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What You Need to Know About Romance Scams 7/20/2020

Online Romance Scams

Millions of people turn to online dating apps or social networking sites to meet someone. Unfortunately, instead of finding romance, many find a scammer who tricks them into sending money. Federal Trade Commission data from the agency’s Consumer Sentinel Network shows that consumers reported losing $201 million to romance scams in 2019 – up nearly 40% since 2018.

Romance scammers prey on consumers who are looking for love. What feels like a blossoming relationship is quickly converted into an ask for money to help the scammer out of a manufactured crisis. The stories and feelings are often compelling, but the losses can be huge.

To protect you and your loved ones from falling victim to romance scams learn the warning signs and the #1 tip for avoiding romance scams.

Lies Romance Scammers Tell

Often romance scammers say they are living or traveling outside of the United States. Scammers will say they are:

  • In the military
  • A doctor with an international organization
  • Working on an oil rig

Romance scammers often manufacture a crisis for why they need the funds. When asking their targets for money they say they need it for:

  • Surgery or other medical expenses
  • Paying off debt
  • Travel expenses like a plane ticket to visit them
  • A visa or other official travel documents

When asking their target to pay them, romance scammers will request the funds be sent through specific transactions. Transactions they know are almost impossible to reverse where they can get the cash quickly while staying anonymous:

  • Wiring money
  • Reloadable cards or gift cards from companies like Amazon, Google Play and iTunes

How to Avoid Losing Money to a Romance Scammer

***Never send money or gifts to a love interest you have not met in person***

If you suspect you may be involved in a romance scam:

  • Stop all communication with that person IMMEDIATELY
  • Talk with someone you trust. Pay attention if your friends and family say they’re concerned about your new love interest
  • Do a reverse image search of the persons profile picture to see if it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up
  • Search for the type of job the person has to see if other people have heard similar stories

If you do an image search and the persons photo appears several times under different names you’re most likely dealing with a scammer. If the persons profile disappears a few days after they meet you, that is another warning sign.

It’s important to lead with you head and not your heart. Just like real romances, it may take some time for the scammer to gain your trust. They may lavish you with attention, lure you off the dating site and then ask for money. Make sure you are asking questions and looking for inconsistent answers. Unfortunately, an online love interest who asks for money is almost certainly a scam artist.

What to do if You Find Yourself Involved in a Romance Scam

  1. Slow down – Talk to someone you trust. Don’t let the scammer rush you.
  2. Never wire money, put money on a gift card, cash reload card or send cash to an online love interest. You won’t get it back.
  3. Contact your financial institution right away if you think you’ve sent money to a scammer.
  4. Report your experience to

 

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4 Financial Tips to Consider When Borrowing for the First Time7/8/2020

Borrowing Money

Borrowing money can be a necessary step in transitioning into adulthood that could help you to achieve bigger financial milestones down the road. But if you’re not careful, borrowing money can lead to big problems.

Check out these tips to avoid common downfalls when it comes to borrowing and feeling empowered.

     Don’t Charge Too Much on Your Credit Card

Part of transitioning into adulthood is learning how to curb your impulses. Credit Cards can be great for emergencies but be cautious when spending on items for pleasure. Challenge yourself and take a pause before you add those new shoes to your online shopping cart or order take out for the third time this week. Having a credit card can feel like you have free money, but it's really not.

     Keep Tabs on Your Credit Score

Managing your loans like auto, personal or credit cards can have a big impact on your credit. If you do it correctly you can build up your credit reputation. Achieving a high credit score can increase your chances to qualify for other loans in the future along with qualifying for lower rates. To maintain a good credit score, pay off your balance in full each month whenever possible and avoid racking up credit card debt – this is one of the quickest ways to lose control.

     Use the Terms of Your Loan to Your Advantage

Different loans have different rewards, penalties and payment schedules. Make sure you fully understand the terms of your new loan or credit card to avoid unnecessary consequences like prepayment and late payment penalties. You can also use your unique payment schedule to your advantage. For example, fixed rate loans work great for budgeting because the payments stay the same each month. Decide what monthly payment you can afford and stick to it. When you do carry debt make sure you are getting the best rates possible.

     Take Advantage of Consolidation and Refinance Opportunities

It’s important to make sure you keep yourself open to new information no matter how confident you are in your loan. There may come a time where you find yourself with too many different payments and interest rates to keep track of during your money borrowing journey. If this occurs, it’s a great time to consider consolidating your loans into one place. A time will come when you come across a loan opportunity that will offer a better interest rate, when this happens don’t be afraid to refinance. Gain control and get back on top of your finances.

Taking out your first loan opens you up to a world of exciting possibilities that come with new responsibilities. Stay alert and stay educated to set yourself up for financial success throughout your life!

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Should You Consider a Gap Year?6/26/2020

Student Loans

Many colleges have announced they plan to have students return to campus for fall semester; others have indicated they will be taking an online learning approach. In some cases, schools are adjusting their break schedules to potentially lessen the spread of COVID-19 following holiday travel.

But while colleges are trying to finalize their plans, many graduates and families are weighing the options for themselves. If you are planning to attend a college that is now offering only online courses, should you consider attending a different school for an on-campus experience? Or if your school is welcoming students back to campus, do you feel comfortable with that decision?

Pros and Cons of Considering a Gap Year in 2020-2021

Pros

More time to wait COVID-19 out: No one knows exactly how long this will last - and it may well change things in the fall semester. So if you wait a year, you’ll be more likely to have the traditional residential college experience. Plus, you can save money and stay closer to home in a time of uncertainty.

Expand your options: A year off allows you to get new experiences and potentially reapply to colleges that weren’t previously in reach.

Reduce your costs: Use the time to take courses online from the college, attend a community college, or use an online provider to earn college credits that can transfer to your eventual college of choice. These are credits you wont have to pay for later - so your overall cost of college can be reduced.

Cons

Living expenses don’t go away: Just because a student is living at home doesnt mean they wont have any expenses. They still need to eat! And some things like health insurance can be cheaper through a school than through parents.

Losing momentum: There’s a risk that students who don’t continue to go to college now won’t have the initiative to do so when school is farther in the past. Make sure you assess motivations and make alternative plans that won’t derail your educational path.

Whatever your plans are for this coming fall, you don’t have to worry! Health Advantage is here to help you through life’s great adventures. Once you’ve exhausted options for scholarships, grants and federal aid, a private student loan from your credit union could help fill in the remaining gaps in funding your education.

What is a credit union?

Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that exist to serve their members rather than maximize corporate profits. Like banks, credit unions provide a variety of financial services, but as member-owned cooperatives, they focus on providing a safe place to save and borrow at reasonable rates while returning income to their members in the form of dividends.

Why choose a credit union?

Credit unions operate to serve their members and communities. One way they do that is by offering competitive rates with a focus on the best interest of the borrower - in this case students. When you choose your credit union to pay for college, you'll benefit from great rates, low fees, convenient repayment terms, and most importantly, a life-long relationship with a lender you can trust.

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How to Avoid Mobile Banking App Scams 6/18/2020

Mobile Banking App Scams

With the Coronavirus pandemic keeping many people close to home, the use of mobile banking apps has increased. Unfortunately, the FBI is predicting that this increased interest in mobile banking apps will also lead to increased cybercriminal activity on these platforms. According to a recent report by the financial tech industry, 75% of Americans used mobile banking in 2019, and that number is expected to increase 50% in 2020. With the increased usage comes the increasing threat of cyber attacks.

Two Main Ways Cybercriminals Exploit Mobile Banking Platforms

  • Through fake banking apps

Scammers create fraudulent apps designed to look like the legitimate apps of financial institutions. The user downloads the app and enters their login credentials.

  • App-based banking trojans.

An app-based banking trojan is a malicious program that disguises itself as another app, such as a game. When the user launches a legitimate banking app, the trojan creates a fake version of the bank’s login page and overlays it on top of the legitimate app. The trojan steals the login information, then passes the user on to the real banking app login so the user doesn’t even know their information has been compromised.

Rest assured mobile banking is a safe, secure option to access your accounts at anytime, anywhere. But there are just a few steps you can take to avoid falling victim to these scams.

Download Apps From a Trusted Source

The FBI recommends only obtaining apps from trusted sources such as official app stores or directly from financial institution websites

Use Strong Passwords and Good Password Security

Avoid reusing the same password for multiple accounts, and create strong, unique passwords. Avoid common words or phrases, such as “password” or “123456.” For added security, use a password manager; don’t write down passwords or save them in a notebook.

Don’t Click Links in Emails or Text Messages

Many criminals use legitimate-looking emails to trick consumers into providing personal information. Make sure messages are from the financial institution before taking action.

Call Us

If you see an app that appears suspicious, contact your financial institution right away. The security of your financial information is our top priority.

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How to Take Advantage of Your Home Equity Line of Credit 6/10/2020

HELOC

Summer is the perfect time to tackle home maintenance and renovation projects. Whether you’re looking to remodel the kitchen or install a new master bathroom suite, working on your home over the summer means you won’t have to contend with winter’s inclement weather and short dark days – but of course, there’s still the challenge of how to pay for your renovations.

A Home Equity Line of Credit is a natural way to use the value in your home to finance short-term expenses like home improvements, summer vacations—or both. Stay cool this summer by putting your home’s equity to work for you with these summer project ideas.

What is a Home Equity Line of Credit?

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a second mortgage that gives you access to cash based on the value of your home. You can draw from a home equity line of credit and repay all or some of it monthly, somewhat like a credit card.

With a HELOC, you borrow against your equity, which is the home’s value minus the amount you owe on the primary mortgage. You can also get a HELOC if you own your home outright, in which case the HELOC is the primary mortgage rather than a second one.

Whether a HELOC is a secondary or primary mortgage, you could lose the home to foreclosure if you don’t make the payments.

Summertime HELOC Projects

  1. Keep your cool all summer long. Maybe it’s about time to retire your aging air conditioner—but a new A/C unit is a pretty big investment. A Home Equity Line of Credit can help lighten the load so you can replace your old unit before it decides to gasp its last breath on the hottest day of August.
  2. Take advantage of good construction weather. Do you have backyard improvements on your mind? Summertime’s the perfect time for outdoor construction projects, including new fences, new decks, a chic pergola, outdoor swimming pool, or even a custom outdoor kitchen.
  3. Get away from it all. Maybe what you really need is less time worrying about home matters and more time taking the stress off your shoulders. That summer dream vacation you’ve never quite managed to work into the budget the past couple of years becomes doable with a home equity loan.
  4. Think ahead to fall fun. If summer’s not really your season, carry the fun into the fall with improvements like a backyard fire pit. This home improvement can be a simple DIY project or an elaborate presentation. Either way, gathering around the fire on a crisp autumn evening can be an invigorating way to reconnect with friends and family at the end of a long day.

The Right Home Equity for Your Project

Remember, any time you use your home as collateral for a loan, you risk losing your home should you default on the loan. HELOC loans are not meant to help you live beyond your means. But rather reinvest in your home’s own value with a renovation project or taking a well-deserved vacation you’ve been putting off far too long, might be just the thing to cool off a sweltering summer.

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How to Celebrate Mother's Day While in Quarantine5/8/2020

Mothers Day in Quarantine

Everything looks different now with the coronavirus pandemic raging, and Mother’s Day is no exception. You can’t take the family out for pizza or treat mom to a meal at her favorite restaurant, but you can still celebrate. Here are some ways you can make this day special for mom, no matter how far apart you may be.

Take a virtual trip together

Airbnb is now offering virtual experiences from around the world. Take a trip with mom and learn all about a new city, as well as its culture, from the comfort of your home. If your mom is an art aficionado, you can also check out virtual tours of famous museums like the Guggenheim in NYC and Musée d’Orsay in Paris. FaceTime with mom while you tour to make it a trip you take together.

Make a craft together

The nationwide lockdown has sparked a trend in old-fashioned crafting, like quilting, pottery and jewelry-making. Order matching craft kits from sites like Etsy and spend some quality virtual time with Mom working on your masterpieces together while chatting on the phone or videoconferencing on Zoom.

Dine out at home

Dining inside restaurants is still not allowed in most states, but you can always order it. Pick up mom’s favorite dinner for the family. If you’re celebrating with your mom remotely, have her favorite meal delivered for both of you to enjoy in your own homes. Deck out your table in its finest and make it a joint experience by setting up a videoconference while you eat.

Enjoy a custom photo album together

Sort through your old pictures and create a custom photo album on a site like Shutterfly. Make one copy for you and one for mom. Flip through the albums together while chatting on the phone or FaceTiming to relive some of the year’s best moments.

Send a spa kit

Let mom enjoy some pampering at home this year with a DIY spa kit. You can order a premade kit online, or create your own basket of specialty soaps, bath bombs, scented candles, a loofah, body brush, moisturizer, bath salts, massage tools, facial mask, scented oils, shampoo and conditioner. Throw in her favorite magazine and a CD with soothing music for the ultimate in relaxation.

Watch a movie together

Is there a movie you and your mom both adore? Watch it together on Mother’s Day, quarantine-style. Start the movie at the same time in your own homes, and keep up a steady stream of text messages about the movie instead of the live chit-chat you’d enjoy if you were really watching together. Make it extra-special by sending mom a homemade “ticket” to your movie, including the title and the official start time, and throw in some of mom’s favorite snacks, too.

Mother’s Day may be different from what you’re used to this year, but you can still make it an extra-special day for mom. She deserves the best!

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Your Guide to Safe and Comfortable Face Covering5/8/2020

Housekeeping workouts

Q: I’ve started wearing a face mask every time I go out, per CDC recommendations. I’m finding these coverings to be less than comfortable. Is there any way around these irritations?

A: Face coverings have become an essential wardrobe component during the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, complying with the CDC’s advice doesn’t need to translate into ongoing discomfort. Here’s how to comfortably wear your face coverings without compromising on safety.

The elastic ear loops on my face mask irritate my ears.  Am I doing something wrong? 

Irritated ears are a true annoyance, but there are products and hacks that may help.

You can try the “ear saver,” a double-sided clip that’s worn behind the head with four different hook levels. Loop the elastics on the hook that best fits your head to relieve the pressure on your ears.

You can also try sewing a pair of buttons onto a headband or baseball cap to use in a similar fashion. Measure the placement of the buttons carefully, placing them at the right spot to hook the elastic loops of your face mask.

I wear eyeglasses, and when I put on a face covering, my breath fogs the lenses. Is there any way around this?

First, try to tighten your covering. Dr. Richard Martinello, professor of infectious diseases at Yale, says a tighter fit will prevent air from escaping your mask and fogging up your glasses.

The easiest solution to prevent the warm, moist air of your breath from hitting your glasses is to place a folded tissue between your mouth and the mask. Also, make sure the top of your mask is tight and the bottom looser, to help direct your exhaled breath away from your eyes.

Some other solutions to the clouded-up glasses problem include using a commercial anti-fogging spray or using a thicker fabric for your homemade face covering.

Do I need to wear a face covering every time I leave my house?

The CDC has recommended that all Americans wear face coverings when out in public; however, even in states where face coverings are now law, they are not required to be worn every time people leave their home. In general, face coverings are recommended (or required) in public areas where social distancing is impossible to adhere to at all times.

It’s best to use common sense for determining when you need to wear a face covering. For example, if you live in a suburban area with lots of space between the houses, you likely do not need to wear a mask when going for a jog; however, if you live in an apartment building in a densely populated area, you may need to cover your face every time you leave your home.

What do I need to know about the proper way to wear a mask?

Most importantly, make sure your mask covers your nostrils and your entire mouth at all times. A tight fit that allows for breathing is equally important.

Be careful when removing your mask, as well. The CDC advises people not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth when taking off a face covering and to wash their hands immediately after doing so.

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14 Ways to Teach Kids About Money4/20/2020

Family Learning about Money

If you don’t teach your kids how to manage money, somebody else will. And that’s not a risk you want to take! We’ll show you how to give your kids the head start you wish you had and set them up to win with money at any age.

How to Teach Pre-Schoolers and Kindergartners About Money

1. Use a clear jar to save. The piggy bank is a great idea, but it doesn’t give kids a visual. When you use a clear jar, they see the money growing. Yesterday, they had a dollar bill and five dimes. Today, they have a dollar bill, five dimes, and a quarter! Talk through this with them and make a big deal about it growing!

2. Set an example. A study by the University of Cambridge found that money habits in children are formed by the time they’re 7 years old.(1) Little eyes are watching you. If you’re slapping down plastic every time you go out to dinner or the grocery store, they’ll eventually notice. Or if you and your spouse are arguing about money, they’ll notice that too. Set a healthy example for them and they’ll be much more likely to follow it when they get older.

3. Show them that stuff costs money. You’ve got to do more than just say, “That pack of toy cars costs $5, son.” Help them grab a few dollars out of their jar, take it with them to the store, and physically hand the money to the cashier. This simple action will have more impact than a five-minute lecture.

How to Teach Elementary Students and Middle Schoolers About Money

4. Show opportunity cost. That’s just another way of saying, “If you buy this video game, then you won’t have the money to buy that pair of shoes.” At this age, your kids should be able to weigh decisions and understand the possible outcomes.

5. Give commissions, not allowances. Don’t just give your kids money for breathing. Pay them commissions based on chores they do around the house like taking out the trash, cleaning their room, or mowing the grass. This concept helps your kids understand that money is earned—it’s not just given to them.

6. Avoid impulse buys. “Mom, I just found this cute dress. It’s perfect and I love it! Can we buy it please?” Does this sound familiar? This age group really knows how to capitalize on the impulse buy—especially when it uses someone else’s money. Instead of giving in, let your child know they can use their hard-earned commission to pay for it. But encourage your child to wait at least a day before they purchase anything over $15. It will likely still be there tomorrow, and they’ll be able to make that money decision with a level head the next day.

7. Stress the importance of giving. Once they start making a little money, be sure you teach them about giving. They can pick a church, charity or even someone they know who needs a little help. Eventually, they’ll see how giving doesn’t just affect the people they give to, but the giver as well.

How to Teach Teenagers About Money

8. Teach them contentment. Your teen probably spends a good chunk of their time staring at a screen as they scroll through social media. And every second they’re online, they’re seeing the highlight reel of their friends, family and even total strangers! It’s the quickest way to bring on the comparison trap. You may hear things like:  “Dad, Mark’s parents bought him a brand-new car! How come I have to drive this 1993 Subaru?” or “Mom, this girl at school got to spend $10,000 on her Sweet 16 party. I want to do that too!”

Contentment starts in the heart. Let your teen know that their Subaru (although not the newest car on the block) is still running well enough to get them from point A to point B. And you can still throw a memorable, milestone birthday party without spending a chunk of your retirement savings funding it!

9. Give them the responsibility of a bank account. By the time your kid’s a teenager, you should be able to set them up with a simple bank account if you’ve been doing some of the above along the way. This takes money management to the next level, and will (hopefully) prepare them for managing a much heftier account when they get older.

10. Get them saving for college. There’s no time like the present to have your teen start saving for college. Do they plan on working a summer job? Perfect! Take a portion of that (or more) and toss it in a college savings account. Your teen will feel like they have skin in the game as they contribute toward their education.

11. Teach them the danger of credit cards. As soon as your kid turns 18, they’ll get hounded by credit card offers—especially once they’re in college. If you haven’t taught them how credit card debt can be dangerous, they’ll become yet another credit card victim. Remember, it’s up to you to determine the right time you’ll teach them these principles.

12. Get them on a simple budget. Since your teen is glued to their mobile device anyway, get them active on our simple budgeting app, EveryDollar. Now is the time to get your teen in the habit of budgeting their income—no matter how small It is. They should learn the importance of making a plan for their money while they’re still under your roof.

13. Introduce them to the magic of compound interest. We know what you’re thinking. You can barely get your teen to brush their hair—how in the world are they supposed to become investment savvy? The earlier your teen can get started investing, the better. Compound interest is a magical thing! Introduce your teen to it at an early age, and they’ll get a head start on preparing for their future.

14. Help them figure out how to make money. When you think about it, teenagers have plenty of free time—fall break, summer break, winter break, spring break. If your teen wants some money (and what teen doesn’t?), then help them find a job. Better yet, help them become an entrepreneur! These days, it’s easier than ever for your teen to start up their own business and turn a profit.

Change Your Family Tree

Teaching your children about money at any stage is going to take time on your part. It won’t always be easy. But if you want your children to know how to successfully manage their money when they get older, taking the time now will be worth it.

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Coronavirus Economic Impact Payments4/16/2020

The first round of Coronavirus Stimulus Checks (also called Economic Impact Payments) were sent out by the IRS over the weekend.

Most payments are not going to be sent out until after April 15th. For security reasons, the IRS plans to mail a letter about the economic impact payment to the taxpayer’s last known address within 15 days after the payment is paid. The letter will provide information on how the payment was made and how to report any failure to receive the payment. If a taxpayer is unsure, they’re receiving a legitimate letter, the IRS urges taxpayers to visit IRS.gov first to protect against scam artists.

If you have additional questions, the IRS website is an accurate and updated resource.

Coronavirus Stimulus Payments: Please be extra cautious of scams where fraudsters may pretend to be with the IRS and ask for your personal information. There are a few important things to know and share with older family members who may not be as well-informed:

  1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. Nothing. If you are asked to pay up front, this is a scam.
  2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security Number, account numbers or credit card numbers. Anyone who calls you to ask for this is likely a scammer.
  3. Most people won’t need to take action. However, non-filers will need to submit information to the IRS. A non-filer is described as
    • You did not file a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return because your gross income was under $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples). This includes people who had no income. Or
    • You weren’t required to file a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return for other reasons

For accurate information regarding the stimulus payments, we recommend visiting the IRS Coronavirus Economic Impact Payments page.

For information from HACU related to the COVID-19 Pandemic, please see our COVID-19 Resources and Updates Page.

For up-to-date information on the virus and resources for your family and community, visit www.cdc.gov/COVID19.

If you come across any suspicious claims or scams, report them to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

If you have any questions related to a potential scam or your financial health, please contact us directly.

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Stuck at Home? Spend Your Time Productively 4/2/2020

Stay Productive

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on normal life around the world. Major retailers and small businesses are closing their doors; leisure travel has almost ground to a halt; the stock market is bearing the brunt of a string of losses; and thousands of schools and universities sit vacant mid-semester while their students are home for an indeterminate amount of time.

While it may, at first, sound like a dream come true, sitting at home without much to do can quickly get old. If you’re one of the millions of Americans waiting out the crisis at home, be proactive about spending your time productively instead of binge-watching six seasons of your favorite sitcom while eating your way through gallons of ice cream. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Learn a new language. Why not use the extra time at home to learn a second or third language? There are many free language apps, like Duolingo, that make mastering a new language almost effortless.

Call an old friend. Socializing in person may be out, but the old-fashioned phone still works just fine. A leisurely chat with an old friend can be a wonderful way to pass the time.

Get fit. Gyms can be a fertile breeding ground for all kinds of germs and bacteria, but an at-home workout can burn all those calories without the fear of being exposed to COVID-19. There are many exercises you can do without any equipment, like lunges, squats, planks, sit-ups and more. If you’re missing the support and camaraderie you get from your exercise classes at the gym, pop a workout DVD into your entertainment center or turn on one of the many fitness classes on YouTube for a similar experience.

Rekindle an old hobby. It’s time to dust off that guitar or pull out the modeling wood and pick up the hobbies you never have time for during your busy working schedule. To keep yourself focused, commit to completing a specific project or reaching a goal while you wait out the outbreak at home.

Tend to neglected household repairs you’ve been putting off all winter. Why not use this time to get stuff done around the house?  If you’re missing some important tools and supplies, it’s best to order them online instead of running out to pick them up to minimize possible exposure to the virus.

Brush up on your financial knowledge. With the plethora of personal finance blogs and websites available today, beefing up your financial knowledge so you can make the best, informed decisions about managing your money is ridiculously easy. Visit our Financial Resource Center for interesting reads on a wide range money topics that can help you broaden your financial knowledge.

Declutter. Carve out some time to get started on spring-cleaning your home. Clearing out clutter takes lots of time, and you likely have more time than you know what to do with right now. You can make piles for throwaways, giveaways and keepers. Give your cleared-out closets and drawers a thorough scrubbing while you’re at it. There’s no better time to freshen up the house than springtime!                                                                                                                               

Review your budget. Budgets tend to need frequent adjusting. Use the spare time you have now to review your monthly spending of the past few months to see if your budget needs tweaking.                                                               

Keep stress levels down. Staying cooped up inside when a pandemic is sweeping through the world can really spike up stress levels. Keep calm by ensuring you’re getting enough sleep and minimizing stress triggers as much as possible. This can mean limiting the amount of times you check the news. and/or practicing yoga and meditation. Apps like Headspace can help you achieve complete mindfulness to further reduce stress levels.

Wishing you and yours continued health and safety as we navigate this challenging time together.

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Creative Activities for Kids at Home4/2/2020

Family at home

With your children's schools closing for the remainder of the year, the coronavirus outbreak is forcing us to spend a lot more time indoors. Of course, your kids' health and safety is paramount, but keeping your little ones entertained for hours on end is vital for your sanity. In an effort to make life a little easier on parents, we are sharing a list of easy, kid-friendly activities that will keep their minds occupied at home, whether you're stocked up on crafting supplies or not.

  1. Have a movie marathon. Thanks to streaming services, there are plenty of movies on NetflixHulu, and Disney+. Postpone your strict screentime rules and vege out in front of the TV.
  2. Make a fort. How many hours did you burn growing up building the perfect hideaway?
  3. Do an easy craft. No need to go over the top, just give your kiddos some construction paper and crayons and let their imaginations soar.
  4. Make an obstacle course. Use old pillows and toys to set up a quick-and-easy obstacle course in the living room. Just lay out a few instructions for your little ones to follow.
  5. Write letters to relatives. Have your kids craft a letter to a grandparent or family member. It also helps them practice their penmanship, talk about a win-win.
  6. Make a simple recipe. Get kids involved in the kitchen by having them help you prep lunch or dinner, with supervision, of course. Here's a list of simple recipes to get you started.
  7. Do a puzzle. Amazon is chock-full of puzzles for kids of all ages. Prime one to your house and let the kids go wild.
  8. Get buildingUse Legos or building blocks to create a true masterpiece. Go for a more complicated build, like a bridge, to give your kids the lowdown on basic physics.
  9. Cuddle up with a few books. There's no such thing as too much reading, so carving out an hour to hunker down with your kids' favorite titles is certainly a good idea.
  10. Stage an impromptu concert. Ask your children to practice a favorite song or dance and have them perform it in front of the family in a post-dinner talent show.
  11. Plan a scavenger hunt. Lay out some clues to hidden treasures around the house to keep kids busy.
  12. Have a board game night. A tried and true family favorite, getting a little competitive for a few hours will keep boredom at bay.
  13. Play a round of indoor games. Have little ones burn off some energy by playing a few rounds of LeapFrog, Simon Says, or Red Light, Green Light. You'll thank us during nap time.
  14. Dig up some of those activity books. Have a few puzzle or coloring books laying around you usually reserve for family road trips? Now's the time to break 'em out.
  15. Have a mini self-care day. DIY your own bath bombs, let children apply a face mask, and give each other little back massages for the ultimate relaxing experience.
  16. Decorate cardboard boxes. Let kids go to town coloring or painting any leftover boxes you have laying around for hours of fun.
  17. Print out coloring pages. Low on crafting supplies? No worries. There are plenty of free printable coloring pages online.
  18. Put on a play. Have your kids create and perform their own creation. Don't forget to dip into the costume box!
  19. Break out the Play-Doh. Children can use squishy good stuff to make whatever they want! Encourage them to make a sculpture to get the creative juices flowing.
  20. Use water. Fill your sink with dish soap and plenty of toys to keep toddlers entertained long enough to make lunch.
  21. Make slime. Sometimes a little mess goes a long way in terms of keeping your kids entertained. Try this easy-to-make DIY slime recipe to get the ball rolling.
  22. Stage a puppet show. Whether you have puppets already or need to make them from brown paper bags, it's easy to get the kiddos involved in this hands-on activity.
  23. Game on! Have a gaming system in the house? Set up a tournament with a small prize involved to keep things interesting.
  24. Bowl indoors. You don't need a bowwing ball and a full set of pins to play. Just set up a few recycled bottles and use any old ball to get started.
  25. Introduce your kids to yoga or meditation. A little zen during uncertain times goes a long way. Try this Trolls-inspired yoga video to help little ones feel relaxed.
  26. Make your own jewelry. Have any beads or DIY kits stowed away? This is the best time to use them. You can also order your own kit online!
  27. Break out the temporary tattoos. An easy activity that your brood will no doubt get excited over, all you need is a bit of water to bring on the smiles.
  28. Play an educational game. Download an educational app on your phone on iPad and let the kids go at it.
  29. Have an indoor camp out! Grab your sleeping bags and s'more ingredients and set up a mini camping site in your living room. We have a feeling your kids will love the change of pace.
  30. Make a collage or vision board. Help children cut out photos and words from magazines or newspapers and stick them to a sturdy piece of paper. They can hang them up in their rooms once their creations are complete!
  31. Go on a walk. Touching and climbing on playground equipment should be off-limits right now, but experts say taking a walk or playing outside is perfectly fine.
  32. Ride Disney attractions virtually. Fans young and old who are missing all things Disney can experience their favorite rides virtually, thanks to these handy first-person YouTube videos.
  33. Have a colorful bubble bath. Combine your kids' shampoo with 1.5 cups of water and a little food coloring for maximum bathtub playtime.
  34. Call a family member. Have children call or video-chat a grandparent or close family friend to talk for a few minutes. After all, social distancing doesn't apply to the phone!
  35. Make a sensory bin. Fill a plastic container with rice, pom-poms, beans, or kinetic sand and let little ones explore with their hands. 
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Avoid Coronavirus Scams3/20/2020

Avoid COVID-19 Scams

Please be aware that with the COVID-19 making headlines daily, hackers and scammers are now using this potential public health crisis as an opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting businesses and consumers. Protecting you from fraud is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring the safety and security of your information!

Fraudulent emails have surfaced claiming to be from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) directing unsuspecting recipients to harmful websites that load malware or other harmful applications, under the ruse of offering important pandemic information. In response to these and other campaigns, the WHO and CDC have issued alert warnings to consumers to be on the lookout for individuals posing as the organizations.

The best practice in avoiding scams and hackers is to not click on any links in emails you were not expecting or you did not request, just delete the emails. As a reminder, if you are Health Advantage Credit Union Debit/ATM Card holder and suspect fraudulent activity on your account you should contact us immediately. 

Here are some tips to help you keep the scammers at bay:

  • Hang up on robocalls. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
  • Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t.
  • Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores.
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.
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Financial Dos and Don'ts During the COVID-19 Outbreak3/19/2020

Health Finance Image

We understand there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on your health and daily lives. Here at Health Advantage Credit Union are committed to meeting the financial needs of our members through this evolving situation. We want to remind you that your money is safe in our financial institution.

If you are considering withdrawing a large amount of cash, we strongly to encourage you to reconsider based on the following:

  • Your funds are federally insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) up to $250,000 and are backed by the United States government when deposited in an insured financial institution.
  • You will continue to have access to your funds. Our financial institutions are equipped with digital tools like remote check captureonline and mobile banking that make it easy to transfer money and make payments without using cash.
  • Carrying cash or storing it in your home is a risky practice. If your money is lost, stolen, or destroyed it is not insured and cannot be replaced.
  • The CDC is recommending contactless payments. Paying with a digital wallet or tap eliminates the potential to spread COVID-19 by handling paper currency.

Q: What steps should I be taking to protect my personal finances during the coronavirus outbreak?


A: The coronavirus outbreak has already generated consequences for the national and global economies — and experts say this is only the beginning. The virus ended one of the longest bull markets in history, as the stock market plunged by a full 25 percent in one month. Businesses have also been adversely affected by the outbreak in many ways: production lines have been put on hold as the delivery chain is disrupted while countless industries have been negatively impacted by a dearth of supplies, decreased spending and a shortage of personnel.

With all this uncertainty, it’s easy to fall into a panic and wonder if there are some concrete steps you should be taking to save your personal finances from impending ruin. Here are some practical dos and don’ts to help maintain financial stability and peace of mind during this time.


Don’t: Panic by selling all of your investments 

Both seasoned investors and those simply worried about their retirement accounts can find it nerve-racking to see their investments continuously drop in value. It can seem like a smart idea to sell out just to spare further loss, but financial experts say otherwise. According to The Motley Fool, most sectors of the economy will recover quickly as soon as the outbreak clears.


Do: Trim your spending

As the economy heads toward a probable recession, this can be a good time to get lifestyle inflation in check. Work bonuses, raises and promotions are not handed out as freely during a recession. Some people may even find themselves without a job. Trimming your discretionary spending now can be good practice for getting through the month on a smaller income.


Don’t: Put your money before your health 

Physical health should always take priority. If you’re feeling unwell, and especially if you’re exhibiting any of the symptoms of the coronavirus — such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath — call in sick. Do the same if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days. As part of the government’s relief efforts, you’re entitled to two weeks of paid leave if you are unable to work because of the coronavirus.

We also want to encourage you to be aware of potentially fraudulent practices which often increase during times of uncertainty. Please use caution when receiving unusual requests for payments. There are a number of reports of cyber scams and fraudulent activity related to COVID-19. For additional information about COVID-19, view the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control click here.

We are here for you as we traverse through uncharted territory, together.

To read more about HACU's COVID-19 prevention and response measures, please see our COVID-19 information page.

Please contact us directly with questions.

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Spring Break Travel Tips1/23/2020

Beach

Spring break is coming up quick and it’s never too early to start planning. Make sure while you are busy planning all of the fun parts of your vacation you are also planning for safety. Before diving into specifics, let’s review the basic principles of safe travel that apply to all travelers.

  1. Set yourself up for safety by planning ahead and thinking in terms of prevention, i.e. secure way to carry your cash and passport, phone to use abroad, etc.
  2. Have prior knowledge of the culture and maps of the area you’ll be traveling to make yourself aware of your surroundings
  3. Send your itinerary to a family member or close friend at home and arrange check in times
  4. Understand basic costs for things like taxi rides so you’re not left alone at night in unfamiliar areas
  5. Remember that knowledge protects you from misinformation, scam artists, or unknowingly ending up in an unsafe area
  6. If traveling for an extended period in a foreign country, consider registering with the U.S. government as a citizen traveling abroad.
  7. Know that just because it’s cheaper, doesn’t mean it’s better. If you need help funding a fun and safe trip check out our personal loans and get your next trip on the calendar.

Save money getting there

The first rule of saving the most money on airfare is staying flexible, both on travel dates and the destination. Consider setting your budget first and then seeing what itineraries you can afford. If you have limited flexibility on your travel dates, aim for off season trips to save you the most money across airfare, hotel, and tours.

When you have an idea of possible dates and locations, set airfare alerts through a travel app or Google Flights. They’ll send you a notification when the prices drop. Check out AirfareWatchDog.com or SecretFlying.com.

Safe accommodations

In addition to the traditional hotels, hostels, and AirBnB options for accommodations, solo travelers have access to “upscale” hostels, communal living, and home sharing options that still reduce the price tag but come with added security. You can even confirm who will be staying with you. More hotels are now offering women-only floors, which is nice for solo women business and leisure travelers!

If possible, schedule your arrival before dark. This allows you to see the type of neighborhood you’re in, to find the location more easily, and the time to make other arrangements if you arrive and feel uncomfortable or are unhappy with your lodging.

To save money at hotels, ask if there’s a discount for a single-sleeper room and skip the breakfast—often that bland buffet adds $20 a day to your rate, so see if you can opt out of it.

Safe transportation

Researching and planning your transportation ahead of time is the single best thing you can do for your wallet and your safety. If you know the approximate distance and price for getting to your planned activities, hotels, etc., you’re less likely to fall for a scam, be overcharged by a taxi, or opt for public transportation when it would be safer to pony up and pay for a taxi. Understand local tipping customs and carry a map or app on your phone so you can always identify where you are and where you need to get to.

Save on activities

Traveling solo doesn’t mean being alone! Consider group tours to more remote locations or for challenging nature hikes. You can find group tours based on age, sex, and interests. If you enjoy a busy vacation schedule, be careful not to overextend yourself and become sleep deprived, as this impairs your decision-making ability. Be sure to schedule downtime by the pool or a relaxed activity like a cooking class.

Believe it or not, Groupon offers deals for more locations than just the U.S.! Explore the Getaways section for discounted package tours.

Finally, educate yourself on the typical con games of the destination. There are unscrupulous individuals and groups who will offer too-good-to-be-true last-minute tour deals—walk away from the temptation to save money! Also be vigilant when someone approaches you offering something for free; it’s often a way to guilt you into giving away money.

Research, saving, and flexibility go a long way when planning a solo travel adventure. Where will you go and discover a whole new you?

For more travel tips CLICK HERE

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Get Your Maximum Refund and Special Savings on TurboTax1/6/2020

Get Your Maximum Refund Guaranteed

Tax time doesn’t have to be stressful! With TurboTax, you’ll get your biggest possible refund fast and your taxes done right. PLUS, credit union members save up to $15 on TurboTax federal products, all through tax season.

TurboTax makes it easy to find the best solution for your unique tax situation. For example, are you a simple filer? Free Edition might be for you. Homeowner? TurboTax Deluxe searches 350+ deductions to make sure you get every tax break you qualify for. Independent contractor, freelancer or side-gigger? TurboTax Self-Employed uncovers deductions personalized to you and your line of work, and includes a complimentary subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed for effortless expense and mileage tracking, year round (To receive your complimentary subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed, sign-in and access your account at least twice by 7/15/20, see details*).

File with confidence, knowing that TurboTax guarantees 100% accurate calculations, running thousands of error checks as you go. And if you do need help along the way, TurboTax has it: From answers online anytime, to unlimited advice and a final review from a CPA or Enrolled Agent with TurboTax Live.

Save on TurboTax today! Try it for free and pay only when you’re ready to file.

* Visit http://turbotax.intuit.com/lp/yoy/guarantees.jsp for TurboTax product guarantees and other important information. Limited time offer for TurboTax 2019. Discount applies to TurboTax federal products only. Terms, conditions, features, availability, pricing, fees, service and support options subject to change without notice. Intuit, TurboTax and TurboTax Online, among others, are registered trademarks and/or service marks of Intuit Inc. in the United States and other countries.

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Beat the Holiday Financial Blues11/27/2019

Beat the Holiday Financial Blues

Holidays are often an exciting time of the year. Spending time with family, enjoying time off work and celebrating with family traditions are all enjoyable activities. However, the holidays can also put an unwanted stress on your wallet.

It is hard to look forward to the holidays if you are worrying about how to pay for them. Have you stressed about how to provide a fun experience for children without breaking the bank? Decorations, gifts and food expenses add up quickly. Here are some tips to help you budget the holidays without breaking the bank.

1. Start saving early. If you set aside a certain dollar amount each month it will start to add up. This will help eliminate the last-minute panicking and trying to figure out where the funds for the holidays are going to come from. With Health Advantage Credit Union, you can open a Christmas Club Savings account, this is an account that you can deposit money in and to save specifically for the holidays. This will also help you see how much you have saved to spend and helps make creating and sticking to a holiday budget even easier. LEARN MORE

2. Make a list of everyone who will receive a gift and how much you plan on spending for each. Writing down everyone you plan on getting a gift for can help you remember those that are often forgotten and can add last minute expenses. Once you know how many people you plan on getting gifts for you can divide up part of your budget for each of them. Try talking to family members about setting a spending limit on each gift, making it fair for everyone and easy for you to budget.

3. Prepare a budget for food. Look back on years past and see how much you’ve typically spent on food. This will give you a good estimate of how much you should budget for. Talk to family members and coworkers to come up with a menu for holiday parties that way you can divide up who is bringing what and you can help figure in the cost for what to bring. 

4. Determine how you will pay for each expense. Cash or Card? Often when paying with cash you are more reluctant to give it up versus if you pay with a card, which can lead to less spending. However, when using a card, you can also earn points and cash back through rewards programs. You can save even more when you use your Health Advantage CU Visa Platinum Rewards Card. With your Health Advantage CU Visa Platinum Rewards Card, you earn ScoreCard points for each dollar you spend. You can then use those ScoreCard points on rewards such as air travel, hotel stays, fuel discounts, brand name merchandise and more! You could even use your ScoreCard points to help cover some of the expenses you have during the holidays. Also, you want to keep in mind limitations you may have on cards such as a daily limit, credit limit and how much you have in your accounts.

5. Carry a copy of your budget with you. Don’t get off track with your budget because you forgot the amount you had budgeted! Keep a copy with you or even take a photo of your budget on your phone. This will be essential to sticking with your budget instead of guessing or trying to remember what you had planned out.

6. Plan your shopping trips ahead of time. Do you research to find out if you can condense shopping trips, which stores will have better pricing, and which have coupons. Don’t forget to check your mail for coupons or sales that will be going on. That way you can know not only where, but when to go out to do all your shopping.

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Introducing Our New Look!11/1/2019

Question Mark

Saginaw Medical Federal Credit Union is introducing a new look! We are so excited to announce our new name… Health Advantage Federal Credit Union! We are still the same credit union you know and trust – just with a new look and name that better embodies our history, personality and culture as a credit union. Below are some FAQs on what all is behind our new look. We hope you love it as much as we do!

Q: When will the name change take effect?

A: On November 1st, SMFCU will officially switch names to Health Advantage Federal Credit Union. You will begin seeing us transition to the new name right away.

Q: What will change with the new name?

A: Only the name and logo will change. Beginning on November 1st you will start to see exterior branch signage changes, new brochures, stationery, plus an updated website with our new name and logo.

Q: Is the name change a result of a merger or acquisition?

A: No. The name change is not the result of a merger or acquisition of any kind. We remain a member-owned cooperative.

Q: Will the ownership of the credit union remain the same?

A: Yes. The ownership of the credit union will remain 100% owned by you, the members.

Q: Will the credit union still serve Saginaw?

A: Absolutely. We are fully committed to our roots and serving Saginaw. In fact, we just invested in a major addition of our State Street branch location just a couple of years ago.

Q: How did you select the new name?

A: We spent many months working with a joint team of Board, Management and Staff under the advisement and guidance of an experienced and respected branding firm.

Q: Who will be eligible to join the credit union?

A: Our charter remains the same. We will continue to serve people who work in the healthcare industry in the State of Michigan.

Q: Why are you changing the name of the credit union?

A: Our Board and Management have built one of the strongest financial institutions in the area by making prudent and strategic business decisions that ensure our growth and health. Our name change is part of our long-range plan to continue building a growing and relevant organization that is inclusive of every member and community we serve.

Q: How will fees, loan rates and deposit rates be impacted by the name change?

A: Rates and fees will not be negatively affected by the name change. We will continue to monitor our rates and fees like we always have. Rates and fees do fluctuate, but they are adjusted in response to market conditions.

Q: Will the routing number change?

A: No, our routing number will remain the same. The routing number is: 272484658.

Q: Will my account numbers change?

A: No, your account number(s) will remain the same.

Q: Will I still be able to use my checks?

A: Yes, your checks will still work. When it’s time for you to re-order, new checks with the new name of the credit union will be issued.

Q: Will my credit card still work?

A: Yes, your current card will continue to work until its expiration date. Your account numbers and member numbers will also not change.

Q: Will my debit card/ATM card and PIN number still work?

A: Yes, your current debit card/ATM card and PIN number will continue to work as they always have until its expiration date.

Q: If I have automatic payments taken from my account or receive direct deposit, will I need to do anything?

A: No, everything will stay the same. Our routing number and transit number will not change, and your account number will not change; therefore, there are no additional steps or changes you need to make.

Q: Will the credit union numbers, website and email addresses change?

A: All phone numbers will remain the same. Our new website address is www.healthadvantagecu.com, which will become active in November. The current website address and email addresses will automatically redirect to the new addresses until June 2020.

Q: Will branch days of operation and hours change?

A: No. Branches will continue to be open and available to you the same days and times that you expect.

Q: Will there be any change in my statement cycle or in the way the statements are presented?

A: No. There will not be any changes to the statement cycle and it will remain in the same format you are used to. Keep a watch in your mail for our new statement stationary with the new name by April 2020.

Q: How will current members benefit from this name change?

A: By continuing to build a growing and relevant organization that is inclusive of every member and community we serve, we can offer our members the latest and best products and services in the financial industry.

Q: Is your staffing changing as a result from this change?

A: No. Our staff is not changing, and neither is our commitment to excellent service. We know you rely on us to be responsive, knowledgeable, and accessible, and we are dedicated to providing the same high quality, personalized support you’ve come to expect from us.

Q: Where can I find additional information?

A: Call us during business hours, Monday-Friday, at (989) 791-7070, visit us online at www.healthadvantagecu.com, or stop by a branch during our hours of operation.

 

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How Can You Use Your Home's Equity?10/1/2019

Remodel

Did you know that you can use a home equity loan in more ways than one? A Home Equity Line of Credit can be a great way to access quick cash when you need it most. At Health Advantage Credit Union, we offer many benefits with fixed HELOC rates as low as 5.75% APR*. CLICK to find out all of the details and advantages. Below are just a few ways in which you can use your home’s equity to your advantage!

Remodel: If your home is looking outdated maybe it’s time to change things up! Whether you need to replace a vanity or replace your whole kitchen you can do it. This could also be a great advantage if you are getting ready to sell your home. After remodeling, your home’s value should be higher and makes it more desirable for prospective buyers. Make sure you consult your real estate agent to make sure that changes you make will increase the value of your home.

Building Additions, Sheds, and Even Pools: If you are thinking you need a little bit more space, a Home Equity Line of Credit could get you just that. Whether you need an addition on your home to make a new master suite, a pool for the family or even a 'she shed' to get away from it all, Health Advantage Credit Union has you covered. Like a remodel, this too could potentially have impact on your home’s value so check with your realtor to make sure you will get out what you put into it!

Debt Consolidation: Having a lot of payments can get confusing to keep track of, even with automatic payments! With a Home Equity Line of Credit, you could bring that down to just one payment, which could be a great stress reliever. Another advantage of debt consolidation could be the percent of interest you are paying. Quite often the interest rate is lower since you have only one payment instead of multiple payments all with different interest percentages. Make sure this option is good for you financially first and make sure you can afford the payments before you tap into your home’s equity.

Pay for College: If you have researched all the options, terms and rates on student loans, scholarships and grants and aren’t sure if it’s the best option for you, try tapping into your home’s equity. Make sure you find out rate and terms just as you did for student loans but also make sure you can make the monthly payments. Check out both of your options of Health Advantage Credit Union’s student loans and Home Equity Line of Credit.

Use as an Emergency Fund: Many experts say that you should have an emergency fund to cover three to six months of living expenses. But, even with having an emergency fund some costs could be greater than expected such as medical or auto bills. If you get caught in this sticky situation you could use your home’s equity to help you out of a deep hole.

 

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Rates effective as of September 1, 2019 and may change at any time, based on the market. This Credit Union is federally-insured by the National Credit Union Administration. We do business in accordance with the Fair Housing Law and Equal Opportunity Credit Act.

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4 Ways to Start Saving for the Holidays8/28/2019

Holiday Savings

With school in full swing already, the next thing we know the holidays will be sneaking up on us! We have four tips to help you save money this holiday season. If you start now you will have an ample amount of time to save before the holiday season begins!

1. Start Cutting Down on Extras

When you are out shopping make sure you bring a list with items you really need and stick to that list! Try not to spend extra money on things that you want and spend only on what you need. Try to say no to all of the temptations in the stores like that new purse or cool shoes and stick to your list so you can cut down the amount you spent!

2. Open a Savings Account

If you don’t have one already, a savings account is a great way to save money. Ever heard of “out of sight, out of mind”? With your cash tucked away in a savings account you still have access to it but it will be put away for special occasions and not your everyday purchases. Put a set amount of money in a savings account and limit your use for only emergencies or as a holiday fund. If you are looking at opening a savings account we can help! Check out our Regular Savings as well as our Club Savings which can also help you put money aside for specific purposes. One popular savings is our Christmas Club which many members will use as a spot to keep their money aside for when it comes time for Christmas shopping!

3. Make a Budget and Stick to It

If it’s hard for you to track your spending you can try making a budget. There are lots of advantages of making a budget and using it to plan ahead is just one of them. Click Here to check out our budgeting sheet to help keep you on track for spending. If you stick to your budget you can save more money that can be your cushion for the holidays.

4. Pay in Cash

Studies have shown that if you pay in cash instead of charging a purchase on a card you will decrease the amount you spend. You will feel more like you are giving up something when you pay in cash and mentally it will hurt more to give up physical cash rather than paying off a credit card. Paying in cash also limits your amount that you can physically spend. If you run out of cash you will need to go to an ATM or bank which requires time and potentially a service charge. Paying in cash helps you stick to your budget and will keep you on track for those extra costs around the holidays.

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Back to the Books7/29/2019

Apple with Books

Its officially August and that means getting back into the grind of the school year. There’s so much to think about and get ready for so you start off on the right foot. We have put together the ultimate list for making sure that getting back to school is hassle-free.

  1. Go Through Your Student’s Closet

Find out what fits them and what doesn’t, that way you know what you need if you go shopping for clothes. Don’t forget to check all of their shoes too! Don’t forget to get out fall and winter clothes when that time comes. Check out clothes, jackets, hats, gloves and boots so you know exactly what you need when stores start getting their winter items out.

  1. Pick Out a First-Day Outfit that is Picture Perfect

Everyone knows its tradition to get a “first day of school” photo. Make sure you plan for this ahead of time so you aren’t in a panic that morning. Let your student be involved and see what they would want to wear, it could be something to match their friends!

  1. Check Your Local Store for Your Student’s Classroom List

Last-minute back to school shopping can get stressful, especially with the crowds and long lines. Stop by your local stores to see if they have your student’s classroom “Items Needed” list early! This also means you get the first pick at the stores for colors, designs and sizes!

  1. Get Back into the Routine of Having a Set Bedtime

This will help both you and your student so that everyone knows when bedtime is and there won’t be any fuss about changing things the night before the first day. This will also allow everyone to get a good night’s rest so you are ready to take on the next day.

  1. Have Your Student Complete Workbooks

Even though summer break is a great time to relax make sure your student doesn’t forget everything they learned in the past year. Help jumpstart their memory by keeping a couple workbooks around for them to work on during and at the end of summer. There are lots of books you can order that have math, science, geography, English and more. Your kids may even learn something new and be ahead for the upcoming school year!

  1. Put Your Student’s Cash in a Youth Savings Account

After all of the lemonade stands, chores, babysitting and more, it would be wise to have your student put that money away so they can start earning dividends even from the first dollar they deposit. Health Advantage Credit Union’s Youth Savings account is a perfect first step. We are committed to teaching youth good savings. Find Out More!

  1. Get Your Student’s Yearly Checkup at the Doctor Out of the Way

Don’t stress about having to pull your kid out of class and have them makeup work just for that yearly doctors’ appointment. Get it done and out of the way so that your student doesn’t start the year off with missing a day. Some schools will even bring in licensed physicians before the school year that you can have your student go to – Ask your school!

  1. Go to Your Student’s School During Open House

Take a trip out to the school before the school year to meet your student’s teacher. You can find out what all your student will need for the year as well as introduce yourself so they know who you are. This is also a great time for your student to find out what other classmates they will have and what parents you can connect with for questions and help throughout the year.

  1. Get Your Student’s School Bag Ready

Packing up your student’s backpack early will relieve some of the stress the night before and the morning of the first day. It will also remind you of some things you still need to get to make sure your student is fully prepared for the school year.

  1. Start Getting in the Habit of Meal Prepping

No one likes the hassle of having to get up earlier to make lunch! Make it the night before to save yourself some time. This also gives you the chance to have your student help pick out what they would like for lunch and to start teaching them what to do to make your lunch the night before!

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Another Data Breach in the News? Keep it from Happening to You!6/6/2019

Cyber Security Graphic

Recently in the news a web payment system used by Quest Diagnostics was breached between August of 2018 and March of 2019. This breached exposed the confidential information of as many as 11.9 million patients. Information such as finances, credit card information, bank account numbers, social security numbers and even medical information were likely accessed. According to some press releases this breach did not affect any laboratory results of patients.

Quest Diagnostics was informed about the breach on May 14 by the American Medical Collection Agency and is still under investigation. The NAFCU, who has been a leader in calling for a national data security standard, has ensured that negligent entities are held accountable and that anyone affected is notified in a timely matter in the past and is hoping to do the same for Quest Diagnostics.

With all of these breaches how can you know that your information is protected? With an HACU Premium Checking account you are automatically signed up for IDProtect® Identity Theft Monitoring and Resolution Service. This not only provides security for you but also for joint account owners, your spouse, dependent children up to age 25 and parents living in the same household as the account owner.

IDProtect® monitors for identity fraud events, credit fraud, financial or otherwise, anywhere in the world even if the event has nothing to do with your account at Health Advantage Credit Union! You will have access to all three bureau credit reports and even get alerts of any key changes to any of your credit files. Keep your information air tight and don’t be another statistic on a news article!

 

Find Out More about IDProtect!

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Top 8 Places to Vacation at in Michigan5/22/2019

Michigan Beach

Choosing a vacation location can be difficult and flying is pricey. Why not stay local and visit some of Michigan’s most treasured, historic and beautiful areas! All within driving distance, these top eight vacation spots will surely leave lasting memories.

Mackinac Island

Known as a tourist attraction, this small island is the perfect weekend getaway trip everyone needs to experience. Take a step back in time on this car-free, 3.8 square-mile island. From biking to sight-seeing, beaches and shopping this truly is a staple in the state's history.

Traverse City

Michigan's cherry capital sits in the top left of the lower peninsula and offers an equal amount of excitement and relaxation. Famous for its breweries, vineyards, national lakeshore, winter and summer skiing and many other outdoor activities it will not disappoint anyone in the family!

 

Leland

An old harbor town with wooden docks makes it feel like a whole new culture and experience to anyone who goes. A fish town with the feel of an east coast village has been referred to as one of the best harbors to visit in Michigan. Leland comes alive in the summer months with tourists, food, drink and festivals.

 

Pictured Rocks

This national lakeshore offers some of the most beautiful views in the state. Visit and see several waterfalls, multicolored rock formations, lighthouses and shipwrecks on foot or by bike, boat or even kayak! This spot is picture perfect so don't forget to bring a camera.

 

Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Sleeping Bear Dunes lakeshore spans around 35 miles of the northwest coast of the lower peninsula. The astounding park features beaches, forests, dunes, and more. Formed by glaciers, visiting the dunes offers a great way to study Michigan's geographical history and how the great lakes were formed. Rustic camps scattered throughout the park provide a great rest and relaxation retreat.

 

Tahquamenon Falls

One of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, 3,000 gallons on average flow over the upper falls every second. This waterfall has both an upper and lower part; the upper is the largest and the more known of the two and the lower is smaller and requires walking and rowing to get to. A beautiful adventure waiting to happen!

 

Grand Maris

Hop on the interstate and keep driving because this town is a straight shot north. It's only 30 minutes from Pictured Rocks and just north of Seney National Wildlife Refuge so it's perfect if you want to visit multiple landmarks! A smowmobiling town in the winter and several piers for fishing in the summer the town features the typical one street length downtown ready to be explored.

 

Isle Royal National Park

Michigan's hidden gem, this island is the most northers part of Michigan. The park has such incredible scenery and sometimes even wild wolves and moose can be seen! The park offers 165 miles of trails and shorelines and 36 campgrounds. Plan carefully as there are only three points of entry from the mainland; Houghton, Copper Harbor, and Grand Portage.

 


Want to take a vacation to one of these locations but not sure how to afford it? Make any of these trips possible for only $45! Then while on vacation use your HACU Platinum credit card to get up to three times the scorecard points from Memorial Day to Labor Day!

Click the buttons below learn more!

Earn 3X More VISA Rewards

Take a Vacation for Only $45

 

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Five Ways to Chomp Down the Amount Spent on Food5/16/2019

Basket of Fresh Food

  1. MEAL PLAN AHEAD OF TIME

Start the week out right by spending about 30 minutes planning your meals for the next week. This could save you around $50 a week per person! By planning out each meal you will know exactly what you need at the grocery store and also allows you to draw out and stick to your budget. Say goodbye to those stressful nights where you don’t know what you will do for dinner and don’t have the right food to make the meal you want.

  1. BRING A GROCERY LIST

Temptations lurk around every corner at the grocery store. Having a list with you helps distinguish wants from needs. If an item is not on your list it’s unnecessary, and is something you can wait to purchase later. Having your list with you can also help save time. When you spend less time in the grocery store you are less apt to purchase items not on your list. Try to set a time limit next time you go in and see how much it helps you save!

  1. EAT LEFT-OVERS

Did you know that the average US family of four throws away $1,500 in food each year? All of this uneaten food not only wastes resources but it wastes your money. By eating left-overs you save the money you would have spent at a restaurant or on more food from the grocery store. The key is to find the happy medium between making too much food and just enough to have a night or two of leftovers.

  1. DON’T PURCHASE UNNECESSARY ITEMS

Try reducing the amount of food that is an impulse – sticking to your grocery list can help with this! Ask yourself if you are getting an item simply because you are out and are replacing it or if you truly need it. Also try reducing the number of duplicate items you are purchasing. For example, if you typically purchase four kinds of cereal, try reducing that to only two kinds. This will clear up clutter in your pantry and save you money.

  1. LIMIT RESTAURANT AND FAST FOOD MEALS

This tip may seem like the most obvious, but is often overlooked. The average American household spends about $3,000 on food away from home each year. This number can be reduced by meal planning ahead of time. Try planning on only going out one or two nights a week. On average it is more expensive to go out to eat versus purchasing meal items at a grocery store.

ADDED BONUS:

Now that you are a savings expert here is just one more perk to spending money on food. This summer, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when you use your HACU VISA Platinum Rewards card you can earn up to three times the ScoreCard points for each dollar you spend. Then redeem your points and reward yourself with things like a dream getaway, fuel discounts, brand name merchandise and gift cards.  

Earn 3x More VISA Rewards

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10 Things You Should Be Shredding4/30/2019

Free Shredding Service

It is important to keep your personal information secure and dispose of it properly. Even items that have been cut into multiple pieces and tossed in the garbage have been gathered and reassembled by ill-intentioned criminals.

HACU is dedicated to helping you protect your identity and your privacy. Stop by either of our branch locations to drop off sensitive documents for shredding. It's always available and always free to our members! 

These are come items that should be shredded after they are no longer needed:

  1. ATM Receipts
  2. Bank Statements
  3. Canceled and voided checks
  4. Credit offers
  5. Credit Reports and histories
  6. Documents relating to investments
  7. Expired passports and visas
  8. Employee pay stubs
  9. Medical records
  10. Tax forms
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Easter Activities for the Family4/2/2019

Mother and Daughter Coloring Easter Egg

Easter Activities for the Family

Easter morning can be one of the most treasured holidays of the year for both parents and children. For the children, it’s waking up and finding a beautifully decorated Easter basket filled with chocolates and candy that was delivered by the Easter bunny. And, of course, hunting for brightly decorated eggs all over the house. For the parents, it’s seeing the smiles and laughter on their children’s faces and the togetherness that this special day brings.

We understand the value of spending time with your kids, especially when they’re younger because, as we all have said at least once in our lives, “kids grow up so fast!” Long after we’re gone, the Easter traditions we create for our kids will live on in future generations for many years to come. We want to help you celebrate Easter with your kids, so keep reading and you’ll find some fun Easter traditions to start with your family!

Creating a Family Easter Tradition

If you and your family don’t have an Easter tradition already, it’s never too late to start. Easter traditions give families fun ways to celebrate one of the oldest holidays in the world.

Sometimes we let chocolate bunnies and decorated Easter eggs overshadow the real reason we recognize this special day. Start your Easter tradition by giving your kids an Easter 101. Your kids may also enjoy learning about the history behind why your family celebrates Easter or how decorating Easter baskets became so popular. Knowing the history behind it all can make spending this time with your kids that much more meaningful.

Easter Crafts and Activities for Kids

Plant an Easter Garden. Spring is the time of renewal and rebirth. It’s a happy reminder that winter is officially over. Celebrate the arrival of spring by planting a garden with your kids. This pop of color will not only brighten up your yard but start a family tradition that could last a lifetime.

Decorate Easter Eggs. Dyeing eggs is one of the most popular Easter activities to do with your kids. It’s not just your standard colored dyes anymore. From silk tie, Scotch taped or mod podge to pressed flowers, melted crayon or shaving cream, there are hundreds of different decorating ideas for coloring eggs this Easter.

Easter Egg Hunt. Hosting an Easter egg hunt for either your own family or close friends is a great tradition to start. You can have plenty of fun in your own backyard or click here for local Easter egg hunts around the area. 

Easter Arts and Crafts. Your options are endless when it comes to Easter arts and crafts. There are hundreds of Easter-themed printable’s online from bingo, word searches, tic-tac-toe, coloring sheets and more! Check out this site for some of our personal favorite Easter arts and crafts: 48 Easter Crafts for Kids.

Bake Easter Goodies. Breaking out the baking sheets, mixing bowls and aprons creates plenty of fun in the kitchen. Baking Easter bunny cookies, carrot cake, or cupcakes will put a smile on everyone’s face and leave the whole family wanting more. Kids love to help mommy and daddy with almost everything, so lend them a mixing spoon and let the fun begin. 

Host an Easter Brunch. Whether you’re expecting out-of-town relatives or it’s just your immediate family, an Easter brunch always encourages the family to spend time around the table. If it’s a nice day outside, turn it into an Easter picnic. Enjoying some fresh air and some sunshine with the family will always be cherished, especially on Easter.

Take Lots of Photos. Make sure to document all your fun Easter activities with the family. Everyone will most likely be dressed up, so why not take advantage of it. Try taking a picture of the whole family in the same spot every year. Over time you’ll have a wonderful keepsake that will show just how much your family has grown!

No matter how you choose to spend the Holiday, the best Easter tradition will always be spending time with loved ones creating memories!

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Springtime Activities for the Family2/21/2019

Dad blowing bubbles with daughter in spring

The spring season offers an escape route for families who've been trapped indoors all winter. Celebrate springtime together with activities that help you transition from the world of snowmen to sandcastles. Find the best spring season activities for families and get outside today:

  1. Reconnect with Nature: Kids spend most of their winter looking at nature through the window. Spring season is the first chance of the year for kids to get outdoors and experience it firsthand. Let them feel the earth in between their fingers as they plant a garden. Invite the bugs over with an insect watering hole. Reconnect with Mother Nature now that she's turned off the snow and turned up the temperature.
  2. Take a Walk: We take a simple walk for granted until it's too cold outside to stroll around the block. Put your non-walkers in a stroller, and lace up the tennis shoes on everyone else. Walking is not only good for all of you, but it's also an adventure. Kids can collect leaves, rocks, and sticks for DIY projects, discover new sounds or play walking games.
  3. Plan a Picnic: Lunch at the table again? Pack up that food for a picnic instead. The kids won't object. Just grab your blanket for a picnic in the park or in your backyard. With so many picnic food choices, you have plenty of options to fill your picnic basket every day of the week. And if ants show up as uninvited guests, use their appearance to teach your kids about different ant species.
  4. Make a Bird House: Your feathered friends are on their way back from their winter trip south. Let the kids don their hard hats to build a birdhouse. Stretch your creative minds and bond as a family while creating a piece for nature. Use your birdhouse to teach your kids about the basics of birdwatching. Have your kids take photos of the birds and then look them up in a book online. That way, they’re not just feeding birds, they’re learning about them.
  5. Choose a Summer Camp: Thinking of summer fun when the ground's not completely thawed seems premature. But camps are already filling their summer sessions. Register now to secure your child's spot at the summer camp of their choice. Talk with your child about where they might like to go for a day or overnight camp. Whether they wants to go to academic camp or adventure camp, letting them be involved in the decision making will turn him into an eager camper as the summer months approach. The benefit for you is the added savings. Planning now can lower your summer camp costs.
  6. Plant Flowers: The saying is “April showers bring May flowers” so that makes spring the perfect time to plant flowers. Visit your local plant nursery to find what grows best in your area. Or take a chance and sprinkle a packet of wildflower mix in an area of your yard and see if any pop up.
  7. Paint and Hide Rocks: Last year painted rocks started appearing all over the places where you run or ride your bike. People are taking ordinary rocks and painting art on them and hiding them for others in the community to find. It is a pretty cool trend. For the best-looking rocks, it is recommended you take the time first to wash and dry the rocks. Then apply sealer to them. Let the sealer dry and draw on them with either acrylic paint or paint markers. After your art dries, coat with another layer of sealer.
  8. Go Camping: Camping as a family can be as simple as setting up a tent in your backyard to paying for a camping spot at a State Park and dragging the travel trailer out there. Use the supplies you have or borrow and stay within your budget, the value is found in the memories made–not the money spent.
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Top Financial Tips for College Students and Parents2/19/2019

Father helping Son with college applications

College is more than writing papers, pulling the occasional all-nighter and hanging out with good friends. It’s also an exciting leap forward toward greater independence and self-reliance as an adult.

At Health Advantage Credit Union, we’re here to help students and parents alike prepare for the big educational adventure ahead, especially when it comes to developing budget-savvy habits.

That’s why we encourage college students and their parents to work together and follow these tips for financial success. Think of it as a Financial Wellness 101 group study project!

  1. Create a budget or spending plan
  • Talk about true living costs and financial needs in college
  • Identify who is paying for what
  • Discuss smart choices for spending on fun activities
  1. Learn how to use credit wisely
  • Explore student-oriented financial products and services
  • Discuss credit scores and research positive credit practices (e.g., making on-time payments, etc.)
  1. Take ownership of student loans
  • Understand the FAFSA process and disbursement schedule
  • Learn about loan options, terminology, and how student loans work
  • Determine if repayments start during college or after graduation
  1. Protect personal information
  • Monitor financial accounts for unauthorized activity
  • Learn how to keep credit and debit cards, passwords, etc., secure
  • Understand identity theft and how to avoid it
  1. Identify financial services that fit specific needs
  • Learn about checking and savings account options
  • Explore ATM fees, minimum balances and special features
  • Identify how to transfer money between accounts and financial institutions

Easy, Smart and Stress-Free Options for College Students

Here’s another tip for financial success: Before classes start, it’s a smart move for students to set up their financial accounts ahead of time, ideally before high school graduation, so they’ll hit the ground running.

HACU offers several hassle-free accounts that are a good fit for college students.

To learn more, check out our account options or stop by your local HACU branch. You also can call us at 989.791.7070.

Good luck with the academic journey ahead!

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Kid-Friendly Valentine's Day Treats2/5/2019

Valentine's Day Treats

Some Valentine's Day recipes are totally Insta-worthy, but others aren’t exactly on the level of a professional baker, and that’s okay. It’s fun to cook with the kids and not worry about creating those picture-perfect treats, so long as you create picture-perfect memories. Helping out in the kitchen is a super-simple way to inspire creativity and help your kiddo explore math and science concepts. Spend some quality with your sweetie (AKA your child) and whip up some of these Valentine’s Day treats:

1. Large Batch Strawberry Cupcakes: It’s almost the school V-Day party, and your kiddo wants to actually bake the treats you signed up to bring. This large batch strawberry cupcake recipe is the pretty pink solution! Your child can measure, mix, stir, and cover these treats with colorful sprinkles. 

2. Donut S'mores Sundae: You can’t get much more decadent than this. The traditional s’more graham sandwich stacker gets a Valentine’s Day upgrade with donuts, ice cream, and sweet little heart-shaped sprinkles. Just watch out for the sugar rush. 

3. Valentine Heart Milk Ice Cubes: Add a splash of science into your kitchen fun with this easy Valentine’s Day recipe. Your curious kid can explore the liquid to solid (and eventually solid to liquid) transformation with these oh-so-cute cubes. 

4. Strawberry Love Bugs: These adorable strawberries add a pinch of healthy eating to your Valentine’s Day treat-making. And then there are the creatively cute faces. Your littles can let their imaginations run loose in creating different love bug characters. 

5. Red Velvet Packcankes: Desserts aren’t the only treats that scream, “Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day!” Start the day off with these hearty (literally) pancakes. Even though your little one can’t help you with the cooking, they can do the measuring and mixing for you.

6. Peanut Butter & Jelly Cookie Cups: So you say you want to go with a non-traditional Valentine’s Day treat? Say no more! You can forget about the candy hearts and chocolate roses in this one. Turn your kiddo’s fave sandwich into a sweet treat, and make it festive by using a strawberry, raspberry, or another berry red jelly.

7. Cherry Funfetti Valentine Cookies: Spending a chilly February day in a warm kitchen with your mini chef is the picture of perfection. And so are these cookies. They’re cherry-licious, funfetti-filled, and easy to bake.

8. Chocolate-Strawberry Hugs: This oatmeal yumminess is great for Valentine’s Day morning. It’s a step above plain cereal (okay, several steps above it) and easy to put together with your child.

9. Mermaid Seashell Macarons: Don’t worry about taking a fancy French pastry-baking class before trying this recipe out; you can use store-bought macarons. Choose a Valentine’s Day color/flavor and put these beauties together for a holiday party at home with family and friends.

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Keep Your Heating Cost Down This Winter1/31/2019

Smart Home Options

Winter doesn’t have to mean higher heating bills. Here are some simple home improvement tips you can use to help keep your house warm and your bills under control: 

  1. Check your filters. Clean or change your filters on a regular basis to maintain proper airflow and keep your HVAC system working efficiently. You should also make sure you are using the right filters for your system. 
  2. Don’t block your air vents. Make sure your vents aren’t blocked by furniture. Clear space around vents will help better circulate warm air.
  3. Avoid heating uninsulated rooms. Don’t bother heating places like garages, crawlspaces or other uninsulated areas. These rooms don’t need heat most of the time, and they lose heat much quicker without insulation.
  4. Get a tune-up. Call a professional to make sure your heating system is in good health and working as efficiently as possible. 
  5. Lower your thermostat. You could save up to 10 percent a year on your heating and cooling bill by setting your temperature back 7°-10°. In the winter, we recommend setting it to around 68° when you’re away or asleep. Try an experiment with your family and see how much you can comfortably lower your temperature. 
  6. Check your insulation. Good insulation helps keep you comfortable year-round. One of the most important places to have sufficient insulation is your attic. In the winter, proper attic floor insulation prevents warm air from rising out of your home.
  7. Use smart lighting habits. LED bulbs use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Be sure to turn off the lights when you leave a room. 
  8. Seal your windows and doors. If you suspect your windows and doors are causing a draft, try weather stripping or replacing the seals. Test your seals with this trick: put a dollar between the door or window and the seal, and close it. If you can easily pull the dollar out, it’s time to replace the seal.
  9. Conserve in the laundry room. Doing laundry can use a lot of energy. The washer and dryer alone use energy to operate, but both also use heat. To keep costs down, try using these appliances and their heat elements as little as possible. Wash and dry full loads and try washing as much as possible in cold water. If you can, hang your laundry to dry. This will also reduce wear and tear on your clothes.
  10. Adjust your water heater. The recommended temperature for most water heaters is 120°. If your water heater is set too hot, it will not only waste energy, but can be a safety hazard.
  11. Unplug unused electronics. Standby power accounts for an average household energy cost of $100 a year. Use surge protectors to easily turn these electronics all the way off and prevent them from using standby power.
  12. Check your refrigerator. Is your refrigerator set at the right temperature? If it’s too cold, it could be costing you money. Check with the manufacturer to find the recommended temperature. Additionally, make sure your refrigerator door is not letting cold air escape and making your refrigerator work harder. You can use the dollar seal test here as well.
  13. Snuggle up. Wear warm clothes, wrap yourself in a blanket and drink some warm tea or soup.
  14. Use rugs. They help insulate your floors and make your feet feel warm and cozy.
  15. Enjoy the sun’s natural heat. Open the drapes when the sun is out to warm your home during the day, and close them at night for added insulation.
  16. Keep the garage door closed. Retain warmer air on the garage-side wall of your home by keeping your garage door closed to prevent cold air from coming in.
  17. Reverse your ceiling fans. Turn your fan clockwise and set it on a low speed. Rather than creating an airflow that makes you feel cooler, your fan will push warm air downward, making you feel warmer.
  18. Close your chimney damper. Fireplaces keep us warm and toasty this time of year, but remember to close the damper when you’re done to prevent warm air from escaping – and cold drafts coming in.
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How to Simplify Your Life in 201912/17/2018

1. Watch less TV.

We love a good TV show, but we can honestly say that I watch too much TV. Sure, it can be really nice to veg out in front of the TV after a long day, but the average person watches TV for over 35 hours per week!

If you were to add up all the time you spent watching TV, it would probably be pretty shocking. Can you imagine what you could do by just taking half of those hours back each week?

Reclaiming some of that time could allow you to spend more time with your friends and family, work on side hustles, get outside and enjoy the world around you, and more.

Spending a few hours less each week in front of the TV is one of the easier ways to simplify your life in 2019.

2. Pay off your debt to simplify your life.

Whether you have student loan debt, credit card debt, car debt, or whatever else, paying it off will make managing your finances easier as you will have less debt to stress about.

When thinking about all the mental clutter we have, debt can be a huge contributor to that clutter. Debt can cause a crazy amount of stress, and eliminating your debt is one of the most important ways to simplify your life.

Paying off your debt can help simplify your budget, allow you think more clearly about your long term financial goals, and more.

3. Don't waste time on being negative.

We all have things that happen to us that turn the day from good to bad. Maybe your car wouldn’t start in the morning, a friend cancelled on you at the last minute, or you got a negative review at work.

Having a negative reaction to these types’ things is only natural, but it’s what you do in these situations that can really impact your life.

If you find that you are spending the rest of your day thinking about how bad these things are, you are wasting your time. Yes, it is really that simple.

That immediate reaction is natural part of coping, but instead of dwelling on the negatives that may be occurring in your life, such as feeling regret and/or gossiping, you can be more productive by using this time for things that actually matter. Moving past difficult things is, just that, difficult, but finding ways to refocus your energy will help you get through your day and life in general.

Just think about how much time you may have wasted recently by dwelling on the negative and thinking about the “what-ifs” in a situation? Being more positive and finding ways to move past bad situations is a hard but important way to simplify your life.

4. Organize your life in 2019.

Being unorganized can cause you to waste a significant amount of time and can lead to late fees, stress, lost items, and more.

Here are some surprising statistics from Simply Orderly about being unorganized:

  • The average person spends 12 days per year looking for things they can’t find.
  • Every day, the average office worker spends 1.5 hours looking for things.
  • In a recent survey, 55% of consumers stated they would save anywhere from 16 to 60 minutes a day if they were organized.
  • 23% of people pay bills late and have to pay late fees because they are unable to find their bills. These statistics are all nuts! So much time is being wasted every single day by the average person.

If you find that being unorganized is causing you to waste time and is beginning to negatively impact your life, this can be one of the more important ways to simplify your life. To become more organized, you may want to find a day or life planner that works for you, set reminders on your phone, use post-its to remind yourself of upcoming tasks, and so on.

5. Start saying no more often.

One of the ways we add clutter to our life is by agreeing to more than we can actually handle. Stepping outside of your box and saying yes to everything can be a good thing, but there are situations in which you may need to actually say “no” instead. If you say yes to everything, but you are ready to pull your hair out, then you may want to start saying no.

Think about everything you have said yes to in the past, and ask yourself these questions: Did that bring me joy? Did the benefit of the task outweigh the stress is caused? Was I able to make a meaningful difference for myself or someone else?

If you find that the answer to these questions is mostly no, then perhaps that’s the answer you should be giving in the future.

Saying no may allow you to have more time to focus on what you truly want, and it may be one of the ways to simplify your life in 2019.

6. Spend less time on social media in 2019.

The average person spends many, many hours on social media each week. Between Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and many others it can be quite easy to waste your entire day.

The average person spends over five hours a day on social media! FIVE HOURS A DAY!

Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with people, but, it can be wasting valuable time each day.

Spending too much time on social media can even lead to negative thoughts, like comparing yourself to others, trying to keep up with the Joneses, and more.

If you find that you are spending too much time on social media and that it is negatively impacting you, you may want to shut down the social media accounts that you are spending too much time on. One of the ways to simplify your life could be creating a time block so you cannot access your accounts during certain periods of the day, and so on.

7. Pay expenses annually or semiannually.

There are some bills that you have to pay each and every month, but if you were to find ways to eliminate some of these bills by paying for them annually or semiannually it can be one of many ways to simplify your life.

Instead of paying for bills like home insurance and car insurance monthly, you might want to look into paying them every six months or once a year. You will probably qualify for a discount if you do this as well.

If you switch from monthly payments, that’s two less bills to worry about each month!

You will probably have to adjust your monthly and yearly budget to do so, but looking at and adjusting your budget is always a good thing to do anyway.

8. Declutter (and maybe even downsize) your life in 2019.

Decluttering your life to simplify it can lead to many benefits, such as the ability:

  • To save money. In some cases, a bigger home can cost more due to higher utility bills, more clutter being bought, higher insurance, more maintenance and repairs needed, higher purchasing price, etc.
  • To have less clutter. The bigger your home, the more likely you’ll have empty rooms that you feel the need to put stuff in. Now that we live in an RV, we are much more mindful of what we buy. We think about every purchase in terms of weight, size, where we can store it, and more.
  • To spend less time on maintenance and repairs. If all the other factors between two homes are the same (age, location, etc.), a bigger home is more likely to take up more of your time and money due to more things breaking.
  • To spend less time cleaning. A larger home is going to take a lot more time to clean than a smaller one.

9. Think about what is truly important in your life.

Just as finding ways to simplify your life is an important thing to think about in the new year, so is thinking about the things that are truly important to you. The new year is always a good time to reflect on what you want out of life, and it can help you find ways to focus how you can achieve your goals.

By making a list of your priorities and the things in life that are important to you, you'll be able to simplify your life by eliminating any extra clutter that may be holding you back.

This is because you'll know and see exactly what is important to you, and you'll be able to differentiate between things that are important and those that are not.

This is a great way to learn how to simplify your life in 2019 and can help you to clear your mind.

10. Finally stop paying for cable.

The average monthly cable bill is over $100. By the year 2020, the average cable bill is expected to be around $200 a month.

If you are trying to watch less TV as one of the ways to simplify your life, cutting the cable is a good step in the right direction.

However, if you aren’t ready to quit paying for TV all together, there are lots of options that allow you to only pay, usually much less than cable, for the shows you want.

11. Have less clothing options.

The average successful and wealthy person has a very limited set of clothing options, as this way they have more time to focus on things that truly matter.

By finding items that already match one another and by having a smaller wardrobe, you'll have more time to focus on other things in life and this can help you to drastically simplify your life in 2019.

If you want to focus on this as one of the ways to simplify your life in the new year, start by looking at the items you wear the most and get rid of the one you haven’t worn in months. It can feel really good to clean out your closet! You can then start to build your wardrobe around the items you know you love and will wear more often.

12. Automate your payments.

You can automate a lot in your life, and fortunately, automating your bills and income payments has only gotten easier and easier. You can have your paychecks direct deposited (many people still deposit their checks manually), you can select to auto pay your bills, you can even auto pay your monthly credit card payments. Sometimes, going paperless can give you discounts on some of the payment you make on a regular monthly basis.

Automating your payments can even make managing your budget easier!

Even if you check through all transactions and expenses, automating many of your actual payments so that you never have to worry that something was forgotten about. Most expenses are similar from month to month, so you can usually just check the payment to see if everything is correct.

13. Gain confidence in 2019.

This can be one of the most difficult areas to work on, but gaining confidence can help you to live simply and enjoy life more.

Gaining confidence isn’t an overnight thing; rather it starts by finding small ways to believe in yourself. And, once the ball gets rolling, your confidence will allow you to improve your life rather than dwelling on things that scare you.

Confidence can lead to you:

  • Attaining the things you deserve in life.
  • Getting the job you want.
  • Making more money.
  • Reaching your dreams.
  • Public speaking.
  • Meeting new people.
  • Networking like a boss.
  • Managing a business or employees.
  • Traveling the world, and more.

As you can see, gaining confidence can help you in many, many different ways and can help you to enjoy your life more.

14. Add reminders to your phone's calendar (or any calendar) so you don’t forget.

Creating a reminder can be a huge help. This makes managing my life easier because you don’t have to worry about forgetting things, missing payments, etc.

We create reminders for things such as:

  • Business tasks and to-do lists.
  • When it’s time to pay estimated quarterly tax payments.
  • Renewing license plate tags for our cars.
  • Paying semiannual bills, such as car insurance.

Crazy enough, many people do not actually do this. You can use your phone to remind you about all sorts of things, like when it’s time to pay bills, take medications, bring back library books, call a friend, etc.

15. Slow down as one of the ways to simplify your life.

There are some days when it feels like all you are doing is rushing from one thing to the next. The next thing you know, you’re climbing into bed wondering where the day went.

Maybe you’re rushing through life on an even larger scale- spending college only thinking about graduation, after graduation only thinking about a job, working and only thinking about starting a family, until everything has passed by and you are wondering what you did with your life.

It is exciting to think about the future, but if you stop to look around at where you are right now, you might be surprised by how good it is.

We’re all guilty of running through life too quickly and not stopping to really enjoy it. However, by slowing down, we can learn to do things correctly, enjoy things more, and have the ability to start living simply.

16. Think before you multitask.

This goes along with the previous point, as we rush through life, we have the tendency to multitask in order to speed through tasks and challenges. Some people can multitask successfully, but because it takes so much time to refocus on a new task, many people cannot. This means that every time you switch between tasks, you may actually be spending more time than if you approached each task separately.

Think about your strengths and weaknesses to understand whether or not multitasking actually helps you save time. It’s possible that you can multitask some things, but others need your full one-on-one attention.

And, for the most part, by single-tasking, your ability to focus on one thing at a time and fully complete each task in front of you will help you better focus on the ways to simplify your life.

17. Sit in peace to simplify your day.

We all live in a world that is constantly moving and making noise. However, when was the last time you just sat down in complete silence with no distractions? For the average person, this is probably a rare occurrence.

Sitting silently can help you reflect on your life and what’s going on in the world around you. It can also help you relax, destress, and clear your mind.

You don’t need to start a full on meditation practice, unless that’s what you want, but you can try something easy like turning off the radio while you’re in the car, wait in the grocery store checkout line without checking your phone, or going for a walk by yourself. By clearing out the distractions, you will probably find that your mind lets you focus on what’s important.

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8 Secrets to a Debt-Free Holiday Season11/13/2018

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Remember when the holidays were all about simple pleasures like spending time with family and exchanging modest gifts? Neither do we. Holidays have taken on a life of their own, turning otherwise reasonable folks into consumer zombies and blowing up the budgets of too many Americans. This year, let's celebrate simplicity and financial solvency. Here are the secrets to a debt-free holiday season:

1. Push Back Against "Holiday Sprawl"

Ever feel like the holidays come earlier, last longer, and require more gifts, more elaborate decorations, more money, and more travel? Let's call this endless expansion what it is — holiday sprawl. Fight back by embracing the idea of enough. Suggest (and stick to) reasonable spending limits and keep ballooning expectations in check. Your budget will thank you. 

2. Shop Early and Shop Around

Bright lights, big crowds, sales of the century — it's enough to make even the most levelheaded shopper lose control. Skip all the holiday madness by shopping early (I start in September and try to finish by Thanksgiving). You'll have more time to compare prices, shop for sales, and space out purchases so you won't have to rely on credit.

3. Slow Down

Holidays can be frantic. In the rush of activity, we often make bad decisions about what to buy and how much to spend. Slow. Things. Down. Break up your shopping excursions into several smaller trips and avoid shopping on days when you have a thousand other things to do. When shopping online, load your virtual cart, but don't commit to buy until you've thought about your choices overnight.

4. Avoid Gimmicks

The holiday season can make or break retailers. To help us stretch our spending muscles, almost every store features blowout sales or deals that require the purchase of multiples (10 for $10). My advice? Be skeptical. That "biggest sale of the year" probably isn't. And what are you going to do with 10 bacon-scented candles, anyway?

5. Pay Cash

Do you tend to spend more when you use credit? You're not alone. Paying by credit card — or worse yet, smartphone — blunts the conscious connection between spending more money and having less money. Make this holiday a cash-only affair. It'll keep your accounts in the black and make your first credit card bill of the new year a lot less frightening.

tracking 16. Make your Gifts

Exchanging handmade gifts can be wonderful, even among adults. Buck the retail trend altogether and focus on your talents. Are you an expert baker? A gifted artist? An inspired brewmaster? Explore Pinterest for inexpensive homemade holiday gift ideas, then tap into your creative spirit. 

7. Skip the Greeting Cards

I didn't get the memo: When did everyone decide that $14.99 is an acceptable price for a box of holiday cards? This year, save a few bucks by ditching the costly cards and postage. Instead, send a group email or catch up with a leisurely phone call.

8. Share Experiences

If money's tight, swap traditional gifts for the gift of time together. Organize a holiday potluck, host a movie night with friends, or coordinate a charity event where everyone contributes a few hours of their time as a group. After all, what could be better than good food, good friends, and goodwill?

tracking 2

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Medical Debt Rescue - Building an Emergency Fund7/13/2018

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Before an emergency:

Start your emergency fund (if you haven't already)

Ideally, your emergency fund should be enough to cover your living expenses for four to six months. In the case of job loss, lay off, or unexpected life event (such as an illness) you can use these funds to keep yourself financially afloat.

If you don't have an emergency fund yet, start today. You don't have to build an entire 6 months living expenses overnight. Start by putting in small amounts out of every paycheck into a separate account (so you won't be tempted to spend it!) After time, you'll build your emergency fund to a decent level.

 

Are you drowning in medical collections or bills?  We have the solution with our Medical Debt Rescue Loan!

See how we can help rescue your credit!

Rescue your credit with our Medical Debt Rescue program!

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Saving on Summer Energy Costs!6/1/2018

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Summer is here!  While we may enjoy the warmer weather, it doesn't necessarily mean it's easy on your wallet.  Here are some quick and easy tips to help cut down on energy costs this summer without sacrificing a cool home.

1. Get smart about your thermostat

If it is just too hot to go without air conditioning, try to make the most of your thermostat.  

  • Bump up your thermostat!  If you are able, keep the temperature as high as possible to save on energy costs.  Even just a few degrees can make a large impact on your overall bill.  78 degrees is the ideal temperature for conserving energy costs.
  • Adjust your thermostat when you are not home.  Even if you don't have a smart thermostat, you can manually change your temperature to reflect your daily life.  If you spend most of your day at work or away from the home, set your thermostat at a higher temperature.  This will make sure you are not just cooling an empty house.

2. Limit appliance use

Don't add to the heat in your home!  Avoid using the stove, oven, or other appliances that may kick your air conditioner into overdrive.  Instead, try grilling or eating deluxe salads that don't require additional heating!  You can also meal prep in advance, cooking all your meals on cooler days, so that you minimize the kitchen appliances you have to use.

Bonus: Limit the use of other non-kitchen appliances as well.  Time your laundry for early morning or evening cycles and hand wash instead of using the dishwasher.  Every little bit will keep your home, and you, cooler. 

3. Be Efficient

Make sure you are getting the most out of your air conditioning.  Clean out your filters and vents at least once a month, so you aren't wasting energy.  You'll also want to make sure your evaporative cooler, hot water heater, or any other appliances are up-to-date!

For more tips and tricks on staying cool this summer visit energy.gov

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Home Buying? Tips and Tricks to Get You Into Your Dream Home5/22/2018

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Its home buying season!  Whether you are buying, selling, or just looking to learn more about the housing market, see our top list of tips and tricks of the trade!

1. See how much you can afford

First things first, how much can you afford?  Knowing exactly how much you can afford will help you narrow down your options and prevent you from overspending.  Try out a home calculator to see variations in your income, down payment, and house affordability.  Narrow it down to your best options in terms of staying within a budget.

*Bonus Tip:  Check your credit!  Your credit will have an impact on home loan pre-approval and interest rates.  Make sure you know what range you fall in to avoid any unexpected surprises.  Plus, try to avoid opening any new line of credits, such as credit cards or new loans.  Anytime you have new credit activity, it'll affect your credit score.  If you are seriously looking, take a pause for now.  

2. Get pre-approved

Take the time to get pre-approved!  Not only will it help you further nail down your budget, but it will show sellers you mean business.

  3. Budget for closing costs

Don't forget about the closing costs!  Closing costs can account around 2% to 5% of your total loan amount, make sure to account for this when you budget!  Struggling to make the mark?  Do a little research on home assistance programs, especially first-time home buyers!

4. Stay within your budget and compromise

It's easy to get swept up int the moment and consider a home far outside your budget, but stay focused!  You probably won't find everything you are looking for in your dream home so be ready to compromise.  Remember that small changes can make a big difference.  Do the walls just need a fresh coat of paint? Will new light fixtures breathe life into the home?  Set your priorities whether that is location, home size, surrounding yard, or anything else, and stick to it! 

 

Want more tips?  Visit us online or in person to see how we can help you get there!  You can also see a variety of online resources right here: NerdWallet's first-time home buyer tips and 5 tips for home buyers in a sellers market

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Money Management: The Value of Money4/30/2018

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Lesson: How money is earned through hard work

Age: 3 and up

One of the hardest lessons to teach is that money doesn’t grow on trees!  Parents often wonder how to tie the value of hard work to the latest toy their child wants.  Try this fun activity to help show how hard work pays off.

Instructions:

  1. Start by making a list of all of the chores in the house your child can do.  It can be anything from vacuuming to helping wash the car, to helping pick up toys left around the house.  Make sure to pick chores that are age appropriate for your child! 
  2. Set a value on each of those chores on an easily accessible chart.  How much you want to pay for each chore is up to you, it can be as little as 25 cents a room or 1 cent a window washed.  Make sure your child can see how much each item pays for their hard work.
  3. Let your child chose what chores to complete!  At the end of the activity, have your child turn in a list of finished chores for a “paycheck.”

Your child will learn the value of hard work and its connection to money.  Plus, you’ll get a few chores around the house done too!  Make sure to follow up with your child and ask them questions about where money comes from.  Do they know why you go to work every day?  How does working help you buy the things you want and need?  Talking to your child can help them learn essential money and working habits they can use for the rest of their life!

*Bonus Tip: Is your child a little too young for this activity?  Try using more immediate rewards like stickers, pencils, or other prizes.  For every chore they complete, they can pick out a prize from the prize box.  You’ll still tie the value of hard work to reward and you can always add in real money as your child ages!

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Money Management: Coupon Crazy4/23/2018

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Lesson: Coupons can be valuable money-saving tools, but only when used properly.

Ages: 8 and up

Taking advantage of sales and coupons can help you save significantly at the grocery store.  Help teach your kid the value of coupons and how to use them wisely, with this fun activity.

Materials needed:

  • Online coupon circulars and/or newspapers
  • Online storefront of your favorite store
  • Calculator
  • Paper and pen

Instructions:

  1. Sit down with your child and ask them to create a spending plan for this week’s groceries.  Set a budget and a shopping list for the items your family needs.
  2. Making no mention of coupons and using the online storefront of your local grocer, have your child add up the cost of all the items on your list.  Once they have finished “shopping,” request a “receipt” for the cost of their total grocery bill. 
  3. Stress that the challenge in the activity is to see how far the budget for a week’s groceries can go and to stay under budget.  You can offer an incentive to your child by promising to use any leftover budget money for a special treat or toy.
  4. Next, introduce coupons, but make sure to explain why buying something you have no need for just because there is a coupon isn’t a good idea.  Let your child decide which coupons are worth using.
  5. Watch your child use their budgeting skills and smarts to “shop” for the family and try to save as much as possible.

If your child is older, you can do this in real life!  Take your child to the grocery store with you, to help show just how important setting a budget and couponing can be.

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Money Management: Curbing Impulse Buys4/16/2018

Picture of family shopping

Lesson: Resisting impulse buys can be rewarding and help you achieve long-term goals.

Ages: 5 and up

Resisting impulse buys and last minute grabs in the check-out line can pay off big time in your budget’s bottom line.  How can you teach your kids to resist oh-so-tempting treats, while also showing that saving can be rewarding?  Try this interactive store activity!

Choose a store you and your child visit regularly.  It can be a big brand, local grocery or even a dollar store, so long as it has its fair share of tempting impulse purchases that your child usually requests.

Before you set out, implement the following rules:

  1. Give your child a designated amount of cash for a treat.  How much you want to give your child is up to you, anything from one dollar to ten! 
  2. Tell your child that they are in charge of picking out their own treat; using the money they have been given.
  3. Here’s the kicker: If your child does not spend all of their allotted money at the store, you’ll let them keep the cash and match the amount when you get home!  They can then do whatever they want with the money, including using it next time you visit the store.

After practicing this activity a few times, talk to your child about what they have learned.  What reward did they receive for not spending all of their treat money?  How did not buying a special treat today, benefit them in the long run?  How do adults use this principle to save?  The key here is to show your child resisting tempting purchases today, can pay off big tomorrow.  You’ll help teach self-control and the basics of investing at the same time! 

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