This past Friday, the Federal Trade Commission, announced in a press release that the FTC, along with 11 states and the District of Columbia, are launching the first coordinated federal-state law enforcement initiative targeting deceptive student loan debt relief scams called, “Operation Game of Loans.” This initiative will include 36 actions by the FTC and state attorneys general against the scammers who are alleged to have set up “student relief programs” that have taken in more than $95 million cumulatively in illegal upfront fees from American consumers during the past few years.

With student loan debt affecting over 42 million Americans, accumulating over $1.4 trillion in debt, it is critically important to make sure that if you are planning to work with a student loan forgiveness program, that the one you work with is authentic. Here are ways to make sure you are working with an authentic program so you do not fall victim to the student loan forgiveness scam:

  • Contact the company that is collecting your student loans directly. Through them, you can discuss smaller payments and potential student loan forgiveness.
  • Consider consolidating your student loans through your financial institution. https://www.aligncu.com/personal/student_loan_refinance.php
  • If you get a call, email, or message on social media that pressures you into signing up for the service, you should avoid the company. They are not trying to help you get a good deal before the deal ends; they are trying to panic you so you irrationally sign up before you realize that it’s a scam.
  • Never trust a company that promises immediate student loan forgiveness. That’s the kind of promise scammers exclusively make to you.
  • If you have fallen victim to this scam, contact your financial institution, the police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

For current security alerts and more tips on how to protect yourself against identity theft, scams, or other security threats, visit our Security and Privacy page.

~Bobby

With so many financial products available, choosing which type of account to open can be just as stressful as deciding where to open one. For consumers looking for earnings on their savings, one of the options that credit unions offer is share certificates. Here’s a brief overview of how they work and some of their advantages and disadvantages.

The basics

Share certificates are a type of credit union savings vehicle similar to the certificates of deposit, or CDs, offered at banks. They usually offer higher yields than regular savings accounts; in exchange, you leave your money in the account for a specified amount of time, ranging typically from three months to five years. Longer lengths tend to have better rates than shorter ones. If you withdraw your money too early, you can be charged a penalty.

In addition, money put into one of these accounts by members of federally insured credit unions is safe. Share certificates and other accounts are generally insured for up to $250,000 through the National Credit Union Administration, or NCUA.

Certificate rates

The dividends, or earnings, you can make on a share certificate are typically quoted in terms of the annual percentage yield, or APY. This rate takes into account the compounding period, which is the frequency with which returns are added to the account. Credit unions can choose to compound rates on a yearly, quarterly, monthly or even daily basis.

Early-withdrawal penalties

If you withdraw money in a share certificate before the predetermined maturity date, you’ll typically be charged a penalty. The amount can be a portion of the earnings, such as 90 days of dividends, depending on the account agreement.

Types of certificates

Some credit unions offer variations on the product. Here are some of the most common:

  • Adjustable-rate certificates. Also known as bump-rate certificates, these accounts let you upgrade to a higher yield than you started off with. If the credit union raises its certificate rates within the term of your account, you have the option of getting that boost. The exact percentage change and how often you can bump up the rate depends on the institution.
  • Youth certificates. These accounts are designed for those who are under 18 years old. Often, credit unions offer youth certificates with low minimum balance requirements and different term lengths than regular certificates.
  • Jumbo certificates. These accounts require a high minimum balance, typically in the tens of thousands of dollars, but usually come with better rates than other certificates.

Certificate ladders

If you wish to take advantage of the higher rates of a five-year certificate but don’t want to lock your money away for that long, you can set up a certificate ladder. This is a strategy in which you invest in certificates of different terms and roll the money over into a new certificate or withdraw it after each one expires. For example, if you invest $10,000, you can do the following:

  • Invest $2,000 each in five different certificates ranging from one- to five-year terms.
  • When the one-year certificate matures, roll that sum into a new five-year certificate.
  • The following year, take the proceeds from the matured two-year certificate and roll that into another new five-year certificate.
  • If you roll over each certificate as it matures at the end of each year, by the end of  five years, you’ll have a five-year certificate maturing each year. Every time one expires, you have the option to withdraw that money along with the earnings at the five-year rate.

Of the many savings products credit unions provide, share certificates offer a higher-yielding but still safe way to invest money for a set period of time. Consider whether the increased earnings offset locking away the money for the required time, and decide which one is right for you.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Your adult child has finished school and is now starting a new life — at home. According to a Pew Research Center survey, over half of parents in the U.S. with adult children say they helped their adult kids financially in the previous year. Some of that help came in the form of letting their kids move back home. If you’ll be welcoming a “boomerang” child, here are some tips to know.

1. Write down expectations.  If you and your child agree on ground rules before moving-back-in day, it can help prevent misunderstandings down the road. You could even create a written contract for all parties to sign. The stated expectations could spell out the purpose for the stay, such as helping your child keep expenses low while looking for a job, and how long your kid can live at home before it’s time to move out again.

You’ll probably also want to include non-financial expectations, such as having everyone share chores, just as housemates would normally do. And if it bugs you to have your child bringing guests at odd hours, you can make that known upfront.

2. Keep watch over your finances. Allowing another adult to live in your home will likely increase your expenses for such things as utilities and food. As your child prepares to return, it’s a good time to review your budget. You’ll still want to cover your day-to-day living expenses while also staying on track to meet your retirement goals.

3. Charge rent. One way to ease the expense of opening up your home is to have your boomerang kids pay rent, a portion of utilities and part of the grocery bill. It could help you avoid overspending — and help your kids be prepared to expect these expenses when they move out on their own. If you can afford it, consider setting aside some of your kids’ rent payment to return to them when they’re ready to move, or to help them pay off debt.

4. Be wary of lending. If you loaned a child money that he or she can’t repay, it could strain your relationship. Also think very carefully before agreeing to cosign a loan. While it can help your son or daughter establish credit, cosigning could put you on the hook for a loan your child isn’t ready to take on.

5. Prepare for special situations. There may be cases where you know your child isn’t likely to be able to live independently — because of a disability, for example. You can help such a child  prepare to live on his or her own by setting up a special needs trust. A conversation with a financial advisor who specializes in these issues can help get you started.

When children come home after college, it can be a great opportunity. By setting expectations and helping them save money, you can give your boomerang child a smart start on a successful financial life.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Love can make us do foolish things. Sometimes it’s as easy as saying, “I love you” too early, but sometimes it can lead to devastating consequences. Online dating sites have been around since the 80s, but have seen a significant increase in popularity in the last ten years…as well as a significant increase of “romance scams” reported. The scam starts off with the victim finding a match online. They start talking and quickly go from messaging online to texting and phone calls. After months of phone calls and texts (but no meetups) the victim starts to fall in love. So, when their “soulmate” asks for a loan and promises to quickly get it back to them, the victim willingly agrees. There can be multiple “loans” that happen before the scammer disappears and the victim finally reports the scam to the FBI, still feeling that the person they have been talking to for all this time has to be real.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received almost 15,000 reports last year, costing victims collectively over $230 million in losses. The FBI has also reported that this scam tends to have higher individual losses, since victims are more willing to send scammers larger amounts of money to their “partner” than they are to a fictitious charity, pet shelter, etc. Many of the romance scams come from criminal organizations in Nigeria and Russia. While divorced women over 50 tend to be the usual target, anybody can fall victim due to the scammers disguising themselves as whomever they need to be to exploit a victim’s interests.

To make sure you do not fall victim to a romance scam, we advise you to take these steps when dating online:

  • When you match with somebody, use details in their photo for an online search. If you see an attractive man at the Grand Canyon, simply type in Google, “Attractive Man at Grand Canyon” and see if the picture pops up. Go through stock image sites to see if a model has multiple pictures on the site that the hacker could take from.
  • Turn down their offer to immediately leave the dating app and start talking through text. If it is a hacker, you don’t want them to have your phone number.
  • If the person you are speaking to keeps dodging meetups in person, you may want to disconnect from them.
  • Never send money to a person you have never met.
  • If you have fallen victim to this scam, contact your financial institution, the police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

For current security alerts and more tips on how to protect yourself against identity theft, scams, or other security threats, visit our Security and Privacy page.

~Bobby

Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies in the country, reported a cybersecurity breach Thursday, September 7, 2017. Equifax stated that the breach was discovered on July 29th, with the breach likely occurring between mid-May and July. The hackers may have compromised the personal information for up to 143 million Americans, including around 209,000 credit card numbers of U.S. customers. Personal information such as social security numbers, home addresses, and birthdays that were used in disputes were exposed of around 182,000 U.S. customers. This is widely considered to be one of the largest breaches in history, affecting large swaths of the American, Canadian and British populations.

The breach doesn’t just affect customers of Equifax, either. Because the company is a credit reporting agency, they receive personal information from banks, credit unions, credit card companies, and retailers so they can obtain a person’s credit score. Information can include loan payments, child support payments, late utilities bills, and several other forms of payments.

To ensure your information is secure and to protect your information from further data breaches, we encourage you to take these steps:

  • Go to the Equifax webpage here to see if your personal information was impacted.
  • Actively review of all of your accounts on a daily basis, and immediately report any suspicious activity to your financial institution.
  • Thoroughly look through your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion here.
  • Monitor all accounts, on a daily basis. To do this, register for Online Banking. Align also offers Credit Card Alerts so you can receive email or text alerts* in the event of suspicious activity.
  • If you do not have Mobile Banking, we encourage you to download our app from either iTunes® or the GooglePlay™ store. This will allow you to access your accounts and transaction history on-the-go, 24/7.
  • Lastly, all Align Connect, Connect Plus, Connect Premier Members, have Identity Theft Protection included in their checking accounts at no added cost. Learn more on what’s included.

For current security alerts and more tips on how to protect yourself against identity theft, breaches,  or other security threats, visit our Security and Privacy page.

~Bobby

*Data and message fees may apply.

Why You Should Get Preapproved for a Car Loan

September 28th, 2017 | Posted by admin in Auto - (0 Comments)

When shopping for a new car, many people overlook one important step: getting preapproved for an auto loan. It’s a simple process that can make car-buying go more smoothly and save you money.

Preapproval is a quick assessment of your ability to pay off a loan based on your credit history and current financial state. This is how it works: You visit a bank or credit union, in person or online, and provide proof of your identity — such as your driver’s license or Social Security number — your household income, and perhaps your housing costs. The lender will likely run a credit check. Then you’ll find out how much it would be willing to lend you and at what rate — sometimes on the spot.

Here’s why you should get preapproved.

You can get a better interest rate

If you haven’t done your homework, your dealership might try to talk you into a loan at a not-so-great rate. But getting preapproved at a bank or credit union — or several of them — means you can assess the dealership’s offer, and you don’t have to accept it. Bringing your interest rate down just one or two percentage points can save you hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars over the life of your loan.

You can set a true budget

Once you’re preapproved for a loan, you can plan your purchase. Use an auto loan calculator to factor in a down payment, the value of your trade-in — which you can find online — and your desired monthly payment. Add about 10% for sales tax and other fees. And don’t forget about insurance and the other costs that come with owning a car.

Adjust your dreams — and budget — accordingly. Then go shopping.

You can better negotiate with the dealer

Letting your dealer know that you’re preapproved shows that you’re a ready-to-buy customer who can walk away at any time. That curtails a lot of the early verbal dancing. Just announce you have your preapproval and will only talk price. Try something like this: “I’m looking for this model, in a deep blue with black leather interior and rear parking sensors. I just stopped in quickly to find out the price I would pay after you take my car as a trade-in.” If the salesman doesn’t listen, say, “I just want to hear that one number.” It’s not rude to be assertive in this situation.

And as you’re signing all the papers in the finance office, if a salesperson tries tempting you with an extended warranty or other last-minute add-ons, you can use your preapproval to stick to your price.

When you’re preapproved for a loan, you have the competitive edge in car-buying. You can say no until they say yes.

 

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

If you are looking to kickstart the car buying process, you can look into Align’s convenient AutoSMART and Auto Advisor services on our Auto Loans page.

With most current scams dealing with thieves trying to get into a person’s bank account via phone, email, or skimmer, one can forget that there are still money scams happening right under their nose. Literally. Both businesses and individuals around the country are losing money due to having customers giving them money that is used as props in movies and TV shows.

Fake money has been used on film sets for decades. There is far less stress when a movie scene being filmed has a suitcase full of fake money than if the suitcase is filled with authentic money that can be easily stolen. Sadly for many victims, the money doesn’t always stay on the set. College kids trading phones on campus, local restaurants serving patrons, or a family selling items at a yard sale have all lost $20 to $1,000 due to the fake bills.

To make sure you are not losing money on your items due to movie prop money, we highly recommend following these steps:

  • Be precautious when selling your personal items out in public. It will be safer to have at least one friend with you at all times.
  • When you receive money, examine it thoroughly. If you see “MOTION PICTURE USE ONLY” where “FEDERAL RESERVE NOTE” on the bill, do not accept the money.
  • If you have been given prop money, do not hesitate to contact your local authority.

For current security alerts and more tips on how to protect yourself against identity theft, breaches, or other security threats, visit our Security and Privacy page.

~Bobby

Unlike Snoop Dogg, incoming college students might not have their minds on their money and their money on their minds. But if you’re just starting out on campus and can put some of your focus on your finances, you have a great opportunity: Knowing how to manage your cash can save you endless headaches down the road.

Here are a few things you can do to keep your finances in order.

Learn to budget

Tuition, groceries, dining out, textbooks, rent — the expenses never seem to stop piling up. Creating a budget can help you regulate how much you spend and on what. Use a spreadsheet, a notebook, or a good budgeting app to track what your purchases. And always prioritize essentials before indulging on new shoes or concert tickets.

Know the ins and outs of financial aid

Students miss out on billions of dollars in free government aid each year. Fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, early and you’ll be more likely to receive the scholarships and grants you qualify for. These should always be your first priority when it comes to financial aid.

Private scholarships can also be valuable, even if they’re small sums. Try to spend two hours a week researching and applying for scholarships.

If you still need funding, try federal loans first and private loans last. Neither is free, though it might feel that way now, so borrow only what you absolutely need.

Practice good credit card habits

Horror stories of spiraling credit card debt might have made you wary of plastic. But the length of your credit history is a key part of your credit score. And having a good score can earn you a lower interest rate on a car loan or a mortgage in the future.

Although you’re a student, you don’t automatically qualify for a student credit card; you’ll need income or a co-signer. If you don’t have either, consider a secured card. These require you to put down a cash deposit as collateral, but if the issuer reports your account activity to the credit bureaus, they can help you start building credit.

Develop good credit card habits now. Think of your card as another debit card and charge only an amount you can pay off with what’s in your bank account. And don’t carry a balance from month to month — paying in full will keep your credit score high.

Save money where you can

The outside world tries to make up for your sky-high tuition costs with a little something called  student discounts. Big retail chains such as Apple, Banana Republic and J. Crew, as well as movie theaters and museums, offer discounted prices for students. If you don’t see one advertised, just ask.

Avoid paying full price for your textbooks by searching for used copies on websites such as Chegg and Abebooks. Amazon offers a 50% student discount for Amazon Prime accounts.

Build your resume

True, college is expensive, but it’s also an investment. College graduates earned about 63% more than those with only high school diplomas in 2013, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Make sure you get that degree — but improve yourself in other ways, too. Learn a foreign language and volunteer for leadership positions. These skills will set you apart in a competitive job market.

The costs of being in college might keep your wallet thin now, but in the long run, it could turn out to be the best financial decision you ever made.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The months after graduation can be overwhelming. For four years, you’re in this nice cocoon, a perfect mix of being on your own while still relying on your parents for some sort of financial support. Then you are shot into the real world with a real job and VERY real bills to pay. You feel like you are in downward spiral and wonder how you are going to possibly pay off your debt. I had that exact feeling only a few years ago, and I’m happy to report, it does get better. You will come out the other side if your stay on top of your finances and you’re smart at managing your money. The way I was able to keep my head above water while settling into new found adulthood, while living frugally. Don’t get me wrong, I was still able to have fun but I tried to make certain adjustments in my everyday life so I could stay on top of my bills, pay down my student loan debt, and still have a social life. Here is what I did to spend roughly $100/week:

Meal Prep and Cooking at Home

Sure, it’s easier to pick up take-out after work than to cook a meal after an 8 hour day. However the minute you start to plan and prepare meals at home, is the minute you will see a big difference in your budget. Make a list, stick to it, find coupons, and buy the necessities. One loaf of bread covers breakfast for a week. Leftovers from last night’s dinner becomes today’s lunch. And a $10 water filter will last you months vs constantly buying plastic bottles.

Pay Your Bill ASAP

Basic living is expensive. Rent, utilities, student debt, a car payment, your phone, it all adds ups. Certain things you can cut back on however it is financially beneficial to stay on top of your monthly expenses. Yes, it’s tempting to put off paying cable bill and book a long weekend trip to Miami, but that cable bill will still be there when you get back. Pay your bills on time and avoid interest charges and late fees down the road.

Find Cheap Entertainment

One of the toughest parts of spending under $100 a week is ridding of boredom when you’re not at work. Staying at home is a terrific way to spend less money. For books, music, albums, or video games, your local library is filled with free entertainment. If you pay for Netflix $8 a month, browse their seemingly endless catalogue of movies and shows instead of paying around $10 at the movies. If you want to get out of the house, some libraries near you will also have free entertainment many nights of the week. I personally enjoy free trivia nights at some of the bars and restaurants in the area. If you live in New England and you google where there is a Stump Trivia happening near you, you are bound to find at least one place close by any night of the week. You can also spend a night hosting a potluck with your friends. If you host, you can even get by without making a meal yourself. The most delicious meal is always a free one.

Put in $5-$10 for Gas a Week

For years, I’d only gas up when my dashboard’s gaslight would signal to me that either I need to fill up the tank or walk home. This is a terrible habit to find yourself trapped in because once you nearly run out of gas, you’re going to pump at the nearest station (and chances are it won’t be the cheapest). If you continue to fill your car a little bit every one or two weeks than you can calmly search for the most inexpensive station and not the one that will put a larger dent in your weekly budget.

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle

For those of you who aren’t used to recycling, you might be annoyed at that friend who’ll yell at you tossing a plastic bottle in the trash instead of recycling bin. You should heed their advice though, because not only are you helping the environment, but you could also save a little bit of money while you’re at it by redeeming eligible bottles and cans.

To see other blogs from the Align Credit Union Team, please visit our blog page here.

~Bobby

Social Media Coordinator, Align Credit Union

It was only a couple of years ago that I graduated college and entered the workforce. It was a rewarding experience to finally take the knowledge I gathered from textbooks and lectures, and apply what I learned in the real world. While I was loving this new phase of being a young professional, one area that took getting used to was paying bills and managing my own finances. I quickly realized that if I wasn’t careful, my careless budgeting could get in the way of my future plans. To make sure there were not hurdles standing in my way, I discovered some easy ways to manage my money, and I’d like to share what I’ve found.

Set Up a Budget

I know, I know. This is the most annoying and redundant advice you can get, but nonetheless, it is the most important advice you can ever receive. Without a budget, it’s scarily simple to fall into bad spending habits. I’ve learned this first-hand. When I first graduated, the initial year out, I had no budget and would carelessly spend money on nights out with friends, trips, a concert here and there, and when it came time to pay my student loans, there was barely any money to round up and pay.

This struggle took a 180 degree turn the second I set up a budget. It gave me a visual to abide by, and put my poor spending habits into perspective. I then saw when my bills (student loans, phone bill, personal trainer at my gym, etc.) were due. More importantly, it showed me if I had any money left to save and where I could cut back. Even with a bare minimum budget, you can save hundreds of dollars a month while still fulfilling your financial obligations.

Two Savings Accounts

Have you ever dipped into your savings account to buy something you really didn’t need? I’ve been guilty of doing it, myself. That is why setting up two savings accounts has been a minor miracle for managing my money. Originally, I opened a savings account specifically for travelling to California. It has now become an account where I deposit at least $10 a week, for future short-term savings goals. I have separate savings account for more long-term goals (like saving to buy a home) and I try never to withdraw funds from there.

Establish Credit

The transition years between graduation and being in prime adulthood can be nerve-wracking. You’re probably constantly thinking what steps you should take to set yourself up for future success. One of the most important things you can do is establish good credit. Good credit will help you negotiate every big financial decision you will ever make for the rest of your life. I personally wish I started focusing on raising my credit score early on. How do you do that, you ask? First off, make sure you pay your student loans on time. Every. Single. Payment. I’m guilty of being a week or two behind when the envelopes first started coming in the mail. To keep myself on track, I set up electronic payment so my payment was automatically withdrawn from my checking account on the same date every month. I didn’t even have to think about it, I just had to make sure I had sufficient funds in my account (which your budget will help you manage, wink wink).

Another great tip, is heading to a credit union and getting yourself a credit card, if you don’t already have one. You don’t need a credit card with a high limit. Get something small, and pay your bill in full (and on time) every month. And remember, credit cards build credit, debit cards don’t.

Utilize Apps

Like a typical Millennial, I wouldn’t know where I’d be without apps. They have become an essential tool to managing my finances. Here are some of the key apps you can use:

Your Bank/Credit Union’s mobile app- The first app I downloaded (and the one I recommend first for you) is the app from your financial institution. There isn’t a day that goes by when I do not check my balance in my accounts. I do so to make sure I’m never over-drawn or there wasn’t suspicious activity. Depending on your bank, you may also be able to utilize P2P payments, mobile deposits, and several other perks worth looking into.

Digit- To me, the easiest way to save is when you don’t even know you’re saving. That’s part of what makes Digit so successful. The app analyzes your income and spending habits and puts an estimated about of money, for me it’s around $10 every couple of days, into your Digit account. Please note that Digit has a 100 day free trial and then a $2.99 monthly fee after that. To me, it’s money well spent.

Mint- The perfect companion app to Digit, I have found in my saving exploits, is Mint. The app lays out every purchase you make from a new car to a cup of coffee, and then uses comprehensive graphics to lay out your purchases. Based on your spending, Mint will set up a budget for you, which you can then use to set up a spending limit. When you come close to hitting your spending limit, you will receive an (stern) alert telling you to cool your spending habits. I’ve come close to my limit a couple (more than a couple) times but because of the budget I’ve set up, I still saved money that month. My bills are also always paid on time because I’ve set up notifications for when my bills are coming due.

HelloFresh- Are you in a situation where you aren’t living with mom and dad who supply food to you? If you have a busy schedule, you might be caught in the trap of buying breakfast, lunch, and dinner for yourself. Besides it not being particularly healthy, it can cost over a hundred dollars a week if you’re not careful. Thanks to my love of podcasts, I’ve heard about HelloFresh and decided to give it a shot. For $59.94/week, you receive ingredients and recipes for 3 meals that each serve 2 people. The meals have been delicious and now I only need grab the basics at the grocery store. Also, try to find coupon codes and refer friends for discounted pricing.

GasBuddy- For years, I’ve only filled my gas tank when I was near empty, and because of that I always had to go to whatever gas station was closest. It always seemed to be the most expensive station in the town as well. With GasBuddy, I’m able to see the price of every gas station in the area and plan my gas station trips to whatever gas station is the most inexpensive, thus saving me some serious dough each month.

To see other blogs from the Align Credit Union Team, visit our blog page here.

~Bobby Grant

Social Media Coordinator, Align Credit Union