Neighborhood Credit Union

Category Archives: In the News

Tax Scams to Watch Out For

tax time
 

“Can you hear me now?”

No, this isn’t an old Verizon commercial. It’s another scam rearing its ugly head just in time for tax season. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has warned businesses and consumers to be cautious of unusual emails, phone calls, and links that could make them, and others, potential victims.

The IRS publishes an annual list of the most common scams that you might encounter at any point of the year called the “Dirty Dozen.” While you could be targeted at any time, the IRS says scammers are most active during tax season.

It’s not fun having to do taxes, but we all have to do it. By reading up and informing yourself on scams going around, you could save yourself from putting your hard-earned money in the hands of a crook.

Phishing scams

You’ve probably received an email claiming to be from a retailer, financial institution, or another trusted source asking you to follow a link. If so, you were probably targeted by a phishing scam.

This type of attack is where scammers pose as a legitimate source hoping to get your personal information over the internet. Even if the source looks credible, never open suspicious links or messages because your information could be at risk. Take the safest route and delete the message.

The IRS reported that it saw a 400% surge in phishing incidents in the 2016 tax season. Needless to say, they’ll be back this year.

If criminals get their hands on your information, they can use it to file false tax returns to claim bogus refunds.

Fraudulent phone calls

Just so we’re clear, the IRS is NEVER going to call you demanding money, ask for your personal information, or threaten you with arrest. However, that doesn’t stop people from falling for it.

If you ever get a call where someone claiming to be from the IRS saying you owe money and could be arrested if you don’t pay, just hang up. Scammers disguise the Caller ID to make it look like it’s coming from the IRS through Caller ID “spoofing,” meaning they manipulate it to show a legitimate number.

Another phone scam making its rounds is the “can you hear me now?” scam. How it works is you get a call and the first thing you hear is “Can you hear me now?” If you get this call, hang up immediately.

What can potentially happen is the scammer is wanting to record you saying “yes” so they can authorize unwanted charges. Even if they don’t do anything with your recorded answer, they can still sell your number to other solicitors since they know it’s an active number that answers calls from unknown numbers.

Your best bet is to not answer at all.

Payroll scams

Criminals don’t only target individual consumers. They go after businesses as well.

The IRS has warned companies about a scam that tricks the human resource department into giving up employee information and forms. Scammers send fake emails pretending to be a high-level employee asking for W-2 forms and personal employee information.

Once they get this information, scammers can steal your identity and file fake returns. If you ever get an unusual request like this, verify with the employee is was sent from and delete the email immediately.

False Charities

Giving to a good cause is a great thing to do and there are probably some charities you’d want to support. Next thing you know you get a phone call from said charity wanting you to make a donation with your credit card over the phone. Click.

Scammers look to confuse you by making fake charity names similar to the ones you might know hoping to talk you into giving your account information. If you really want to give, look up the charity’s website or phone number to give safely.

Always keep your information safe. Especially during tax season. If you ever get a call, email, or text message from anyone trying to gain access to your information or scam you out of money, call the FTC and IRS to let them know.

If you ever get a message claiming to be from Neighborhood Credit Union, please notify us and the NCUA.


5 Affordable, Yet Romantic, Valentine’s Day Date Ideas

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is 7 days away and you’ve probably been bombarded by commercials trying to spark ideas of what you should do for your special someone. If you happen to be short on cash this year, don’t sweat it. There’s plenty of things you can do to give your partner a great Valentine’s Day.

The trick is to think outside the box and not focus on the crowded restaurants and dark movie theatres. You’ll be surprised how romantic an untraditional Valentine’s Day can be.

Get crafty with your gift

We all know gifts can get expensive, but they don’t have to be. Just because you want to save money doesn’t mean you’re going to give a bad gift. Nothing says “I love you” and “You’re important to me” like a handmade, personalized gift.

Channel your inner creativity and make a card with a personalized note or funny saying that is special to your partner. If you’re skilled on the computer and like to make videos, make an audio/visual slideshow that tells the story of your relationship.

However, if your creativity is lacking and don’t think you can make a good gift, finding nontraditional gifts that appeal to your partner’s interests are great options. If they are a book worm, hit up your local book store where there are plenty of gift ideas your loved one will love. Just be sure you know what kind of books they like.

Cook dinner and stay in

Let’s face it, every restaurant is going to be packed. So why not skip the crowd, and higher prices, and have a romantic, candle-lit dinner in the comfort of your own dining room?

Guys, this next part is for you. If you don’t normally cook, think of a special meal you can make to surprise your significant other. It’s a simple gesture that will go a long way to show them how much you care. Not to mention, you may find out that you love to cook and want to do it more often.

Not only will you save money by avoiding fixed priced Valentine’s Day meals, but you and your loved one will be able to enjoy a peaceful dinner without the added distractions you normally get at a restaurant. And if you want to venture out for dessert and drinks after dinner, you’ll have some extra cash to do so.

Make it a game night

Ditch the standard fancy night on the town and break out the games! Video, board, and card games are great ways to spend time with people, so why not spend Valentine’s Day playing your favorite games with your favorite person?

Dust off the Scrabble board to see who the better wordsmith is, or be more adventurous and look to learn a new game. There are plenty of games you can buy if you don’t feel like spending a lot this Valentine’s Day. Go check out book stores, thrift stores, and online stores as well.

If you don’t have very many 2 player games, grab another couple and make it a double date!

Take a class or do a project together

Valentine’s Day is meant to be spending time with your partner and doesn’t require shelling out hundreds of dollars on dinner, drinks, and entertainment. If you both like to cook, take a cooking class together because it doesn’t cost a lot and will create a great memory for you both.

You can also work on a volunteer project as well. Now this doesn’t sound like a very romantic Valentine’s Day, but doing something together, making a difference, and getting to see your partner in a different light can help you both get closer. Plus it’s free.

Celebrate the weekend after

What? Don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day on Valentine’s Day?

Yes, we know this one might be met with some raised eyebrows. When Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, like it did this year, it can be tough to have a romantic date night after you both get done with work. If you wait until the weekend to have your night out, or in, you won’t be tired and you’ll be able to save a good sum of money.

First of all, Valentine candy will be at least 50% off the day after. Be sure to stop by the store, grab your loved one’s favorite candy (if you can find it), and pay a fraction of what you normally would. If you choose to go out, you won’t have to deal with Valentine’s Day “specials” at restaurants where they offer fixed price, multi-course meals.

Most importantly, you will be able to truly spend the night together without having to worry about work tasks clouding your thoughts.

Bonus tip: If you can, take advantage of rewards and cash back features that can help you save even more money. Take MyNCU Rewards for example. You can save and earn cash back on restaurants and products that might make your Valentine’s Day even better.

See, who said you had to break the bank in order to have a nice date on Valentine’s Day? Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to treat your partner, but if you’re wanting to save a little this year, it’s definitely possible!


Save Money While Eating Healthy

saving money while eating healthy
There are two skills we Americans always try to master: saving money and eating healthier. However, there’s a common misconception that eating healthier and saving money can’t go hand-in-hand. That’s not necessarily true.

What is true is that Americans are feeling so overwhelmed with all the information on healthy living that they don’t know where to start. According to a 2015 study from Mintel, 43 percent of Americans think that living a modern lifestyle makes it hard to be healthy. Some are even under the impression that they’re doomed to fail.

Despite popular belief, it is possible to save money and live a healthy life. While picking healthier foods does cost a little more than going through a fast food drive-through, knowing how to shop, snack, and prepare your meals can make things a lot easier.

Where can you start?

Prepare your own meals

It’s a sad reality that no one really cooks anymore. According to data from the US Census Bureau, we are now spending more at restaurants ($54 billion) than we are at the grocery store ($52.5 billion). If you normally eat out, calculate how much you spend on meals, snacks, and drinks. You’ll see the little purchases start to add up.

If you take the money you spend on eating out, on average people spend about $75 per week, you’ll find that money can buy you ingredients to provide a week’s worth of healthy meals and snacks.

And honestly, cooking doesn’t take a lot of time. Try doing your grocery shopping on Sunday where you can spend the evening preparing lunches, dinners and snacks so they can be ready to go for the work week.

Even though it does take a little more effort, see how easy it is to save money just by going grocery shopping?

Be smart in the grocery store

Buying your groceries can save you money if you shop smart. Be sure to have a plan of what you want to make so you have a list before you get there. Not only will you get done faster, but you’ll also stay true to your meal plan avoiding impulse purchases.

Try to avoid pre-packaged foods and do most of your shopping on the outer edges of the store. That is where the produce, fresh meat, and dairy products are located. These are great foods to buy when you want to eat healthy on a budget.

Buying healthy foods don’t have to break the bank. Heck, my grocery bill for this week was $73.28 and that bought me a variety of yogurts, fruits and vegetables, fresh fish, chicken, and other odds and ends I need to make healthy meals.

Get creative in the kitchen

Adding creative twists to your recipes and even making dips, dressings, and spreads can help you stay healthy and save even more money. Making your own spreads and dressings can save you from having to buy a bottle that might not get wasted if not used. Also, looking for ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet can help you cut calories found in pre-packaged products.

Plus, it’s fun to try new things, right?

Still, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally going out to treat yourself to a burger or nice dinner. When you get in the habit of buying and cooking most of your meals, you’ll see that eating out is a nice treat rather than a mundane daily expense.


Confidently Buying Your First House

buying a house

 

Buying your first home is an exciting, and a little scary, time in your life. There are a lot moving parts that go into the home-buying process. Most of us follow the lead of the realtor until we have keys. This doesn’t give you much leverage when it comes to negotiating price and terms.

However, if you know what to expect and do your research, you will feel more confident and in control as a buyer. So without further ado, here are some things you need to know before buying your first home.

Know what you can afford

Before you begin looking for a house, you need to set some standards to find out what you’re comfortable with paying. If you are committed to a certain price range, you will have much more discipline and won’t be easily persuaded by realtors giving you “other options” that might be out of your budget.

You should also consider your debt-to-income ratio. This is the amount of debt you currently have compared to your overall income. This ratio is going to help mortgage lenders decide how much additional debt you can handle and if they can approve a home loan for you. Ideally, your debt-to income ratio should be 36 percent or lower.

It’s important to know what’s on your credit report and be prepared to explain any discrepancies that might come up. Clearing up judgments or liens will only help you when applying for a mortgage loan. Also, it never hurts to continue building your credit and keep current debt in check.

Prepare for the down payment

Once you have an idea of what you want to pay, the next step is start looking towards the down payment. There are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself. Have you started saving up? Do you know how much you’re going to put down?

While most lenders require a down payment of at least 3%, you probably want to have a down payment of at least 20% to avoid having to buy mortgage insurance. This is a contract that insures the lender against loss in the chance that you default on your loan.

Your credit is also a big factor when it comes to talking mortgages. Having a good credit score, usually 740 or higher, can qualify for the best interest rates. There’s a reason we didn’t name this section “saving for the down payment.”

Then comes the “fun” part of getting the money for your down payment. While we always suggest save and budget, there are other options of saving up. You can always earn extra money by getting a side job, working on other projects, and utilizing other skills you have.

For example, if you’re a gifted photographer, you can start up a photography business. The possibilities are endless!

Be aware of the “hidden costs”

You most likely know the costs when it comes to moving: boxes, travel, moving services, hotel stays. However, there are some other costs that some first-time buyers might not be aware of. You’ve probably heard the term “closing costs,” but what do they mean?

  • Origination fee—Fee paid to a lender for processing a loan application.
  • Escrow costs (property taxes)—The tax based on the value of the property.
  • Appraisal fees—A payment made to someone to evaluate how much a home is worth.
  • Prepaid interest—Interest paid in advance by the borrower.
  • Title policy fees
  • Charges for title insurance

While you usually are responsible for these costs, it’s not uncommon for the buyer to try and negotiate for the seller to pay for part, sometimes all, of the closing costs.

Talk with a mortgage lender

Now it’s time to sit down with a loan officer and talk numbers. Even though you already have an idea of what you want to pay, you need to get pre-approved before you apply so you can see how much you’ll be able to borrow.

Just so you have an idea, here’s how the process goes at Neighborhood Credit Union.

After we receive a completed application and all required documentation, we will have the property appraised, verify your employment, verify your deposits, and order your title commitment. This an insurance policy that protects the insured against loss and damage due to defects in the property’s title.

Once we receive these items, your loan officer will review your loan.

If everything checks out, we will submit your file to an underwriter for final approval. Once you’re approved, accept the commitment, and all the conditions have been met, we will schedule a closing.

Pick the right time to buy

Believe it or not, strategically picking when you want to buy can go a long way. Normally people like to wait until the summer months to house hunt because they have more time and their kids are out of school. While there are more houses to choose from, the summer usually brings more competition.

According to a study by the real estate brokerage Redfin, the winter season (Dec. 21-March 20) is the best time to make a move on a new home. Even though there aren’t many houses on the market, sellers might be more flexible about negotiating prices than they would in the spring. We’re in prime time right now!

Find the house you love

This is the fun part: getting out to look at houses. Just like when you go to dealerships to test drive a car, you want to make sure you get the most out the time you have to better compare down the road.

When looking, do an initial walkthrough without focusing on any specific room to get an impression of the house as a whole. If the house gives you a good first impression, start focusing on the specifics you want in a new home. Take photos and videos so you have something to compare afterwards.

Speaking of specifics, don’t go look at houses empty handed. Take measurements of your furniture so you can see if your bed or couch will be able to comfortably fit in the house you may move into. The last thing you want is to have to buy all new furniture because you assumed everything would fit.

Finally, we’ll leave you with one last tip. As you narrow your list of finalists, go look at those houses multiple times so you can see them at different times of the day. You may learn something new just by being in the house after the sun goes down.

Bonus Tip: We have a mortgage glossary where you can find the additional definitions you need to help you better understand the language you’ll hear during the mortgage process.

Before you know it you will be on your way to buying and owning your very first home! If you have any questions or want to get started, give us a call at (877) 502-4223.


Maintaining Your Financial Fitness

Get financially fit with Neighborhood Credit Union

As we wrap up the second week of the new year, many New Year’s resolutions are already in danger of being left behind. If you made the decision to make a New Year’s resolution, the rest of January is a critical time because many Americans drop their resolutions going into February.

According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, 8.5 percent of Americans surveyed vowed to make better financial decisions in 2017. This was the 3rd most popular resolution behind losing weight and other life improvements. Think of your financial health with the same mindset as you would for your physical health because there are similarities.

From teaching yourself patience to controlling the occasional “cravings,” here’s how you can stay committed to your financial well being in 2017.

Say ‘No!’ to the impulse purchases

Even though this concept is quite simple, we humans like to make it 10 times harder. Whether it’s a flash sale at the mall or a piece of cake that looks too good to pass up, there will always be times where your self-control will be tested.

If you learn to resist impulse purchases and are aware of “empty purchases,” you’ll see your chance of success increase. When you shop at the mall, or even the grocery store, look for deals that can give you more bang for your buck.

Most importantly, saying “no” to impulse buys and unnecessary shopping sprees is how you’re going to win this battle against yourself.

Develop healthy habits

Gaining control over your impulse purchases is a fraction of the battle. Similar with your physical health, in order to successfully maintain your financial health, you need to develop healthy habits to sustain you in the long run.

Just like you would make a meal plan so you can watch your calorie intake, making a budget can help you be confident in knowing where you’re putting your money. You will be surprised to see how making a budget will show you how much money you can save and still have some left over to have some fun with. It’s all about setting priorities.

Warren Buffett once gave awesome advice on balancing saving and living. “Don’t save what’s left after spending. Instead spend what is left after saving.”

Bonus Tip: GreenPath and FinanceWorks are great tools that can help you stay true to your financial exercises.

Get trusted advice

Just as personal trainers help you get more out of your workout, having a financial advisor or friend that can keep you accountable will help you get more out of your finances. Having your budget keep you accountable is good, but it can’t set you straight when you start to go over.

If you need financial advice that goes beyond basic budgeting and savings, North Texas Capital Advisors and other advisors can help you with smart investing techniques, tax advice, and retirement planning.

This is why having someone in your corner is invaluable to your success.

Track your progress

Now it’s time for your financial weigh-in. It’s important to keep track of how you’re doing so you know if you need to change your routine to put you in the best position to succeed. Sit down every week, or every other week if you want, and see how your spending and savings compares to your budget and set list of goals.

It doesn’t take highly sophisticated accounting standards to track your financial fitness. Whether it’s a simple method where you allocate cash to different expenses or a full on financial analysis, monitor your progress in a way that best fits your style. Just don’t forget to always make sure you’re keeping to your budget and goals.

Finally, be patient. This is a process that takes time to show noticeable results. Don’t get discouraged because your savings might be lower than you want or that you gave in and bought something you know you should have passed by. We all have set backs here and there, so take heart in knowing that you can do this and financial fitness is waiting for you down the road.