Overdraft Protection 101

Learn the ins and outs of overdraft protection

Have you ever made a transaction and caused the balance of your account to dip below zero? That’s called an overdraft, and it’s a common occurrence among many. In fact, nine out of every 10 Americans have a checking account, and 18 percent of them have endured an overdraft within the year, according to a 2012 Overdraft America study.

Some of the most frequent times an overdraft can happen are when someone cashes a check before money was deposited, when an automatic payment withdraws money before money was deposited into the account or during other banking miscommunications — especially if your account has cash going in and out multiple times a day, things can certainly get confusing.

Financial institutions know this is a common situation. That’s why many of them offer overdraft protection, a protection program that covers the amount of an overdraft — whether it be ATM withdrawals, debit card purchases or electronic transfers and bounced checks. Essentially, overdraft protection will provide you with an instant loan instead of charging you a hefty fee for a bounced check.

Another option for overdraft protection is linking your account to a savings or other account, where money can be transferred over from in the event of an overdraft. Also, some financial institutions allow the use of a credit card as a possible overdraft protection.

“It’s a good idea, assuming the fees are reasonable and the credit card rates are reasonable,” says Jean Ann Fox, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America.

“It just gives customers another option,” says Mary Beth Navarro, a retail financial institution customer service manager. “Not every customer has a savings or money market account. And it’s less expensive than if you were to have an overdraft.”

However, there’s some controversy about overdraft protection programs. Some experts, like Greg McBride, CFA and Bankrate’s senior economic analyst, see a few bugs in the system.

“It doesn’t relieve consumers of the obligation to keep accurate tabs on their account balance,” he says. “Even though an ATM or debit card transaction won’t go through without our prior consent, if the balance is that low, the check written yesterday won’t clear and the online payment scheduled for tomorrow won’t clear.”

And keep in mind that if you’re consistently enduring overdrafts on your account, the fees could accumulate quickly, as many financial institutions do charge when the account balance is below zero (although the fee is typically less than that of a bounced check).

“A lot of people use their debit cards several times a day, so you could easily rack up hundreds of dollars worth of fees,” points out Leslie Parrish, senior researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending in North Carolina.

Either way, no one can argue the many pros that come out of overdraft protection. If you’re deciding whether you should get overdraft protection, give us a call or stop by today to see how we can help you.

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The Best Times to Buy an SUV

Find out when SUVs come down in price

Have you ever wanted to own a sport utility vehicle (SUV)? Marking certain days or months on your calendar may help you find the best deal. It turns out that if you purchase an SUV during specific times of the year, you may pay less than if you bought it during other months.

Here are some of the best times to save on your SUV purchase:

December and January offer some of the highest discounts when purchasing an SUV (an average of 6.6 percent), according to TrueCar, an automotive pricing and information website. Since SUVs are normally considered a summertime vehicle for those who want to hit the trails and head outdoors, the winter season sometimes brings better discounts as there aren’t many people willing to make that purchase in the winter. In addition, it’s early winter when dealers are trying to get rid of the previous year’s models, so they’re more willing to lower the purchase price as fall turns to winter.

Late summer
Because August is the time when new models come in, this is also considered a time when dealers are willing to initiate a bargain. The caveat: Buying during summer’s end means you should be okay with owning an SUV that isn’t necessarily the newest model.

End of the year
If you can afford to wait until the end of the calendar year, you’re bound to get the best possible price on your vehicle. Most dealers need to meet annual quotas, and if they haven’t done so, they’ll be more willing to strike up a bargain with you. Another reason to buy at the end of the year is because annual sales bonuses are common around this time, and car dealers are more willing to reduce prices to sell more.

Tuesday or Wednesday
While this seems fairly specific, an expert from www.autocheatsheet.com, written by a dealership professional recommends Tuesday or Wednesday on any given week. “Tuesday and Wednesday are normally the slowest times of the week for a car dealership. Most people work during the week and do not normally shop for cars. This makes business slow and traffic on the dealer’s lot scarce. I did whatever it took to sell a car when a customer showed up in the middle of the week. This is why I recommend Tuesday and Wednesday as the best times of the week to buy a car.”

Whatever you’re looking for, make sure you do your research and are comfortable with how much you want to spend. Your local financial institution usually has excellent rates and can help with the financing so stop by today with any questions.

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Antibiotics: Proper Use and Cautions

Avoiding antibiotic overuse

Prior to the discoveryantibiotics1 of antibiotics, many common conditions like strep throat and ear infections were deadly. But with the advent of these drugs in the 1940s, bacterial infections, which were sometimes impossible for your immune system to fight off, became relatively easy to treat.

Antibiotics work by attacking the bacteria that cause infections. The word antibiotics actually means “against life.” Depending on the type of antibiotic you’re taking, it might work by directly attacking and killing the bacteria or it may just stop the bacteria from being able to grow and reproduce.

While antibiotics will help you recover if you have an infection caused by bacteria, such as strep throat, it’s important to note that they aren’t effective against viral infections, such as a cold or the flu.

Knowing when and how to take antibiotics is critical to ensuring that they will work against these bacteria in the future.

A growing problem
If you take antibiotics too frequently, don’t take an antibiotic exactly as your doctor prescribes, or don’t finish the entire dose they gave you, the bacteria the medicine is fighting can change and become resistant to the antibiotic. This means that the medicine will no longer be able to fight the bacteria in the future, a condition called antibacterial resistance. Some two million Americans contract a bacterial infection that is resistant to antibiotics every year.

Sometimes your doctor will be able to prescribe a different type of antibiotic to treat the resistant bacteria. However, in some cases, the bacteria become resistant to all types of antibiotics and make an infection impossible to treat. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant infections every year.

So what can you do to prevent this growing problem?

Proper antibiotic use is critical
First, only take antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection, which your doctor has diagnosed. Remember, antibiotics won’t work if you’ve got a cold or the flu. They also won’t work for most sinus infections, sore throats or ear infections, which are often caused by viruses.

If your doctor does prescribe an antibiotic, follow the directions carefully and be certain to finish the entire dose you are given.
Don’t share antibiotics with others and don’t take them unless a doctor has prescribed them for your specific condition.

By understanding how antibiotics work and taking them only when you truly need them, you can help fight antibiotic resistance and ensure that these medications continue to be life-savers in the future.

For further reading
Visit these websites to read more about the proper use of antibiotics.


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Benefits of Refinancing Your Auto Loan

Refinance your auto loan to save

When you think of refinancing, you probably think of your mortgage or another equity loan, but you may not realize that it is also possible to refinance your auto loan, and that oversight may be costing you money. Many people are able to save by refinancing their auto loans, and the following information can help you determine if it could be the right choice for you.

Even if you haven’t heard about automotive loan refinancing, the good news is that it is a simpler process than refinancing a mortgage. The basic idea is that you obtain a new loan from your financial institution in order to pay off your first loan. Obviously, in order to save, the new loan must have a more favorable interest rate.

Fortunately, you don’t even need to score a much lower rate to save; a small percentage can mean great things for your account balance. Just finding a new loan with an interest rate a single percentage point lower can save you big, especially if you have a substantial amount left to pay off the balance of your loan.

The process of completing an auto loan refinance application only takes a few minutes, and many financial institutions allow you to do it online. Because the process is so convenient, it is hard to find a reason not to try.

“Refinancing essentially helps anyone who wants to save some money,” states the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). “Even those who got a good rate on their loan can still gain by refinancing, especially during periods of dramatic rate drops.”

They are particularly beneficial to anyone who has a poor credit score or insufficient credit history, is unemployed or has a loan with an interest rate that is currently at a high point. Refinancing is also beneficial for people who have increased debt since the loan was originally issued, after buying a house, for example.

One thing to keep in mind is that it is important that you have been making regular loan payments before you apply to refinance. If you have a good payment history, you should plan a time to apply to refinance. Financial experts have varying opinions on how long to wait between receiving your loan and trying to refinance.

“Some say six months is appropriate, while others recommend 18 months. But, again, it doesn’t hurt to try to refinance,” states the DMV. However, the DMV cautions that,
“Some lenders do run a credit history check as soon as you apply for a loan, which could slightly lower your credit score for a few months.”

How much you save depends on several factors, including the amount left on the loan, the refinance rate and the initial interest rate. Depending on these variables, you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

“Is there a downside to all this? No. That’s because, unlike home mortgages, many auto loans don’t charge prepayment penalties or fees to set up the loan,” according to senior consumer advice editor of Edmunds, Philip Reed. “And consumers can complete the application process online in about 15 minutes.”

All of these benefits of auto loan refinancing and the simplicity of the process makes auto loan refinancing a good prospect for most people. If you would like to see if you can save money by refinancing your auto loan, please feel free to give us a call today to have all of your questions answered.

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Top Three Compact Cars

Fuel efficient, frugal and functional

The days of compact cars being snooze cruisers are long gone. While midsize sedans continue to hold a large portion of the automotive market, many companies are devoting more resources to their compact entries, and many can come equipped with top tiered amenities including navigation, heated seats and leather upholstery, while still keeping true to what makes compacts great.

Nearly every brand makes a compact car, but when you want the most for your money, here are three models that should rise to the top of your list:

2014 MAZDA3
The MAZDA3 is all-new for the 2014 model year and is available in both four-door and five-door models. Starting at an MSRP under $19,000, the MAZDA is affordable, too. US News named the MADZA3 to its “Best Cars for the Money” and “Best Cars for Families” lists. It’s also ranked the #1 Affordable Small Car, Affordable Compact Car and Hatchback. Edmunds.com noted, “Purposeful styling, fuel-efficient engines and an ideal ride and handling balance keep the 2014 Mazda 3 among the favorites in the compact car class.”

The MAZDA3 is highlighted by its SKYACTIV suite of technologies that maximizes fuel economy and power while reducing weight. There are two different engines that go along with the six-speed transmissions and fuel economy is rated at up to 41 mpg highway. Available amenities include a Bose surround sound system, Mazda navigation system, a moonroof, cutting edge safety technologies like Mazda Radar Cruise Control and Smart City Brake Support and the segment-exclusive i-ELOOP Regenerative Engine Braking System.

2014 Kia Forte
The Kia Forte is the Korean automaker’s entry into the compact sedan segment and is a fine example of what kind of value can be found. Starting at an MSRP of under $16,000 for the sedan, (the Forte also offers a five-door and coupe offering) you’ll find a host of standard equipment including heated exterior mirrors, Bluetooth Wireless connectivity, an audio system with USB and auxiliary outlets. Available equipment includes leather seating surfaces, a ventilated driver’s seat and even heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.

Power is provided through either a 1.8-liter or 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces up to 173 hp and mileage estimates of up to 36 mpg (the 1.8-liter can achieve up to 37 mpg).

Kelley Blue Book added that “today’s Kia vehicles don’t offer the same price advantage they used to, but with better quality, more features and significantly improved resale values, they’re now a much smarter buy.”

2014 Chevrolet Cruze
The Cruze is an American entry into the compact segment and can compete with any import. AutoWeek summed it up well. “It’s simple – this is a nice car. From the sharp, crisp exterior lines to the quality interior and handling, the Cruze shined. This shine wasn’t in a flashy manner either; it’s classy, and economically classy at that.” Among the highlights of the Cruze is a new Turbo Diesel engine that provides a large 264 lb/ft of torque and a near-hybrid like 46 mpg highway.

Other available powertrains include a 1.8-liter four-cylinder and a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. A 15 cubic foot trunk is also impressive in this segment. The Cruze is also available with remote start, push button start, a sport tuned suspension, the Chevrolet MyLink radio with seven-inch touchscreen and all models come standard with the OnStar suite of services.

Regardless of which model you choose, you’re sure to get a model that will provide years of worry free travel. How you pay for it is another story. Stop by to let us help you discover which of our financing options work best for you.

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Eco-Friendly Laundry

Save money in the laundry room

Laundry always seemsgreen_laundry1 to get a bad rap and is often listed as one of the least popular household chores. When it comes to environmental conservation, however, laundry is one of the areas where you may be able to save the most energy with a minimal amount of effort. A few simple changes in your laundry habits may have you looking at laundry in a whole new light.

Clean with cold
Because most of the energy used in the laundry process is consumed while heating water in your washer, you can save both energy and money by washing clothes in only cold water. With advances in washing machines and detergent, most everyday clothes will get just as clean in cold water as warm. In addition, using cold water will help your clothing hold its color (allowing the clothing to last longer) and prevent shrinkage.

Ditch the dryer
The second largest laundry energy bandit is the clothes dryer. Ditch the dryer and try hanging your clothes to dry. If you’re able to hang them outside, the sun will naturally give your clothes a fresh scent. No room to hang your clothes outdoors? Try hanging your smaller items inside on an indoor drying rack. Hanging your clothes will not only save energy, but also allow your clothes to last longer by retaining their shape and color.

Ditch the dryer sheets
Not only do dryer sheets contain several unpronounceable ingredients, but they are expensive, create additional landfill trash, and often leave clothes smelling like a perfume factory. If you live in a warmer climate, you may be able to just ditch the dryer sheets, saving both money and additional trash. Colder climates may still require help with static electricity in clothes, created by the dryer. Instead of dryer sheets, choose environmentally friendly dryer balls, which can be used again and again in your dryer to battle wrinkles and static electricity woes. No dryer balls? Use a few loose tennis balls in your dryer instead.

Wash less laundry
To save on laundry energy consumption, make a conscious choice to wash fewer loads of laundry. Wear your clothes several times before washing. (Jeans, for example, don’t need to be washed after every wear.) When you need to do laundry, do only full loads instead of several smaller loads.

Natural or homemade products
In addition to energy usage, detergents can also be an environmental concern. Where does the laundry soap go when it flows down the drain and into the city’s water supply? If you’re concerned about the ingredients in some laundry detergents, opt for natural or homemade products.

Just a few simple changes in the way you do laundry can make a significant impact on your energy usage and environmental footprint. Hanging your clothes, ditching the dryer sheets, washing less laundry and using a more environmentally friendly detergent will result in a lower electric bill and less impact on the environment around you.

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Keeping Your PC Secure Without Windows XP Support

What to do now that Windows XP is no longer supported

On April 8, Microsoft stopped462178465 providing bug fixes and security patches for critical vulnerabilities in the Windows XP operating system. With an estimated 20-30 percent of Internet-connected PCs running Windows XP, many people are questioning what this means, how it affects their computer’s security and what they can do to ensure that they remain protected from security breaches and hackers.

The fact that Microsoft will no longer provide security patches when vulnerabilities are discovered in the Windows XP operating system means that the security of computers running XP will continue to deteriorate over time. This is because hackers are always working and will continue seeking out vulnerabilities in the coming months.

“Without Microsoft’s protection, all those Windows XP PCs will have targets painted on their hard drives,” states Chris Hoffman from PC World. “They’ll continue running like normal, but they’ll be rotting inside, becoming increasingly full of security holes. Microsoft itself has dubbed the condition ‘Zero day forever.’”

Your best bet is to upgrade from XP to the newer format of Windows. “The Windows 8.1 system requirements are almost the same as the Windows 8 system requirements — so if your PC can run Windows 8, in most cases you can get the free update to Windows 8.1,” according to Microsoft.

This isn’t practical for everyone, however, so there are other things you can do to protect your computer. Large organizations are seeking options to pay a fee in order to receive customized Windows XP support until they can make the switch, but this is not an affordable solution for small businesses and individuals.

One of the best things that you can do is to pick your software, particularly your Internet browser, carefully. Internet Explorer 8 is particularly vulnerable because it’s already several generations old and will not continue to receive security patches. Current information suggests that Windows XP will be supported by Google Chrome until around April 2015. Firefox will continue supporting XP for the time being, but it’s important to stay abreast of changes in case it announces an end date. “So switch to Chrome or Firefox and you’ll have a secure, modern browser,” states Hoffman.

As far as antivirus software goes, many will continue supporting Windows XP, which will provide partial protection. Microsoft Security Essentials is no longer offered, but those who already have it will receive updates for a limited time. “This does not mean that your PC is secure because Microsoft is no longer providing security updates to help protect your PC,” states Microsoft.

AV-TEST, an antivirus testing company, asked 30 antivirus companies if they plan to continue supporting Windows XP and they all said that they would support it until at least April 2015, and many stated that they would support it until at least 2016. If you have expired antivirus software, however, and it’s not receiving updates, it isn’t going to help you.

Experts warn that Outlook Express is no longer secure, and recommend that the full version of Outlook that comes with Microsoft Office is better. Web-based e-mail options may offer the best security, so it may be time to switch accounts.

“The Java browser plug-in is extremely exploit-prone on any operating system,” says Hoffman. “Unless you really need Java for a specific purpose, you should uninstall it. If you do need it, be sure to disable the browser plug-in and keep it up-to-date.”

The security threat is one reason to switch to a different operating system, but it is important to note that there are also going to be difficulties using applications and software in the future. According to Microsoft, “…as more software and hardware manufacturers continue to optimize for more recent versions of Windows, you can expect to encounter more apps and devices that do not work with Windows XP.”

If you would like to try to upgrade your computer’s operating system, you may find frequently asked questions about the upgrade procedure at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/upgrade-to-windows-8.

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