As a child, it’s likely your gateway towards financial literacy was a porcelain piggy bank. The more it digested the more money you owned. It was a simplistic system that laid the groundwork for you to become a financially stable adult that is now responsible to pass your knowledge to your kids. SO have you done it yet? If you haven’t, you’re not in the minority. Several studies over the past few years report that parents are more comfortable talking to their kids about the birds and the bees than about their child’s financial future. Still living in the aftermath of the recent recession, it is important now more than ever, to plant the green seed in their minds as young as five. Thanks to our rapidly expanding technology, you do not have to teach alone. There are several apps, some even free, that are entertaining and enlightening stepping stones to your child’s financial education:

Free

Green$treets: Unleash the Loot!

Rescue endangered animals, build relationships, set goals, earn money, budget, and give to charity with this new interactive app. The more gardens planted or items stored away, the more earned! It’s up to the user to decide how much more is given to food for the rescued animals, how much is given to charity, and how much is to spend on decorating the tree house. The user can have fun with their endangered animal before they are ready to be released back into the wild.

Ages 5-8

Renegade Buggies

Temple Run for the financial savvy. Experience the entertainment of an endless running game with a little educational twist. In this app you must run through the streets to get all of the items on your shopping list while collecting money and coupons on the way. If you avoid the obstacles and get to the finish line, you can then purchase items while trying to save as much money as you can. Have fun running and investing simultaneously.

Ages 6-11

Piggy Bot

This visual electronic piggy-bank adapts old saving technique for a more comprehensive look for a young generation. Organized into categories of spending, sharing, and saving, kids now get a better representation of how much they need to save to reach the goals they set up in the app. Users can now learn early when it’s appropriate to save for a “want” and when to save for a “need.”

Ages 6-8

$4.99

Motion Math: Cupcake!

Cupcakes have been so educational as well as being delicious. Set up a cupcake business by buying the ingredients, designing the cupcakes, and then setting up your own prices for them. Save enough money to continue to upgrade your store, and solve world problems through your customers’ orders.

Ages 8+

$5.99

Saving Spree

A winner of multiple awards, Saving Spree teaches kids how to save for large goals, small goals, when to donate, how to invest, and what lifestyle choices to make to be more financially successful. Play multiple games which earn you money and it’s up to you to decide where it goes. The more you save though, the bigger your nest egg becomes, and who doesn’t want a larger nest egg? Fun and financially recommended!

Ages 7+

For more apps to use to teach your children about finance, you can read the full US News & World Report article.

~Bobby

You open your eyes. You sit up, yawning and stretching your sleepy muscles, but this day your energy is bursting and you jump out of bed. The bed isn’t as warm and cozy as the other days of the week. That’s impossible, right? Nope! It’s because today is Friday, and Friday can be called an even more pleasing name: Payday. The melody of those words whirl pleasantly off the lips and tickles the eardrum. It’s a truly wondrous day where a multitude of dreams can come true. Well… Except not when you have already blown the entire paycheck before Friday even came. It’s really a punch in the gut when you don’t even realize it’s happening too. The unfortunate thing is it may be happening to you as we speak. Here are the signs and the changes to make to make sure you are gaining money paycheck to paycheck and not just breaking even:

Morning Coffee

We hope that you are enjoying that coffee you are sipping on every morning because that first hour you sit and drink the beverage, it’s nulling your first hour of work pay. Now, we know it’s not just you being the victim of an undying love of caffeine. A survey conducted in 2012 reports that the average American worker spends over $1,000 on coffee alone. Do you really need that extra caffeinated kick? Buy your own coffee and make it at home. That will be over an extra $500 dollars in the bank when the year is out.

Bottle Water

Water. One of life’s essential resources that shouldn’t cost you a nickel. You can save hundreds of dollars on groceries by purchasing a water filter.  Yes, the cheapest option IS to just drink straight from the faucet, but if you prefer filter water, compare a $20 filter with the $11.8 billon Americans spent on water in 2012, as reported by Business Insider. Maybe now you’ll consider the $20 investment.

Skipping Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, not just for your health but for your wallet. Your lunch order will be quite a bit smaller if you put some food in your belly in the morning.  That being said, it will further decrease your cost exponentially by sticking to your guns and not ordering out for lunch. $15 a day, 5 days a week is doing nothing for your financial stability.

Quit Smoking

This isn’t just an issue for financial purposes. There aren’t enough reasons in the world to keep your smoking habit intact. Yet, for now, we will stick with strictly the financial aspects. Do you smoke around a pack a week? It’s an estimated $1,850 a year. This year, try looking for a nice trip on Groupon with that money instead!

Don’t Buy Theatre Concessions

Movie theatres commonly make around 10% on every ticket sold. That doesn’t leave much for the theaters themselves. This is why the snacks can seem unreasonably high. They need to get income somehow too. See if the theater allows you to bring your own snacks. You can find the same fresh candy at the dollar and then some! If only the theater had its own microwave to use for our popcorn…

Going Out for Drinks

Sometimes that day of work was really horrendous, that customer was such a jerk, your boss put you over the edge, or even just to do something with your friends at 9 in the evening and it’s the most convenient option. The alcohol going over your taste buds at the bar almost tastes like the copper of the change you are devouring away. You may know that drinks on the town are substantially more costly than alcohol at the liquor store. As long as you are being responsible, it is more cost effective to invite the friends over at the house than 4, 5, or however many $4 drinks you’d get the bar.

Eat Leftovers for Dinner

Hundreds of dollars a year can be wasted on throwing out leftovers. You spent HOURS that day standing around the stove, contributing your multitude of culinary talents to make this meal, and now you’re going to throw it out in the garbage? It’s your baby. You created it, raised it, were there for it in its times of need, and now you will abandon it just because it takes up a little too much space in its frozen crib? You need to eat that baby. Eat every last bite. That way you are getting your money’s worth AND not wasting more on an extra dinner purchase the next day.

For more advice on how to stop blowing your paycheck before Friday comes around, you can read the full Go Banking Rates article.

~Bobby

Ahhh, June. It’s a lovely month to get out of the house and explore the community. Go grab the family and pile into the car, dogs and cats too, and go build future fond memories together.  Probably involving ice cream. Maybe it involves other things other than ice cream, but really, it involves ice cream. What else? Let’s see. There’s only so many times to go to the beach. Mini golf, yeah. Bowling, possibly. How about…starting a fun little business! Dear no, NOT a lemonade stand. There are enough of those. How about a yard sale? This is a simple, productive, and universally loved activity that you can do by yourself to clean out the house, an ice breaking event for you and your neighbors, or even to help teach the kiddies about money and business early on! The only real question here is how to create the biggest gangbuster yard sale your community will ever see. Here are some small tips to help you accomplish it:

Groom the Area

This is without question the first step you should get through before even choosing what old items you wish to sell. Why would the customers want to pick up your box of china dolls in a weed full, tick invested grass that is as high your eyeballs? Please, as a favor to your customers and the good of the neighborhood, dust off the lawnmower. If you appear to be unable to keep your yard in proper condition, why would customers believe you do it for your items? Aside from that, let’s not even think about what would happen if a customer tripped of some tangled earth and hurt themselves on your property.

Advantageous Advertising

We already established that this is the yard sale your customers will be raving about to their grandchildren in their golden years. Why don’t they know it yet?! GO PROMOTE! Legally, of course. Now, let’s just not get a little too crazy when doing so. You could have the talent of the next Van Gough, but making your signs with intricate designs and conceptual modern art are going to be lost on people. Instead, use bright flashy colors in a minimalist way. All your posters need to have is “Yard Sale,” a convenient way how to reach your house, and a number to contact you. Every day your yard sale is continuing, take a stroll to check all of your signs are still clean and in their proper locations. Want to really reach people? Advertise in some of your local papers, create a Facebook event, and you can even do a little free push on Craigslist.

Keep Prices Simple

Alright, look. We all know that baseball is ten bucks. Don’t sell it to me for $75. Aside from scamming your customers with overpricing, make it easy to tell what the price is on each item. Separate the items by table making the tables $1, $2, $3, you see where I’m going with this, right? To create even LESS confusion you can pick up some colored stickers at the dollar store and color identify each item by price and posting an easily read sign addressing each color with each price. Proficiency. That’s what we’re going for.

Plastic Bags

One word, yard sale aficionados. Plastics. You’re going to be the talk of the town when you disperse your customers the extra plastic bags from the grocery store that you haven’t used as hand-me-down doggie bags. These can now be used as a gathering tool of all their small purchases! Allison Martin of Money Talks News recommends creating a special where if the customer fills the entire bag with a specific low priced item then they receive a deal. For her, this resulted in her doubling her expected profit.

Flexibility

Let’s not keep it too strict. Sometimes bending the rules will cause a larger amount of sale. People love being able to go to one of these events to do a little bargain shopping. “$6? Come on. I’ll give you $3. Fine. I’ll settle for $4. Deal!” Give these people these opportunities. If not, then they just won’t give you any business at all. It’s stuff you want to get rid of anyway! Have fun with them. Flexing your hours during the yard sale can be a smart move as well. Get a couple of neighbors in on it and have them take over the tables when you want to take a break for an hour or two. That way your hours of selling rise significantly.

For more tips on having a gangbusters yard sale, you can read the full Money Talks News article here.

~Bobby

Congratulations, graduates! The years and years that seemed like centuries of sitting behind desks, text books, and staying up late trying to figure out exactly what trigonometry is are now behind you. What’s now in front of you is your real world education that you will be receiving for the rest of your life. There’s no more procrastinating for these courses. Sound scary? It can be. It certainly is at some points.  One safe guard you can use is taking comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in experiencing this transition. It is reported that around 1.8 million students are expected to receive their Bachelor’s degree this year. That is 1.8 million people that are scared with mixed excitement when taking the largest life step to date. What hundreds of thousands of those kids might lack are the life experience that is not listed in the school curriculum.  One of the most essential? Finance. There are quite a few small and big actions you can do now that can make your life exponentially more financially comfortable which some graduates may put off or not even think of. These smart moves will put you ahead of the pack:

Face Your Student Debt Head On

You have about six months to a year before the rampaging bull called “student loans” tries to pick you up by the horns. We know that the last thing on this planet you want to even give the slightest graze of thought to after graduation is already starting to pay your student loans. We won’t sugarcoat it. It’s not enjoyable. First bill comes in. A couple hundred bucks?! I’m a broke college graduate! They can wait a couple of months. Second bill comes in. I’m still job hunting! I’ll get a job really soon. I can feel it. Then I’ll pay the amount owed no worries. By the time the third, fourth, and fifth bill make their way into the mailbox the excuses will stretch as far as the amount of your late payments. The job will come and so will your now destroyed credit score. You’re going to be starting your adult life face first in the dirt. Now, this doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. Just pay your loans as soon as they come in. Mark Kantrowitz, of Edvisors.com, recommends the standard 10 year plan. Other options include contacting the U.S. Department of Education for advice based on your situation, a 25 year plan where your payments are based on what you earn, or potential loan consolidation.

Create Your Budget Plan

What better way to get your future life in order than with an organized plan? It’s about that time to bang out a good ole spreadsheet. Divide it in categories such as Rent, Car, Phone, Loans, Utilities, etc. This helps to maximize your opportunities to start saving more of your money. Being able to take a step back from your bank account will let your see your finances with fresh eyes. You can then start to place the excess wealth towards your future and even spend some of it on that concert you really, really, really want to go to. Blindly spending the money paycheck to paycheck isn’t the best strategy, especially when something as important as rent needs to be taken care of and your checking account is full of nothing but moths.

Build Your Savings for Surprises

As written above, a rent payment when you surprisingly have no money is unpleasant. What’s worse is when you have an unexpected emergency with no saved money. An important emergency surgery or a car accident are things you cannot see coming, so without that saved money, you are up the unwanted creek without a paddle. Kevin Gallegos of the Freedom Financial Network recommends at LEAST $250 dollars saved for any emergency you may unfortunately come across. This way your conscious can rest a little easier.

Start a Credit Card

From the get go, it is essential to have good credit. These cards can get a bad reputation for enabling the card holder to spend far more than they should, but when handled correctly are a key component to establishing great credit. Lee Gimpel of The Good Credit Game recommends using it like a debit card. Pay off your expenses as soon as the bill comes in and only pay for items you know you can afford. Check out our credit cards to see if there is a credit card that fits you.

For more information of the moves to make after college, you can read the full MarketWatch article here.

~Bobby

Price, price, price! Everywhere we look, we find services promising to find us the lowest price on our next car. We see it at the wholesale clubs, consumer reporting services, auto and financial services websites, on TV and billboards spread across town.

What’s the common factor here? The dealers are paying for it! Why you might ask? Because buyers distracted by the low prices usually end up paying more in the end. Besides, in a vehicle transaction, price typically accounts for the smallest amount of the profit. Trust me; nobody is in this business to lose money.

Similarly, as we explain to members during the car-buying seminars held at the credit union; if you call 5 dealers to compare the price of a particular vehicle, you’re likely to be given a lower price with each subsequent call. Why? Because if a dealer gives you a higher price, chances are you won’t visit them and they won’t have the opportunity to make that sale and potential profit.

Of course the objective here is not to make less profit, it’s to generate traffic from which to make more profit. So, all of this one-price/low-price/shop-us-last pricing services has one intention – to get us into the dealership! Because once we’re in the dealership, the advertising has paid for itself, and the dealer has a captive audience with which to maximize profits.  Again, most profit is made after the purchase.

What about these one-price stores?

The same thing holds true with the trend toward no-haggle pricing in dealerships, aka “one-price” or “pure price” dealerships that are popping up. Who remembers General Motors experiment with Saturn? The underlying concept with Saturn was the no-haggle pricing philosophy. Many consumers (well, not quite enough to keep the brand alive) that flocked to Saturn to avoid the price haggling actually helped generate higher profits than GM was seeing from Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile. With a one-price store, you may be at disadvantage –you’re still negotiating trade values, financing, fees & add-ons, while you can’t negotiate the price!

Why lowest price does not define best deal

So what if a dealer is offering to sell you a vehicle for $500 less than a nearby dealer – if they give you $1,000 less for your trade? That’s one example of where lowest price is not the best deal.

Then there’s the financing, where the dealer will do everything in their power to get you to finance through their sources, enabling them to raise the interest rate, so you pay more in finance charges (which the dealer gets). When you finance through the dealer, it’s easy to add other things to the loan, which you will be paying for 5, 6, or even 7 years. And extending the term to meet or lower the monthly payment still costs you more.

One of the biggest costs (and contributing factors determining a good from not-so-good deal) is the extended warranty. Have you ever heard “Do you know this vehicle has more computers that the Apollo space craft that landed on the moon?” I love that! Like life insurance, extended warranties can be a good thing – if you use them. It’s just important to confirm A) does the coverage match my driving habits? B) Is the coverage comprehensive? C) Is the price right? And D) Will I sleep more comfortably knowing I have it? Our Auto Advisors are here to help members evaluate the need and value.

Lastly is the area of after-market add-on’s, where a dealer may add something that you perceive as having value, while in reality it’s generating significant incremental revenue for the dealer.

When considering these add-ons, you may hear “Oh, the difference in payment would be only the price of a cup of coffee a day”? But think about this – assuming the average cup of joe costs $2.50 and you buy one a day. Well 30 days at $2.50 per = $75 per month. So on the average loan, that $2.50 a day will add about $5,000 over the term of the loan. And, guess what; you’ll likely still buy the coffee!

Again, like life insurance, some add-ons can prove to be a prudent investment. Our Auto Advisors are here to help with those decisions.

Focus on total cost

Rather than price, our Auto Advisors focus on “total cost”, which is calculated as follows:  Price – trade value + financing + fees + warranty and after-market sales = Total Cost   In fact, I recently spoke with a dealer who carried the point home when he told me that, while the average profit on the sale of the vehicle was -$400 (that’s a $400 loss), the “back-end” profit was closer to $2,000.

So while there’s a certain appeal with no-haggle pricing, it may actually turn into a disadvantage for you.  You get worked on your trade, financing, warranty and after-market sales, yet you can’t negotiate the price!

Remember one important point; the more you borrow today, the more you may owe when you trade in that car. That’s why about 1 of 3 borrowers owes more than their car is worth so, when trading in, they need to roll over negative equity into the new loan.

The big print giveth while the small print taketh away

How many times have you seen advertised prices or payments too good to be true? Well, you know what they say! “Your configured vehicle may not be available.” “Prices include all rebates to dealer” (often including rebates you may not qualify for). “Vehicle must be paid same day” “With approved financing”, etc. I recently saw 2 ad’s for the same car. One quoted $19,999 and the other $9,999. Well where would you go? Turns out the $19,999 (from a dealer in the credit union’s Auto Advisor network) was a valid, below-market purchase price whereas the $9,999 (from a dealer known for “asterisk advertising”) was the sum of payments for a 36-month lease. Now that’s just wrong! On the other hand, a 24-month lease advertised for $49/mo with $4,000 up-front really costs about $220 per month. This might work out well for some but again, it’s important to understand the terms and make an educated decision.

When was the last time you felt good about your automobile purchase?

Well, now you can be when you take our Auto Advisor along. Our Auto Advisor will discuss your needs.  In fact, our Advisors have helped members purchase over 7,000 new & used vehicles during the past 10 years. Many of those 4, 5, 6 or more times in their families. Whether you have used the service or not, we would be thrilled to help you with your next purchase.

To get in touch with the Auto Advisors, call 800-942-9575 or email autoadvisor@AlignCU.com. And remember, Align offers the same great rates on a used vehicles that are available for new ones.

~David Brown, Align Credit Union Auto Advisor

Do NOT ever consider yourself “old.” You are eternally youthful. Full of the vitality of life. It’s what we like most about you! While it’s the stereotype for when one hits the big, intimidating 60 life turns into rocking chairs, walkers, and adult diapers, it’s up to elder individuals, like your wonderfully lively self, to show generations behind you that you are just as assured and open for new experiences as they are.  Now that may not consist of sprinting the Boston Marathon or skydiving over an African forest, but you can still work your mind and body daily to stay positively positive when keeping up with the rapidly accelerating world:

Challenge Yourself

Now that we just rekindled your young, free spirit, we need to continue to replenish it.  We can do this by continuously keeping your brain engaged. If you have a job that is mentally stimulating then you are already in good shape. It is easy to maintain higher brain function when you are intelligently using your brain on a daily basis. Higher levels of education have also been linked to increased brain tissue which is theorized to delay dementia. So what if you didn’t get the opportunity to receive higher education? You’re no less smart than anyone who did. Take up a mentally stimulating hobby! Crossword puzzles, rummy, maybe even a little writing here and there. You can even get to more specific and talented task. Playing an instrument, learning a new language, or how about finally trying to solve the equation of those horribly frustrating Rubik’s Cubes? Accomplish on more thing you have always wanted to do and now have all of the time you need. And have fun with it!

Rock Your Number

It’s time to take pride in your age! When you spend too much time sitting in an audience where the performer is a sad, old clown miming his horrid depression of his age, then the negativity of getting older can age you to what everyone expects. Wrinkled… Withered… Wasteful… PROVE THEM WRONG! A researcher at Yale found in his studies that elders that tend to be more exposed to negative stereotypes about getting old did worse on memory tests than elders that are typically exposed to positive outlooks. Keep your roller-full head high!

Eat Right

Yes, yes, yes. We all know dieting is important. But isn’t that just for “young people?” We’ve done our time. We deserve to indulge in chocolate cake and black raspberry ice cream every day from here on out! Well, not so fast. Your body got you to this point. It would be a great kindness to treat it like royalty at this point. If that still makes you guffaw, then know that science experiments found a diet that include many foods that were high in saturated fats caused elders to do worse on memory tests. For the good of your brain, eat a salad from time to time.

Get In Shape

20 minutes. It’s all you need three times a week. 20 minutes of rigorous exercise. It is reported that those continuously inactive are 82% more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. 82%! You can fix that by, a total of 1 hour A WEEK of some running, jumping, and sit ups. Such a little change like that could give you a decade or more of a better lifestyle than if you stay on that chair after reading this blog. So eat healthy, do a few jumping jacks, and do a few more crossword puzzles, and you can be just as, if not more, youthful than two or three generation behind you!

For more tips to keep yourself a 20 year old in a 70 year old body, you can read the full US News & World Report here.

~Bobby

If you’re on your computer right now as you are surround by yesterday’s pants on the ground, unwashed dishes in the sink, those must have impulse purchases you made at Walmart a couple of month ago that’s only use is gathering up the dust around its vicinity then you are in need of a little spring cleaning. Don’t worry! You aren’t the only one. When we are in our houses, there are a lot more entertaining things to do than going through every possession to your name. Plus, why would we throw any of our stuff away? We bought it. It HAS to be important. Right? Well, not necessarily. We all have clutter that we can clean up. It’s a matter of fact. On the motivation side, a perfect way to have a fun task for yourself while productively cleaning up your house is put yourself through a challenge. An excellent way to give yourself some friendly competition towards you clutter. So, here are some of the best challenges to test your spring cleaning skills:

100 Thing Challenge

This challenge was created by Dave Bruno, and this task only challenges you to one hundred simple items. What you get rid of? Bruno doesn’t count shared items as ones you can rid yourself of. Plates, toothpaste, tomatoes, CDs, chairs, if it’s used by somebody else in the house then it is not yours to heave. This is the challenge that has the least amount that you will lose from your house. Start with this one and 100 tossed items later see if you are up for the 5-A-Day challenge!

5-A-Day Challenge

Let’s begin this challenge for the first day of next month. Every day for the month, find five items that will more likely come to life than be used anytime soon in the next ten years, and chuck them. If the item is unusable by anyone else as well as you then toss it in the trash. If there is still a chance for a second life in fresh hands then keep them on the side. Once you fill this box, you can donate these new used gifts! You’re now organized AND charitable! You’re a total catch!

The 2015 Challenge

Now we are getting to the real toughies. For the year of 2015, we challenge you to get rid of 2,015 items before New Year’s Day 2016. For anyone questioning if you even own 15 items, yes you do. There is over 2,000 items in your house that are begging to be freed from the attic or basement or corner of the bureau that have been trapped there for decades. What are you waiting for?! You have a little over half a year left! Hurry!

40 Days 40 Bags Challenge

Originally conceived by Ann Marie Heasley, this is a daunting but outstandingly rewarding challenge when completed. Choose a 40 day period during the year. Every day during the time span, fill an entire bag up of unneeded household items. At the end you would have rid yourself of 40 bags of items that have been taking up space for so long. We wish you the best of luck if you take this challenge and praise your commitment! We best leave you to go ahead and clean!

For more Spring Cleaning challenges, you can read the full MoneyTalksNews article here.

~Bobby

The housing market has come back from its lows a few years ago. And with interest rates still low, many folks are thinking seriously about buying a home right now. If you want to buy a house in the near future, that means building up some serious savings. Here are 10 simple steps to help you do just that:

Create a monthly budget

You build savings by spending less than you earn. So, any saving goals begin and end with your monthly budget. It’s important to be both honest and realistic about your spending habits out of the gate, and then stick with your plan as much as possible. Electronic bill pay is a great tool here, because then your payments take care of themselves. Another option is to print out a list of your monthly expenses and check them off — both to make sure they get paid, but also to have the satisfaction of knowing you are on track.

Quarantine your savings

Many people have trouble saving money because they simply see a lot of zeros in their bank account and assume that they are comfortably on track when they are not — or that they have wiggle room to spend. The simplest way to avoid this is to create a dedicated bank account just for your housing fund, and then quarantine it from any spending. You’ll still have your regular checking account and debit cards to pay the rent or the cable bill, but that special savings account is off-limits no matter what.

Make savings automatic

Once you have a dedicated savings account, tell your payroll department that you want a fixed amount sent there every payday via direct deposit and the balance sent to your checking account as usual. The savings will happen regularly this way, and you won’t even notice as long as you’ve built a good budget. The idea is to pay yourself first so there’s no excuses.

Save 100% of unexpected cash

Getting a $3,000 tax refund or a nice year-end bonus? While it’s tempting to splurge a little even as you save a little, building up a down payment requires a lot of restraint. That applies both to your day-to-day expenses, as well as one-time influx of cash. After all, if you’ve built a good budget, then you don’t really “need” any of that money … so it’s perfect for saving.

Save in big chunks

Sure, you can save a few bucks each week by eating store-brand peanut butter but you can make the biggest impact by cutting out the biggest expenses. Skipping your annual beach vacation won’t be easy, and that rusty old car with the broken mirror may be a bit embarrassing to drive for another year … but snatching big bills where you can instead of pinching pennies is an effective way to build up savings quickly.

Downsize before you upsize

Moving to a one-bedroom apartment from a two-bedroom apartment can drop your rent by 20% to 30% in most areas. If you don’t have kids, it may be a smart move to live small before you move into your new home and then reallocate the unused rent into your housing fund. Also, an added bonus is that a smaller place will mean fewer boxes to move once you finally do find your dream home.

Work more

Spending less is the obvious way to save, but working more and bringing home more money is also a great way to supercharge your savings. If you are eligible for overtime or additional work, take every opportunity that comes your way. If you’re not, consider taking a second job on the side even if it’s only a few days or a few projects each month.

Save less for retirement

If you have a 401(k) match, it’s still a good idea to save enough in order to qualify for that employer-sponsored contribution. However, matches typically stop at 6%, so saving for a house may mean capping your retirement contributions there and instead allocating the additional cash toward your down payment. Remember, a house is also an asset … so you are simply saving for the future in a different way. Another option for first-time home buyers is to actually use retirement savings in your IRA to fund the purchase. In many cases, you can withdraw $10,000 without penalties from your retirement fund to help fund your home purchase.*

Ask for support

Much like going on a diet, staying on a strict savings plan is much easier with the support of the people around you. If your friends are always inviting you to happy hour or sister invites you shopping each weekend, the temptation and stress are going to be an issue. Make sure your friends and family know how your behavior is changing so they can meet you halfway.

Don’t punish yourself

The math of saving for a house may be straightforward, but the emotions of saving are very complex. If saving feels painful or frustrating every single day, you’re much less likely to be successful at it. So, rather than let the frustration build up after you deny yourself every discretionary expense, take comfort in a simple pleasure once in a while. Cut down on eating out, but consider cooking an awesome dinner once a week at home with premium ingredients. Cut down on going to movies, but perhaps subscribe to Netflix instead. The idea is to save money, not to spend zero, and you will find it much easier to save if you’re actually enjoying your life while doing so.

If you have any questions about the road to becoming a homeowner, please contact me at 978-275-2755. I’m happy to work with you to build a plan and guide you on the path to your first home.

~Amy Spindler, Senior Home Financing Consultant

*Please consult your tax advisor.

When conducting car-buying seminars, one of the first questions I typically ask is “Who here is driving a new car?” And when two or three out of ten raise their hands, I ask “When are you getting it?” Point is, whether you buy new or used, once you drive it, it’s used. And often the only difference is how much you pay.

The credit union’s Auto Advisors are big fans of used cars. Why? Because used cars cost less and are most often better values. Plus, for MA residents, the 6.25% sales tax and the excise tax ($25 per thousand dollar value) is less. For NH residents, the town hall fees are less.

When we refer to used cars, we’re not necessarily talking old car with higher mileage. Most times, we are helping our members purchase late-model used cars with low miles in great condition. Examples would be dealer demo’s, commercial or business-owned vehicles (where an exec or salesman gets a new car each year), off-lease vehicles (typically 2-3 years old with low mileage), or vehicles a person bought and their needs or tastes changed. Generally these are all great options for the next owner.

What’s the new/used trade-off?

Some members prefer the brand new option because they want the comfort of knowing they’re the first driver, because of the “new car smell”, because they may have more choices (including features and colors), or because of the new car warranty. All quite understandable.

There’s nothing like that new car smell. If you’re more comfortable knowing nobody else has driven the vehicle, great. However, with the late-model used cars available through our large dealer network, we often have lots of choices. Plus, the Certified Pre-owned “CPO” vehicles often come with a better warranty than when the car was brand new.

Also, with used cars, you’re paying fifty cents on the dollar for options like sunroof, leather, and alloy wheels. For example, if you add a sunroof to a new sedan, the cost could be over $1000. But with all other things being equal, a used sedan with a sunroof will cost the same or just slightly more than one without.

What vehicles are better used-car values?
One of the reasons our Auto Advisors maintain such a large network of dealers is to get access to a wider used car inventory. While we’re often finding those “diamonds in the rough” or vehicles underpriced because they’re aged or at an off-brand dealer, certain types of vehicles tend to be better used-car buys.

For example; domestic cars like Chevy’s, Dodge’s, and Ford’s tend to depreciate faster than Honda’s and Toyota’s, which makes them great buys for the second owner. Likewise, late-model luxury vehicles in general tend to be good buys.

Other vehicles, like domestic trucks, aren’t traded in often, so with the low inventory, the prices stay up closer to new models.

What about Certified Pre-owned “CPO” vehicles?

The Certified used car concept was originally created by the manufacturers as a way to drive used car customers to their dealerships. As a buyer, you need to evaluate if the benefits of CPO are worth what is typically a higher price.

First off; while many dealers advertise their used cars as “certified”, there is a big difference between a manufacturer’s certified vehicle and one that a random dealer claims to be certified. Truth is, you can only purchase a true CPO vehicle from that manufacturer’s dealerships. For example, you can only buy a Honda-certified vehicle from a Honda dealer.

CPO vehicles must meet three main criteria: 1) the vehicle has to be eligible (newer than certain age, lower than certain miles, no branded titles, etc.), 2) while used vehicles just have to pass inspection, CPO vehicles have to meet higher standards (for example; tires and brake pads must be above certain spec, and vehicle must come with 2 sets of keys, floor mats, manuals). And 3) once the vehicle meets the above criteria, the manufacturer allows the dealer to purchase an extended warranty on the buyer’s behalf. If everything else (age/miles/condition/price) is equal, it’s safe to assume that a CPO vehicle is a better choice. But there’s usually a cost difference that we evaluate on a case by case basis.

So what do I do?

As I mentioned at the start, our Auto Advisors are big fans of used cars. However, with everyone’s needs, tastes, and budgets being different, we recommend that you speak with our Auto Advisor BEFORE you go shopping. This way we can guide you through the process and ensure that, in addition to saving time and money, your buying experience is a good one and that you leave the dealership confident that you got the best deal on a vehicle that is right for you.

To get in touch with the Auto Advisors, call 800-942-9575 or email autoadvisor@AlignCU.com. And remember, Align offers the same great rates on a used vehicles that are available for new ones.

~David Brown, Align Credit Union Auto Advisor

We have all heard about them… Target, Home Depot and Anthem. With all of this going on, how do we protect our identity?

There truly is no way to keep the ‘bad guys’ from trying to use information but you can do a few things to protect yourself:

Check your credit reports regularly

By visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, you can receive one free credit report each year. Ask for one credit bureau each quarter; this gives you the ability to see your credit report more often for free as well as keeping an eye out for discrepancies all year round.

Get your devices protected

Many internet providers offer free services for this purpose. In addition, there are other basic packages offered by vendors such as Malwarebytes, Panda Free, AVG, Avast and Bitdefender. Run the full scans regularly. It seems there are daily changes to viruses and malware.

Use STRONG passwords

I know, we all have hundreds of passwords to remember but making all your password ‘123456’ is not a viable solution to the problem. They really do need to be complex and not common. An easy way to make a password complex is to spell it out: instead of always – use @1w@y$.

Use prepaid debit cards

In addition to your regular debit card think about using prepaid cards. These cards only carry the balance you put on them which limits the amount available for fraud in the event the card gets compromised.

Use Alerts

Credit Card vendors and financial institutions often offer alert services to provide you with notification of transactions or suspicious activity. These are a great way to keep ahead of activity on your accounts.

Beat them to the punch

If you have received a letter saying you have been involved in one of these compromises, immediately shut off existing card numbers and get new ones. Then, contact the credit bureaus to discuss placing a credit freeze. This will limit access to your credit information.

At Align, your financial security is an upmost priority. Like us, we hope you don’t take identity fraud lightly and do everything to protect yourself from the ‘bad guys’. If you have any questions or see suspicious activity on your account, please contact us at 800-942-9575.

~Sue