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Understand the Value of Your Home’s Equity


Whether you are looking to remodel your home, consolidate bills, add on a room, install a pool, update your heating or cooling systems, replacing your roof, purchase a vehicle, pay off medical expenses, vacation, or need extra cash for college tuition, your home’s available equity could save you a lot of money in the long run. One of the most overlooked elements in utilizing your home’s equity is the impact it may have on your insurance coverage.

Here are 7 tips to make sure you are protected:

  1. Make sure you increase the dwelling (home’s value) coverage in relation to any addition or remodel to your home. If coverage amounts are not increased, there could be a shortage of money available to cover a severe event like fire, tornado, flooding, or a major plumbing loss.
  • If you are installing a pool, it is suggested that you increase your liability coverage limits due to the added risk of owning a pool. Installing a fence that surrounds the pool is also recommended and sometimes required by the insurance carrier. Consult your agent to see what is right for your situation.
  • If energy-efficient products (air conditioner, water heater, windows, etc.) are being added, report them to your agent as it is likely that additional discounts could be available.
  • If you are replacing your roof, report this to your agent as the age of your roof is a primary driver of your homeowner’s premium and could save you a significant amount of money.
  • Make sure you let your agent know when you have added a Home Equity product on the property to get the lien holder added as an additional insured. This will avoid delays in claims handling if a future loss should occur.
  • Save all vendor and contractor receipts for any remodeling or additions to the home and photo document the beginning, progress, and completion of the project. This will protect you from any potential construction defect and it will also help you identify electrical and plumbing lines for future repair.
  • Seek reputable contractors to complete your work. Your local Better Business Bureau (BBB) has detailed ratings for companies and includes previous complaint resolution information that will be useful in making your decision.

Questions?

If you have any questions or would like a free comprehensive review of your specific insurance needs, Members 1st is here to help. You can reach us by phone at (717) 610-4499 or by email at m1stsales@m1stinsurance.org.


Thank you to Justin Valenzuela, CIC, Members 1st Insurance Services for your collaboration on this blog post.

Summer Fun on a Budget


To help keep summer boredom at bay, and your budget intact, we have some enjoyable, affordable summer activities to share! Check out our ideas below along with some helpful resources to get your started. Most of these fun activities can be done outside too if the weather is nice!  

Before exploring our outside venue suggestions, we encourage you to check the venue’s website and/or social media channels for COVID-19 safety measures. In addition, we ask that you adhere to all social distancing and pandemic protocols found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health websites. 

Venture into the great outdoors.

Grab your reliable pair of sneakers, and a water bottle and partake in one of our state’s most popular activities, hiking! Don’t let the word “hiking” scare you. Our state has trails featuring various terrains and difficulty levels. So, you will not have to climb up the side of a steep mountain, unless you want to, of course. There are also great trails for biking, jogging and running. While you are at it, pack a picnic and enjoy the scenic views while munching on your favorite food. We recommend visiting Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) website that lets you search for trails by name, county/zip code and/or trail use.  

View arts, entertainment and tours virtually. 

Outdoor movies are having a comeback, and a variety of performing arts are now available online. Tours of museums, exhibits, landmarks and zoos are also available for virtual visits. If you don’t have a drive-in movie location near you, create your own backyard outdoor viewing experience. There are great online tutorials for creating your backyard screen setup, or just grab your laptop and sit outside. If you want to keep it simple, or if the weather is bad, use your TV or laptop indoors. Check out our state’s tourism website, visitPA.com, for 38 virtual experiences you can explore from home and 27 drive in movie theater options across the state.  

Start a book club. 

Across generations, book clubs are becoming increasingly popular. We recommend starting your own book club or coming together with someone to start a club with friends or family. Book clubs help build connections and community with peers, relieve stress, boost your creativity and brain functions and of course, you will read more books. Get tips on starting a book club from Penguin Random House.  

Play a game or challenge friends. 

Board games can be a fun, budget-friendly activity and many board games are also available virtually to play with friends and family. Apps like Zoom, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp can make it easy to connect virtually. Many of your favorite nostalgic games have also gone virtual including BINGO, Trivia, Pictionary, Heads Up and Scattegories. Are you competitive? Try a cooking or baking challenge or build a backyard obstacle course and compete virtually with friends. Parents.com provides a list of 10 online board games, and these games are not just for kids, teens and adults can enjoy them too!  


Our Members 1st team is here to help you reach you financial and budgeting goals to maximize your summer fun with our Goal Savings account. Visit our website to learn how these accounts can help you customize your goals and save for different wants and needs.  

Summer Reading – Financial Books for Kids and Teens


School is out for summer! While kids and teens may want to fill their days with playing outside, screen time or even a seasonal job, reading should be on their summer to-do list as well. The benefits of summer reading are endless! Not only is reading a life-long skill, summer reading can help keep your skills sharp and challenge your brain and who knows… you might just learn something.  

Reading and Discussion 

Parents, did you know reading to your kids can help with their skills in communication, literacy, comprehension, listening and more? While middle and high schoolers are likely reading on their own, it is still important to engage with them about what they are reading. Book discussions are a great idea. Grab your own copy of the book they are reading and read it yourself. Whether you are reading to your kids or with them, strike up a conversation about the book. Book discussions can facilitate questions, new perspectives and foster understanding and growth at any age. 

Book Topics Matter 

While reading books is important for kids and teens, your book topic is equally as important. Books about money and finances are excellent resources to educate them about the power of saving, sharing and spending. This knowledge could help shape their financial decisions in the future. As Sir Francis Bacon once said, “knowledge is power.”  

Undertake Some Self Discovery 

As you read along with your kids or partake on book discussions on financial education, take a closer look at your own habits both literary and financially. Do you read books and are you handling your finances well? While you might not believe they are listening to you 100% of the time, your kids are most definitely watching you. As a parent and role model, before you recommend that they dive into a book or handle their finances better, make sure you are doing the same. Finally, do not forget to remind them that reading and financial education can be FUN! Check out our book suggestions below for your kids in elementary, middle and high school. Happy reading!  

Workplace Well-Being


What does well-being mean to you and how do you practice it at your workplace? June is National Employee Wellness Month which focuses on improving mental, physical and emotional well-being in the workplace. While some people may believe the words wellness and well-being are interchangeable, our Associate Experience team (comprised of Human Resources and Learning & Development) disagree. Join us as we take a closer look at the meaning of these words, how Members 1st promotes well-being and how YOU can implement well-being practices at your workplace. 

Wellness and Well-Being, What’s the Difference?  

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines wellness as “the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal” and well-being as “the state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous.” Members 1st launched our wellness program in 2013, and this year we expanded the program’s focus from wellness to the holistic nature of well-being. The 6 pillars of our well-being program include physical, mental, social, financial, professional and spiritual. 

Transitioning to Well-Being 

So, why the change? Our SVP of Associate Experience, Sara Kennedy, said our organization believes “this broader focus on total well-being will help to support well rounded health, happiness and prosperity of our associates.” Studies have shown that higher well-being in associates can lead to a boost in satisfaction, teamwork, productivity, and even improve a company’s bottom-line. Keeping tabs on your organizational culture and well-being is important too. We periodically conduct surveys where associates share feedback on our culture and well-being. Soon, we plan to conduct an additional survey on benefits and well-being. These surveys ensure we are focusing on what means the most to our associates and their well-being.  

Ideas for Practicing Workplace Well-Being 

Now that we’ve defined well-being and why it’s important to you and your employer, let’s transition to the fun part– ideas! Busy, unpredictable schedules and different workspaces (remote and in-office) mean well-being initiatives need to be easy, user-friendly and most importantly, fun! Our team provides online programs, events, activities, rewards for program completion and yearly recognition for associate’s well-being efforts. One of our most popular events for associates is our well-being fair, which helps raise awareness about well-being. It features a variety of vendors, exercise sessions and free healthy snacks. If you cannot swing an in-person event, we recommend going virtual. This year we took the virtual route with our well-being fair and included helpful tips, informational videos submitted by associates on our well-being pillars and more!  

Advice on Well-Being and Commitment 

In closing, we asked our SVP of Associate Experience, Sara, for her advice on workplace well-being and staying committed to well-being goals. She recommends reflecting on all parts of your life, and not hyper focusing on one aspect, like your weight. Focusing on making small, meaningful improvements can be more effective than taking on all aspects of your well-being that you want to improve on. Think about your overall well-being and pick just one thing that you can add to your day that will make you an even more effective you! 


Thank you to our SVP of Associate Experience, Sara Kennedy and Jennifer Cubbage, our HR Business Partner – Benefits for your collaboration on this blog post. 

What to Do When You Can’t Pay Your Bills


If you’re faced with a sudden layoff, try to pay the essentials and make a plan for how to handle the rest.

The economic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic could be profound. Many people are already losing jobs, with unemployment jumping at a record pace. Even those who stay employed may face reduced hours or uncertainty about how long their paychecks will continue.

If you’re in a situation where you can’t pay all your bills, or likely to be there soon, you may have some options to limit the damage to your finances.

Prioritize essentials

Before paying anything else, try to cover the basics: shelter (mortgage or rent), food and utilities. Transportation, cell phone service and child care are necessities if they allow you to work.

The recently enacted stimulus package includes a 120-day ban on evictions for many renters, as well as a moratorium on foreclosures for most mortgages. People who have federally backed mortgages (including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA and Department of Agriculture) and who can attest to COVID-19-related financial hardship can request forbearance from their mortgage lenders.  If you’re going to miss a mortgage payment, contact your lender about hardship options and consider talking to a housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You can call HUD at 888-995-4673 for round-the-clock foreclosure avoidance assistance.

Housing counselors can help renters, as well. Another good resource is Just Shelter, which can point you to local organizations fighting eviction and homelessness. Also, emergency rental assistance may be available. Start your search for help at www.211.org.

Your local 211 organization can also connect you to resources to pay for other essentials, including food and utilities. Regulators in some states have told utilities not to shut off service for nonpayment during the crisis; elsewhere many utilities have vowed to suspend disconnections. Many also offer lower-cost “lifeline” service or payment plans if you fall behind.

If your car payments are too expensive and you owe less than the car is worth, you may be able to refinance the loan. Otherwise, the best option may be to sell it and buy something cheaper, if possible. If you owe more than the car’s value, you may still be able to sell it if you can get a personal loan to cover the difference in what you owe. Try to avoid repossession, either voluntary or otherwise, since you’ll still be on the hook for any deficit and your credit will suffer.

Identify your next-level priorities

Taxes, child support and insurance are expenses that can have serious consequences when you fail to pay.

The IRS and state tax agencies can take a portion of your wages, seize money from your bank account and even send you to jail (although that doesn’t usually happen unless you’re deliberately committing tax fraud). Similar penalties await people who fail to pay child support.

Falling behind on insurance payments, meanwhile, can cause your policies to lapse, leaving you vulnerable to potentially catastrophic expenses.

Some options for relief:

  • The IRS has pushed back the tax filing deadline to July 15. Many states are following suit. Tax agencies have payment plans if you can’t immediately pay what you owe.
  • You may be able to modify a child support agreement if you go back to court.
  • If your insurance is unaffordable, talk to the insurer about alternatives or shop around for a less expensive policy.

Now consider everything else

Access to credit can help you pay the bills when your income isn’t enough. Ideally you would make minimum payments on any loans or credit cards, since skipped payments can seriously damage your credit scores and cut off your ability to borrow. Miss enough payments and you could face collection calls, lawsuits and wage garnishment.

But some bills have a “pause” button. You can ask for forbearance on federal student loans, for example, which allows you to temporarily stop making payments. Since interest on federal education loans has been waived during the crisis, forbearance won’t increase what you owe. Plus, federal loans have income-driven repayment plans that potentially can reduce your required payments to zero. The U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid site has details.

Meanwhile, some banks and other lenders are offering their customers more options after federal regulators encouraged financial institutions to help consumers affected by the pandemic. For example, credit card issuers, including Capital One and American Express, are allowing customers who ask for help to skip a monthly payment without penalty. Contact your lenders to see what’s available and how to qualify for any assistance.

Unfortunately, sometimes the available help isn’t enough. A credit counselor’s debt management plan could allow you to repay your debt at lower rates, or you may need to consider bankruptcy, which stops collections activity and legally erases many debts. You can get referrals from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, respectively.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.


Have you or your family been impacted by COVID-19 through loss of income and/or illness? Our team is dedicated to helping you with solutions, support and advice during this unprecedented time. Visit our website for to learn about our member and business relief options and get our latest COVID-19 updates.

Cyber Security Q&A


As these challenging times force our world to operate more digitally, you may find yourself wondering about cyber security. In effort to help our members stay safe online, we reached out to our VP of IT Information Security Officer, Garth, to answer a few questions. Keep reading to learn Garth’s tips to stay safe and secure.  

What are the different types of fraud? 

While fraudsters are constantly applying slight new coats of paint, the goals for their scams remain relatively the same. They ultimately boil down to either obtaining your credentials, coaxing you into installing something harmful, paying them for something you would not normally buy, or outright sending them money.  

Although some of these objectives are obtained in fairly straightforward ways, like calling you and asking you for your online banking password to ‘confirm your identity’ before telling you about the alleged fraud on your account, others can be very intricate. They are also savvy enough to take advantage of current events, so things like fake COVID-19 charities, hacked COVID-19 mapping sites, and other sorts of pandemic-themed frauds are common right now. 

Attackers are trying to take advantage of consumers during these difficult times. What advice do you have for them? 

We all know to be skeptical of junk mail and can recognize it when we see it. Applying that same scrutiny to unsolicited emails, calls, and pop-up ads can save us all a great deal of heartache. Question authenticity. Practice pausing before acting rashly on unsolicited information. Take advantage of fraud protection features where available. If two-factor authentication is offered for online services, make use of it. Be sure to leverage card alerts and locking features. Finally, never, under any circumstances, provide your password to anyone. Only you should ever know your password.  

What suggestions do you have for people who are working from home? 

Hackers discover new vulnerabilities constantly, and while some exploit those discoveries for personal gain, others notify publishers and manufacturers of these defects so they can be addressed with patches. Make sure that your operating system and antivirus software are up-to-date and working properly.  Keeping up with these updates is critically important. Adding password protection to your Wi-Fi network and monitoring devices on your network are easy and simple precautions. Doing these things will keep you safe. 

Do you have any additional advice?  

It can be challenging to juggle all of the complex and unique passwords experts tell you to use for each different website. You may want to consider investing in a password management solution. Even when two-factor authentication is not available on a particular website, a good password management tool can be protected with two-factor authentication and help you easily keep track of your passwords.  

Finally, do not be afraid to slow things down. Fraudsters generally want to rush you as much as possible in order to increase the likelihood you’ll be rattled and make a mistake. Take your time to work through any uncertainty you may feel. Consult with friends. It is much easier to stop fraud before the money has left your account than it is to try and get it back afterwards. 


For additional fraud and cyber security information, visit our website. Still have questions? Contact our Fraud and Security team.

Make the Most of Your Home’s Equity.


BEST WAYS TO USE A HOME EQUITY LOAN OR LINE OF CREDIT

As you continue to navigate through these unusual times, it could be the perfect time to tap into your home’s equity. You start building equity in your home with your down payment and your first mortgage payment.  Over time, you continue to build your home’s equity, which you can use to finance a variety of needs during these tough times. These funds can be used to finance several different things, such as home improvement projects, college and school expenses, debt consolidation, significant events like weddings and more. 

HOME IMPROVEMENTS

Spring is finally here and it’s the perfect time to tackle those spring projects!  Have you been wanting to spruce up your back yard or put in a pool?  Many of us now have extra time at home, so tap into your home’s equity and turn those dreams into reality.   Home equity loans and lines of credit are great ways to finance outdoor projects, kitchen remodels, renovations and other home improvements. 

COLLEGE AND SCHOOL EXPENSES

Do you have a child or family member headed off to college?  Are you worried about how to pay for it?  Home equity loans and lines of credit can be great alternatives to student loans.  Student loans can sometimes have higher interest rates than home equity loans and lines of credit.  These uncertain times may have you worried about your finances, but don’t stress.  Take a look at where your home’s equity could take your education funding.

DEBT CONSOLIDATION

Another great use for a home equity loan or line of credit is consolidating any high-interest debt you may have.  This will allow you to condense many monthly payments into one simple payment.  A home equity loan or line of credit may also have a lower interest rate than that of your credit cards and other loan options.  Tackling debt can be overwhelming but consolidating debt with a home equity loan may be the right solution for you.

LIFE EVENTS

Planning a major life event like a wedding or expecting a new baby?  Home equity loans and lines of credit are great ways to fund these sorts of milestones.  Take advantage of the equity you have built up in your home and use it to finance the wedding or nursery of your dreams!

Credit Scores Explained in (Exactly) 250 Words


What credit scores are: Three-digit numbers expressing the likelihood you’ll repay someone who lets you use their money (like a loan or credit card).

Who has a credit score: People who have been listed on an account that was reported to any of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. An account can be a student loan, car loan, credit card, credit-builder loan or maybe rent. It represents something you are obligated to pay.

Where the number comes from: Data is collected by the credit bureaus, which get the information from lenders, credit card issuers and public records. Then it is weighted to produce a score, typically on a 300 to 850 range. Higher is better. There are hundreds of scoring models, so most consumers have many credit scores.

How do I get started?

  • If someone with good credit makes you an authorized user on an account that’s reported, that can help.
  • Student loans and sometimes car loans can be relatively easy to qualify for.
  • Credit-builder loans and secured credit cards are made for people building credit or re-establishing credit.

What should I do to boost my credit?

  • Pay all bills on time, every time.
  • Use your credit cards lightly — that is, don’t use more than 30% of your credit limit on any card.
  • Keep old accounts open unless you have a good reason to close them (like high fees).
  • Apply for credit sparingly.
  • Consider having both installment (level monthly payments for a set period) and credit cards.

The article Credit Scores Explained in (Exactly) 250 Words originally appeared on NerdWallet.


Understanding your credit score doesn’t have to be difficult. For additional information regarding credit scores, click here.

Members 1st is here to help you to achieve your financial goals and assist you through all of life’s moments and milestones. If you have any questions, please call Customer Service at (800) 237-7288, visit our website, or visit one of our various branch locations.

How to Plan a Vacation Without Getting Into Debt


Whether you’re planning a trip to a country across the globe or packing the car for a weekend road trip to a local campground, you can have a debt-free vacation with some careful planning.

It’s easy to see how a vacation can blow up even the most carefully planned budget: In NerdWallet’s 2018 Summer Spending Report, parents surveyed by Harris Poll planned to charge an average of $1,019 to credit cards for summer vacations.

To ease the stress of a vacation on your budget, start with a clear idea of your trip’s scope — identifying expenses from the time you leave your home to the moment you return — and create a realistic spending limit. Then get creative to trim costs along the way.

1. Save over time

Play the long game when planning and saving for a vacation. Put a portion of every paycheck aside to build up a reserve of cash for your trip.

Even saving $25 or $50 a month will help make your trip more affordable. Make sure the amount you’re setting aside will provide you with enough vacation cash, too.

Consider opening a separate savings account and automating regular transfers to help you save without thinking about it.

If you’re more of an impulsive traveler, work to contribute to this travel fund regularly so you can have that weekend getaway without having to pull out your credit card.

2. Make a friendly budget

Think of your budget as another companion on your trip.

Just as with any travel buddy, make sure you and your budget set good expectations for each other. Make a spending plan. Account for everything from flights and lodging to entertainment and shopping. Your budget might not take you to every museum or restaurant you want; work to find a compromise that makes both of you happy.

If you run the numbers and find you can’t swing that vacation without overspending, think about shelving the trip for a few months and saving more money in the meantime.

3. Make the most of your credit cards

Have a travel credit card or a cash-back card sitting in your wallet? You can take advantage of it before and during your trip. If you don’t have one yet and your trip is six months or more away, consider looking into cards with a sign-up bonus that could cover flights or lodging.

Card in hand, spend smart. Say you have a card that gives you cash back on groceries; determine what you spend on groceries annually and earmark those rewards points for your vacation budget.

The key is having a plan to pay off your charges every month, advises Joe Cheung, a travel hacker and blogger at As the Joe Flies.

“Everything starts out with a commitment to not having any credit card debt,” says Cheung. “With that principle in place, that opens up the possibility to earn credit card rewards without going into debt or paying interest.”

You can also use a rewards card to cut your travel costs. Your card may get you free rental car insurance, or baggage fees or foreign transaction fees waived.

4. Watch hotels like a hawk

Lodging is one of the most costly parts of a vacation. Shop strategically to lower your hotel costs, including monitoring prices and booking rooms during off-peak periods.

Cheung recommends booking your reservation, but waiting to pay. That way you can continue to monitor hotel prices and change your booking accordingly.

“Sometimes prices will drop by just $10 or $20, but sometimes it’s pretty drastic,” Cheung says. “I once had a hotel for $250 a night, then it dropped to $160 a night.”

You also can check prices at the hotel where you’ve made your initial reservation and price-compare with hotel price aggregator sites to see if you’re getting the best deal.

5. Use apps to find cheap flights

Price-tracking apps and websites can do the work of price hunting for you.

With the smartphone app Hopper, for example, you can enter the general parameters of your itinerary, and it will track prices over time and alert you when the cheapest flight is available. The more flexible your travel dates, the easier it will be for you to find a low price. Google Flights provides a similar service.

One drawback to these services: They don’t include prices for every airline. So monitor a few sources to get the best price.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

The article How to Plan a Vacation Without Getting Into Debt originally appeared on NerdWallet.


Ready to plan the vacation of your dreams? We’re here to help! Check out our Vacation Club or Goal Savings accounts. These accounts allow you to designate savings specifically for the trip of a lifetime!

Want to get more out of your vacation? We also offer multiple credit card options with features you will love!

Members 1st is here to help you through all of life’s most important moments and milestones. If you have any questions, please call Customer Service at (800) 237-7288, visit our website, or visit one of our various branch locations.

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