5 Money Moves to Make Before Traveling Abroad

February 23rd, 2017 | Posted by admin in Travel - (0 Comments)

In the excitement of exploring a new country, it’s all too easy to rack up extra expenses when paying in a foreign currency. Exchange rates fluctuate and it’s not always clear what commissions and fees you’re being charged.

But just a bit of advance prep can turn you into a savvy consumer overseas. To start, check the exchange rate and familiarize yourself with the price of common items as a benchmark. Then use this list of smart money moves for travelers.

Alert your financial institutions

Have your financial services providers set a travel notice on your accounts. That way they won’t take unusual spending — lunch in a Paris cafe — as a reason to deny your card or freeze your account. While you’re at it, make sure your online accounts are set up so you can easily transfer funds.

Order some foreign currency before you go

Carry some local cash for initial expenses so you’re not forced to change money at airport kiosks, train stations or tourist attractions, which tend to have the worst rates. Order your euros or pesos well ahead of time, shopping around for the best deal. Large institutions usually offer better exchange rates and you may incur only a small delivery fee — or none at all, if you’re already a customer.

Prepare your credit cards

It’s great to use credit cards whenever possible at your destination. They save you the trouble of exchanging money and offer special protections in case of loss or theft. However, make sure to use a no-fee card. Many major cards charge a 1% fee for foreign transactions and some issuers add a 1% to 3% currency-conversion fee. Bring a card that charges no fees and perhaps offers special travel perks like insurance or bonus reward points. Check with your issuer in advance to avoid surprises on your statement.

If you have a newer EMV chip card, you may need a PIN to use it abroad. In some countries you’ll be asked to provide a PIN rather than a signature when making purchases with a card. If you’ve forgotten your PIN or never set one up, get it in order before your trip to avoid any hassle.

While you’re traveling, make sure credit card purchases are rung up in the local currency. Some shopkeepers may offer a “service” of converting to U.S dollars before ringing up your purchase. Always decline that option; it may come with a less advantageous exchange rate.

Use an ATM card to get local money

Forget those old-time travelers checks, which are loaded with service fees. Pack an ATM card you can use at your destination and you’ll get much better rates than at tourist exchange bureaus. Ask your bank or credit union about any fees for withdrawals overseas. They may have partnerships with foreign institutions that give free ATM privileges, or they may waive fees for certain customers.

Check your health insurance

Protect your health to protect your money. Getting sick or hurt overseas can mean big bills, as well as difficulty getting care if you don’t have the proper insurance. The U.S. State Department advises travelers to find out what services their policy will cover. Medicare, for example, does not cover health care abroad. Insurers might cover certain medical care but not emergency evacuation back to the U.S., which can run $100,000 or more. Or they might not pay foreign hospitals directly, leaving you with a bill. If your policy falls short, consider buying a travel medical insurance policy.

By learning to cleverly deploy cash or cards as the situation demands, you can prevent your trip from turning into a financial nightmare and increase your chances of returning home happy and satisfied.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

For information on our credit cards before you travel, you can visit our Credit Cards page.

When it comes to making purchases, not all plastic acts the same.

Debit cards and credit cards both offer a convenient way to pay without cash or checks, and both are accepted in nearly all the same places. But that’s where the similarities end.

The fundamental differences are where the money comes from, and what it can cost.

Debit cards typically pull funds from a checking account, while credit cards charge purchases using a line of credit. With a debit card, you’re spending money from your own funds. Use a credit card and you’re borrowing the money and eventually will have to pay it back to the card issuer, perhaps including interest.

Debit card pros

The biggest benefit of using a debit card to make purchases is that you’re not creating debt and the interest it can accumulate. So if you’re looking to stay (or become) debt-free, a debit card is probably the way to go.

Using a debit card also helps  free you from the interest burden that can come with using credit card. Unless you’re paying off the balance every month, whatever charges you make accrue interest. And that can end up costing you a lot.

Debit card cons

The biggest drawback to debit cards is the potential for spending more than you have in your account, which can result in overdraft fees. This can get expensive quickly. So it’s important to keep track of your available funds and not spend what you don’t have.

Disputed charges can be more difficult to resolve when a debit card is used instead of a credit card. You also can’t improve your credit score by using a debit card.

Credit card pros

Many credit cards provide rewards when they’re used, like points that can be cashed in for store discounts or travel benefits. You can also employ this type of plastic practically everywhere, including abroad.

Credit cards can also provide a financial backup in case of an emergency such as an unexpected job loss, hospitalization or car repair. Some consumers use them to pay bills, then pay off that balance every month. That can increase those rewards points, and using a credit card responsibly also helps boost your credit score. A better score can pay off in the long run by helping you qualify for lower interest rates on debt, including a mortgage or other loans and new credit card accounts.

Credit card cons

One of the biggest drawbacks of spending with a credit card is the interest on unpaid balances that can pile up if you don’t pay it off each month. A high interest rate can drag you deeper and deeper into debt if you let the unpaid amount rise.

Credit cards also make it easy to spend money you don’t have and become detached from your spending. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into suffocating debt, start missing payments and damage your credit rating. That can make it harder to borrow money in the future.

If you miss a payment, you may be charged a late fee, and between that and interest on an unpaid balance, costs can add up quickly. Plus any missed payment can harm your credit.

So when you’re trying to decide which plastic to swipe at the checkout counter, keep in mind the costs and benefits of both, and make the appropriate choice.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

What a perfect weekend to go to the movies. It’s indoors, plans have slowed down due to the bitter winter, and due to a certain football game this weekend, theaters may be relatively empty. What is there to stop you? Possibly the price, with the National Association of Theatre Owners stating that movie tickets are pricier than ever before, with moviegoers paying an average of $8.73 a ticket. Even movies that are not in explosive, mind-blowing, seat ducking 3D with 4K resolution that is laser projected on an IMAX screen have seen a price hike. Fortunately, getting a little creative with your movie going can save you a lot of money and you still get to see everything you want to. Here are some of the best ways to have a fun, inexpensive time at the movies:

Advanced (free) Screenings

Not only are these movies free, but these movies come out days or weeks before the movie is released to the public. These are not just unknown films starring Joe Schmoe either. Signing up for sites like Gofobo or AdvanceScreenings.com could get you free passes to most Hollywood blockbusters to Oscar contending dramas to romantic comedies. Many of these screenings in the Boston area take place right at the AMC Loews Boston Common 19. So see your next movie free and see your next movie early.

Birthday Wishes

When the weeks leading up to you becoming another full older come upon you, you are going to be constantly asked by friends and family what you’d like for your birthday. Your go to answer may be, “You don’t have to get me anything. Thank you” or “You can get me whatever you’d like. I’m easy.” This year you can cut that out. Of course, you want something. You want free trips to the movie. Ask for a gift card to a movie theater near your home, and once you get it you can snack on your free popcorn and drink your free soda, and watch your free movie. Technically, the experience isn’t free for the person who bought the gift card, but it’s still free to you and that’s what matters!

Family Movie Screenings

As long as your children are fine going to the theater to see Finding Nemo instead of Finding Dory, there are several movie chains that have inexpensive family screenings. Chains such as Cinemaworld, Marquee Cinemas, Regal Entertainment Group and Showcase Cinemas have these screenings of second-run flicks that go from being free to $2 at most. If you missed Trolls the first time it came around, ask your local movie theater if they will be showing it again soon in one of these programs. Family movies are always better when they are free, right?

No 3D

Sure, seeing Captain America’s shield come hurling towards your face is really cool, but is it worth the money? Very few movies are shot to be a 3D experience. Most films are shot with intentions to be regular two-dimensional fare, and then poorly converted into 3D format just to make $3-$6 extra bucks on each ticket with the purchase of 3D glasses. Unless you have a strong desire to see your favorite character fly out of the screen, you should stick to non 3D screenings.

For more tips on how to see movies on the cheap, you can read the full article on MoneyTalksNews.com.

~Bobby

How to Protect Yourself from ATM Shimmers

January 30th, 2017 | Posted by admin in Security - (0 Comments)

As technology is constantly developing to protect individuals’ finances, there will also be scammers who develop newer technology to steal it. This seems to be the case with shimmers up in Canada. As you may have noticed, more and more retailers have card readers that accept your credit and debit cards that have a chip-based credit or debit card. Unlike a skimming device that reads the card data on the magnetic stripe on the back of the card when it is slid through the card reader, a shimmer uses a shim that is in between the card and the underlying machine that the chip-based card is inserted into to record the data on the chip. While the data stolen by the chip cannot be used to clone a chip-based card, the data can still be used to clone a magnetic stripe card. The main existence of shimmers is because there are banks that do not correctly implement the EMV chip card. The chip card standard used by Align Credit Union.

While these devices have been found more in Mexico and Canada, there is always a chance you may fall victim to a shimmer sometime in your life, so always make sure you take these precautions when you use your card in public:

  • Always cover the PIN pad when entering your PIN.
  • Use ATMs that are inside trusting banking institutions, and not ones that are standalone cash machines or ATMS that are in low-lit areas.
  • Try not to use ATMS on weekends if possible due to banks not being open for over 24 hours, so it is easier for thieves to install a skimming or shimming device.
  • Check your bank statements as soon as they arrive, and call your financial institution if you see any activity that might not be from you.

For more information on these ATM shimmers and how to protect yourself from identity theft, you can read the full article on KrebsOnSecurity.com.

~Bobby

Once you start receiving your first paychecks after graduation, knowing how to spend or save your money wisely can be tough. While you may be able to do your banking with just a few taps on your phone, managing money well is much more complicated. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1. Budget using apps

Tracking how much you spend weekly and monthly shows you where your money goes and how you can save more. You can use a budgeting app that tracks your cash automatically or one where you enter information manually. Choose an app that lets you spend as little or as much time on budgeting as you want. From there, you can identify your total fixed expenses, such as rent and car payments, and more-flexible costs such as shopping and dining out.

2. Set up automatic transfers to savings

When you have a rough idea of how much you can save regularly, create a recurring transfer from your checking account to a savings account. By making savings automatic, you can get used to spending “below your means” and never have to worry about remembering to transfer.

3. Avoid overdrawing your checking account

Before you pay rent or spend any other big chunk of money, take a look at your checking account’s available balance. This can prevent you from spending more than you have in your account. If you overdraw, you may be charged a fee.

4. Establish credit

Student loans and credit cards can help you build good credit — as long as you stay current on monthly payments and don’t overuse your cards. Your credit score, which shows how responsible you are with credit, is an important factor that lenders check before approving car loans and mortgages. The better your score, the lower the interest rate you may be eligible for.

5. Repay debts strategically

If you have debts from multiple credit cards and student loans, pay the minimum on each and then contribute more to your higher-interest debts. By making those a priority, you can reduce how much interest you’re paying faster than by treating all debts the same.

6. Start an emergency fund

Being financially prepared in case of health emergencies or unexpected unemployment can save you from going into debt. Have a separate savings account just for this purpose; don’t mix it up with your regular savings. A good rule of thumb is to save enough to pay three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

7. Set long-term savings goals

Consider saving for retirement in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan or individual retirement account. When you start saving early, you take advantage of compounded returns to make more money off your contributions overall.

From smart budgeting to setting goals, make good money choices now. Since time is on your side, you can benefit from building credit and saving early to be ready for big financial decisions in the future.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

To register for online banking, you can visit our eServices page.

For information on how to download the Align mobile app, you can visit our Mobile Apps page.

Making the Most of E-Banking

January 19th, 2017 | Posted by admin in E-Banking - (0 Comments)

Most people are at least somewhat tech-savvy these days. But when it comes to digital banking, you might be missing out on a few time-saving tricks. Here’s how the internet can help make your financial life easier.

Online banking

You don’t have to leave home for everyday transactions, because financial institutions offer a slew of online banking tools. For example, you can set up free online bill pay, review your statements, see when checks clear and more. You can also make transfers between accounts at different financial institutions.

E-statements

Are you still getting your bank or credit union statements in the mail? It’s easy to miss a statement without realizing a thief could have pocketed the information. You can increase your security — and lighten your carbon footprint — by signing up for electronic statements. You’ll receive an email monthly or quarterly with account balances while still having access to that information anytime online.

Mobile banking

Have you ever found yourself dining out with friends and wondering whether there’s enough money in your account to pay for dessert? If you’ve downloaded a mobile app from your financial institution, you can use a smartphone or tablet to check your balance, pay bills and transfer money between accounts while on the go.

Getting mobile alerts can also increase your security by putting you in constant contact with your accounts. The sooner that you alert your bank or credit union to a suspicious transaction, the more quickly it can limit any damage.

Automatic bill payments

Many people dedicate an hour or two a month to paying electric, gas, water and cable bills. Financial institutions provide automatic bill payment services that let you avoid that time and hassle. Once you identify the bills you want paid and when, the service will take it from there. All you have to do is ensure that there’s enough money in your account to cover the bills and check in to verify that the bills were paid.

Using all of the digital tools available for banking can make financial tasks more convenient and give you more time for the things you enjoy. It’s worth looking to see how e-banking can help take some stress out of your busy life.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Now that January is nearing the halfway point, you and your finances may finally get the rejuvenation that they severely needed. It’s not uncommon to feel a little fried by the end of the year, and all of the constant holiday shopping you may have done. Yet, you survived another holiday season. Now it is time to reflect on your previous financial mistakes and get your new financial goals in order. Haven’t rejuvenated? Still feel burnt out and completely and utterly broke? You may not need to feel that way. In fact, you may be wealthier than you think. Here are assets you have that can be as important as physical dollars:

Benefits

You might work at a company that offers disability or life insurance. This is an asset many people who don’t have it yearn for and the ones who do have it, barely think about it. Self-employed workers typically have to purchase these benefits on their own, which makes these benefits very valuable to them. When it’s just cents out of your weekly paycheck, and you aren’t expected to need it in the near future, it’s not an asset you consider, when determining your wealth. Consider these huge pluses.

Now on to health. A large portion of employees at any company have health care benefits, and yet not all of them (especially younger employees) do not understand how valuable they are. The reason said value of these health plans can be esoteric is due to the thought that cash is useful this moment, while health benefits are not useful until a claim is filed.

Company Perks

The company perks are at some point taken granted for by everyone (and we mean EVERYONE.) Your company may offer you free or discounted gym memberships, free or discounted various forms of therapy, or even free daily lunches in the cafeteria. Any of these additions to your benefits are not cheap and not every employee gets them, so go on and enjoy these expensive and tremendously valuable extra perks.

Good Credit

For those of you that can look at your credit score with a smile on your face, you have an enormous advantage to people with low credit scores and can potentially save thousands of dollars if getting an auto loan or a mortgage. While you cannot put a number of how much extra money this gives you, it still saves you a hefty amount of cash.

Job with Flexibility

Maybe you consider time as being money. Which, to some, is justifiably so. While the wealthy may have thousands (possibly millions,) they also may have to clock in at 9am and clock out at 5pm. Having a job where you don’t have to punch a time card or have to try and find someone to cover your shift so you can go to a doctor’s appointment, may be worth the lesser amount of money.

For more reasons you’re richer than you think, you can read the full article on US News & World Report.

~Bobby

Time for a little real talk. We all have a guilty pleasure. Many of us have several and occasionally we like to indulge ourselves. Whether it be seeing a couple movies at your local theater every week, overspending on some makeup, or drinking your favorite expensive drink, we all have one thing that we love that isn’t what you would call inexpensive. While many guilty pleasures are harmless and cheap, there are also common ones that by year’s end will have put a sizable dent into your bank account. Here are some guilty pleasures you should try to cut back on if you are looking to save money:

Fast Food

When getting lunch between shifts or classes, do you find yourself forking over $10 at a fast food joint close by? Maybe it’s later in the day when you’re too tired to cook dinner. Those burgers and chicken sandwiches add up. A $10 daily fast food meal may end up costing $50 or more a week, which could lead to costing you around $200 a month on greasy fries and such. This doesn’t account for future medical bills due to health problems like high blood pressure and obesity.

Going to the Movies

Maybe you’re a big movie buff. One trip to the movies can cost from $6 on a cheap night or matinee at your local theater to $20 if you’re seeing an IMAX 3D extravaganza or if you’re just living in a populated city like New York or Los Angeles. If you tend to like some snacks and beverages with your flick that can cost around $5 to $20 itself. Sometimes more! Going to multiple movies can cost upwards of $100 or more.

Online Shopping

Statista has reported that in the United States, average shoppers have spent an average of $1,804 in 2015. For those who may be shopaholics, it is easier to give into your guilty pleasure when you don’t have to physically pick up and carry your items. A few clicks of the mouse doesn’t accurately represent the repercussions your bank account suffers unlike a shopping cart full of items. This can make online shoppers more careless than they should be.

Spa Days

As relaxing as a massage or facial or manicure is, the stress will come back when you realize the amount of money that you have lost because of these appointments. A one hour massage can cost over $100 depending on your choice. A manicure can cost you over $50. These costs don’t even factor in the tip! Regular trips to the spa can easily cost you over $2,000 a year.

For more guilty pleasures that are hurting your bank account, you can read the full article on GoBankingRates.com.

~Bobby

The forecast for this weekend: A whopping amount of cheering toasts, thousands of kisses from loved ones, and millions of noisy party favors. All of this activity is stemmed from the start of the New Year happening on Sunday. Are you planning a bash to ring in 2017? Planning a party can be fun AND inexpensive. Yep. We said it. Inexpensive. AND it can be more fun than any night on the town in the freezing cold you’d participate in. So, how do you throw a fun, inexpensive party? All you have to do is follow these steps:

Step 1: Host it at Home

Pretty simple, right? When the party is at your house there is no cover charge, no overcrowding, and no long periods out in the cold night air. The music won’t be too loud to hear the people 5 feet away from you. There is a smaller chance that there won’t be anywhere to sit. Providing a comfortable environment for your guests is something they will greatly appreciate on New Year’s Eve.

Step 2: Make it Intimate

Now, when you’re hosting your own party, you might be tempted to send invites to all of your family, your friends at work, your friends on Facebook, all of your neighbors, all of your neighbors’ friends on Facebook…you should think against this. The more intimate the party, the less the party will cost and the more enjoyable the party will be because you can have better bonding experiences with the guests who ARE there. Only invite guests you really would like to come.

Step 3: Don’t Say No To Guests

Sometimes when you’re hosting a party and a guest asks if there is anything they can bring, you may find it too impolite to say anything but, “No.” It isn’t impolite at all to give a guest a task if they ask. They did offer, didn’t they? Make a list of items that guests can bring if they question is brought up. Just remember to not bring up the matter first. Don’t go knocking on their door and screaming that they better bring such and such or they are uninvited to your party. That doesn’t do anybody any favors.

Step 4: Don’t put away the Decorations

Decorations can offer a cozy, inviting backdrop for a party. Luckily for you, the holidays have recently happened and if your home was decorated for them, then don’t take them down before New Year’s Eve. This way you can maximize the decorations you already bought, and you don’t have to buy any new ones.

Step 5: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dollar Store

But if you do have to buy new decorations? Shop at your local dollar store, of course. They have everything you need for the party for $1 EACH! That’s as good of a deal as you can get without them being free.

You can also buy paper plates and cups while you’re there too. Then you can just toss any used cups and plates in the trash the next day and you don’t have to worry about doing any dishes. That’s considered a win for any party host.

Step 6: Keep the Meal Small

Have your party start later in the evening. That way by the time your guests will arrive, they will have already eaten dinner. All you need to do is put out some finger foods for them to dine upon. Some chicken strips, meatballs, and cheese and crackers will suffice. This saves you money AND the hassle of cooking a meal for a whole party. Cheers to that!

For more tips on throwing an inexpensive New Year’s Eve Party, you can read the full article on MoneyTalksNews.com.

~Bobby