convenient and offers the benefit of scheduling. You can coordinate your payment dates with your paychecks. Our ePay lets you set recurring or one-time payments in advance with the ability to:
  • Include notes
  • View your payment history
  • Receive customized email alerts when payments are due or deducted from your account
  • View both pending and paid bills
  • Import billing statements with eBills
  • Make payments to businesses, individuals, or other financial institutions 
2. Saves Green 
Community Financial offers its members several ways to “go green,” and online bill pay is arguably one service that fosters an earth-friendly alternative to paying bills with paper checks.

One of the biggest advantages of paying your bills online, of course, is getting rid of all that paper. These days, pretty much any bill that can be mailed can just as easily (and usually more cheaply) be sent electronically. Less mail and fewer envelopes means less hassle for you -- and less paper waste in the landfills. Plus, you’ll save money on stamps!

3. Safety 
Online bill payment is safer than the traditional snail-mail method. Your personal information is much more vulnerable to theft if it's on paper and physically moving through the postal system.

Payments made online are safe and secure through Community Financial’s servers, and through the use of a username and password. Only you can set up payees and authorize payments. Plus with Touch ID on your phone, paying bills is at your fingertips.

Interested in signing up for ePay or want to see demo videos on how it works? Visit cfcu.org/epay or call us at (877) 937-2328 to learn more.

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!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

5 Scholarship Myths to Avoid and How CFCU Can Help

Scholarships can be one of the most underutilized sources of financial aid for college. With the cost of college tuition and room and board increasing, never underestimate the value in applying for scholarships.

According to scholarships.com, here are a few of the most common myths students believe when applying for scholarships:
  1. High school students should begin looking for scholarship during their senior year. It is not advisable to wait until your senior year to start looking for scholarships as many deadlines are in January. The sooner you begin the process the better. For students to have a good chance at winning the award, they should start searching by the middle of their junior year. 
  2. Most scholarship amounts are small and not worth the effort of applying. Every little bit counts. You might think that a $1,000 scholarship isn’t much in comparison to the rising cost of tuition and fees, but it definitely helps. The key is in trying to receive more than one source or scholarships. The more money you receive the less debt you will have when you graduate. 
  3. Scholarships are only for students with top honors and GPAs. There are many scholarships out there that are not based on academics. Often, you need a minimum of a 2.5 GPA to apply but that’s not always the case. There are plenty of scholarships that are based off your hobbies, the major you are pursuing, or your community service work. 
  4.  You have to be a high school student to win a scholarship. Scholarships are not just for current high school students. In fact, there are numerous undergraduate and graduate scholarships available. Current college students should visit their financial aid office or speak to their advisor on department-related awards. 
  5.  The application process is a one-time thing. Many scholarships granted through schools require you to reapply each year. You will also want to look for new scholarships and those you may have missed the previous year. 
The key to overcoming these myths and getting scholarships for college is to apply, and apply often! Prospective college students should also ask different local organizations if they grant college scholarships. Don’t overlook the ones offered in your hometown. Odds are you will have a better chance of securing the scholarship if it’s a local organization.

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

This year we will award 21 students with $1,000 scholarships in honor of Ron Carlson and in memory of Margaret Dunning and George Lawton, all of whom epitomize the credit union's "People Helping People" philosophy. If you are a current student member or know someone who is be sure to check out our complete guidelines and application criteria at cfcu.org/scholarships.

Taking the time to do your research on available scholarships could reduce the total amount needed through student loans. Just remember that every amount helps when you are paying for your education!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Financial Freedom: What It Takes To Free Yourself from Work

Everyone dreams of achieving wealth. Maybe you want to travel the world, quit a difficult job or to sleep in on weekdays. These ideas all center on different forms of freedom. Specifically, personal financial freedom: having enough money that you don’t need to work to cover your basic necessities.

Realistically, how much money would it take for you to be that free? It might seem impossible but it’s not. If it’s a goal, or if you’re just curious, consider the following.

1.) What’s your number? 
Traditional retirement planning assumes you withdraw money from an account for all of your expenses, so you expect to spend a certain amount each year. Multiply that number by the number of years you expect to live after retirement, factor in inflation and a modest rate of return, and that’s it. For financial freedom, though, the number is different.

Financial freedom before retirement, or interest-only retirement, means your capital is generating a stable rate of return, which is your only source of income. This is preferable, because you don’t know how long you’ll live.

The math is simple. Multiply your desired yearly income by 66.6 (a 4% annual rate of return, less a 3% rate of interest), and that’s what you’d need. For example, a $50,000 yearly income would require about $3.3 million. That’s a lot, but it’s attainable.

This is especially true if you’re willing to live on less. If you live simply in an area with a low cost of living, you can survive on $30,000. To get there, you’d need just under $2 million. It’s a big number, but it’s reasonable for a person to save in their lifetime.

2.) How can you get there? 
Two habits kill the move toward financial freedom: consumer debt and lifestyle inflation.

Consumer debt includes credit cards, auto loans and other big-ticket purchases. Anything that you’re borrowing money to get that won’t increase in value falls into this category.

Lifestyle inflation is purchasing goods based on the mistaken belief that you need them. Lowering your lifestyle expenses helps you reach financial freedom by lowering your savings target and leaving you with more money to save.

Financial freedom means living below your means for the rest of your life, saving at least half of every paycheck until you have enough to retire on the interest.

3.) Take a shortcut 
Financial freedom doesn’t have to be complete, or forever. Having enough money to last a year of unemployment, or to quit your day job and live off your investments and passion projects can also be a freeing feeling. Reducing your time-frame and increasing your freedom income cuts downs the amount you need to save.

You may not reach your full financial freedom number but don’t give up! You can still get a taste of the intoxicating freedom.

Your Turn: What would you do if you didn’t have to work? Write a book? Spend time with family? Sleep till noon? Let us know in the comments!

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