Archive for the ‘ credit reports ’ Category

Medicare Advantage Enrollment Is Coming!


Are you on Medicare? Don’t forget– the Annual Enrollment period is coming up soon! From October 15 – December 7 you have the chance to make changes to your Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) or Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage Plan (Medicare Part D) for the following year. There are many reasons why a different Prescription Plan or Medicare Advantage Plan could be a better fit (perhaps your health has changed). Since premiums and benefits for most plans are changing for 2015, you may want to take a moment to evaluate if your current plan will best meet your needs for the coming year.

If you’re concerned about your choices and need some guidance, Members 1st Insurance Services can help. Call me at (800) 283-2328, ext. 6269. I’ll help you better understand your Medicare options, help you find a plan that fits your budget and lifestyle, and ensure that you’ll avoid any late enrollment penalties.

 

Guest Blogger: Ben Lausch, Health Benefits Specialist, Members 1st Insurance Services (reprinted from the September/October 2014 edition of Avenues)

Organize Your Finances in Five Easy Steps


File-Folder-$$Do you know your net worth? Do you know how much you spend each month…and on what? Do you know how much you can expect from your pension plan or Social Security when you reach retirement?

If you answered “no” to at least one of these questions, you’re not alone. The majority of Americans don’t have an accurate pulse on their finances. Some people may feel they don’t have time to organize their finances. For others, the thought of doing so is too overwhelming. They may not know where to start, so they just never try.

Even so, it’s important to know where you stand financially and where you’d like to be in the future. Then, you can enjoy those short-term gains, while still being on track to meet your long-term goals.

Here’s a five-step action plan to help you take control of your money:

Set up a financial filing system. This can be as simple as making sure that all the bills you receive in the mail get put in the same spot every month. It also includes setting up a budget so you know your monthly income and expenses.

Gather important records. Look through your records to identify missing information. For example, if you need an estimate of your Social Security retirement benefits, contact the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213. Also, make sure to gather copies of your health, disability, life, homeowners and vehicle insurance policies. You’ll also want to keep a copy of your credit report with these documents. You can request a free credit report yearly at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you find any discrepancies, correct them immediately. Keep all of these records in one place and update the old copies with the new documents each year

Size up your situation. Add the estimated current value of all assets, including your home, car, personal property, savings, investments and retirement accounts. Next, add all liabilities, including mortgage, credit card balances and any other outstanding debt. Then subtract liabilities from assets to figure out your net worth.

From there, make a list of income and expenses by reviewing paycheck stubs, your checkbook register and credit card statements from the past year. Finally, track spending for a month by saving all of your receipts or recording cash purchases in a notebook. A spending plan form or a money management software program helps organize spending by category.

Chart a course. Once you know your net worth and you’ve developed a baseline for your monthly spending habits, the next step is to set financial goals – both long-term and short-term – and figure how much money you’ll need for each. Create a targeted saving and spending plan that meets your needs using your list of income and expenses. For a month or more, track actual spending to see how you’re doing, making adjustments as necessary.

Brush up on money-management basics. This can include developing a budget, being diligent at balancing your checkbook and even visiting a financial advisor.

By taking these actions to organize your finances, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you reach your short-term goals. Plus, you’ll feel peace of mind knowing you’re working toward your long-term plans.

How to Handle Your Finances after a Divorce


divorce
While young adults are living together in increasing numbers, possibly avoiding the fate of being a split-up statistic, divorce rates have actually doubled over the past two decades for couples over 35, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota . When it comes to marriage, baby boomers may be two-time losers. But young or old, divorce, whether legal or laid back, can be an emotional — and financial – train wreck. Here’s how to get back on track.

The credit you deserve
After years of being in a joint financial partnership, it’s time to reestablish your individual credit identity. First, obtain a free copy of your credit report. The three major credit agencies are mandated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act to provide a free copy of your report once a year. The official website is annualcreditreport.com, or you can call 1-877-322-8228 to request yours.

In case you haven’t already; cancel any remaining joint credit cards so that neither former spouse is liable for the other’s debt going forward. If you don’t have a credit card in your own name, you might want to consider applying for one, in order to build your new credit history.

It’s also quite likely that you’ll be carrying a bit of debt with you out of the divorce, such as court costs and attorneys’ fees; perhaps some credit card debt, as well. You may be tempted to pay off those debts all at once with any cash acquired through a settlement, but it might be a better idea to preserve those dollars until you see how your after-marriage money situation works out.

Account for every account
Remember to update the names on all other accounts, such as life insurance beneficiaries and authorized users. You may also have to change the names on deeds and titles to property that was granted to you as part of the divorce settlement.  Assets that may need to be retitled can include investment accounts, vehicles and houses. You may also want to consider refinancing any debt or mortgages that you have acquired in the process. And of course, you’ll want all of your bank and credit union accounts in your name only.

A fresh beginning
If you received the home as part of your settlement, think about if it’s financially feasible – or even emotionally beneficial – to stay. Not only do you have to consider the mortgage payment, but all of the associated expenses, too: insurance, upkeep, taxes, utilities and all the rest. Children can play an especially important role in this decision, depending on their age, school activities and social involvement. From a financial perspective, you will also want to weigh the tax consequences of a sale, though as a single-filing taxpayer you may qualify to exclude $250,000 of the capital gain from your income.

Emergency and retirement savings
The financial transition may be difficult, however you want to remember your short-term and long-term goals. First, having three to six months of income saved for unexpected expenses can help you get back on your feet. A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) will guide the terms of transfer for any qualified retirement account, such as a 401(k) retirement plan or pension. If you are to receive such assets, a trustee-to-trustee transfer will prevent an unnecessary mandatory tax withholding.

Make a money plan
While few people may guide their personal finances by a formal budget, it’s a good idea to have at least a “back of the envelope” money plan. You may be facing new expenses on your own, such as rent or mortgage payments and even legal costs. The household income has almost certainly changed.  Consider all spending as “up for review.” Total up every fixed expense, determine what can stay and what has to go – and then tackle discretionary spending, at least until you can get into a new financial routine.

Divorce can force you to think ahead, not back. And in matters of money – that’s a good thing.

Note: If you are facing a life changing event such as divorce or are suddenly single for other reasons and you need money management assistance, consider GreenPath, a financial management service that can help keep you on track.

Check out our brochure, Getting Married/Suddenly Single

Guest Blogger: Hal Bundrick, NerdWallet

We’re Getting Married: Do We Need Joint Accounts?


bride & groom

Planning a wedding? Well then, you’ve got enough on your mind. But print out this article for after the vows. It’s about something you’ll need to discuss with your brand- new spouse once housekeeping begins: Do we need joint accounts?

A financial team
You are more than just roommates now; you’re a financial team. So it makes sense to combine assets and put everything in joint accounts, right? Perhaps. At least one joint account—for shared household expenses —can make sense. Both partners can contribute to the fund, either equally or on a ratio based on their earnings. Each can also maintain a separate account for personal expenses.

Maintaining a joint account can have its challenges, though —especially if each spouse is spending from it. Sharing details of every transaction is important, and having one spouse or the other in charge of “balancing the books”is a good idea. Of course, be prepared for the occasional, “Now, what is this $67 charge for?”

Joint savings and investment accounts are also a way for a couple to feel as if they are building a future together —though IRAs will remain separate, by law. Assets gained before the partners became a couple, such as inheritances, usually remain separate as well, with beneficiary designations in wills and retirement accounts easily changed to reflect the new relationship.

Dealing with debt
Debt can be another matter. Shared debt for a new sofa to replace that ragged futon is fine, but the financial baggage from the past should continue to be held separately — including such things as student loans, car loans and credit card balances. As debt is retired, new purchases can be combined for joint benefit.

It is often assumed that credit is automatically combined after marriage, but that is not necessarily the case. Separate credit cards can be maintained and paid individually, while a joint credit card can be issued for spouses to share. This is especially important if one or the other has a checkered credit history. Keeping that scarred score quarantined will allow the other partner to maintain their buying power.

Spouses are not generally responsible for the individual debts of their partner, unless payments are for “family expenses”—in that case, in some states, both spouses can be held responsible. Spousal debt can also be transferred to a marital partner in community property states.

By the numbers
In years past, it was common for married couples to enter into a total money merger upon marriage. These days, it’s more common for couples that have joint bank accounts to also maintain individual accounts. Combining assets into a joint account can allow for a higher balance, which credit unions often reward with premium perks and fee discounts.But keeping separate accounts can allow for a bit of independence.

The question of single or joint accounts —or both —may come down to a single question: Which one of you is the most adept at handling money? For some married couples, the answer can be obvious. He can’t add single-digit numbers in his head, while she can compute the tax on a purchase while reaching in her purse for the exact change.

Usually, the fewer the accounts, the fewer the fees —and perhaps the better the interest rate on deposits. And, if both spouses work, combining paychecks into joint accounts can enable a turbo-charged savings plan: pay bills with one salary; save the other.

As newlyweds, the possibilities are endless.

Note:  Members 1st FCU has partnered with GreenPath, a financial management program to help individuals and couples who may have budgeting, debt management and trouble managing their checking accounts.  In addition, stop by any branch location to pick up a copy of our brochure, “His, Hers, Mine, Ours” that offers additional insight when couples decide to marry.

 Guest Blogger: Hal Bundrick, NerdWallet

Your Picture Can Protect You


Image

As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” For us, your picture provides an extra means for protecting your identity from scammers. Just talk with an associate the next time you visit a branch. If we don’t have your photo on file, it will take less than 30 seconds to add that extra layer of security to your account. Then, the next time you – or someone else – attempt to make a transaction, the associate will see your photo and be able to confirm your identity. As CEO Bob Marquette says, “The fraudsters are thinking every day how to part people from their money, so that’s one thing we’re constantly trying to stay one step ahead of.” Right now, we’re the only financial institution offering this kind of identity protection.

We also offer card personalization! As an added security measure, you can choose to place your own photo on the front of your VISA® debit or credit card, too. For more information, click here.

Also, make sure to check out our Fraud & Security Center for valuable resources and tips for protecting yourself and your financial assets. Click here for more information. 

How Can You Help Your Credit Score?


Stressed man with bills

Think of your credit report as your financial resume. It says a lot about you and how you manage your money. It’s a summary of all of your debts – those you’re currently paying on, those you’ve paid off and it shows payment history, debt amounts and more. It’s your ticket to being approved for a loan or being denied. It determines how much interest you pay when it comes to the amount of money you want to borrow.  Maybe you’ve had some financial issues due to job loss, illness, or maybe you simply developed some bad financial habits like having too much money going out for bills and not enough money coming in.

Whatever your situation is, there’s always a way to help improve your credit score. May we suggest:

Pay your bills on time. This is pretty much a no-brainer. If a situation comes up and you know you’re going to be late with a payment or can’t make it in full, pay something and/or call the creditor to work out an alternative payment arrangement and make sure it’s noted in your account. Consider using an online bill pay system to help you schedule payments.

Credit card usage. Use them lightly. Just because you have a $5,000 limit, doesn’t mean you need to go on a charging spree. Use less than 30 percent of your total available credit.

Pay off your installment loans  (mortgage, auto, student, etc.).  This can help your scores but typically not as dramatically as paying down — or paying off — revolving accounts (think about all of those store credit cards you signed up for to take advantage of that point-of-sale discount) and other credit cards.

Lenders like to see a big gap between the amount of credit you’re using and your available credit limits. Getting your balances below 30% of the credit limit on each card can really help; getting balances below 10% is even better. Pay off  your highest-rate card(s)/loans first and then put those payments towards other debts such as credit cards that  are really close to their limits.

Pay more. Anytime you can pay more than the minimum payment, do it. You’ll end up paying less interest in the long run. Remember, every little bit helps.

Lines of credit. Too many open lines of credit, whether or not you’re using them, may send a red flag up the pole to potential lenders.

Balance. Maintain a good balance of credit between your installment loans (car loans) and credit cards.

Old credit is good.  If you have charge cards you haven’t used in a while or have paid off, but still have open lines of credit, use them once in a while and pay them off in full each month.

Check your credit report. You are entitled to a free annual credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com. Go there, order up your credit report, grab a cup of coffee and take a good, long hard look at it. Make sure you get it from all three credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Dispute any discrepancies you may find. You don’t necessarily need to correct accounts you closed listed as being open or accounts you closed that don’t say “closed by consumer.” Closing an account may hurt your scores. If your goal is improving your scores, leave these alone.

Pay attention to significant errors. Sometimes life deals us a bad hand – you have financial issues due to job loss, medical issues, divorce, gambling problems, and so on. If you have any of the following on your credit report, it is worth your effort to correct these issues sooner rather than later:

  • Late payments, charge-offs, collections or other negative items that aren’t yours.
  • Credit limits reported as lower than they actually are.
  • Accounts listed as “settled,” “paid derogatory,” “paid charge-off” or anything other than “current” or “paid as agreed” if you paid on time and in full.
  • Accounts that are still listed as unpaid that were included in a bankruptcy.
  • Negative items older than seven years (10 in the case of bankruptcy) that should have automatically fallen off your reports.

Additional resources:

Members 1st FCU offers free access to money management and financial education services through GreenPath, a financial management program. Through comprehensive education and exceptional service, GreenPath has been assisting individuals for more than 50 years. As a member, you can receive assistance with:

  • Personal and family budgeting
  • Understanding your personal credit report and how to improve your score
  • Personal money management
  • Debt repayment
  • Avoiding bankruptcy, foreclosure, and repossession

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