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Winter car maintenance tips

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog 

 

Keeping your car in good shape in the brutal cold is an important step, not only for your safety but for your financial life as well. An annoying problem in the summer could become a dangerous hazard in the winter if you put it off for too long. And putting off regularly scheduled car maintenance can cause you to really have to pay for it in the end. 

Assuming you’re already aware of where your window ice scraper is, and you’re already on top of your routine oil changes and such. Here are a few more ways to keep your car in its best condition during these frigid winter months.

Check your tires. Don’t discover that your tires are worn out when it’s too late and you’ve caught yourself in the ditch. When driving in wintery conditions, adequate tire traction is extremely important for your safety, and if you wait until the dead of winter, you might end up paying more than you’d like to, since in the dead of winter they’ll be in higher demand. Depending on how much snow your area gets each winter, you might be fine with just a new set of all season tires. But if you live in a place with rougher winters, you might need to consider a set of snow tires instead.

Keep your battery in good condition. You car battery struggles to work at its full potential when the temperatures are down to 0 degrees, or colder in some areas. Do be sure to double check your owner’s manual, but you can check your battery’s fluid levels and determine if you need to add anything or even replace the battery all together. You might feel better about getting your battery checked by a professional, in which case you can head to your nearest service station or auto parts store. If your battery is showing signs that it is worn out, it’s best to replace it before it completely dies. You don’t want to be stranded in freezing temperatures on a dark abandoned road with a broken down car battery. (My nightmare I believe!)

Replace your windshield wiper blades. Even the best windshield wiper blades start to wear out after even just 6 months of use. So you might have to replace yours more often than you actually think you would need to. You can prolong the life of your blades by wiping the rubber with a paper towel and some glass cleaner, but that isn’t a permanent solution. New windshield wiper blades will improve your visibility when driving in the snow or whatever the winter weather conditions are at the time and they aren’t too expensive to replace entirely. They’re also easy to replace yourself, so you probably won’t have to pay a service center to do it for you! When you know that bad weather is coming, you can pop your windshield wipers in the upward position so that the freezing sleet or snow doesn’t build up around your wiper blades. This will make scraping your windshield easier and will keep your wiper blades from being frozen blocks of ice.

Check your tire pressure. For every drop in temperature, your tires loose some pressure. A tire with lower air pressure isn’t able to grip the ground or asphalt the way tires do that are properly inflated. It would feel like hydroplaning in the rain, and it’s really just as dangerous.

Clear the fallen leaves and foliage that sits at the bottom edge of your windshield. If leaves and debris build up in the spots where water is supposed to run out of your car’s windshield, it could cause corrosion or leaks. Check around the seams of your sunroof too. These are common areas for leaves and other organic stuff to collect and cause a mess.

Keep up with your regular oil changes and scheduled maintenance. Frigid temperatures can beat up your engine too. The oil in your car can gunk up and make it harder for your engine to keep up. You should definitely check your owner’s manual and the manufacturer’s recommendation for oil changes and the type of oil your car needs.

Keep an emergency kit in your car. If your car slides off of the road into an embankment of snow, it could be a long time until help arrives to dig you out. Be sure you have an emergency kit in your car, and keep some of the more important items in close reach of the driver, always. A spot in the door compartment or your glove compartment would both be a good place for a blanket or other important items. Because if you’re in a wreck and your car has totally flipped, an emergency bag won’t do much good in the trunk of your car. Keep it close so that you’re able to reach it on the off chance you’re in trouble.

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

Small resolutions to start your year off

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

Are you a big resolution maker each year?

I’ll be honest, I try to be. It doesn’t always work out each year though. Part of me thinks it’s because I set goals or resolutions that might be too lavish or big for me to accomplish right away in a new year. So, I thought about it, and decided maybe it’s better to set a few smaller, easily attainable goals for myself. My financial life is almost always my focus each year, so what better place to start?

Here are a few small ways you can consider to focus on your financial wellbeing in 2017…

  1. Be sure that you’re taking full advantage of your employer’s 401(k) retirement savings match.
    If you’re lucky enough to have an employer who offers a 401(k) retirement savings program, you absolutely should be taking advantage of any sort of matching they provide. Before I was self-employed, I thought that I would be good at contributing to my retirement savings on my own, and didn’t need to do an automated transfer right out of my paycheck. Turns out I was really bad about doing that on my own, and I definitely didn’t take advantage of contributing the full percentage to savings and benefitting from the match that my employer was offering. Why didn’t I do that? Because now, I am my employer, and I’m even worse at the contribution now. Make it automatic. Then you’ll be sure it’s happening, and if you can, get that full savings match your employer is offering.
  2. Meet with a financial advisor.
    Even if you can’t afford to meet with an advisor on a regular basis, you can meet with one just one time, and get a lot of useful advice for you and your financial life. And yours specifically. There is a lot of advice out there, and some of it will be great for you. Some of it won’t. A good financial advisor can monitor and help you adjust each category in your financial life – emergency savings, investments, retirement savings, home-buying help, debt management, starting a new business, college savings, beneficiaries, and so much more. Any time you have a major life change, a financial advisor can help you rearrange and adjust things where necessary. Sometimes it helps to just talk things out with a professional, and it gives you some peace of mind knowing that things are in shape the way they should be.
  3. Up your savings game by just $100 each month.
    If general savings is your area of weakness, try a year long challenge of increasing your savings every month by a set amount. Start small if you want, but really push yourself so that it’s a challenge. $100 – $200 extra each month will add up to a lot at the end of the year. Making the savings an automatic withdrawal with each paycheck is a smart way of making it happen before you even notice the money in your account. “Out of sight, out of mind” works for me…if I move that money to savings before I even see it in my checking account, I’m more likely to forget it was ever there, and I won’t feel the urge to spend it instead of saving it.
  4. Shop less. Buy better quality goods.
    I noticed that when I purchase things that are very cheap, I end up replacing that thing a lot sooner and a lot more frequently that I need to. Better quality goods will definitely cost more, but if it’s better quality, the idea is that it will last longer and stay in better shape longer. So you won’t have to buy the same thing multiple times because of the fact that you’re buying a lesser quality product. Cheap clothing is my easiest example of this. I’ve seen myself go for that $12 top at Target, only to have the top fall apart or shrink or become totally misshapen after the first wash or wear. I end up buying another $12 top a few months later, and then the same issue after that. It’s a cycle that repeats itself and in the end, you’ve spent way more money on multiple items that are of poor quality. Instead, save up for the better product, and save yourself the hassle, and the money, of buying that thing 4 times over. Before you buy things, do a little bit of research, and find what you can afford, but something that stands up to the test of time.
  5. Create a plan to pay off your credit card debt.
    Of course, your plan is going to depend on how much money you’re bringing in, and how much total debt you have. The step that’s really going to help you tackle all of this is to create an attainable timeline for paying all of this off. If you can pay off all of your credit card debt within a 6 month period, then that’s going to tell you how much you need to allocate towards your credit card debt each month. Take it all a month at a time, and keep your payoff goals realistic.
  6. Develop an organizational system for your finances. One you’ll actually keep in tact.
    If you’re used to just stuffing papers and receipts and banking documents in drawers and keeping it all out of sight, that system may not be helping you. (I know this because it’s the system I was using when I was younger, and it doesn’t work!) For the first month of the year, develop that organizational system. Let it take all month and put those good organizational habits to use. This allows you to have time to put it all in place so that the rest of the year becomes much smoother and better organized for you.

Big goals are wonderful, but they take a lot of time. Smaller goals are great too, and they’re something you can change much sooner and quicker if you really put your mind to it.

 

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

New year, new you: recovering from credit card debt

 

 

 

By Heartland Credit Union Association via Experian

 

 It’s all too easy to swipe that credit card during the holiday season and rack up fees and interest. Never fear—you can do something about that. Here’s an outline for recovering from holiday debt. 

1. Assess your overall financial situation. What are budget, upcoming expenses, and financial goals? After listing that out, you’ll have a better idea of how soon you can pay down the debt.

2. Strategize about your payments. Focus on paying down the credit cards with the highest interest rates first. Sound daunting? Pay down the smallest balance first. Regardless, it’s important to pay more than the minimum balance on time each month.

3. Stop overspending. Limit or cut spending on non-essential items, at least until you catch up on the extra debt from the holidays. A simple lifestyle change, like carpooling or brown bagging it to lunch, can help you save thousands over the course of the year.

4. Put tax returns and bonuses to work. Use extra income to pay down credit card debt or save for next year’s holiday expenses. It’s not FREE money!

5. Start saving for next year. Did you know Mid American has a Christmas Savings account? If you put $50 a month into this account, you’ll have $600 saved for  next year’s holiday expenses. 

 

 

 

Top 10 ways to prepare for retirement

 

By Employee Benefits Security Administration

 

Retirement may or may not seem like light years away, but it’s closer than you think. Fewer than half of Americans have calculated how much they will need for retirement. That’s a scary thought as the average American spends approximately 20 years in retirement. 

There are steps you can take now:

1.Start saving, keep saving and stick to your goals. Kudos if you’re already saving—keep at it! If you aren’t saving, get started now. Make it a priority, devise a plan and stick to it.

2.Know your retirement needs. Experts estimate you will need at least 70 percent of your preretirement income to maintain your standard of living.

3.Take advantage of your employer’s retirement savings plan. Sign up and contribute to your company’s 401(k). Your taxes will be lower, your company may kick in more, and automatic deductions make it easy. Over time, compound interest and tax deferrals make a big difference in the amount you accumulate.

4.Check out your employer’s pension plan. This may not be for everyone, but if your employer does offer a plan, you should learn more about its benefits and factor that into your plan.

5.Consider basic investment principles. Know how your savings or pension plan is invested. Learn about your plan’s investment options and ask questions. Diversify your investments to reduce risk and improve return—this may change depending on age, goals, and financial circumstances.

6.Leave your retirement savings alone! When you take money out of your retirement savings, you lose principal and interest, and you may lose tax benefits or pay penalties.

7.Ask your employer to start a plan. Some employers might not offer a retirement plan. If yours doesn’t, they might be able to set up a simplified plan that benefits you and your employer.

8.What about IRAs? Opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a great way to save for everyone. You have two options when opening an IRA—traditional IRA or Roth IRA. Contributions to a traditional IRA are tax deductible on both state and federal tax returns for the year you made the contributions, while withdrawals in retirement are taxed at ordinary income tax rates. Roth IRAs provide no tax break for contributions, but earnings and withdrawals are generally tax-free.

Find out more about Mid American IRAs here.

 

 

 

5 financial resolutions for 2017

 

 

By Heartland Credit Union Association

 

Chances are your 2017 resolutions probably contain words like money, saving or budget… and you’re not alone! After all that holiday spending, many are looking to improve their financial health.

Here are the top five financial resolutions for the New Year, and tips for how to successfully complete them.

1.Create a budget… and stick to it! Know exactly how much money comes in and goes out each month. While it sounds a bit basic, many people do not know how much they spend on a regular basis. Note your essential expenditures like bills and groceries, decide how much you want to save a month and then work out what’s left over for the nonessentials and entertainment. The hardest part will be sticking to it! 

2.Start or grow your emergency fund. Begin small. Set up a separate saving account and deposit $25-50 each week or pay period. Your goal is to have at least six months of living expenses in this fund. You can keep adding to it, but avoid taking money out, unless an emergency occurs.

3.Prioritize debt. List out your debts—credit cards, loans, etc.—and organize them by annual interest rate. Pay down the higher rates first. You’ll save in the long run.

4.Talk to a financial advisor. There are tons of ways to save money AND make it grow. Ask your friends, family and even your workplace for recommendations.

5.Check in on your finances. With online banking, it’s easy to monitor your finances. Set up a time each week to review your spending habits, account balances and upcoming bills. 

 

Understanding debt

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

Many Americans are very used to their debt, often times with thousands of dollars owed to creditors. Between mortgages, student loans, and credit card debt, it’s become very common for people to be in debt. Sometimes the debt problems are bigger than just a couple of thousand dollars, and suddenly you start to wonder, how much do I really know about debt and credit?

There are so many common misunderstandings when it comes to debt, and we should dive into a couple of them and see what we know. It’s quite normal to have the personal finance waters get a little murky at times. We just have to take the time to better understand it.

If I’ve co-signed a loan for a friend and they’ve suddenly stopped paying, it’s their problem, right?

Only partially right, because it’s actually your problem now too. Co-signing a loan is essentially the same thing as taking out the loan yourself. You’re signing your name, saying you’ll be a responsible party as well. If the person you co-signed with stops paying, it could do real damage to your credit score, and creditors won’t care if the loan wasn’t exactly yours, or if your friend let you down. This will look like your problem, and creditors could potentially come after you for collections, fines and penalties.

It’s incredibly important to either NEVER co-sign a loan with another person, or to really know you trust that other person (like maybe with your life, or your CREDIT SCORE). My father had to co-sign on my car loan, and I’ve never taken a bill more seriously in my life. There’s a lot of pressure not to default in any way on that loan. Not only for my own credit score, but for his too. You need to make sure that the person you’re helping takes this responsibility as seriously as you do.

Debt affects my credit score, right?

Yes, it sure does. It’s smart to keep your debt low or nonexistent for your own bottom line, because holding on to high balances will have a negative impact on your score. For credit cards especially, your account balance should remain under 35 percent of your available credit limit. This is important for keeping a high credit score. Beyond the practice of not maxing out your credit cards, it’s essential for you to pay back your repayments on time and to be making payments above the minimum requirement.

If you aren’t paying careful attention to your credit card usage and the spending you’re doing, you could suddenly notice that you’ve gone overboard. If you ever catch yourself asking, “What did I buy? Why did I do that?”  you’ve probably gone a little too far, and you might need to take a closer look at your habits. A lot of people will gradually start to overspend with their credit cards. Their limit starts out relatively low, and as time passes, the spending limit is increased and slowly, their spending habits could increase too. As the balance climbs, the interest compounds and the payment amount grows.

Is there any kind of debt that’s considered “good” debt?

Good debt is considered an investment that will grow in value or will generate long-term income. Student loans are often considered a good example of this – you’re taking out money to grow your education and in the end, hopefully will result in better jobs for you, and better income. The phrase gotta spend money to make money kinda fits right here. Real estate, small business ownership, student loans, and wise investments are some great examples of this.

A few years ago when I was just starting out as an adult on my own, I had no credit at all. I signed up for my first credit card, got my first $1,000 loan from my bank, and bought a car (with the help of a co-signer, as mentioned above). It was a lot of firsts and I handled all of them responsibly. They aren’t necessarily the best example of good debt, but I needed to take them on in order to start building a credit history for myself. Depending on your own circumstances, taking on small, new lines of credit can be a good thing for you and will help you grow your credit profile. Starting small, and taking it slow is a good way of doing this.

My spouse has terrible credit. Does their credit score affect my credit score?

You are not responsible for your spouse’s bad credit or their debt. Unless you’ve applied for a loan or a line of credit together. Even if your score is spotless, you could be turned down for credit you apply for as a couple, depending on the seriousness of their credit problems. Applying for loans together will mean that a creditor will take both of your financial histories and your income into consideration.

Finding out how and why your spouse got into the credit problems is a good exercise. It helps you determine how the two of you will handle the loan or line of credit together, from here on out. You are also free to consider keeping your loans and lines of credit totally separate. Some couples never merge their financial lives when they get married, and you definitely do not have to. Take time to work through the credit issues together, and don’t be afraid to find advice and assistance where you need it. Financial advisors can help the two of you create a plan for working through some of your credit issues as a couple.

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

 

Living beyond your means

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

 

Are you certain that you can afford your lifestyle? Living beyond our means is easy to do these days. We’re surrounded by temptations to spend and opportunities to break your budget. If you’re too focused on spending, and you’re suddenly concerned that your financial future may be in danger, you probably are caught up in a lifestyle that you can’t actually afford. If you’re feeling this way, you probably know that your finances need some help. Here are some major warning signs that you need to recognize…

Your credit score is low. Credit cards are everywhere, and our world has adopted plastic as a major way of spending money. If you’ve gotten caught up in the habit of using credit cards too much, you might have noticed some damage to your credit score. Credit bureaus are keeping close track of your spending history, your payment records, and all outstanding loan balances. All of this information makes up your credit score and you could suddenly discover that your score isn’t very strong. If you’re wanting to improve your credit score, focus on paying down your debt, discontinuing the use of cards and stop applying for new ones too. A lot of handwork and dedication will go into improving your credit score, so get ready.

You are highly motivated to spend by your “fear of missing out." None of us want to miss out on the great parts of life due to our financial circumstances. If you catch yourself breaking your budget to take part in excess social activities or to maintain a certain lifestyle that your social circle holds, you’re being motivated by the wrong things. Getting caught up in a few moments of overspending is one thing, but constantly doing so, and constantly making excuses for it too, is a bigger problem. You can find inexpensive ways to hang out with your friends, and maybe you’ll inspire your social circle to start finding ways to spend quality time together without spending too much money. Also, be sure that you don’t feel the need to purchase excess “stuff” just to feel you’re caught up with your friends or your social media following or your coworkers and the people in your life. The feeling that you need to be “on trend” or own the latest gadget isn’t as important as the need to build your own personal wealth.

Your credit card balances continue to rise. It’s normal to use a credit card as a regular form of payment, but maxing them out or carrying your balance over month to month is a problem. It’s also a sign that you’re unable to support your lifestyle. You’re relying on borrowing more money than you actually have, and you’re digging yourself a big hole full of debt, deeper and deeper, with every swipe of the card. Carrying a balance from month to month is a sign that you’re spending more than you can afford to spend. Get a grip on your spending problems – identify what it is that makes you overspend, figure out how to get back on a tighter budget, and set aside more money for your savings instead of unnecessary spending. Ideally, you should only be using a credit card if you can pay the balance off in full each month. If spending with plastic continues to be a problem, you might want to switch over to a cash-only spending system for yourself. Sometimes the act of paying with credit cards doesn’t really feel like spending money. But if you’ve over spent with your cash, you notice when some of it isn’t there.

You’re not saving enough money. Creating a savings system for yourself is so important. And if you haven’t done it before, now is as good a time as ever to start. Paying off your debt should always be a high priority, but paying yourself first is equally important. You may not be able to save the full recommended 10-15% of your income right now, but you could always adjust while you’re working on getting rid of your debt and reorganizing your monthly budget system. If you’re overspending on credit cards and living beyond your means, chances are you are not saving any money for yourself. Build your emergency savings or even your retirement savings now, and you won’t be disappointed. Your savings shouldn’t be dipped into, so if you breaking your budget means that you’re dipping into savings, chances are you’re doing something in your life that you don’t need to be doing. If you can’t save any money at the end of the month, chances are you’re buying more than you need and living a lifestyle you can’t support. Pay yourself first!

You don’t have any money left at the end of each month. This is a huge red flag, and perhaps the most obvious. You’ve overspent. Even if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, chances are there’s a small way or two that you can cut back each month. Even a Hulu account or a magazine subscription  would count as an extra, unnecessary expense if you’ve run out of money each month. A great way to jump start a savings plan is to take a month and have absolutely no extra spending. A spending fast will stop the bleeding so to speak, and you’ll be able to set that money aside for savings instead. Cutting all spending means dining out, entertainment and extra activities, trips to the coffee shop, no clothes shopping, no cable – cutting back will be hard, and if you can make an effort to do it over an extended period of time, you can use the money you would have spent on other things to build your emergency fund, or to tear down your debt.

If you aren’t willing to cut back in the short term, chances are you won’t make it in the long term. Stability won’t build itself, it’s your job to make sure you’re able to create a life that you can afford to keep up and that can withstand the long haul.

 

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

 

 

Convenience can be costly

 

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

Our lives are continually speeding up and becoming busier and busier, making all things that are convenient more and more appealing. These days, we can order just about anything from any room in our home, we can pay for things with the click of a button, and we can have just about any purchase delivered to our front door. Convenience is no longer just an appreciated thing among people, it’s become something we all expect and sometimes demand.

Convenience plays a factor in all things from our health, to our food, to our savings, to our payments, to our travel, to our time. But at what expense is convenience coming to us?

Our health: In some ways, convenience has drastically altered our health. Think about how often we opt for the drive-thru at a fast food place, or pre-packaged foods at the grocery store. These are often times unhealthy options compared to fresh, seasonal food that we must prepare and cook ourselves. Grocery stores seem to have more packaged food products than non-packaged food options and these things are marketed to us and shoved in our faces so that we’ll feel the pull to choose the easy option over anything else.  These foods contain preservatives and unnatural ingredients that over time can have huge impacts on our weight and our overall health. Not only that, they’re often over-priced food options.

Quality: Sometimes, the more expensive and convenient items are higher quality purchases, and “totally worth it”. But how many times have you gone out to eat or grabbed that cup of coffee and thought to yourself, “I could have done this at home for much cheaper, and I probably could have made it better”. We’re often made to think that these fast, easy, mindless, convenient options are the better way to go, but sometimes we’re fooled by the choices available to us. Sometimes the quality is much lower, and we’ve just spent money on that.

Our environment: The cost of convenience has had a huge toll on the environment. Think of all those prepackaged foods, home electronics, single-serve products, (among so many other things) and how many more resources they require. The rise in production of these convenient items requires more energy to produce, more materials to package, and more effort to transport. With all of this extra effort to make things more convenient for humans, we’ve created a lot of waste and a lot of additional changes to our planet. We should always keep this in mind when we’re faced with choosing the convenient option.

Overconsumption: By having so many easy options out there, we’re often picking out more than we need. A lot of goods and foods are becoming easier to produce and manufacture, giving a change in prices, and encouraging us to buy more. But just because these things are cheaper to produce and purchase, doesn’t mean we need more of them. Not only that, but these things are readily available all over the place for us. Online, and on every corner, we’re forced to see and notice these things all the time and it makes us buy more than we need, and more often than we really need it. We know what overconsumption can do to our budgets too. Too many convenient options can make consumption way too convenient also.

Convenience comes with many hidden costs when you look at the whole picture. It’s easy to make the choice when the convenience is too good to pass up. But when we factor in all of these other ways that convenience eats away at us, how can we turn “inconvenient” into smarter habits and more rewarding work? Cooking a quality meal leaves you feeling great, even if it took four times as long and made such a big mess. Trying to switch the way we feel about convenient vs. inconvenient is the key. Convenience can quickly turn into what we’d consider a bad habit too. When I catch myself ordering food for delivery out of convenience, I get into a spiral of more decisions that cost more and leave me doing less work. I get into the habit of it, and then it’s harder to break.

Every spending decision should be a conscious one, not one we make out of habit or laziness or lack of motivation. It can get easy to justify spending more money on convenience, and it’s pretty amazing what we rationalize to ourselves as we do this. Being careful to plan ahead on a regular basis will help us with making a smarter decision when faced with choices to be made out of convenience.

Are you in a place where you need to reevaluate the choices you’re making based on convenience? 

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

 

Create a savings goal

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

 We all have different reasons to save our money, and we all have different amounts of money we need to be saving. If you’re walking through life without a solid savings goal or a savings plan (or without savings at all!), now is as good a time as ever to get yourself ready to build your savings. The best way to start (when you don’t know where to start) is to create your top savings goal. 

Your savings goal is going to be different than your mom’s and different than your best friend’s goals, but the beauty is, you get to build it. You get to set your parameters, and the best part…you get to build your wealth!

Step one: What are you saving for? What is your savings goal?

Sometimes the goal is just building a general savings, sometimes you’re saving for something. Identify your true motivations for your desired savings. People who set a real, attainable savings goal save faster and save more each year than people who don’t! Try to be as specific as you can, if your goal is just to build a savings account, try to set goal numbers that you’d like to hit. Adding specifics like dollar amounts and dates you’d like to accomplish things by will make tracking your progress and reaching your goals much easier. Grab a pen and write down your savings goals.

Step two: Work out how much you’ll need to save month by month.

There are a lot of factors to work into this part. It’s all going to depend on the amount of money you need to save to hit your goal, it depends on just how much spare cash you have at the end of each month, and it depends on your timeline for reaching your goal. It’s a delicate balance between how much you can set aside each month and how long you can save for your goal. If you’re trying to save up for a new $600 computer, depending on your abilities, you could either save $100 each month and reach your goal in 6 months, or you could potentially save $200 each month and reach your goal in half the time. It will require you to sit down with your budget and dig in deep to see what kind of savings you can set aside with all of your other monthly financial commitments.

Step three: Make it automatic.

If you’re able to set up a new sub savings account with your credit union or bank, set things up to move into savings automatically. This way, you will never forget to set the savings aside, and you’ll continue to stay on your savings track to reach your goal in time. Better yet, give your sub savings account an inspiring name like, “My First Home” if you’re saving for a down payment on a house, or “Dream Car”, if you’re hoping for that new car. “Emily’s Rainy Day Fund” sounds way better than “Sub Savings 1” on my online banking accounts list. If I have the inspirational push each day or each week when I check in on my savings, I feel way more likely to stay positive and focused towards my goals. If you don’t already have a savings account open, start one online or head into your bank or credit union. They’ll get you set up! Set up your automatic savings to come out of your spending account on payday. The best time to set money aside for savings is the moment you get paid, that way it doesn’t sit in your account tempting you to continue to make purchases, instead of investing in your future.

Step four: Adjust your budget wherever necessary.

When creating new saving goals and new saving habits, you might need to tweak your budget just a little. If there’s room to wiggle a bit, change some of your categories. Chances are you’ll probably have to cut a few things from your entertainment or your “fun” categories within your budget. Maybe you won’t be able to get that bi-weekly latte you’ve built into your budget originally, or maybe you’ll have to cut your internet TV-streaming accounts.

Step five: Small things add up fast.

Whether it’s small purchases here and there that throw you off track of your savings goals, or small amounts of savings you’re able to add to your savings goals, don’t forget how fast the small things add up. Things like using the wrong ATM and incurring fees, or going out to eat on an impulse decision, these small missteps can add up quickly and can really throw you off track of your desired savings goals and even your monthly budget. If you save regularly, even small amounts here and there, you’ll notice how fast things can add up. Getting into the habit and continuing to see growth will only excite you and keep you wanting to work on growing things even further.

Step six: Stay motivated.

Visualize yourself reaching your financial goals and dreams. Keep that picture very close in your mind. Plan out all of the work you’ll need to do to get to your goals, and accept the fact that there will probably be some missteps. There will probably be a few moments where you fall out of your healthy habits and you mess up. That’s totally ok. It just means you’re human! Focusing on your small steps, and the small ways you can get closer to your goals will be really helpful day to day. Get rid of your negative thoughts and focus on thinking positively while you reach your goals. And be sure to not give up!

Creating savings goals leads to you reaching those goals, and that will lead to a more stable financial life for you! If you don’t create the goal and stick to it, you won’t reach it. Share your savings goals below, and bring your friends on board! There is strength in numbers and having a solid support system only gets you closer to your desired goals.

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

 

 

 

How much rent can you afford?

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

 

 When faced with the task of finding a new place to live, there are a lot of factors to consider. When renting, (or buying) you’re looking into what neighborhood you need, whether you want an apartment or a house, if utilities are included or not, and most importantly, how much you can afford to pay in rent each month.

Other than safety, I would assume the cost of rent is the most important factor to consider when you’re looking for a new place to rent. Here’s how to determine what you can afford each month on your rent.

Decide what you can budget each month for your rent and your bills. Renting a home or an apartment will definitely require more money each month than just the rent itself. Make a solid list of all the required payments and bills you’ll need to budget for your move and your new place. These are things like gas and electricity bills, water bills, service charges and internet or cable install. If you live in a place in the city, you might have to budget money for parking whether it’s through a permit with the city or paying extra each month for a spot in a parking garage. You can ask the landlord or the previous tenant for estimates on what these bills could cost you each month when you go to look at the place for the first time.

Work up a budget of all your costs. In addition to your new rent payment, and the new bills and payments you’ll need to make a brand new budget for your new place. Not only listing the bills and your monthly expenses, try to estimate how much money you’ll be realistically spending each month on other day-to-day expenses and purchases. You’ll want to factor in things like your cell phone bill, your credit card payments, your loan repayments, food, car insurance, clothes, the gym or other hobbies you have, childcare or pet care and other deposits, and even some maintenance expenses. Maybe you’re moving to a new house and now you have the responsibility to tend to a yard. You’ll either need to buy a lawnmower or hire a lawn mowing service. Do whatever you can to make a detailed list of all the things you’ll be spending money on each month. If you’re ever in doubt on some of these payments, you should over-estimate rather than not setting aside enough money in your budget.

Once you sign a lease, you’re agreeing to stay there for a period of time. You’ll want to be sure you’ve factored in all costs so that you don’t end up going into debt trying to maintain your lifestyle in your new place. When you’re creating your new budget, factor in all of the money coming in each month and all of the money going out. Once you’ve figured out the sweet spot, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that you will have enough money to live on once you’ve paid your rent.

Don’t forget about the initial upfront costs, the annual costs or the one-time fees, etc. Before you sign the lease agreement, don’t forget about those upfront costs that you’ll incur. The rental deposit is usually one month’s rent. This is likely to be hundreds of dollars, if not up over $1,000. Make sure you have this money available before you commit yourself to a lease. As long as things go well in your lease, you’ll probably get the deposit back at the end, so there’s not a huge loss here, but getting the money upfront can sometimes be a challenge. Furniture and furnishings are another thing you might need to factor in unless your place comes furnished, or you’ve already established yourself in a home previously. These things can often go beyond a couch and a bed. You’ll probably need new curtains or blinds if the new place needs them, new trashcans for the kitchen or bathrooms, rugs, bedding etc. Sometimes these soft furnishings aren’t something you’ll need if you already have plenty of things, but the costs of these are often forgotten when factoring what you’ll need to spend to move into your new place.

Consider signing up for renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance covers you when you’re not yet a home owner. You’ll want to read up on what your insurance provider is willing to cover with your rental insurance agreement, but the coverage can save you when you’re hit with a problem three or four months into your lease agreement that your landlord isn’t going to cover.

If you’re moving in with roommates, consider your budget and the expenses you’ll get to split with that roommate. You’ll want to work out a fair system with your roommates on how to handle the payment of your bills and renter’s expenses. You want to make sure that if the bills are in your name, you and your roommate have worked out how you’ll pay. Paying your bills and your rent on time is crucial, so you and your roommate need to both know that things will be taken care of. In a lot of cases, it’s best to sign an agreement that will hold you both responsible for specific costs and responsibilities in the household. Work out these agreements before you move in with your new housemate.

A new house or apartment (even if you’re only renting!) is an exciting thing. Don’t let the excitement rack up your purchases in an unnecessary way, and don’t allow your new expenses to break your budget.

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

Now make online loan payments from other credit unions or bank accounts

 

 

For members with loans who want to make payments from a financial account at another institution quickly and securely, they can now do so with our Web Payment Center using funds from checking, savings, debit card or credit card. Members do not have to call in to make a payment.

When using the site, registration must include the primary member’s information.

Members can pay on any qualifying loan, but cannot pay on bankruptcy, charge offs, repossessions, family first loans, and MACU credit cards.

Payments are applied in nightly processing on the same day. Payments made on Friday after 5pm will post on Monday evening’s file.

There is a $10 convenience fee for using the service.

The link to the Web Payment Center can be found on our Member Services page, or by clicking here: Web Payment Center.

 

 

Easy credit card mistakes

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

Credit cards can be a convenient and safe way to purchase things and build your credit. That is…if you’re using them right. They can also become a nightmare and damage your credit score and perhaps put you into massive amounts of debt. 

But that’s not how you’re using your credit cards is it?

I hope not. It’s not all about the cards we use, it’s about how we use these cards. If we aren’t careful to reexamine our behaviors around our credit card usage, we could be putting ourselves in some trouble without even knowing it.

Strategically use your credit cards. I was always a debit card fan. It helps me keep a more accurate view of my spending, and I think, keeps me from overspending on the regular. The problem with debit cards is the direct link to your bank account, if any fraudulent activity ever occurs. Massive retailers in the past have even dealt with huge security breaches in their systems, leaving tons of debit card purchases out in the open for fraudsters to access. I’ve had my own situation with fraudulent charges on a debit card and it required a lot of work on my end. Getting the cards cancelled, getting the new cards, finding just which charges were fraudulent…and all with an out of town bank. It was hard to navigate. Credit cards can offer us better protection in the case of fraud, and they can also act as the negotiator or middle party if you need to dispute a charge with a retailer or other company. Your credit card can be a safer option for making major purchases, and for online purchases especially.

Missing a payment. This mistake, might be an easier one to keep from making. It’s hard to miss my payments now that I’ve set up automatic payments. But if you’re really looking to see that credit score drop drastically, go ahead and miss a payment on your credit card. A late payment means you’ll have late fees, but a missed payment, by 30 days or more, will show your credit score that you’re not in the best place right now. Even if you didn’t mean to miss it. Even if you’re not that kind of person! Forgetting a payment won’t be fixed with an apology to your credit card company I’m afraid. You could even see your interest rate increase if your payment is missed by a lot.

Only hitting your minimum payments. There were a few months in a row for me where I could only pay off my minimum ($25…yes, you read that right) payment towards my credit card balance. It doesn’t feel like you’re making a dent at all, and really, you barely are. Even your credit card company isn’t impressed by this action. It shows that you’re so close to defaulting on your payments that you can only shell out what’s necessary. Doing this means you’ll likely pay a lot more in interest than you’ve actually even put on the card. Meaning, you’re paying for everything twice!

Maxing out your credit cards. It took one bad purchase for me to get into a bad, bad cycle of credit card bills. ONE silly bag I bought that was out of my budget. And it threw me off track for a long time, making the things I normally use the card for, near impossible since it had already been maxed out. A big part of your credit score comes from the amount of your available line of credit you’re using. Even if you’ll pay it off in full a little bit later, maxing it out shows that you need every penny of that borrowed credit limit to get by, and that can show credit scoring companies that you’re not borrowing their money wisely. Spread your charges around so that you’re only using a small percentage of the available credit on each of your cards. If you’re really working to have a better credit score, try keeping that small percentage of usage of your available credit to 10% or less.

Ignoring your credit card statement. When was the last time you looked through all of the individual charges on your credit card statement? Have you combed through it before? Never? I will be honest, it’s not something I practice each month. (And the statements aren’t even that long on my end!) Mistakes made by merchants you frequent can happen more often than you think. If you aren’t catching them in a timely manner, you might have a harder time getting reimbursed or resettled from these card companies. Promptly reporting fraudulent activity means you’ll have to catch it promptly too. Make it a habit of checking your statements, and if you’re only using 10% of your available credit, then hey, this practice won’t even take that long!

Taking advantage of rewards programs. There are lots of credit card options out there. Finding some cards with special rewards and advantages is a huge bonus! I’ve recently started a card account with my favorite airline, and the points system is really wonderful. Since I’ve been traveling more often for work, this allows me to cash in on some of those points instead of spending extra money. These rewards programs are often a little bit complicated, with all of the rules, regulations and fine print, you might rather opt in for a cash-back rewards program. Whatever you find is your ideal, smartly taking advantage of these perks is a good thing. And ignoring them seems like a mistake to me! The key is to understand yours really well, and only spend what you would normally spend, so that you don’t go into a purchasing frenzy thinking that you’ll get a ton of rewards if you do.

Have you caught yourself making some of these mistakes? Sometimes the fix is as easy as calling your credit card company to get a few questions cleared up. But sometimes the fix requires a little more work and some habit changing. Being aware of the risks involved with regular credit card usage is a big part of having credit cards.

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

Prepping for a frugal holiday season

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

A lot of us  feel the pressure around the holiday season. It’s an expensive time of year, and just like any other expensive life event, planning and prepping are important so that you and your budget will make it through with little to no financial stress. The less time you give yourself for holiday spending, the more money you’re likely to spend. You’ll be in such a hurry to make it happen fast that you’ll spend whatever it takes just to get it finished. It’s never too early to start planning and getting prepared, so here are some things you can do right this minute to start preparing you and your family for the expenses that come with each holiday season.

Start forming your budget right now. You need to solidify what financial commitments you’re giving yourself this year. There are a lot of holidays that fall in this second half of the year, so be sure you’re accounting for each holiday that you’re celebrating. Will you need to pay for travel? Will you be in charge of cooking meals for multiple people? Will you be purchasing gifts for people? This is just your first rough draft, so don’t focus too hard on the exact amount you’ll have to spend for each item. Just outline all of the events and plans you have and build those things into your budget over the next few months. Once you have a rough list of your financial obligations for the holiday season, you can fine tune it over the next several weeks. Set up a spending maximum for yourself, and try to build everything into this.

Set your mind on not using credit cards this holiday season. If you’re planning things out in advance, you’ll be able to consciously sock away any extra cash you come across. Set up a sub savings account for all of your pre-holiday savings. Try skipping lunches out for a few weeks and set aside that money into your holiday savings instead. Or skip your morning coffee run and transfer that money to savings instead. If you start right now, these seemingly small steps will really add up. You don’t want to create extra debt for yourself for the sake of the holidays. You’ll feel the brunt of paying that off for months and months afterwards.

Spend strategically and not impulsively. If you are relying on your credit cards, do make sure that your credit limit can handle the extra charges. Be diligent about paying down your balances now, so that you don’t max everything out when you add purchases for the holidays. Time your purchases out by making a few of them at a time and starting now. You’ll take advantage of any seasonal deals and you won’t have to spend long days having a marathon mall shopping session. By spacing everything out week by week, you’ll spread your spending out instead of being hit all at once. That means when it comes time to pay down your balances, you won’t be breaking your monthly budget and you won’t miss any payments. Do your research on finding the right credit card for your holiday spending too. By strategically using a credit card that offers travel points, or cash back, you could set yourself up for better bonuses if you know you’ll have to be using credit cards a little bit here and there this season.

Thoughtful gift giving doesn’t have to cost a lot. You can make time for people, you have have an experience together, you can make them a special gift…you don’t always have to spend money on someone to let them know that they are cared for and loved this holiday season. Discuss some alternative gift giving with your family and loved ones. They might be on the exact same page as you this year if your top priority is saving some money this year.

Don’t forget about the little extras. They add up fast! Things like wrapping paper, bows, a Christmas tree, grocery lists for extra batches of baked goods, holiday party host gifts, holiday party contributions, charity donations — the list goes on! These things may not be on your radar as boldly as the list of gifts and travel you have to do this year, but they’re important to think about if they’re things you’ll need to add to your spending this season.

Make and book your travel plans as early as you can. If you wait until the last minute to book flights or plan your travel, you could be paying way more than you would if you plan ahead. If you can, plan your travel outside of the busiest travel times during the holidays. If you’re willing to be flexible on your travel times and plans, it could save you lots and lots of money.

Keep track of all your receipts and all the spending you’ve done for the holidays. If you plan things out really well, you could educate yourself on how to make next year even more frugal. You can save and track what you’ve spent this year, and calculate how to make it better next year. Where did you overspend? What did you forget to calculate? How much travel did you really do? Try to track everything you’re spending on this season, and learn a little more about your holiday shopping patterns.

Try starting your 2017 holiday prep the week after this year’s holiday. That sounds too early right? But maybe you could snag the deeply discounted items that follow a holiday that just passed. Imagine you got all of your wrapping paper and your decorations and even some of the gifts you need for next year right away. You’d be pretty proud of yourself! Future you would thank you!

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

 

Call center employees promote culture of empathy; exceeding members’ expectations

 

 

Our in-house call center, staffed with eight employees, handles service calls from members during normal business hours. Their goal is to provide world class service with first-call resolution. They strive to exceed member expectations on every call.

How do they do this? They treat members in a respectful manner using courteous responses and maintaining a congenial tone on the phone. Mid American’s call center team gives individualized service on every call, an example of the pride they take in their role when serving members.

 

Q: How do you strive to exceed expectations with on-call members each day?

“I strive to provide world class service for each member by being friendly, respectful and courteous. I take pride in making the experience professional for the member and ensuring their request is handled in a professional and efficient manner,” Kathy said.

“I strive to exceed members’ expectations on a daily basis by listening and being empathetic,” Gaby said.

“By listening to their needs and helping them promptly with a positive attitude in order to provide the best service possible,” Cassie said.

 

Q: Describe a time you provided First-Call Resolution to a member. How did you feel after the call ended?

“The best first-call resolution that I get are usually the ones when a member has lost a card and needs to cancel it. We can get the card blocked, have a new one mailed if necessary, and go over the transaction history to make sure there have not been any fraudulent charges. These calls are rewarding because we can put members’ minds at ease right away,” Mathew said.

“A member called in asking to transfer money. After making the transfer, I suggested that she download the mobile app so she could transfer money anytime, she was happy that she would be able to transfer the money without having to call in or get on the computer. It makes me feel good when the member is happier at the end of the call," Craig said.

 

Q: What should members know about our call center and why?

“We are a hard working group that is willing to do anything and everything to help serve the members any way we can. We make sure that Mid American Credit Union is their financial home,” Dakota said.

“I feel like they should know what a great team we have here and that we truly have their best interests in mind,” Tyffany said.

“We are here and ready to take their calls. We are here to perform our utmost best and our job is centered on helping them and making sure they’re taken care of,” Ruth said.

 

If you have questions regarding your Mid American Credit Union account, call 316-722-3921 for assistance.

 

 

 

How to live on less money

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog

 

Living happily with less. Do you think you can do it?

Our society has really encouraged this “have it all, and get it fast” mentality, I think it’s easy for us to feel like we don’t know how to minimize and live with less and still feel happy. We’re told we will feel happy with MORE and RIGHT NOW that it’s easy to get carried away with keeping up. It makes us forget about the things that should take priority in our financial lives.

This idea of drastically cutting back is particularly important if you’re currently living paycheck to paycheck and you’re having trouble making ends meet. Or if you’ve lost your job. Or maybe you’re trying to cut spending to meet a certain short term goal – like paying down your debt, or a down payment on a house, or a baby on the way. OR maybe you’re working towards your dreams, like opening a small business or early retirement. Whatever your situation, making a few big cuts can help.

Massive cutbacks in several areas of your life can feel overwhelming, but it can lead to new discoveries about yourself and your life that you may not have found otherwise. Here are some areas to focus on and some ideas of how you can really cut back and live with less.

Cut the convenient, unnecessary spending. This means spending money on clothes, shoes, jewelry, makeup, home decor, convenient taxi rides, music downloads, video streaming services, vacations, electronics, getting your hair cut…the list goes on…it’s a lot!

Learn how to get comfortable without the middle-class comforts you’re used to. If you’ve been laid off, or suddenly finding it crucial that you make some changes, don’t give yourself a grace period to “ease into” a new normal. Start it right this moment. It’s easy to resist abrupt cutbacks when you’re suddenly faced with a big life adjustment. You need to make the necessary changes as soon as you can so that you won’t get yourself into a more serious situation. Even if you’re getting ready to go to an interview, try your best to resist the urge to overspend on a new look, or even a new outfit. Hit up some consignment stores, or borrow a nice outfit from a friend. Try to think about what you already have, and what you can get away with never buying.

If food has been a big part of your budget, cut it down. Maybe your job allowed you to go out for meals on a regular basis before you were laid off. That will need to change. And it should change if you’re trying to save up for something or cut down your debt too. There are a lot of benefits to retraining yourself to cook at home and eat a little bit less. Your older clothes from your “skinnier days” will start to fit you. You can set a daily, automatic withdrawal from your checking account right into your savings account with the the amount you would normally be spending on lunches out with coworkers, or dinners out on the town. It’s easy to feel like your social life changes drastically too when you have to cut back on some of these fun outings. That doesn’t have to happen! Get your friends on board (they could stand to save a little money too, couldn’t they?) and find ways to get together without compromising on fun and friendship. Grab a group of close buddies and coordinate a weekly night where you could all get together and cook a good meal, one where everyone is contributing something so that no one feels the brunt of all that cooking. Even people who aren’t really forced to cut back on their spending will appreciate saving a little bit here and there. You could still allow yourself 1 or 2 nights a month (if you can swing it) where you go out with some friends. Something I try to do is only eat half of my meal when out with friends. And with my leftovers at home, I add my own rice or quinoa to make the leftovers stretch even further, sometimes into two more meals if I’m really strategic.

Cut the costs of housing. An obvious solution to cut back on what you spend on rent or your mortgage is to live with other people. If you can, look for a roommate or someone to split housing with. Whether living with friends or a new acquaintance, work up a rental agreement that you are both comfortable signing. Living with other people can be tough, and getting wrapped up in the wrong living situation can make a financially stressful period of your life even more stressful. Becoming a house sitter for friends, family and acquaintances could lead to a nice trade of services. Whether short term or long term, put it out into your circle in the universe that you’re looking for this type of work and perhaps a longer opportunity could present itself. My friend once housesat for a couple who were traveling overseas for almost a year. They worked out a great deal that allowed my friend to live rent free for nearly 10 months! This is another situation where a written contract could help smooth over any potential hiccups down the road. Perhaps you have doting parents that would just love it if you moved back in with them for 6 months or a year. It’s not the life you dreamed of, but it could really open up your finances for substantial savings, even if just for a shorter period of time.

Find your biggest motivator for a financially comfortable life. Keeping your eyes on the prize is a healthy mentality for accomplishing something big. Maybe you’re already living with 4 roommates and your biggest motivator is getting your own place. Or maybe that business you’ve always dreamed of is getting closer than you imagined. You might be closer to buying that house or killing your debt than you think! Keep the momentum going, stay on track, and don’t allow yourself to get pessimistic about your current situation. This doesn’t have to last forever.

If you felt the need to make a massive cut tomorrow, where would you start?

 

For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters

 

 

 

Falling into some seasonal chores

 

 

By Debbie Stang, Home Loan Officer

Fall officially started last month, so don’t waste any more time in completing chores both inside and outside your home to get ready for the winter. It’s worth it – from avoiding costly repairs later to helping with heating bills – to make an investment of time for these fall chores.

Outside chores

• Clean and store outside patio furniture and kids’ summer toys.

• Drain and store garden hoses to prevent damage to water pipes. Have your sprinkler systems blown free of water to prevent damage to the system, as well.

• Inspect windows, entry doors and garage doors. Check and make necessary repairs to caulking and weather stripping to ensure windows and doors close tightly to avoid drafts.

• Inspect and clean, if necessary, chimneys and flues for safety and efficiency.

• Check gutters and downspouts to make sure melting snowfall and ice can drain properly. Ice in a clogged cutter will expand, causing damage.

• Wash windows.

• Get ready for ice and snow by stocking up on ice melt for sidewalks and getting a new snow shovel, if needed. If you have a snowblower, make sure it’s in good working order.

• Do final winterizing treatments for your lawn.

Inside chores

• Give your house a good cleaning now so you’re ready for any holiday entertaining. Vacuum, clean or launder drapes and window treatments. Clean window sills and baseboards. Either schedule or do your own carpet cleaning. Give furniture a deep vacuum or have it professionally cleaned. Clean and organize kitchen cabinets so you’re ready for holiday cooking.

• Since you’ve washed the outside surface of windows, do the same with the inside surface.

• Take care of furnace and humidifier needs. Schedule a furnace inspection, stock up on furnace filters and ensure your humidifier works (which is important for preserving hardwood floors).

• Inspect and clean appliances – from vacuuming refrigerator coils to checking washer hoses to cleaning out dryer exhaust tubes.

If you find you need any major repairs or renovations, remember that Mid American offers great rates on home equity loans and lines of credit. Go to www.midamerican.coop and find out more about home equity loans and our mortgage services.

 

 

 

Speaking of taxes


 

By Jim Holt, President and CEO

Whenever talk of tax reform looms, lawmakers and special interest groups aligned with for-profit banks will bring up the fact that credit unions have a tax "subsidy" that banks do not.

First it is important to note that credit unions generally and Mid American specifically, pay every single tax levied, with the only exception being income tax. The basis for our income tax exemption results from our democratic, not-for-profit cooperative status. The 1934 legislation that created credit unions justified the exemption because credit unions are "mutual or cooperative organizations operated entirely by and for their members." We do not impose fees and charge for services to help a small, select group of stockholders make a profit. We are here because we operate on cooperative principles to serve and benefit all members equally. We return profits to our members by way of higher dividends, lower fees, better saving rates and – as indicated in several surveys – better member service than found at banks. Without credit unions charging lower fees and offering better dividend and loan rates, banks could charge even higher fees and rates to allow their select stockholders to pocket even more profits. In fact studies have shown that in communities where there is a credit union alternative, consumers at all financial institutions benefit.

We also are here to make a difference in the community, from serving as financial literacy advocates and investing in seminars to participating in outreach efforts to help educate individuals understand money matters. A person who is more financially literate and stable will be a better contributor to society by understanding economics, learning to live within their means (to avoid bankruptcy and other financial crises), saving for retirement and more. Credit unions were created to serve consumers of modest means, allowing them to keep more of their money because they are not paying high fees or interest rates to use their money or borrow money.

If we lose our income tax-exempt status, you (our members) will bear that burden. Mid American will need to find increased revenue streams which translates to higher interest rates on loans for cars, education and houses, plus the dividends you earn on your savings would be lower. We would have to dip into limited reserves – a cushion we use to protect our members and the credit union during economic shifts – and that would impact the longstanding tradition of credit unions being safe and secure institutions for your money.

 

 

Saving to buy a home

 

By Debbie Stang, Home Loan Officer

Buying a home is likely the single, largest purchase you will make in your lifetime. To make that step, be prepared to save money for a cash down payment and related home-buying expenses. Plus, make sure your credit is in good shape.

Most financial institutions require some sort of down payment, generally ranging from at least 3 percent to 20 percent of the purchase price of the home, to ensure you have an incentive and investment upfront in your home. (Only about a handful of mortgages, such as the VA and other government-related entities, will allow no down payment.) With a 20 percent down payment, you avoid having to purchase private mortgage insurance.

Saving for a down payment will mean being more focused on where your money goes. Start with a budget – if you don’t have one, develop one. Whether you use an online tool or old-fashioned pencil and paper, start tracking your income, your expenses and whatever else you spend your money on. In a short amount of time, you should be able to see where you might be able to scale back or make cuts. Put those dollars saved into a separate savings account to build up your down payment.

Be ruthless about cost-saving measures, like giving up a gym membership and using walking trails or parks instead, or brown-bagging lunches and giving up expensive coffees or smoothies to make your own. Do you have credit cards or auto loans? Check the rates and see if you can negotiate lower rates for savings. Take a second, temporary job to reach your goal faster. Another step is to check into homeownership assistance programs at the federal government’s HUD.

With a budget set, check on your credit score. The score is used by lenders to determine your ability to repay the loan and set your mortgage rate. Check your credit report – which can be done for free once annually from each credit reporting agency at annualcreditreport.com – to ensure it’s accurate. (Generally, you will need to pay a fee to receive your score.) Fixing errors can move up your score.

Our website offers several tips for first-time home buyers; check the section “Buying a Home.” You can calculate what you can afford and learn how to get preapproved, plus get information on our low mortgage rates for 15-, 20- and 30-year mortgages.

 

 

Ease the burden

 

 

By Jim Holt, President and CEO

We all understand the need for rules. Often, however, rules are made to solve a situation that has already occurred. Their sweep can be so broad that they penalize individuals and businesses that already had in place a set of policies designed to help and not take advantage of those they serve.

That is what has happened to credit unions, whose members – you and me – are paying out of our pockets for expensive regulatory oversights that were put in place because of banks.

The financial crisis of 2008 resulted from money center banks needing to be bailed out. Since that time, the federal government has added a huge number of regulations intended to rein in these banks. Unfortunately, these new regulations are hurting credit unions and their members even though we did not cause or contribute to the crisis in the first place. Regulations cost time and money – more complexity, more paperwork, more fees – that we would rather spend on providing services to benefit you.

Since 2010, regulatory costs for credit unions nationwide have increased by 39 percent, driving up overall costs to a staggering $7.2 billion annually. Credit unions have lost $1.1 billion nationally in revenue due to regulatory costs. In Kansas, the impact of these regulations has been more than $44 million – more than $39 million spent in compliance and $5 million in lost revenue.

Every penny we spend trying to fix a problem we don’t have is money we cannot return to you. Less money spent on excessive, expensive regulations would mean higher interest rates on deposits, more services and products and lower loan rates – all of which would more directly benefit you.

 We need your help to turn this situation around, and as a member-owner, you can make your concern heard. Mid American Credit Union is joining with our national organization, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), to educate and help activate America’s 105 million credit union members about this situation.

To assist you, CUNA has helped establish a website, www.easetheburden.com, with more information and a way to act on this issue. Through the site, all it takes is one email – using a prewritten message or one with your own words – to contact all of your Congressional representatives to ask them to “Ease the Burden.” No personal information about you will be gathered or retained if you visit this site.

Please consider taking action today.

 

 

 

 

We have a lot to offer

 

 

By Jim Holt, President and CEO

On April 2, Mid American’s merger with Wesley Medical Credit Union in Wichita is scheduled to be finalized. This will mark our third merger in little more than a year and bring our total number of branches to 11, with six of them being in Wichita.

I want to take this opportunity to welcome the newest members of our financial family and also to inform them and remind our current members about several benefits of Mid American membership.

• A life’s worth of products. From youth accounts that can be started at the birth of a child to health savings account to retirement accounts, Mid American can help you with financial products and services for various life events.

With our spectrum of savings accounts, you can save for a vacation, holidays, college and more. If you are an entrepreneur, take advantage of our business services accounts. If you need a home or mode of transportation, we can help finance those dreams. If you need credit, we offer great rates for home equity loans and credit cards. For teens who want to start on the road to financial independence and for seniors who want to start on the road to independence from a career, we can provide you with accounts and resources to plan for that.

• A national network of branches and ATMs. Mid American was one of the first Wichita credit unions of an early initiative to join credit unions across the U.S. in a shared branching network. Through our involvement with CO-OP, you can visit more than 5,000 Shared Branch facilities to make in-person transactions, just as if you are visiting one of our branches. You also can use any of the nearly 30,000 surcharge-free CO-OP ATMs in the U.S. Just look for the CO-OP signage.

• A sophisticated online presence. Many of our members prefer the 24/7 nature of online and mobile banking. That is why we invested in a state-of-the-art online banking system in 2014 and continue to add features to that and our mobile banking system.

• A little extra help. If you need to learn more about certain financial situations or how to budget, we are here to help. We offer occasional seminars at our branches, such as home-buying or retirement investing (see Page 2), and onsite seminars for employees of our preferred partners employer program. If you need help finding ways to save money or even balance a checkbook, our member services representatives are happy to assist you or help you secure the service of the free Kansas Consumer Credit Counseling Service.

Remember that credit unions are about people helping people. That is why our staff and volunteers are always ready to help you with your financial needs.

 

 

 

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Become an advocate

 

 

By Jim Holt, President and CEO

As a member/owner of a credit union, you make a difference. You are one of 103 million members who have made the decision to trust a not-for-profit cooperative to be your financial home.

We value that trust and work diligently to provide you with the services and products you need. However, every year, credit unions, their supporting organizations and members find themselves trying to ensure that we can continue to operate in your best interest.

At Mid American Credit Union, we regularly communicate with and educate legislators, policymakers and other leaders about the important role we play and how we differ from banks. (As you may recall, my last Member Insight column focused on the differences between banks and credit unions.) In the past, for example, we have educated legislators and policymakers on such topics as the fact that a federal income tax would just be another cost for our members to bear.

On our own, however, this advocacy often goes unheeded. We are going to need your help to make a difference.

Forty-two percent of voters are credit union members, according to Credit Union National Association. Legislators and policymakers need and want to hear from people such as our members who are impacted by policies that affect their financial well-being and the credit unions to which they belong. Many credit union members, both nationally and locally, comprise the middle class who are frequently referred to by political candidates during campaign speeches. It is important to become an informed voter and citizen.

In the upcoming months, you can expect to hear from us about different issues that could impact credit unions. We ask that you consider becoming informed and taking action, because, as a member-owner, you have a vested interest in these policies. And there is power in numbers...

 

 

Staying physically and financially healthy

 

 

From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog.

Gym and health club memberships tend to increase in January as well-intentioned individuals try to make good on resolutions to get in better shape, lose weight or become more physically active.

There are some people who firmly believe a gym membership is the only way they can be held accountable for their health or weight loss goals. For some, it can be a waste of money.

Here are some things to consider, along with tips for cheaper alternatives for staying physically fit.

Make sure you’re fully committed. A gym membership requires more than a mental and physical commitment, it requires a financial commitment. Will you be able to make it worthwhile or will your membership become a monthly “donation” to the gym or health club? Not to be discouraging, but check out the cancellation policy, as well, before making that financial commitment.

Gyms pull crowds. Peak times tend to be in the morning and in the evening, before and after a typical workday. Nothing is more frustrating than being ready to work out and not having the piece of equipment you prefer to exercise on or not being able to get in a full workout because you spent a lot of time waiting for equipment to free up. If you’re thinking about joining a gym in your area, check in on it at those peak times.

There are several free options to achieving fitness goals that have side benefits. For example, take a nice long hike through your neighborhood with friends or family. You'll be spending quality time with people you care about and getting in exercise. Drive to different neighborhoods or parks and explore your community. Walking the dog is also a great way to exercise both your pet and yourself. Find free YouTube exercises online.

If you're committed to making time for workouts, you can consider investing in at-home equipment, a variety of workout DVDs, stability training tools, or even a great pair of walking or running shoes. Or take up bike riding if there are bike-friendly routes and trails in your area. Maybe you can even use your bike to commute to work.

It’s important to weigh your options first and be honest about how you plan to achieve your fitness and well-being goals. If you decide you need a gym membership, squeeze it into your budget where you can.

If you find less-expensive ways to meet your fitness goals, think about investing the money you would have spent on a gym or health club membership in a Mid American savings or vacation account. That way you can achieve some financial well-being along with physical well-being. And if you've saved for a vacation, maybe you'll have some time to recharge your mental well-being, as well.

 

 For more articles on personal finance visit, Money Matters

 

 

Mid American's plans for EMV cards

What are EMV cards?

EMV stands for Europay, VISA and MasterCard.  Currently, traditional card transactions are processed through the information contained on the magnetic stripe of the card.  With EMV cards, a small computer chip is included in the card.  The technology associated with the chip adds a layer of verification when the card is used at an EMV enabled terminal to help ensure that the card has not been duplicated.  You may hear EMV cards referred to as:

  • Smart card
  • Chip card
  • Smart-chip card
  • Chip-enabled smart card
  • Chip-and-choice card (PIN or signature)
  • EMV smart card
  • EMV card

When will I receive an EMV card from Mid American Credit Union?

At this point in time, Mid American Credit Union has not issued EMV cards.  We will continue to monitor terminal deployments, merchant readiness and other card processing factors to help us determine the best time to issue EMV-enabled cards.

Are merchants and financial institutions required to update to EMV?

No, there is no legal or regulatory requirement for either the merchant or the card issuer to update to EMV.  In fact, estimates are that only about 50% of terminals, 29% of credit cards and 17% of debit cards will be EMV-enabled by the end of 2015 with widespread rollout not anticipated for several years.

Will my Mid American card work in an EMV-enabled terminal?

EMV-enabled terminals also support current card-swipe technology, so you can use your existing Mid American card at any EMV-enabled merchant or ATM location.

Am I exposed to potential liability without an EMV card?

Your liability for fraudulent card transactions will not change.  You should continue to follow fraud prevention steps such as not disclosing account, personal or card information, monitoring account transactions and immediately reporting any unusual activity.

What is the significance of the October 1st date?

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In order to encourage EMV, merchants will now bear liability for fraudulent transactions if they continue to use non-EMV terminals. Consumer liability for transactions has not changed.

Will EMV cards eliminate card fraud?

No, EMV will not eliminate card fraud.  For example, since the physical card is not utilized for internet based-transactions, EMV will not protect against fraud in those situations. 

What is the value of EMV?

If fraudsters produce a copy of a traditional magnetic stripe card, they can use the card repeatedly because the data on the magnetic strip doesn’t change with each transaction.  With an EMV card, the computer chip creates a unique transaction code that changes with each use.  If chip information is breached, the typical card duplication would not work because the information would not be usable for other transactions.  EMV technology will not prevent data breaches from occurring, but it will make it much harder for criminals to successfully profit from the data they’ve obtained.

Why the delay in full market acceptance?

With an $11 billion estimated price tag for full deployment, some merchants have delayed installation of EMV terminals.  Furthermore, EMV does not address fraud related to "card-not-present" transactions, such as internet-based transactions.

What are the cost considerations?

EMV cards are about two to three times more expensive to issue. This is a significant consideration for card issuers, such as Mid American, that proactively reissue all cards that may be affected by a merchant data breach.

In summary, we believe it will take some time to fully realize the potential security benefits of EMV cards. We will continue to monitor the progress in order to provide our members with the best security options available.

Sign up online for 24/7 banking

If you haven’t accessed Mid American’s improved Online Banking system, you can easily sign up online if you have an email address on file with us.

In September 2015, Mid American launched a new Online Banking system that offers far more enhancements than our previous system. With the new system, we can now offer online self-enrollment.

Here’s how you can take advantage of that benefit:

1. Click on the Sign up for Online Banking link just below the Member Login button in the upper right-hand corner of www. midamerican.coop.  Accept the disclosure by clicking I Agree.

2. Enter the Social Security number of the primary accountholder (with no dashes), enter your account number and enter the email address that you have on file with us. Click continue

3. Enter the primary accountholder’s personal information.

4. Click Send Email verification. Once the verification email is sent you have one hour to complete the enrollment, or you’ll need to start over the process.

5. Open the verification email and click on the confirmation link.

6. Choose a user name of six to 12 characters (case sensitive). Use the temporary password you selected to log in. You’ll be prompted to change your password after you log in.

Mid American Credit Union8404 West Kellogg DriveWichita, KS 67209316.722.3921Fax 316.722.0920Privacy Policy