With summer fast approaching, it’s hard to NOT have vacation on the brain. But, where to go? Hmm…. A vacation is supposed to be a nice relaxing week off from the hectic, stressful work environment, right? A time to destress, put your feet up, read a book, take in the long unappreciated weather, and come back into the office refreshed, revitalized, and rejuvenated. Yet…vacations are not always “relaxing” affairs. In fact, they can sometimes be even more hectic and stressful than the office. So, where is there a relaxing vacation to be had? The answer may be a little unexpected.

A train ride.

Yes, a train ride. The train doesn’t just have to just be an optional tool to get you from home to sun and sand. It can be a vacation on its own. On a train, you don’t have to worry about driving, where to eat, where to sleep, whether you have to put on sunscreen or wear a jacket, trying to keep up with the children as they run from ride to ride to ride. You and the family can sit in comfy train car and watch the mountains roll on by. Amtrak and other companies and states offer plenty of scenic train trips, and if you have AAA or AARP, then you will may plenty of discounts you can take advantage of. Depending on the season of course. Here are some of the most beautiful and inexpensive train trips you can go on this summer:

California Zephyr

Route: This trip takes you from Chicago all the way to the San Francisco Bay.

Duration: 2 days

Attractions: The Rocky Mountains, Colorado’s Gore, Byers, Glenwood Canyons, Moffat Tunnel, and San Pablo Bay.

Price: Book your trip on Amtrak at least 14 days ahead of time for the best prices. Students between 17 and 25 get 15% off some of their fares. Fourth-graders can get up to 75% off if they are visiting a national park.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Route: Travels from Durango, Colorado to Silverton, Colorado over 9,000 feet between May and October. Travel from Durango to Cascade Canyon in the off season.

Duration: Round trip is around 7 hours.

Attractions: Seeing the Animas River from a blasted-out rock shelf, rated #1 in National Geographic’s “Top 10 North American Train Trips.”

Price: Round trip starts at $89 for 12 and older. $55 for children 4 to 11.

Ethan Allen Express

Route: New York City to Rutland, Vermont.

Duration: 5 hours 45 minutes one-way.

Attractions: Hudson River Valley, the Catskills, and the Green Mountains, rated #2 in National Geographic’s list.

Price: Varys by class and route.

Grand Canyon Railway

Route: The South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Duration: 2 hours and 15 minutes one-way, with a few hours to explore the canyon before the trip back.

Attractions: The Grand Canyon. One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

Price: Round-trip starts at $65 for adults and $29 for children. The fare is half-priced if you stay two nights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel at certain times of the year.

Great Smoky Mountains

Route: From Bryson City, North Carolina through the Appalachian Mountains.

Attractions: The Nantahala Gorge Excursion travels through the Fontana Trestle into the gorge. The Tuckasegee River Excursion passes wreck site from the Harrison Ford thriller The Fugitive.

Price: Diesel trains start at $51 for adults and $29 for children. Steam trains start at $56 for adults and $32 for children.

For more train trips you need to experience, you can read the full MoneyTalksNews article.


How do you live comfortably if you don’t have finances? Sure, money isn’t everything and you don’t need money to be happy, but living month by month not knowing if you can afford to keep your car, phone, job, electricity, or even your house is not an ideal way to spend the rest of your years. This can be assumed to be a unanimous consensus, correct?

Then why did the National Foundation for Credit Counseling last year report that less than half of Americans keep close track of their spending and almost 30% are not even saving for retirement?

It’s not all doom and gloom though. It is easy to improve your savings. You can even improve them exponentially. And it only takes two weeks to do it. Here is Business Insider’s 14-Day plan to help you gain better control of your finances:

Monday, Day 1

Find Out Your 90 Day Number

“Shark Tank” investor Kevin O’Leary states in his book “Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women, & Money,” that the critical first step to make before any big shifts in financial control, is getting your 90-day number. It is the sum of every dollar you have received and spent in the last three months. There is no gray area when it comes to money. Your number will either be positive or negative.

To get the number, you calculate:

Income number – expenses number = 90-day number

If it’s positive, congratulations! You’re off to a good start. If it’s negative, you are making a good decision to do this 14-day plan. If it’s around zero, you also have some work to do.

Tuesday, Day 2

Set Up a System to Track Spending

This is an easier day. All you have to do today is chose a system that keeps track of your income and expenses for the future. After you implement this, anytime you would like to view your 90-day number, it will take less than five minutes to figure it out. Knowing your 90-day number more quickly is a quick trick to help finances in the future, because if you find out your number at the end of every month and your number is gradually rising, you have definitive proof that you are doing better with your finances.

Two Popular Tracking Options:

Mint- An app that connects to your credit cards and bank accounts, and automatically pulls from the connected accounts to log every expense and paycheck received. Three clicks in the app and your spending habits are put into a fuller perspective.

Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet- If you are comfortable with Excel already, you may enjoy doing all of the logging yourself manually. Just be cautious of human error!

Wednesday, Day 3

Add Up All Your Debt

There are different kinds of debt, and yet they all have the same end goal. To pay back what you owe to another person or company. Today is dividing your debt into two different categories: Good Debt & Bad Debt:

Good Debt- Lower interest rates and is paying off for something valuable like mortgages and student loan debt. This is less urgent to be paid than bad debt.

Bad Debt- Higher interest rates and pays for a depreciating assets like credit card debt or a car loan.

It is a tremendous struggle for people to face the number they owe in debt, so the last thing to do today is add up all the debts you owe and take a gander at that number. You will come back to it tomorrow.

Thursday, Day 4

Create a Budget

When you budget you know exactly where the money goes and that it goes exactly where you want it. You can go back to the Mint app to do this. You could also use You need a Budget. Make a line for every category of spending and income you receive. The more specific you are, the more control of your finances you will have. Assign every category the amount you will spend that month along with creating categories for how much you can set aside for debts.

Friday, Day 5

List What You Want to Save for and Create the Number You Need to Reach

If you have long term goals, like buying a house or going on an expensive vacation, you will have a better ability to prioritize what you want and where to handle your finances. This can help you build an emergency fund for any unexpected costs.

Business Insider writes:

“Now, time to work backwards. Let’s say you want to save $50,000 for a 20% down payment on a home, plus broker and other fees, in eight years. If you’re saving in a regular savings account with insignificant interest, $50,000 divided by eight years is $6,250 a year — $521 a month, $130 a week.”

Saturday, Day 6

Start Saving Up With Your Extra Cash

Save money? Gross. It’s my money, I want to spend it NOW. That is how not to think of saving money. The best way to think of it is that saving money is just the best way to spend money on what you really want. Things that you cannot easily have when you do not save. A good way to start saving is freeing up some cash and start putting it away. How do we do this, you ask? There are so many necessities we spend on, how can we free up cash? Here are two ways:

Negotiate- Bills and memberships are only a phone call away to being a lesser price a month. It may not work, but it is worth giving it a shot.

Reduce-Take a look at the groceries that you don’t need, the restaurants that are a little costly, or the stores you buy clothing at. See if there is a way that you can alter changes in these categories that will have you spending less, but doesn’t throw your life into chaos.

Sunday, Day 7

Start Saving Automatically

Key to saving? Paying yourself first. Call your bank or credit union and have a portion (or a larger portion) of your paycheck going right into your savings account before you can even touch it. You won’t even miss it or notice it’s gone.

Monday Day 8

Assess Income. Find One Place for Improvement

Today is taking one step towards building a better income. Options are:

  • Asking for a raise at your job
  • Look for a higher paying job
  • Taking on freelance projects

Tuesday, Day 9

Call for Your Credit Score

Easy task today. A credit score is a 3 digit number between 301 and 850.  You want it to be as high as possible. A score below 650 is a score you do NOT want to have. You have a right to a free credit report by calling 877-322-8228 or by visiting annualcreditreport.com. It’s the only place to offer you one free credit report every year.

Wednesday, Day 10

Change to a Credit Union

Banks make over $1 million a year in fees. If you are at a bank that is charging you things like holding a checking account or withdrawing cash from the ATM, it may be time to switch out. When selecting a credit union it is important to read the disclosures before signing up. Always know what you are getting into!

Thursday, Day 11

Keep Financial Documents and Passwords Top Secret

Today is making sure your financial documents are in a secure, password protected place in your office, home, or computer. Also making sure your passwords are hard to guess, and differ from site to site.

Friday, Day 12

Double Check You Are Insured

Here are the insurances you should have by the time you reach a certain age:

When you’re in your 20s:

  • Health
  • Auto
  • Renter’s
  • Disability

When you’re in your 30s:

  • Life
  • Homeowner’s
  • Pet

When you’re in your 40s:

  • Long-Term Care

Saturday, Day 13

Plan out a Calendar for Financial Future

You have done so much these last two weeks, and you don’t want any of it to go to waste. This is why for the last day, you will set up your financial calendar, reminding you of all financial events so you will remain in control. Google Calendar is an easy setup and tool to use for this.

Important info to add to your calendar:

Once a Month

  • Evaluate Budget
  • Check Credit Score

Once Every Four Months

  • Get Credit Report

Once Every Six Months

  • Check Balance on Retirement Account
  • Adjust Savings Goals

Once a Year

  • Evaluate Investment goals

For more information on the 14-Day plan to drastically improve your finances, you can read the full article on Business Insider.


Homebuying Expert Series

April 28th, 2016 | Posted by admin in Mortgages - (0 Comments)

Last month, Align launched a Homebuying Expert Series on our YouTube channel to help all prospective homebuyers receive quick, essential tips on multifarious topics relating to purchasing a home. Topics included credit scores, applying for a mortgage, and the difference between being pre-approved and being pre-qualified. Every video ranges from 30 seconds to 3 minutes , so it will not take you long to watch all videos in the series and get yourself a good foundation of the process. Here’s a little more about some of the topics that are covered in the series:

Knowing Your Limits

A major aspect of the home buying process is knowing how much you can afford. There can be some serious pitfalls if you buy a home that is too far out of your price range. This is why our originators look at two important pieces of information when learning what your limit is. The Housing Ratio, and the Debt-to-Income Ratio.

The Housing Ratio is your mortgage payments. This includes principle, interest, taxes, and insurance. These are what your housing expenses are determined on. It is estimably 33% of your monthly gross income. It shouldn’t be more because there are other expenses you need to take care of.

The Debt-to-Income Ratio is all of the debt you have. Car loans, student loans, etc. This will be about 38% of monthly gross income. Many lenders will only raise the number to 43%. “Portfolio lenders”, such as credit unions, will allow you to stretch the number higher because they are using their own money.


Points are crucial to the homebuying process, and not many know anything about them. A point is 1% of the total of the loan. In our correlating video, Judy Dodier explains that you have an interest rate that is 3% and 2 points on a $100,000 loan, it will be $2,000 on just points. That is different than the other closing costs such as attorney and appraisal fees. Paying the costs for points up front can give you a better rate, but you have to evaluate if points are a good strategy for you. Between a 2 point rate and a 0 point rate, estimate how long you will be living in this house and how long it will take you to break even.

When You Don’t Have a Credit Score

While it is possible to buy a home without a credit score, it is not highly recommended. Without a credit score, they can look at your rent or your utility bills. What mortgage originators are looking for are 3 trade lines on your credit report. For an easier process, you can start on a $500 credit card and use it to pay things such as groceries, and building up your credit history. It helps to work with a portfolio lender that has flexibility to work with you on your score.

The 4 Cs of Credit Worthiness

These are the 4 “C” originators look at to determine your credit worthiness:

Character- Ability to Repay. How you have demonstrated how you pay your bills.

Capital- Debt-to-Income Ratio. How much room in in between to see if you can qualify.

Capacity- Funds for a down payment. What is being brought to the table through your income.

Collateral- Value of the property. How much the property is itself.

Home Inspections

It is essential to get a home inspection. An appraiser will do their job and appraise your home, but a home inspector will look at every corner, check under every board, and go into spots around your home that you didn’t even know where there or even ever want to go to. You should go into your home knowing if there is lead in the paint, or if the roof needs work. These problems can help you discuss lowering the purchase price of the home.

For more topics in our #HomebuyingExpertSeries, you can watch all videos on our YouTube channel.


Cost of Living in 10 US Cities

April 21st, 2016 | Posted by admin in Home & Living - (0 Comments)

The time is here. You’re ready to leave the good ol’ hometown in the suburbs, and set out for the city to start materializing your dreams. Your dream could be your new job, a new life, or maybe starting your own family. It’s whatever you chose it to be. What you can’t chose in the city is the cost of living there. Many city folk struggle with finances and do not know whether to pin it on the cost of living being too high or their personal spending habits being too poor. One of the best ways to solve the problem is implementing the 50-30-20 rule onto your income. This rule means 50% of your paycheck goes to necessary costs, 30% goes to whatever you’d like, and 20% is saved. In a few months’ time, you will be able to get a clear answer on whether it is you or the city. It shouldn’t have to come to you questioning about your financial habits after struggling in the city. You should enter your new house/townhouse/apartment knowing what you are getting into. GOBankingRates took this concern and conducted a comparison of the 75 most populous cities in the U.S., taking in account rent, groceries, utilities, and other necessities and then doubled to achieve the total cost for a single person. The study also includes the income needed to support the median household income. That way you can see if there is a correlation of the cost of living and the differences in pay:

Boston, Massachusetts

Income Needed: $84,422

50% Necessities: $42,211

30% Personal Spending: $25,327

20% Savings: $16,884

Medium Household Income: $54,485

Chicago, Illinois

Income Needed: $68,671

50% Necessities: $34,335

30% Personal Spending: $20,601

20% Savings: $13,734

Medium Household Income: $47,831

Dallas, Texas

Income Needed: $55,651

50% Necessities: $27,826

30% Personal Spending: $16,695

20% Savings: $11,130

Medium Household Income: $43,359

Los Angeles, California

Income Needed: $74,371

50% Necessities: $37,185

30% Personal Spending: $22,311

20% Savings: $14,874

Medium Household Income: $49,682

Miami, Florida

Income Needed: $77,057

50% Necessities: $38,529

30% Personal Spending: $23,117

20% Savings: $15,411

Medium Household Income: $30,858

Note: This the largest gap between ideal income and actual income in the study.

Nashville, Tennessee

Income Needed: $61,015

50% Necessities: $30,508

30% Personal Spending: $18,305

20% Savings: $12,203

Medium Household Income: $46,758

New Orleans, Louisiana

Income Needed: $60,782

50% Necessities: $30,391

30% Personal Spending: $18,235

20% Savings: $12,156

Medium Household Income: $36,964

New York City, New York

Income Needed: $87,446

50% Necessities: $43,723

30% Personal Spending: $26,234

20% Savings: $17,489

Medium Household Income: $52,737

Note: With its high costs of living, the medium cost for New York covers mostly just necessities.

Phoenix, Arizona

Income Needed: $48,876

50% Necessities: $24,438

30% Personal Spending: $14,663

20% Savings: $9,775

Medium Household Income: $46,881

Washington, DC

Income Needed: $83,104

50% Necessities: $41,552

30% Personal Spending: $24,931

20% Savings: $16,621

Medium Household Income: $69,235

For the cost of living in more of the largest US cities, you can read the full Go Banking Rates article.


When anybody thinks about a newborn baby, three things are likely to come to mind. They’re not the best on planes, they are a lot of work, and that they are EXPENSIVE. Exceedingly expensive. Making sure you have the right food, the right equipment, and enough diapers, toys, and wipes to keep the baby happy and healthy. With so many items constantly being bought (along with the lack of sleep from coddling your crying baby at 3am) it’s also easy to overspend. Many items sold seem like unquestionably necessary items, but are really just a waste of hundreds of dollars. Here are the items that you should never buy for your baby:

Changing Table

Changing tables are usual, sure, but your baby is only going to be changing size for so long. After a couple years, you will be having an oversized, unused, dust collector in your house. As long as you have a changing pad, fresh diapers, and a couple wipes, you will be $50 to $150 richer.

Bottle Sterilizer

At first glance, a bottle sterilizer is a smart and useful purchase. They typically go for between $15 and $70, but it’s worth the price, right? You don’t want your baby to receive any germs! Sterilizing the bottle is important. That’s true. The way to do it, though, is to sterilize the bottle parts yourself. Put the bottle parts in a pot on top of the stove and boil them for a few minutes. $70 no longer wasted.

Brand-Named Diapers

We humans are attracted to Brand name products. Name recognition gives us more trust in a product. The bigger the brand name, the better the quality. That belief isn’t necessarily true. In fact, many counterparts to brand name products are just as reliable. This goes for diapers. A diaper is a diaper and next time you go shopping with that fact in your head, you can save quite a bit of money. As Cheapism reports, buying 84 Huggies diapers is $27, while Target’s Up & Up brand sells 222 diapers for $33. For 6 dollars for you get 138 more diapers.

Special Baby Detergent

When you are looking around at products that are best for your baby, seeing specially made laundry detergent that is designed for infants may catch your eye. What’s the set back? That is tends to cost double the price of the standard “free and clear” version of other detergents that also are clear of anything that can irritate the baby’s skin. If baby detergent costs $20, then a “free and clear detergent” will cost around $10. Also, be sure to not use fabric softener. Some children have flame-retardant clothing and fabric softer can remove the fire resistant fabrics.

For more items you don’t need to purchase for your baby, you can read the full Cheapism article.


How to Avoid ATM & Gas Station Fraud

April 8th, 2016 | Posted by admin in Security - (0 Comments)

Ever been driving down a street in your car and the gas light flickers on? You didn’t even notice that your car was that low on gas! You don’t see a gas station in sight, but ten miles down the road it comes to a huge relief to you when gas signs, and pumps, and prices are in sight just ahead of you. Many have been in that position. Many have also had the bewilderment and stress that comes with their card information being stolen after they are finished pumping their gas. We agree of the convenience of being able to pay for gas with a credit or debit card. Not everybody carries cash with them, or sometimes you unfortunately don’t have enough cash to cover the charges. Things like that happen all the time. That is why you have to be extra careful when you are at the gas station or ATM. One swipe of your card at a credit card skimmer could lose you thousands of dollars. To help you keep your accounts safe, here is what you need to know to keep yourself protected:

What Skimmers Are

Having your information stolen is shockingly easy:

  • Skimming devices are magnetic card readers that hackers can install onto the card swipe of the gas pump, so the device can scan the black magnetic strips of everybody who swipes their card and gather all of their card information.
  • The hacker will come back later in the day and uninstall the machine. They can now use the information to create cloned version of cards or break into bank accounts with the information they have.
  • Skimming devices tend to not cause card readers or ATMs to malfunction. They will work efficiently with or without a skimmer.
  • Even EMV chip cards are not safe from having data stolen, so skimmers will continue to be a serious problem.
  • The ATM skimmer device is small and can easily fit over the original card reader. If there is a skimming device at the ATM, there may also be a hidden camera placed somewhere where it can see your finger type in your pin.  Some thieves even go as far as placing a fake PIN pad over the original.
  • Skimmers are so easy to get, they can even be purchased online.

Suspicious Signs

Though skimmers are purposely hard to notice, here are a few signs to be cautious of:

  • Your card wasn’t read.
  • Machine is “offline.”
  • A vehicle is parked at a pump for an elongated time.
  • Service technicians show up at unscheduled times.
  • Card reader covers a portion of the directing arrows.
  • Card reader or PIN pad are loose.

How to Avoid Risk

Here are some of the best ways to avoid your information from being stolen:

  • Use cash at a gas station whenever you can.
  • If using a card, use a credit card over a debit card.
  • If you must use a debit card, have it run through as credit so you don’t have to type in your PIN.
  • When typing in PIN, use one hand to type, and the other hand to cover your PIN number from any hidden cameras.
  • Monitor you bank accounts closely. The sooner you notice that you are a victim of fraud, the quicker your information can be secured once again.

What to Do If a Victim

If you are a victim:

  • Obtain multiple credit reports from credit score agencies.
  • Contact your financial institution.
  • File a report to the Federal Trade Commission:

More Information

If you would like to learn more information of skimmers, you can take a look at our resources:


4 Ways to Spend a Tax Refund

April 7th, 2016 | Posted by admin in Smart Spending - (0 Comments)

How many days are as exciting as the day you receive a tax refund? Days that involve birth of a child, a wedding, or a picturesque vacation with the ones you love most are all really lovely days and all, but none of those involve getting money. If you are a bride or groom, the combined price of gifts probably won’t make up half of the cost of the wedding. With a tax refund on the other hand, you may receive the heftiest check you’ll receive all year! You can do ANYTHING with it! You can fly to Vegas and try to quadruple your money. You can buy 300 Hot Pockets and see how many you can eat in one sitting. Well, actually there are many things you SHOULDN’T do with your money. Those being a couple examples. There are strongly recommended ways that you should spend your money that will be extremely beneficial to you. Here are some examples:

Buying a Home

How many millennials do you believe want to buy a house in the next 10 years? According to the Sun Group, if you guessed 78%, you would be correct. There are 83.1 million millennials in the United States. 7.7 million more than the previous generation, the Baby Boomers. Now that there are millennials in their 20s and 30s, millions are looking into buying their first NOW. Why not? Rates are low at the moment. The cost of home buying can rise significantly in the next few years. If you are looking for a new home, you may want to use your tax refund to start the process.

Replacing Broken Appliances

While it may be more appealing to use the money on an entire new summer wardrobe, aside from looking impeccable, it isn’t particularly useful to you. Something that you can get at the mall that isn’t a $500 pocketbook is a new refrigerator or washing machine. If you have older appliances, it’s going to start costing you for electricity and repairs. This is a large cost that will smartly SAVE you money. Also, if you are looking to sell your home, update and repair your home a little bit to make your home boost more appeal.

Adding to Savings

Have the same amount of savings as you did 10 years ago? That’s not great. Your savings should be increasing noticeably the older you get and the more you save. Plus a car accident, unexpected surgery, or much needed vacation can happen at any moment, so having a sizable emergency fund can help put your mind at ease.

Getting an Education

If you decide to start or change you career path, using a tax refund to help get you started on a degree that will make you between $80,000 and $100,000. Majors such as computer science, engineering and math can help set you up with a comfortable life. If you get a graduate’s degree, you can potentially see you salary increased by 20%, states the National Association of Colleges and Employers. While this is a lot more money and work than a new fall coat, it is far more meaningful and fulfilling.

For more ways to use a tax refund, you can read the full the US News & World Report article.


When was the last time you away from your phone for 24 straight hours? When was the last time you were away from your phone for 12 hours? 2 hours may even be a stretch. We have grown so dependent to our little smart boxes because we have rapidly stored almost our entire lives on them. Our friends, our family, our daily schedules, our ideas, our jobs, our chores, our finances are all in these phones. They are our key to the outside world. That is why if your phone is ever hacked, they will have access to EVERYTHING. They will be able to see your calls, they can read all of your texts, they can access contacts and social media and send messages out as you. They can even get your financial information and steal your identity. To make sure this never happens, you should use these helpful tips to keep your information safe:

Make Strong Passwords

As Symantec’s experiment found out when they placed smart phones with tracking software around various cities, over 70% of people who find the phones will go through your photos, over 50% will look at your saved passwords, and over 40% will open your online banking app. This is why passwords are essential to protection. But not just any passwords. Strong passwords. Having you child or pet’s name mixed with the year you were born is not going to keep your information safe. Make you password an uncommon phrase like “I love the winter time” and morph it into a complex password like “I<3theVV!NTERTime” and then you will be able to improve your phone’s security.

Keep Bluetooth Off

Your smartphone is likely to have Bluetooth capabilities. Your phone’s Bluetooth may even be on right now. It’s wise to keep it off whenever you are not using it. Say you were out in a public coffee shop. If your Bluetooth is on that means your phone is in a discovery mode. A hacker also in the shop can “discover” your Bluetooth, connect to it, and download malware and make calls from your phone all while you are sitting unbeknownst, sipping on your latte.

Have Your Phone by Your Side

An upside to being attached to your phone, is that it almost never leaves your side. And trust us that that is a good thing. The British government has reported that in Great Britain, 67% of phone thefts happen in public. That isn’t uncommon with US phone thefts either. Even if you plan to leave your phone for just a minute as you run to the bathroom airport, your chances decrease exponentially of phone theft if you just bring it with you.

Don’t ‘Jailbreak’ Your Phone

While “jailbreaking,” which is a way to irresponsibly make changes to your phone so you can download all apps for free, sounds like a momentarily swell idea as long as you don’t get caught by your phone company doing it, the practice is an easy way to receive malware and have your identity stolen. Your smartphone can successfully protect from any app you download on your phone, but once jailbroken, your next downloaded app can cause a dozen financial problems. Keep your phone in “jail.”

For more tips to keep your phone secure, you can read the full MoneyTalks News article.


Spring has finally arrived (though the recent snow storm would suggest otherwise)! You know what that means, right? Time to start planning for summer! Summer vacation to be specific. Once the dog days of summer hit you may not want to be scrambling to find ways to cover all your vacation expenses the week before you are due to fly out of town. Planning your vacation a season ahead saves you time, stress, and quite a bit of cash. Your friends will be staying at the nice inexpensive hotel with no vacancy while you are at the five star hotel. While that seems nicer, you could be spending hundreds of dollars more a night for generally the same experience. Here are several different ways to get you the most fun, least stressed, and most cost efficient summer vacation:

Pack Early

We’re serious. The earlier you pack, the more time you have to leisurely prioritize the items you need for your trip. Once you have your list, you now have MONTHS to shop around and get the best deals on every item. You have time to do couponing, or even call friends and family and see if you can borrow some of the larger, more expensive items. Some items could be luggage, tents, or if you’re driving, maybe even an RV.

Sell Your Stuff

While you are doing the ole annual “Spring Cleaning,” instead of throwing all of your no longer needed items out in the garbage, you can try to sell them off. Either online or in front of your yard works. Whichever way gives you a couple of extra hundred bucks to put towards your hotel, plane, or any other costs during your trip.

Keep the Change

Those dimes, pennies, nickels, and quarters would do a lot better in a piggy bank than between your couch cushions. Coming home most days with a little change in your pockets doesn’t seem like it would add up to much towards your vacation costs, but it make a HUGE difference. The whole family depositing all there change every day in one piggy bank can easily buy a plane ticket or a whole week’s worth of meals. Every month take the change and deposit in a savings account or fund dedicated for your vacation.

Set Up a Vacation Savings Account

One of the most successful ways to save for a vacation is to create a savings account specifically for it. This account will not be used until your vacation is happening or just concluded. At Align, you can set up automatic transfers from your Membership Savings or Checking accounts into a MyGoal Savings account. So when you are ready to book your travel plans, you’ll already have the money saved!

For more way to save for your upcoming summer vacation, you can read the full Cheapism article.


Homebuying Expert Series

March 17th, 2016 | Posted by admin in Mortgages - (0 Comments)

We are proud to inform you that the homebuying process has never been easier to grasp. Align has launched a new Homebuying Expert Series on our YouTube channel. This series of 1 to 3 minute videos of Align’s VP of Home Financing, Judy Dodier, along with other experts in their field, cover a wide range of topics from credit scores to down payments. Interest rates to inspections. Pre-approval to credit worthiness. In thirty minutes time, you will have a solid grasp on the basics to help you tenfold when buying your first, second, or even third home.  Some of the topics covered in the series are:

Interest Rates

There are a variety of interest rate options attached to borrowing. Two type of home loans you will learn about are “Fixed Rates” and “Adjustable Rates.”

Fixed Rate Mortgage- This is the more common and safer route. Throughout the loan’s life, the rate will always remain the same.

Adjustable Rates Mortgage- Adjustable Rate Mortgages be lower however they may change over time. The rate may start lower than the fixed rate mortgage, therefore looking more appealing, but you have to be aware that the rates can change and may increase throughout the life of the loan. As long as you are aware of the potential changes and accept them, this could be the option for you.

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The “Housing Budget”

In our correlating video, Judy states that the biggest challenge in the homebuying process is saving for the downpayment. Saving for anything can be difficult. Money is meant to be spent, right? What it takes is getting yourself on the “housing budget.” The example we use is if you are looking for a home where you pay $2,000 a month on mortgage and you already pay $1,500, then start putting the extra $500 away now since you will have to start doing it anyway when you are living in your new home. It won’t take many months until you have a sizable savings that you can use to pay your downpayment.

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Online Credit Score

It is important to know that if you have received credit score estimations from sites like American Express or Discover, they are NOT the same calculation used if you are applying for a mortgage. In fact, there are many cases when those scores are strikingly different. Financial institutions are looking for your FICO score, whereas an online site will just give you your general credit score. If you are applying for a mortgage and want to know the credit score your loan officer will read, you can get your credit report from Equifax.com, Transunion.com, or Experian.com.

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Whose Credit Score is Used When Applying for a Mortgage

When you apply for a mortgage, all three major credit report agencies we listed earlier will get pulled. This is important in case one agency accidently reports something incorrectly or one is not as up-to-date- as the other two are. If you are applying for a mortgage with another person, your loan officer will take the middle of the first person’s credit reports and the middle of the second person’s credit reports, and use the lower of the two scores moving forward in the process.

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Pre-qualified Vs. Pre-Approved

These two terms may seem very similar but they have major differences. When you are getting Pre-qualified, you are just having a face to face conversation with a loan officer and they will tell you how much you qualify for. Pre-approval is a larger step in the process. Getting pre-approved is when the loan officer is looking at your credit report and your income as if you already had a property in mind. After pre-approval you would get a letter from your financial institution stating that you can get the money you need for a house. An example we use is that it’s like already having money in the bank, and you just can’t spend it yet. Pre-approval shows a realtor that you are all set to go, and all you need is to find the house itself.

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You can learn more about these topics and more in our #HomebuyingExpertSeries on our YouTube channel.

*Equal Housing Lender*