Calling in the pros
By Debbie Stang, Home Loan Officer
A house is a major purchase or product to sell, so make sure you’ve got someone who knows the real estate terrain in your corner.
According to the National Association of Realtors, 89 percent of buyers used a real estate agent in 2012, up from 69 percent in 2001. On the selling side, only 9 percent of Americans sold a home without an agent, down from a high of 20 percent in 1987.
Real estate agents are skilled at negotiating contracts and navigating the buying or selling process if something gets tricky or complicated. They usually can get what their clients want, and after all, they want to keep you a happy, referring client. Agents can also help make your house hunting more effective; they know your needs and wants as they review listings coming onto the market. If you’re a seller, agents can help weed out who’s a serious buyer and who’s not.
Here are some questions to consider when interviewing for an agent:
• Are you a Realtor or a real estate agent? Both help buy and sell houses, but a Realtor belongs to and must uphold the standards of the National Association of Realtors.
• How long have you been in the industry?
• What is your average list-price-to-sales-price ratio? Listing agents should have ratios closer to 100, meaning they negotiate closer to list prices; buyer’s agents should be below 99 since they’ve negotiated lower than the list price for clients.
• What’s the strategy? As a buyer, you’ll want to know how they’ll search for your future home; how many homes you’ll see and how they’ll handle competing offers. As a seller, you’ll want to know how they’ll market your home.
• How do you separate yourself from competitors?
• Ask for references
• Ask to preview documents, such as agreements or disclosures, before being asked to sign
To let your agent know you’re a serious buyer, get prequalified for a Mid American mortgage. Go to www.midamerican.coop/buying-a-home for more information.
Tax on credit unions would hurt members
By Jim Holt, President/CEO
In early October, Mid American Credit Union President/CEO and other credit union leaders and volunters participated in the Credit Union National Association's Hike the Hill, a grassroots effort to visit with elected Congressional leaders and their staffs to champion the cause that credit unions are a vital part of the economy. Here's what was on the forefront of this year's Hike the Hill effort.
This year’s challenge is making sure Congressional leaders understand the impact of a proposed tax reform legislation that would add a federal income tax to credit unions. Lobbyists claim we are not helping the economy by not paying taxes.
They are missing the point that credit unions do help out –– by ensuring that low- and middle-class Americans can afford loans to buy vehicles and homes and keep more of their money by paying lower fees for financial services or even getting access to their paychecks. They also miss the point that because credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives, there are no profits to tax. Any profits are reinvested into your credit union to provide more services and upgrade technology without having to raise member fees or interest rates.
Credit unions have been exempt from federal income taxes because they are cooperatives that help people who are part of a specific community or group or have a particular affiliation. Often they are people who more than likely would not be served by banks. We serve people who often have limited or few assets or who can’t prove their creditworthiness. A lot of people like that still exist in America. A recent Pew State and Consumer Initiatives study showed that 12 million borrowers spend $7.4 billion in payday loans.
At Mid American, for example, we have a second-chance accounts program for employees of our affiliate business partners. Many of those employees would not qualify for an account at a bank and would be forced to use higher fee "payday" cards or check cashing centers that also charge a fee, diminishing the value of their hard-earned paycheck. After keeping a savings account in good standing for six months –– more than half do –– they can add a checking account. The remainder keep a savings account until they qualify for a checking account.
You can help us Hike the Hill, too, by making sure your elected officials know you don’t want us to be taxed. Go to http://www.donttaxmycreditunion.org and click on the Take Action link.
Bankrate debunks CU myths, notes fewer, lower fees
A recent article by Bankrate.com notes that credit unions offer fewer and smaller fees for financial services than large banks. The article also debunks four myths about CUs regarding ATMs, technology, convenient branches and penalties.
Read the article and spread the word that credit unions are indeed a convenient, great choice to hanging onto more of your money.
Where to keep valuables
A safe deposit box and a fire-retardant safe are valuable tools for storing important, personal items. But which one is the best for irreplaceable, valuable items, documents or extra cash?
The answer depends on how quickly you or someone else needs access to those items and how irreplaceable those items are.
What to put in a safe deposit box
A safe deposit box is a secure place for things that are irreplaceable or needed infrequently. Some say the rule of thumb is “if I lost this item or documentation, would I be in big trouble?”
Keep items such as insurance policies, property deeds, a coin collection, heirloom or infrequently worn jewelry, stock or bond certificates in the box, experts say. Other items include a DVD or other media with documentation of your household inventory for insurance purposes and irreplaceable family photos (either the actual photographs or media containing scanned images).
What not to keep in a safe deposit box
Large amounts of cash should never be kept in a safe deposit box. Cash kept in a safe deposit box isn’t insured by federal deposit insurance.
You also shouldn’t keep originals of your will, medical directives, a power of attorney or other documentation and items that would be needed immediately by either you or your survivors in case of your death or if you become incapacitated, experts say. (Safe deposit boxes can only be opened by co-owners or estate executors, and state laws vary on how quickly an executor can access your box.)
Keep those kinds of items in a fire-retardant safe in your home. A safe is also an ideal place to keep your safe deposit box keys.
Another piece of documentation you’ll want to keep in your safe: financial accounts information, as well as passwords and other access information to online accounts.
Safe deposit boxes can be rented at Mid American’s west and northeast branches in Wichita and at the Larned branch. Annual fees range from $20 to $50 depending on the box size. Once you rent a box, you can access it as many times as you need to during a branch’s business hours.
Increasing taxes on credit unions strikes at heart of cooperatives
By Jim Holt, President/CEO
In a credit union, members are essentially pooling their money together to help other members. A key benefit of being part of a not-for-profit financial cooperative is that you keep more of your money through lower loan rates, higher dividends and lower or no fees.
That will change, if Congress decides to add a federal income tax to credit unions. Banker and other lobbyists and other proponents of taxing credit unions are being heard on Capitol Hill. As a credit union member, you can prevent increasing taxes on credit union members by being heard, too.
Credit unions have been exempt from federal income taxes since the federal income tax structure was started in 1916 because credit unions are organizations that have a mutual interest in serving communities or similar groups. Rather than providing profit for a select few, credit unions were started as a source of financing for people who often had limited or few assets or couldn’t prove their creditworthiness. A century later, we still serve that purpose.
Since a credit union is a not-for-profit organization, there really are no profits to tax. Profits are returned to members through the lower rates and fees and higher dividends, so adding a federal income tax to credit unions is just another tax for the 96 million credit union members.
Proponents contend that taxing credit unions will put $500 million in federal coffers, but the cost for members and their credit unions will be $5 billion in lost benefits, according to the Credit Union National Association. Ultimately, members will be affected by having fewer services, less convenience, lower dividends and higher loan rates.
We know most of you enjoy the benefits of credit union membership. That is why we are joining CUNA in its awareness and grassroots campaign, “Don’t Tax My Credit Union.” You can, too.
To find out more about the campaign, go to www.donttaxmycreditunion.org. In the “Take
Action” section of the site, you will find a template letter to send to your Congressional delegation. Tax proponents want to complete this process by the end of 2013 so your continued support will be necessary.
Welcoming members into their financial home
By Jim Holt, President/CEO
*Originally Published on CUInsight.com
When you welcome someone into your home, you usually greet them at the door. So why not do that when you’re welcoming them into what should be their financial home?
When Mid American Credit Union started planning to build a new branch in northeast Wichita, which is Kansas’ largest city, we wanted to incorporate more efficient and more member-friendly ways of doing business.
First impressions and setting the right environment make a difference in member satisfaction. Every member expects to get a certain level of service, but we wanted to make their experience at this new branch world class.
In our research, we came across a new type of design — one in which members were greeted at the door and then guided to a “teller pod” or office to conduct their transactions as the member’s needs dictate. Other financial institutions using this model were reporting that it improves member relationships and member satisfaction. We were also impressed that branches with this model were reporting higher performances in deposit levels, loan productions, sales per day and more referrals. We wanted similar success.
To provide continuity, the outside of our newest facility looks very similar to our main branch in west Wichita. But inside, the look and feel of the place is very different.
When the doors opened to our new facility in January 2013, we became the first financial institution in the region in which a staff member greets you at the door and will generally be alongside you the rest of your visit, whether it’s for conducting cash transactions or getting an auto loan.
Two dialogue stations, with teller stations on either side, are the focal point of the credit union’s lobby. It’s there where a member stands right alongside the employee, making a deposit, withdrawing cash or doing other such business. By removing the physical separation of a traditional teller line between an employee and a member, we’ve removed a barrier to the member’s impression of our service. Members feel invited into a partnership effort for handling their financial needs.
Members still have the option to conduct business of a more private nature or requiring more details, such as signing loan paperwork, in one of the branch’s offices.
During a recent tour I gave to other credit union executives, I was asked about the safety and security of such a design. Law enforcement officials assure us that if you create a more direct contact experience — from greeting someone and looking them in the eye at the door to being alongside them —you’ve countered a criminal’s intent to remain inconspicuous and non-descriptive. Rather than using cash drawers at the dialogue stations, the staff access money through an electronic cash dispenser unit.
We also incorporated another nontraditional feature in this new facility: an independently owned coffee shop offering free Wi-Fi. Members can linger a little longer during their visit, by enjoying a beverage or catching up on emails and working on their laptops or tablets.
In another nontraditional venture, we partnered with two other Wichita credit unions — Cessna Employees and Catholic Family Federal credit unions — to bring this branch to fruition.
Money-saving tips for 2013
If you’re trying to stay on target for healthy spending this year, here are some tips.
• Know your finances. The first step to saving money is knowing how you spend money. Review last year’s finances and pay attention to expenses that might increase this year. If you don’t have a budget, start tracking your finances now for a month and look for ways to save.
• Pay yourself. Most American’s don’t have an emergency reserve of at least three months worth of expenses saved. Don’t be one of them. Give up expensive habits and put the savings toward paying yourself. Set up regular, automatic transfers from your checking to your savings account.
• Plan meals. The average American family of four tosses out more than $2,000 in food a year. Plan weekly meals, buy in bulk, freeze leftovers, avoid impulse buys or marketing gimmicks, like buy 1 get 1 free, to reduce costs and food waste.
• Refinance your home. With mortgage rates at still low rates, it is a good time to think about lowering your payments through refinancing, if you’ll stay in your home for awhile.
• Stay healthy. Buy generic drugs when possible. Set up tax-favored accounts such as a flexible spending account through your employer or a health savings account with Mid American to help pay for health care costs. Don’t miss regular screenings and end up paying more in health care costs when a condition has turned more critical.
• Get ready for the holidays. Did last year’s holidays strain your budget? Start contributing $20 a week to a holiday savings fund and you’ll have several hundred dollars saved by the time the 2013 holidays come around.
Vacation saving tips
Studies show that an ideal work-life balance leads to happier, more productive employees. Yet many Americans end up not using vacation days, in part because of concerns about how vacations often mean spending money.
With careful planning, you can enjoy your vacation days with less money stress.
• Set up a dedicated vacation fund with automatic transfers. One of the perks of Mid American’s vacation savings accounts is that you can make three free withdrawals a month, so you can plan a vacation for any time of the year.
• Make it a family affair. Involve the entire family in other savings strategies. Collect loose change in a vacation savings jar – Mid American has free coin counters at its main and northeast Wichita branches and Ark City branch. Cull your closets and have a garage sale. Eat out less and pack a lunch for work.
• Do your research. You can find various deals through sites like Groupon Getaways or LivingSocial Escapes. But read the fine print to check for blackout dates and then compare with other travel sites. Sometimes you can find special deals directly on hotel sites.
• Consider “staycations.” Vacations don’t have to involve long-distance travel or any travel at all. Explore your surroundings with a day trip. Often it’s just the time away from work and the making of memories
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