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Money Matters Blog

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How to Prepare Your Home for Winter

Need to prepare your home for the upcoming cold weather, but don’t know where to start? As soon as you see the seasonal aisles at your favorite superstores filling with Halloween paraphernalia, you know “Old Man Winter” will be creeping up before you can say “Boo!” This year, be prepared. Keep your home warm and safe this winter by following our comprehensive to-do list before the real cold sets in.

1. Seal your home 
Give your home a quick run-through, checking for drafts. You can do this by holding a lit candle near the following areas: windows, doors, vents, plumbing areas, air conditioners, mail chutes, and electric and gas lines. If the candle flickers, you’ve got a draft. Seal up all holes and reinforce existing points of entry with weather stripping. You can also caulk windows and doors to make sure they’re truly sealed against the cold.

2. Clean your gutters 
If your gutters are clogged with sodden leaves, they can freeze up and block the drainage, allowing melting ice and snow to slowly seep into your roof and cause excessive damage. 

3. Invest in a roof rake 
If you live in an area that sees lots of snow each winter, your roof can be sitting under several feet of snow for weeks at a time. All of that snow can cause your roof to collapse. Invest in a roof rake that will help you clear the snow off your roof when it really starts piling up.

4. Reverse your ceiling fans 
Flick the reverse switch on your ceiling fans to make the blades spin in a clockwise direction instead of counterclockwise. This way, the fans will produce an updraft to push the rising hot air downward.

5. Prune your trees 
Check all trees near your home’s fa├žade for low-hanging or loose branches. Prune them so they don’t end up cracking from heavy snow or wind and causing damage to your home.

6. Take inventory of your emergency supplies 
Stock up on water, canned food, batteries, flashlights and storm lanterns. You may also want to invest in an external charger for some juice when the lights go out.

7. Turn off external faucets 
Unscrew your garden hose from the spigot and drain your sprinkler system to prevent any freezing. You may need to call in a professional in order to do this properly.

8. Protect your pipes from freezing 
Prevent burst pipes, and avoid costly repairs, with these simple steps:
  • Keep your heat on even when you’re not home so that your pipes don’t freeze and burst. 
  • Allow your faucets to drip during severe cold snaps.
  • Wrap any exposed piping and hose bibs to prevent freezing. 
9. Check your heating system 
Crank up the heat before the cold blows in to ensure everything is in working order. If anything needs repairs, tend to it now while it’s still warm out.

Your Turn: What’s on your checklist this fall as you prepare your home for winter? Share it with us in the comments!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

All You Need to Know When Buying a Used Car

Scared to buy a used car? If you’re shopping for an amazing deal on wheels during the October car-shopping season, you want to be that buyer who walks away thrilled with their new purchase. Follow the 8 steps below for a smoother ride!

Step 1: Crunch the numbers 
How are you paying for your new car? If you’re paying cash, you already have a car budget in place. If you’re taking out an auto loan, your lender will determine how much you can afford. Also consider getting pre-approved for your loan before visiting the dealer’s lot. A great place to shop for a car loan is at your local credit union. For instance, Community Financial auto loans offer competitive rates, no application fees, and flexible terms.

Step 2: Create a target list 
What make and model car do you want to buy? Check out Consumer Reports for reliability ratings on vehicles from the most recent model years. Aim to narrow your choices to three or four model cars.

Step 3: Research 
Start researching prices and listings for your vehicles of choice. Visit our Auto Resource Center to get started. You can find used cars for sale in any of these locations:
  • The used-car section of new-car dealerships 
  • Used-car dealerships 
  • Used-car retailers like CarMax.com 
  • Websites like Craigslist where car owners privately sell their vehicles 
Determine the average asking price for each car. Next, find out all you can about each vehicle with a vehicle history report from Carfax.com.

Step 4: Call the seller 
Contact the seller to verify the information you’ve learned about each car. If you’re using a private-party seller, ask about any possible mechanical issues. If you’re working with a dealership, ask if the car is still in stock and for any information you couldn’t find on your own. If everything checks out, set up an appointment for a test drive.

Step 5: Test drive 
Pay attention to these details during your test-drive:
  • Is there sufficient legroom? 
  • Is the ride smooth? 
  • How is the acceleration? 
  • Does the “check engine” light stay on? 
  • Do you have full visibility? 
  • Are the brakes working well? 
  • Do all the lights work? 
Next, ask for the vehicle’s service records to determine if it’s current on scheduled maintenance.

Step 6: Have it inspected 
Having your car inspected by a mechanic can save you loads of aggravation and lots of money down the line.

Step 7: Negotiate 
Make an opening offer based on the average price for your car and use all the information you’ve learned about your vehicle as bargaining chips. Be firm and you will end up with a fairly priced vehicle.

Step 8: Make it official 
If you’re buying the car from a private-party seller, make sure the title and registration are officially transferred to you. Finally, read the contract carefully and make sure you have insurance before you drive off the lot. Now, you’re all set to take your new car for its first spin!

Your Turn: Have you recently bought a used car? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

School Spotlight: Moraine SRCU Volunteers are Leaders!

Moraine Elementary Student-Run Credit Union fall volunteers!
Community Financial is proud to partner with Moraine Elementary in Northville for our 18th year in partnership! The students at Moraine participate in our Student-Run Credit Union program, which helps them learn and develop money management skills.

Selected fourth grade students are “hired” and learn the business of banking as credit union tellers, branch managers, marketing representatives, computer operators and accountants. Moraine students are future leaders in the making!

Moraine: A Leader in Me School 
"Begin with the End in Mind!" (Habit 2)
Students can begin to think of their
financial future using this simple goal sheet.
Moraine Elementary is a proud Leader in Me school that celebrates student leaders on a daily basis. The Leader in Me program, created by FranklinCovey, is an innovative school-wide model that teaches and involves students in leadership projects and life skills throughout the year.

Content from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by: Stephen R. Covey, is key to the Leader in Me model. Student leaders use and incorporate the 7 Habits throughout the day. These 7 Habits include:
  1. Be Proactive 
  2. Begin with the End in Mind 
  3. Put First Things First 
  4. Think Win-Win 
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood 
  6. Synergize 
  7. Sharpen the Saw 

These students are using the “Synergize” habit (Habit 6) by working together.
The “Think Win-Win” habit (Habit 4) is about working together for a positive
outcome and experience for all members and volunteers.
Our Student-Run Credit Union program aligns very well with the Leader in Me model. Take a look as Education Partnership Coordinator, Karie Gonczy, uses the 7 Habits to help instruct her Student Credit Union members and volunteers.
Education Partnership Coordinator, Karie Gonczy, is showing a
student how to “be proactive” (Habit 1)
and set a savings goal for the year with their goal sheet.
Your Turn: How can you use the 7 Habits effectively at school or at home? Tell us some examples of how you show leadership!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

International Credit Union Day: Find Your Platinum Lining

Are you as excited as we are to celebrate International Credit Union Day on October 18, 2018? This year marks the 70th anniversary of International Credit Union Day and this year’s theme is “Find Your Platinum Lining in Credit Unions.”

The theme combines the traditional gift of platinum for 70th anniversaries, a play on the saying “every cloud has a silver lining,” and a celebration of the platinum-lined differences and impact credit unions have made and continue to make for their members and communities.

It’s a day to share your experiences as a member and to reflect upon all the benefits you enjoy by being a part of your credit union. It’s also a day to have fun! We will have cider and donuts at all of our branches on Thursday, October 18 to celebrate ICU Day so make sure you stop by!

In the spirit of ICU Day, let’s take a quick look at four factors that can help you find your platinum lining in credit unions!

1.) Foundation is members, not customers
As a member of a credit union, you own a piece of the organization. That’s why it’s often referred to as a cooperative. Your credit union only wants what’s best for you. This means we can focus on offering superior service and policies that are as member-friendly as possible.

2.) Bridge to financial wellness
A credit union will be willing to work with you through rough patches. While a bank is more likely to turn down a borrower who has a poor credit history, a credit union member representative will be happy to meet with you and work to find a loan that best suits your needs. If necessary, we can also help you learn the basics of budgeting and may offer programs to help you cover unexpected expenses. We also offer a variety of Financial Resources to help our members build their financial skills.

3.) Lower fees
Banks earn much of their profit through fees and pushing unnecessary products on their customers. While a credit union will also have fees attached to products and services, these tend to be lower than similar fees you’ll find at a bank.

4.) Better dividend rates
Credit unions offer higher dividend rates on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans. Credit unions only need to cover operating costs, and all the money we save is passed down to our members in the form of favorable rates, enhanced services, community giving, increased operations and more. 

As you can see, we’ve got lots to celebrate! Stop by on Oct. 18 so we can show our appreciation and celebrate everything that makes a credit union special. Can’t wait to see you!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How to Create and Keep Strong Passwords

Your passwords are like the keys to your life. And when it seems like there’s another big security breach every week, you want to be absolutely sure your passwords are strong and safe.

After all, with just a few keystrokes, a scammer can have full access to your personal information, financial accounts, social media pages and so much more. But creating those perfect passwords – and remembering them – can be difficult. We’ve outlined 6 steps for creating and keeping super-strong passwords that will keep scammers guessing.

Step #1: Choose a password manager
With so much of our lives accessible online, it’s more important than ever to keep passwords secure. One way to do this is to use a password manager. These services will generate strong passwords for all of your financial accounts, favorite websites and social media platforms and keep them safely encrypted. You will only need to create and memorize one master password, which you will use when logging into all of your accounts. There are lots of password managers on the market, but the ones that come most highly recommended are Lastpass and Keepass. You’ll want to note that LastPass is online-based while KeePass is offline-based, so there are advantages and disadvantages to using both.

Step #2: Create an unbreakable master password
Once you’ve chosen your password manager, create a strong master password. This code can open up every password of yours to potential scammers, so be extra careful about choosing one that is super-secure and virtually unbreakable. Follow the rules below and you’ll have a strong password.
  • Make it long. Many sites require a password that is a minimum of 8 characters long, but a 12-character password is even stronger. 
  • Be creative. Avoid using names, places and recognizable words because these are easily cracked. 
  • Mix it up. The best way to keep your password unbreakable is to mix up your capitalization and the kinds of characters you use, switching back and forth from letters to numbers to symbols. 
Bonus tip: Worried about creating and remembering a long, unbreakable password? Turn a sentence into a password by using mnemonics, misspelled words and symbols that only you will understand. Here are a few to get you started:
  • WOO!TAwonTWS = Woohoo! The Astros won the World Series!
  • D:’(OspldMlk.JdreenqOJ = Don’t cry over spilled milk. Just drink orange juice 
  • 1tubuupshrtsin2Mpnts = I tuck button-up shirts into my pants. 
Once you’ve created a super-strong master password, work on memorizing it. Don’t store the password anywhere online or on your phone; write it down on an unmarked piece of paper. Rip up the paper as soon as you’ve committed the password to memory. This should happen fairly quickly since you will be using it quite often. 

Step #3: Update all your passwords
Next, you’re going to sync all the websites and accounts you use with your password manager. Follow the guidelines on your password manager for this step, as they differ with each service. When you’re through, you’ll only be able to log into these sites by using your master password.

Step #4: Use two-factor authentication
Add another layer of protection by choosing two-factor authentication whenever you have that option.

Step #5: Be careful with security questions 
Ironically, security questions are extremely insecure. Anyone can Google your dog’s name or your mother’s hometown. And, if all a scammer has to do to retrieve your password with the “I forgot my password” tab is answer a security question, the strongest passwords in the world won’t do you any good. Protect yourself by treating security questions like passwords. Never answer them truthfully. Instead, make up mnemonics or nonsensical answers that are hard to crack but easy for you to remember.

Step #6: Don’t let your browser or phone “remember” your passwords 
Don’t be lazy; keep your passwords in your head and not on your devices. Otherwise, you’ll be in deep trouble if your computer or phone is swiped. Keep your passwords strong and safe. You don’t want to be an easy target for scammers!

Your Turn: What’s your best tip for creating a super-strong password? Share it with us in the comments.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

6 Times a Bargain is Not a Bargain

With the biggest spending season of the year looming ahead, it’s time to brush up on your shopping smarts. Don’t get caught springing for something you can’t afford! This year, give yourself the gift of an intact budget and a credit card balance that doesn’t haunt you for months or years to come. Here’s when that steal of a deal is not such a bargain after all.

1. When you don’t need it 
The price might be right. But, if the heavily marked-down item is one you don’t need, you’re just blowing money you could be using for savings or to purchase the stuff you actually do need.

2. When it’s a faulty product 
Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be cheap. If an item is retailing at a ridiculously low price, hold it up to this checklist to determine its quality:
  • Where was it manufactured? If the product has a designer label, but also has a “Made in China” tag, you’re looking at a cheap knockoff that isn’t such a bargain after all. 
  • Are there any noticeable defects or missing parts? 
  • Does the item look worn out? 
  • Is the material cheaply made? 
3. When it’s going to go bad before you can use it 
Before buying in bulk at your local warehouse store to snag a great deal, be sure the food won’t go bad or get stale before you can eat it.

4. When the “sale price” is the highest the item has ever been sold for at this location 
Retailers sometimes feature an item’s price as a “sale price” when, in reality, the store has never sold it for more than the tagged amount. The store might be basing its sale price on an inflated Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). But, if the MSRP was artificially inflated to begin with, you’re not getting a bargain.

Other times, the item will come with a pre-marked-down MSRP. The manufacturer’s label might read: “Original price: $49.99. Our price: $39.99.” Of course, the item was never sold at $49.99. If an item is really marked down, you’ll see another price tag slapped on top of the manufacturer’s label with the newer, lower price.

5. When you need to mail in a rebate 
Rebates are a retailer’s best friend. Most of us are too lazy or forgetful to mail them in. We instead end up paying full price with the retailer getting the last laugh. Only pick up rebate items with an instant at-the-register rebate.

6. When it’s part of a liquidation sale 
Avoid liquidation sales. While shoppers sometimes snag great deals, they are riddled with rip-offs. Retailers post signs claiming “Everything Must Go!” – but that’s where the honesty ends. The “Rock Bottom Prices” they advertise are often as high as the original MSRP – or even higher. The store owners are depending on shoppers to assume that all items are bargain-priced just because they’re at a liquidation sale. Proceed at liquidation sales with extreme caution.

Your Turn: Have you ever snagged a great deal only to realize later that it wasn’t quite the bargain you thought it was?