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Bellwether's Blog on life and money

Why Join a Credit Union?

Posted in Main Blog
November 25, 2014 by BCCU
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telephone workers

 

People with a common bond—such as employees at a company—formed credit unions to benefit each other and their communities.

Credit unions and banks are both financial institutions, but credit unions have an important distinction—they were all formed by a group of regular people like you, people with a common bond.

Imagine the possibilities...

Bellwether Community Credit Union, for example, was founded over 90 years ago by a group of Bell Telephone employees. By starting the credit union, that group of employees became OWNERS of the credit union, able to offer their fellow co-owners (also called members) better rates, lower fees, and the services they really needed. In several cases, these were services the local banks couldn't or wouldn't offer them.

Can you imagine the advantages credit union members have as owners of a financial institution? They can create a financial institution that makes choices based on what is best for other members instead of a small group of shareholders miles and miles away.

Some amazing things credit unions do

Credit unions adhere to a set of co-operative principles that revolve around doing good for others. Here are just a few of the amazing things credit unions do:

1) Operate as a not-for-profit organization—After operating expenses, any extra money the credit union makes goes back to its members. These dividends usually take the shape of better interest rates and at some credit unions are even paid as an extra dividend deposit to member accounts. At Bellwether, we believe all members should benefit so extra funds are used to keep rates competitive and reduce fees for services or even offer free services, like Bill Pay or Remote Deposit Capture.

2) Amazing access—Credit unions usually have branches located in smaller communities, but offer members access all over the country through ATM machines and a shared branching network.

3) Cooperative and community spirit—Credit unions are cooperatives (owned by their members) and endeavour to partner and work with other cooperatives. They also work very hard to strengthen the communities in which they operate. More than almost any other business, credit unions believe their heart and strength lies in the hearts and minds of their local communities.

They are many more benefits—you can see them here.

Joining is easy

Joining a credit union is very easy. Start the process here, and get ready to enjoy the satisfying feeling of belonging to an organization that cares about its members and values its communities.

*Vintage business image from zazzle.com

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Managing Your Personal Papers

Posted in Main Blog
November 14, 2014 by Amanda N.
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What can you throw away?color-coded hanging file folders in drawer
What do you need to keep?
What should you have ready in case of an emergency?

Do you know?

If you're like me, you go on a tangent come Fall. Cleaning out the garage so you can get the snowblower out, moving summer clothes into storage, sorting through your winter clothes and realizing you really do need to buy a coat and maybe a few new outfits for work.

This is also the time I organize my home office. Running a house is like running a business, and I always seem to have an ever growing pile of papers. I sort through them with junk mail and unread magazines going into recycle, but what about all that stuff that seems a bit too important to toss? And what about the stuff you saved from last year, and the year before? Do you really need to keep all of it? Thankfully, no! Here's a quick outline of what to keep and what not to keep, as well as some helpful links to prepare yourself for the unexpected!

Things You Need to Keep Forever

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce decrees
  • Passports
  • Education records
  • Military service records
  • Social Security Card
  • Household Inventory
  • Life Insurance policies
  • Will (the most current copy)

It isn't that you can't get a copy if they're lost, but it can be time consuming and expensive to do so, and when you need them is usually not the time to start attempting to get copies. I remember needing a birth certificate before a road trip. We had a two hour delay while I drove back to the town I was born in to get a copy, because I had no idea where the original was! Not fun, and the topic of family discussions at least until the next "lost item" story came up.

Things You Need to Keep Until You Don't Own the Related Item

  • Home Purchase and Improvement Records
  • Investment Certificates
  • Loan Documents
  • Real Estate Deeds
  • Receipts for Large Purchases
  • Vehicle Titles
  • Service Contracts and Warranties

As long as you own the item, and especially if you have a loan on it, you need to keep the paperwork. If the Service Contract or Warranty has expired, check for contact information. Even if things aren't covered, it can be helpful to have all that additional information.

Things to Keep for the Short Term

  • Bank Statements - Retain for one year, unless you need them for your tax filing. Remember, if you get eStatements, you can usually download them and retain them in digital format. But most financial institutions have a limit on how long those statements are available. Beyond that you may need to pay a fee to access older records.
  • Contracts - Retain until the contract is up, or you have updated/revised the contract. Then keep the new one!
  • Credit Card records - Like Bank Statements, these should be kept if you're going to need them for your tax filings. But otherwise, once you've paid them and have a record of payment, you can destroy them. eStatements are again a way to keep a digital version of the record if you want to keep them longer.
  • Home, Car or Other non-life related insurance policies - Always keep the newest policy. Once renewed, the older policy can be destroyed, but you should always have a full copy of your current active policy available.
  • Investment Statements - Go ahead and shred your monthly statements as soon as the new one is available. Annual statements should be retained until you no longer hold the funds.
  • Social Security Statement - You can shred the statement once you receive a new one. Always keep a copy of the most current statement

Thing to Throw Away

  • Cancelled checks for cash or nondeductible expenses
  • Expired warranties
  • Pay stubs, after reconciling with W-2
  • Other records no longer needed, such as those that were replaced by newer versions, manuals of appliances that you've replaced, etc.

For more information on setting up a Safe Deposit Box, preparing an Emergency Financial Records kit, and other information you may want to have ready in case of an emergency, visit USA.gov for more tips.

Sources
USA.gov
Operation Hope

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Why Your Credit Score Matters

Posted in Main Blog
November 13, 2014 by BCCU
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photo of pie chart drawn on whiteboard

 

 

 


Do you know the factors that make up your credit score? Image from WikiHow.com


 

 

 

Remember when you were younger and borrowed money from your parents? If they had the money, they would usually lend it to you knowing you would pay it back. But once you leave home, borrowing money relies heavily on your credit score, and not so much your parents…unfortunately!

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a number that comes from analyzing a set of factors from your financial history. The higher your number, the more creditworthy you appear to your financial institution. Having a high credit score indicates that you are a lower credit risk.

There are three credit bureaus in the U.S. (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) that maintain consumer credit files from which the factors of your financial history are pulled, and different scoring models that determine your credit score and where it falls within the acceptable credit score range. One of the most-used models that determine your credit score is called FICO (a FICO score.)

A FICO score takes these factors into consideration: your on-time payments, how much credit you've used (current debt burden), how long you've had credit, the types of credit you've had, and how many recent applications you've made for credit. Each of these factors is ranked in terms of importance:

Payment history - 35%
Debt load - 30%
Length of credit history - 15%
Types of credit - 10%
Recent credit applications - 10%

What is a good credit score?

The highest possible FICO score you can achieve is 850, while the range of the average American is between 301–800. Here is how the different ranges of credit rank according to most financial institutions (via credit.com):

• 750+ is excellent
• 700–749 is good
• 650–699 is fair
• 600-649 is poor
• 599 and under is usually considered subprime, or a score that needs serious improvement

Where your score is doesn't only determine how much money you can borrow, it helps determine what your interest rate should be.

How to improve your credit score

With a little patience, you can improve your credit in a few different ways.

  1. Think small—Open one credit card account for a small amount of credit and use it for purchases you know you can pay off each month, such as your cell phone bill. This will improve your payment history.
  2. Spend small—Never let your credit usage get close to the maximum. For example, if you have a $500 limit, try to keep your monthly balance at 30% of your limit. This will improve your debt load, and your score.
  3. "Rinse and repeat"—Doing the above 2 items consistently over time will improve your score, since your payment history and debt load, the 2 primary factors in a credit score, are also strong.

Are you wondering what your credit score is?

There are places where you can obtain a free credit report, or a more detailed credit report with a score for a small fee. Check out websites such as FreeCreditReport.com or CreditKarma.com. You can also try out SaveUp.com to hone your personal financial know-how skills by playing games and winning prizes.

You can also contact Bellwether to help you understand your credit score, learn how to improve it, and—more importantly—create a plan for the things you may need to purchase on credit, such as a new car or your first home. Call us at 603-645-8181 for answers to your credit questions!

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Go Red for Women NH

Posted in Main Blog
November 12, 2014 by Trish R.
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I recently had the pleasure of attending the Go Red for Women NH luncheon at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, NH. Go Red for Women is the social movement created by the American Heart Association to bring awareness about heart disease, the number one killer of women. The luncheon was an inspirational and motivational venue to bring people together to dispel the myths and help fight the disease. The theme of this year’s luncheon was: “Life is Why,” everyone has a reason to live a healthier, stronger life.

There were so many amazing stories, but one that really stood out to me was about Mary, a 50-something woman. She told us the story of the day she had a severe heart attack. Her day was just like one most of us recognize. She had places to go, things to do and people to see. She described how she woke up with cramping in her shoulders, how she dismissed it and went about her busy day. By the end of the day she was so miserable, she went online to goredforwomen.org to research the symptoms of a heart attack. Throughout the entire episode she was in denial that she was having a cardiac event, a very common reaction. The kicker to the story….Mary’s a nurse.

Many women are not aware that heart disease is the number one killer of women, more than all forms of cancer combined. It’s so important for women to know the factors that increase their risk for heart disease. As the daughter of an adoptee I’ve had to deal with a few unplanned medical issues, so I’ve become more vigilant with my health.

Here’s what I’ve learned about heart disease:

Family History: The risk of heart disease and its risk factors are strongly linked to family history. It’s important to know as much of your family’s medical history as possible.

Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke 2 to 4 times and can take as much as 14 years off of your life. If you’re a smoker, there are a number of smoking cessation products and programs available to help you quit and the good news, your risk of heart disease is cut in half one year later.

High blood pressure: When left untreated high blood pressure damages and scars your arteries, which can have deadly consequences. Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a diet low in salt, saturated fats, cholesterol and alcohol will help you manage, possibly even prevent high blood pressure.

Diabetes: People with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to have heart disease. If you have diabetes or if it runs in your family it’s important to work with your doctor to create a regime to manage it.

Weight/physical activity: Carrying too much weight, especially around the waist area can increase your risk of heart disease. It’s important to include some form of physical activity in your daily routine, it can add 2 hours to your life, for every hour of regular exercise.

Cholesterol: While your body needs cholesterol to function and stay healthy, high cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease or stroke. Start by getting your cholesterol checked. Know your health numbers, The American Heart Association recommends everyone over the age of 20 get their cholesterol checked every 5 years. If you have high cholesterol, work with your doctors to design the proper treatment.

As a young woman I didn’t give too much thought to the fact that my mother is adopted, as I’ve gotten older and had children of my own I’m increasingly aware that I know very little about my her biological family’s medical history. I’ve urged my mother to reach out to her family, to get as much information as possible, if not for herself, for her children and grandchildren. In the meantime, I took the Go Red Heart Checkup and I am making sure my lifestyle is healthier because my children are my reason “why.”

Yahoo.com - Heart Disease Awareness for Woman
Cholesterol Management

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5 Tips to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Posted in Main Blog
November 05, 2014 by Jenn R.
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Nothing beats seeing that first, real paycheck deposited into your checking account. There’s a feeling of accomplishment, confidence, and excitement – excitement that you might actually be able to spend money on things you want, rather than only what you need. And, I don’t want to put a damper on any of those feeling, because they have been earned, but before you go buying a full wardrobe from The Limited or scheduling a test drive in a new Audi, take a step back and realize that once the money is gone, it’s gone. Acquiring a professional wardrobe, securing a reliable car, fueling said car, and feeding yourself, all cost money, and unfortunately, living paycheck to paycheck is a reality for many post-grads trying to make ends meet. Here are some tips on how you can look the part, while still saving money along the way.

smiliung women between clothes in clothes rack

  1. Pay Yourself First! Honestly, this deserves the #1 spot because it is the most important. It’s hard to save money after bills and other expenses are paid. Savings needs to be a priority and paying yourself first makes sure it gets done. And to make it easy, put savings on autopilot by having your paycheck or a portion of it direct deposited, or set up an automatic transfer each time you get paid
     
  2. Set a Realistic Clothing Budget. Yes, treat yourself to an outfit or two, but be sure to incorporate the “Rule of Three”. Basically, to honestly justify the purchase, suggested by Michelle King of xojane.com, it must be able to be used in 3 other outfits consisting of pieces already in your closet. Then as pieces begin to show wear or get damaged, replace them. But before you run out to the store, check out #ootd blogs that tell you where to get certain items (or look-alikes) for half the cost. You can also find new and gently used items at online thrift shops like ThredUp. (you can also re-sell your gently used items on ThredUp and make money or credits to use toward other items!
     
  3. Take Care of Your Stuff! Now that you’ve bought some nice outfits, take care of them so they last. Think of it this way, the longer you make something last, the less money you’ll have to spend on buying more pieces. Wear, wash, hang, iron, as the tag says, and they’ll look new for years rather than months. Woman’s Day has some great ideas on how to care for your clothing. (This tips also applies for other items you’ve purchased – entertainment systems, electronics, appliances – treat them good and they’ll return the favor by living a longer, happier life!) Be aware when you buy clothes that say “dry clean only” you’ll be adding some extra money in clothes maintenance cost. You may want to minimize the number of items you buy that require special care.
     
  4. Don’t Wait, Ask! Television, internet and cell phone bills tend to be some of your larger bills, other than your housing and car payments, but don’t just accept the price you are paying. Call them up and ask for a better deal or discount. Another way to save by asking is if you are willing to pay cash, according to Bankrate, at restaurants, gas stations, and even the doctor’s office you might be eligible to receive a discount, so ask, it can’t hurt!
     
  5. Drive Down the Cost of Car Ownership. Just as you take care of your clothes and electronics, taking care of your car can save you money too. It’ll last longer, cost you less on maintenance, and lower your gas costs as well. But if it is time to purchase a new vehicle, be sure to do your research. Look for deals that make sense for you, whether it’s deciding to lease over buy, buying an electric or hybrid vehicle, or finding an offer that includes all your maintenance. Don’t just jump at an offer because the car comes with satellite radio and a sunroof, make sure the final monthly payment (after warranties, taxes, and other fees are added) fits into your budget. And then, once you own a car, check out these ideas to learn how to save money while you are driving.

Once real life starts, it doesn’t stop for a long time. And sure, we’re all busy but it’s important to focus on things that are important and saving money is one of them. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful, so start early and save where you can, no one ever regrets saving money.

Sources:
Oprah.com
Cosmopolitan.com
GenX Finance 

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