Beware Unsolicited Help: Trouble With Tech Support Scams
Q and A
Fortunately, you’re about to get some more capital each month thanks to your hard work. The best way to get to your “money’s no object” goals is to save a little bit each month. You can do that with the nice bonus offered by your raise. In the long run, you’ll be happier with the investment in your future than you will with the little luxuries you might be tempted to splurge on today.
Q: It’s my turn to host my family for the holidays. How can I entertain the crowd without spending a fortune?
A: Hosting a holiday meal is one of the stressful parts of any holiday. Sure, it’s great to help everyone get together under one roof as part of a fantastic tradition. On the other, though, feeding many people can put a serious strain on your budget. With holiday gifts to buy, a strain like that really can’t come at a worse time!
Fortunately, it’s possible to be a great host and a great saver at the same time. It’s not easy, but you can put on a great holiday meal without breaking the budget. Try these 3 handy tips to save this year!
If there’s a law written in a personal finance stone tablet, it’s “always make a plan.” It doesn’t need to be detailed, but it should identify your needs for a project and how you intend to meet them. For a meal, that should include both what you intend to put on the table and anything else you need to make your guests comfortable.
Obviously, the earlier you start making your plan, the better off you’ll be. Having a plan in place lets you take advantage of the rotating grocery specials. You can incorporate more seasonal produce, meaning you’ll cook a better tasting and more nutritious meal at a better price. The plan also lets you make a budget for your holiday meal spending while not having to put big shopping trips on credit cards. The memories of a wonderful family meal should stick around for years; a debt to pay for it all should not!
The sheer volume of tasks that go along with hosting a holiday meal can quickly get overwhelming. Beyond the meal, you need to clean and tidy up, decorate, and make sure your house is stocked with essentials, like hand soap and toilet paper. Even listing all the steps involved can get exhausting!
That’s why it’s important to recognize the tasks that need your individual attention and separate them from the tasks that can be done by someone else. While you may be doing most of the cooking, outsource the meal planning to a family member. Give them the guest list and ask them to help you come up with recipes that will satisfy the crowd. You can also get kids involved in making and placing decorations, which may help get them in the holiday spirit as well. While it’s likely too imposing to ask guests to bring toiletries as part of a potluck, you may be able to fold that shopping into your ordinary shopping and avoid extra last-minute trips.
By delegating responsibilities, you make the task of putting together a wonderful time more manageable. This decreases the temptation to find a quick, easy and potentially expensive, solution at the last minute. Budgets tend to explode most often when there’s a serious time or energy crunch. Avoid that crunch by getting help wherever you can.
While everyone loves a nice holiday roast, cuts of beef big enough to serve an entire family can easily cost $200 or more. Instead, look for seasonal specialties, like spiral cut ham. You can also get good prices on turkey breast or whole chicken, both of which can easily feed an army without draining your checking account. If you have the time, slow-cooking cheap cuts of pork (belly or shoulder) can make ham or bacon that’s tastier than what you get at the supermarket, but for a lower price. It will cure in the fridge for several days, and then needs to be cooked. A smoker is best for this process, but a standard grill can work in a pinch.
You can use the same home cooking ingenuity to save on side dishes. One of the best ways to feed lots of people without breaking the bank is to use root vegetables, which are cheap and filling. Rubbing parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes or carrots with salt and pepper before throwing them in the oven for 40 minutes on medium heat can turn ordinary produce into delicious sides. Serve these instead of more expensive, less nutritious, canned or frozen vegetables.
Finally, don’t forget to substitute other people’s cooking for your own. Guests like to feel included in the preparation process. Ask your guests to bring desserts or sides, while you focus on getting your main dishes ready. This will save you both time and money.
Don’t forget that the best things about the holiday are free. Time spent with friends and family, telling stories and making memories, is more important than how much food you put on the table. Your guests will remember the shared experience of the holidays more than what was on their plates, so focus on being gracious and calm while making your guests feel welcome.
Your Turn: What’s your best holiday budget survival tip? Do you have any go-to tips or tricks that saves on costs? Let us know how you host with the most (without spending the most) in the comments!
Tags: hosting, saving, holiday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, food costs
Tags: Wells Fargo, Banks, Banking, Member Experience, credit unions, shareholders
The financial services industry is based on trust. When a company abuses that trust, the whole industry seems off kilter. While the details about the extent of the recent fake account scandal are still coming to light, we know enough to start painting a picture of what was going on inside the bank. Here are a few common questions about the scandal and what to do if you’ve been impacted by it.
What was going on inside Wells Fargo?
As a commercial bank, Wells Fargo generates revenue from each customer account. It could do this in a variety of ways: fees, low balance penalties or other charges. Whatever the cause, the bank made a little bit of money on each one. In an effort to maximize its revenue, the company established a sales quota for each of its sales teams. Individual salespeople and team managers were therefore under heavy pressure to meet an unrealistic goal and open new accounts.
Somewhere along the line, someone inside the organization decided the only way to meet these goals was through fraud. Eventually, fraud became a widespread corporate practice. It became standard procedure to open fake accounts using an existing customer’s information and then charge fees for services they never wanted or agreed to.
Worse yet, the company began actively silencing those who attempted to put a stop to this wrongdoing. Over the course of eight years, about 5,600 employees were fired for reporting this activity to the Wells Fargo ethics hotline or attempting to discuss it with human resources. Many of them were effectively blacklisted, preventing them from working in financial services again.
After this information became public, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf was forced to resign. All evidence suggests that he was aware of the situation and did nothing about it. The bank has been fined millions of dollars and is also being asked to issue refunds to many of its victims.
What can I do if I was a victim of fraud?
Most of the people who had fake accounts opened in their names have already been given a refund. While money can’t make up for the inconvenience or the sense of betrayal that occurred, those refunds are being issued automatically to most of the people who were affected. Wells Fargo is conducting an internal review to uncover the extent of the damage, and it’s extended its search back to 2009.
If you’ve done business with Wells Fargo, it might be a good idea to get a list of accounts that have been opened in your name during your time as a customer. You can do this by getting a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
Those hoping for a day in court will likely be disappointed. Several victims of the scam attempted to form a class action lawsuit against the bank, but the case will likely be thrown out. Wells Fargo account opening agreements specify that any disagreements must be settled through arbitration, and the court has previously held that this applies even to accounts that were opened through fraud.
Why did Wells Fargo do this?
Part of what set up Wells Fargo for failure was the profit motive at the heart of its business model. As a corporate bank, Wells Fargo has a first obligation to its shareholders. Any obligation it might have to its account holders is secondary; it only needs to maintain enough good will to keep customers coming back. That creates an inevitable conflict of interest between the desire to maximize profits with the safety and trust of customers.
Credit unions, on the other hand, are not-for-profit institutions owned by their members. Our shareholders and our account holders are exactly the same people. Our board consists of volunteers from within our community, not individuals seeking a payday. That allows us to always put the interests of our members at the forefront of what we do.
If you’re tired of a bank that treats you like a cash machine, maybe it’s time to give [CREDIT UNION] a try. We offer the same services that commercial banks do, but with a model that’s based on putting members first. For more information about [CREDIT UNION], call or stop by any of our branch locations, or click here to check out the many services we offer.
YOUR TURN: Have you ever been mistreated by a bank or other company? What did it do or could it do to regain your trust?
Tags: Debt Consolidation, refinance, personal loan, credit card debt, interest rates, financial stress
If you’re up to your eyeballs in debt, the one thing you may wish for more than anything else is a blank slate. If you had a chance to wipe your slate clean and start over, things would be different. Of course, barring a winning lottery ticket, nothing is going to make that much of a change overnight.
There is, however, another option you can take for getting your debt under control. You can use a personal loan to refinance your existing debt. That means you’ll have one monthly payment at one interest rate instead of the stress caused by a bunch of smaller bills coming due on different days of the month.
Of course, this isn’t a solution for everyone. Let’s take a look at the questions you might ask yourself before you take on a debt consolidation loan.
1.) Have I fixed the debt problem?
Think long and hard about why you’re in debt. For most people, it was a medical bill, the loss of a job or some other temporary hardship that got them behind with charges they couldn’t completely pay off right away. If that describes your situation, the fact that you have a job or have paid the medical bill means you’ve solved the problem that caused the debt in the first place.
If, on the other hand, you accumulated debt by overspending on credit cards, a debt consolidation loan may not be the answer just yet. There are other steps to take first, like making a budget you can stick to, learning how to save and gaining responsibility in your use of credit. Getting a debt consolidation loan without doing those things first is a temporary solution, that might actually make matters worse in the long run. You’ll have room on credit cards again, which can make the impulse to go spend pretty strong. Give in, and you’ll be back in the same position you were before, except now you will have even more debt.
2.) Can I commit to a repayment plan?
If you’re struggling to make minimum monthly payments on bills, a debt consolidation loan can only do so much. It’s possible that the lower interest rate will make repayment easier, but it’s also possible that bundling all of that debt together could result in a higher monthly payment over a shorter period of time. Before you speak to a loan officer, figure out how much you can afford to put toward getting out of debt. Your loan officer can work backward from there to figure out terms, interest rate and total amount borrowed.
If you’re relying on a fluctuating stream of income to repay debt, like a second job or financial windfalls, it may be difficult to commit to a strict repayment plan that’s as aggressive as you like. Instead, what you can afford on a monthly basis may be nothing more than the sum of your current minimum payments. You can still make extra principal payments on a personal loan, so your strategy of making intermittent payments will still help. You just can’t figure them into your monthly payment calculation.
3.) Is my interest rate the problem?
For some people, the biggest chunk of their debt is a student loan. These loans receive fairly generous terms, since a college degree should generally result in a higher-paying job. Debt consolidation for student loans, especially subsidized PLUS loans, may not make a great deal of sense. You’re better off negotiating the repayment structure with your lender if the monthly payments are unrealistic.
On the other hand, if you’re dealing with credit card debt, interest rate is definitely part of the problem. Credit card debt interest regularly runs in the 20% range, more than twice the average rate of personal loans. Refinancing this debt with a personal loan can save you plenty over making minimum credit card payments.
4.) Will a personal loan cover all my debts?
The average American household has nearly $15,000 in credit card debt. That’s a big chunk of change. Add on $28,000 in auto loans, and it’s easy to see why debt is such a problem for most households.
The caution with personal loans for debt consolidation is to make sure you can bundle all of that debt together. If you have more than $50,000 in credit card debt, it’s going to be difficult to put together a personal loan that can finance the entire amount. Instead, it’s worth prioritizing the highest interest cards and consolidating those instead of trying to divide your refinancing evenly between accounts. Get the biggest problems out of the way so you can focus your efforts on picking up the pieces.
Debt consolidation doesn’t work for everyone, but it can do wonders for many people. The ability to eliminate high-interest debt and simplify monthly expenses into one payment for debt servicing can change a family’s whole financial picture. The only way to know if a personal loan to consolidate debt is right for you is to sit down with a loan officer to go over your situation. Gather your account statements and your paycheck stubs and head to Abbey Credit Union today!
YOUR TURN: What’s your secret weapon in the battle against debt? Any tips and tricks that helped you get a handle on what you owe? Let us know!
Share Savings Certificates are an excellent savings option. They’re NCUA-insured, which gives you peace of mind in knowing your deposits are secure. They’ve got a better dividend rate than a savings account and they’re generally safer than the stock market.
Before you lock your money up, though, there are some questions you might want to answer about your financial priorities. It’s not all about the rate – there are many other things to consider.
1.) What am I saving for?
You can’t control the dividend rates that financial institutions are offering, but you can control the term of your investments. Think about when you might want to make withdrawals. It’s far from the end of the world if you’re wrong, but you will have to pay a small penalty to withdraw your money before the certificate matures.
If you’re saving for a rainy day fund, you might need that money very quickly. It’s best not to lock yourself into a long-term commitment since you’ll need the flexibility. A short-term certificate, like one for 6 months, has very small penalties associated with early withdrawal. Waiting a few months to finish paying for an emergency expense is far more doable than waiting a few years.
If you have a more flexible goal, like a vacation or a house, consider a longer-term certificate. A 5-year term earns a better dividend rate, and you can postpone your vacation or house hunt until you have the money to pay for it. A long-term certificate also keeps you from making an impulsive decision. If something seems like a “good deal,” you need to weigh the penalty of early withdrawal against the potential savings.
2.) What are the penalties?
Penalties for early withdrawal make it difficult to impulsively take money from the account, but they’re not a deterrent if the money is needed for an emergency situation. However, like most factors about certificates, they can vary from institution to institution. Generally, the penalty is expressed as a number of months of earned dividends. For short-terms, those under one year, the penalty is between one and three months dividends. For longer-term certificates, penalties can range from 6 to 24 months of earnings. Occasionally, institutions may include a flat fee as well.
Pick a term that aligns with your need for flexibility. If flexibility is important to you, choosing a certificate with lower penalties will allow you to make withdrawals if needed. If you’re confident that the money you’re saving won’t be needed before the term of the certificate, ignoring penalty terms might allow you to secure a higher dividend rate.
3.) What kind of certificate is right for you?
The language surrounding certificates can be somewhat confusing. Between jumbo, bump-up and liquid certificate options, it can be difficult to figure out which one is right. Here are some of the more common types.
A Jumbo Certificate is a certificate account with a higher minimum deposit. Financial institutions offer these to attract large investments. Jumbo options usually begin with minimum deposit requirements of around $10,000. There are no downsides, other than having your money locked up for the term of the certificate. These are sometimes also called high-interest certificates, because they tend to carry a higher dividend rate.
A Bump-up Certificate is one that enables you to take advantage of rising dividend rates. At some point over the life of the term, you’ll be given the option to change the dividend rate. If you buy a certificate at 1.5% and, after 6 months, the institution is selling the certificate at 3%, you can “bump up” your rate to 3%. These certificates often come with slightly lower initial dividend rates to reflect the risk the institution is taking by being flexible about dividend rates in the future.
The opposite of a bump-up certificate is a Callable Certificate. This option lets the institution pay back the deposit early and avoid paying dividends on the remaining term of the account. If you buy a Callable Certificate at 3% and, after the “call” period is over, the institution is selling certificates at 1.5%, they can pay back your principal with the dividends you’ve accrued to that point. Since you’re taking the risk of falling dividend rates, these certificates usually come with slightly higher rates.
Similar to a Bump-up Certificate, an Add-on Certificate provides you with an opportunity to make an additional deposit at some point over the term. While you don’t get back dividends on this amount, you will earn dividends on the new amount going forward. Add-on Certificates provide you with additional flexibility to add to your savings over time.
A Liquid Certificate is like an Add-on Certificate in that it allows you to make a limited number of withdrawals over the course of the term without paying a penalty. These accounts usually have a minimum deposit and may have a certain amount of time which must pass before withdrawals can be made without penalty. These accounts are a great way to combine the rates of a certificate with the flexibility of a savings account, but dividend rates will be lower than with other more fixed-term accounts.
4.) How important is dividend rate?
The temptation when shopping for certificates is to jump at the highest dividend rate you can find. A better rate will mean more money, all else being equal. The problem is that all else is seldom equal.
A tenth of a percent of a dividend rate is not likely to make much of a difference over the course of the term. Most institutions are going to have rates clustered around the same rate, so other considerations should come first. Look at the terms of service, the level of support and the flexibility provided by the certificate before looking to earn another miniscule quantity of dividend.
Most importantly, you need to deposit your money with an institution you trust. Certificate agreements can be cumbersome documents, and many institutions might use that density to hide a clause that can cost you. Doing business with an institution that’s there to help you is the best move for your money in the long-term.