Cut These Costs TODAY

Man buying groceriesHave you ever unexpectedly found out you’re quickly going to have less income? It’s enough to throw you into a panic. But the best way to get through hard times is to take a few deep breaths and put a plan together. Check out these common targets for quick and effective expense cuts.

Food
You might find it obvious that evenings dining out at fancy restaurants probably aren’t the best idea when experiencing a budget crunch. But think about your groceries too. Consider avoiding the higher-priced stores and stocking up on the basics at the more reasonably priced spots. You might find that cooking at home and taking your lunch to work saves you lots of money and ends up being healthier too.

Cable/Movies/Rentals
If you’re like most people, your visual entertainment comes from multiple sources. You may watch movies on cable, in the theater, via rental or online. In crisis situations, it’s best to focus on watching movies at home and using one particular way to do it. In other words, if you have both Netflix and premium movie channels, it’s probably time to go with one or the other.

Phone plans
It’s nice to use a smart phone to be able to look up information on the go, but you could probably make do without the data plan if you had to. Did you know that you could also be on a prepaid smart phone plan? Call your service provider to ask them to perform an analysis on which plan is best for you. You might be paying for more than you actually need. Also consider eliminating your house phone if you have one.

Gym
It’s important to get some stress-relieving exercise during this trying time, but there’s no reason why you should have to spend money to do it. Brainstorm ways to be active without having to fork over a big chunk of your paycheck. The main thing is to just get moving!

Shopping as entertainment
One activity that could put you in the trouble zone is shopping for fun or to ease tension. “I won’t buy anything, I’ll just browse” too often can lead you down the path of unnecessary spending. Eliminate leisure shopping or other activities that put you in temptation.

Gas
Is it an option to work from home more? Can you carpool or combine your errands into fewer trips? If your family has multiple vehicles, can you sell one and share the remaining?

Insurance
With the ease of using the Internet to compare rates, the insurance business is much more competitive than it used to be. Shop around for the best deals on any type of insurance you have—auto, home, life, etc. Check into bundling these with one company to save even more. How is your credit score? This might affect the cost of certain insurances. Also be sure to ask about discounts you might apply for, and the option of raising your deductible in exchange for a lower monthly payment.

Utilities
Think of ways to stay warm or cool more efficiently. Put on more layers in the colder months and spend more time outside during the warmer times. Be conscious of turning everything off and even unplugging electrical items when you leave a room.

Habitual items
When you have a comfortable financial situation, it’s easy to buy coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and convenience store snacks without thinking too much about it. But in these tighter times, think about what you are really getting out of these purchases and if there are expenses that are more important.

Taxes
If you have more money taken out of each of your paychecks than is necessary in order to get a large income tax refund check in the spring, you are over-paying the government each month. Cut this expense by using the IRS withholding calculator to determine the appropriate amount to have withheld from each paycheck.

None of these cost-cutting measures alone is guaranteed to immediately solve all cash flow issues, but in concert they can potentially save you hundreds of dollars per month.

Used with Permission. Published by BALANCE Includes copyrighted material of BALANCE.

Useful Apps for Managing Your Expenses

Using your smartphone to be smarter about budgeting
Creating and sticking to a budget is essential if you want to get out of debt and achieve financial security, but it’s easier said than done. The proper amount of money to spend on various expenses can be difficult to calculate, and summoning the willpower required to stay true to those set amounts can prove even harder. Fortunately, there are many apps designed to keep you honest—and in the black. Here are some of the best apps available for managing your finances.

Mint
The most popular app for managing your money is Mint, a free app from Intuit, the company behind TurboTax and QuickBooks. Mint allows users to connect all of their bank and credit card accounts, as well as their monthly bill statements, into one convenient, all-in-one application for managing spending. Bill payment reminders, specific advice based on your unique spending habits and free credit scores are among the other services that Mint has to offer.

YNAB
You Need a Budget, or YNAB for short, doesn’t just document your spending—it seeks to actively improve your purchasing habits and behaviors. For $5 a month or $50 per year, this app is best for those struggling to escape from the burden of debt. In addition to designing a budget that will help you achieve solvency, YNAB also provides helpful advice and community support in the form of an online forum made up of others suffering from the constraints of living paycheck to paycheck.

Level Money
Many consumers get into the bad habit of checking their bank account, seeing a healthy balance and then spending with carefree abandon. But there’s a difference between how much you can spend and how much you should spend, and Level Money is designed to illustrate that divide. This free app factors in essential monthly costs like rent, utilities and grocery bills to show the “spendable” amount of money in your bank account. You can also program it to take into account your saving goals, which helps you better prepare for the future.

Digit
When managing your expenses, it can be hard to remember to save money; fortunately, Digit does it for you. This free app makes an analysis of your spending and income and then automatically takes small amounts from your checking account, often anywhere from $5 to $50, and banks them in an account managed by the company. The app is fee-free and comes with a no-overdraft guarantee, so there is little risk involved. No interest is earned on your savings, since Digit is not a bank, but there is a “Savings Bonus” of five cents for every $100 saved over a three-month period.

Whether you are racked by debt and searching for a way out or simply looking for a convenient way to keep track of expenses and improve your saving habits, there are many free and affordable apps that can have a positive impact on your finances.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Four Mistakes People Make With Student Loans

Stay smart with a student loan strategy
Going to college is a life-changing experience that can open doors to new careers and increase your lifetime earning potential. If you are looking for a new student loan or are trying to make the best out of the repayment period, make sure you are avoiding these common student loan mistakes.

Not considering private loans
Many would-be-students shy away from private loans because they have heard that they lack the protections and benefits that come with federal loans. While it’s true that federal loans offer a fixed interest rate in contrast to most private loans, it is often possible for a student to get a lower interest rate with a private loan, particularly if a parent cosigns. If you are able to obtain a much lower rate with a private loan, then it’s worth seriously considering whether the security of a fixed rate with a federal loan is worth it.

Ignoring retirement savings
It is understandable, and even laudable, to want to repay student loans as quickly as possible, but undertaking an ambitious repayment plan at the expense of completely ignoring retirement savings isn’t wise.

“A recent report from Morningstar Inc. subsidiary HelloWallet found that someone with a starting salary of $50,000 who pays off a $20,000 student loan ahead of schedule but skimps on retirement savings—by contributing only enough to an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan to receive half the employer’s 3% matching contribution—will wind up with a net worth at age 65 that’s $150,000 below where it would have been had he or she contributed enough to receive the full match and repaid the loan over a longer period, by making the minimum required payment,” states The Wall Street Journal Reporter Anne Tergesen in an article from Sep. 2016.

Not making automatic payments
One of the best steps you can take to make sure the student loan repayment process goes as smoothly as possible is to set up automatic payments. Some people delay setting up automatic payments because they have ambitious goals of paying more than the minimum each month, and want to wait to see what their bank account balance is before determining the payment amount. While it’s great to pay more when you can (as long as you aren’t sacrificing retirement savings), it’s not worth the risk of making a late payment or missing a payment all together. Setting up automatic payments that you can afford each month is the safest bet, and if you find you have extra money after the payment is made, you can always make a supplemental payment.

Paying for assistance
If you are having trouble affording your payments, you may have been tempted by ads that offer to help you figure out your options for paying on a different schedule or seeking loan forgiveness on your federal loan.

“If someone asks you to pay for these services, you are not dealing with the U.S. Department of Education or our loan servicers,” according to Nicole Callahan, a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid in an article for HomeRoom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. “We don’t charge application or maintenance fees. If you’re asked to pay, walk away (or hang up).”

The cost of an education that can help you start a profitable career or get a better job in your current field is money well spent, and you can make sure you are getting the best return on your investment by avoiding these four common student loan mistakes.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Mobile Wallets: Moving Shopping Into the Future

A more secure and convenient way to make payments
These days, most transactions don’t involve physical money, so why should they involve physical wallets? Thanks to new technologies like Samsung Pay, Android Pay (formerly Google Wallet) and Apple Pay, you can now use your smartphone to securely make transactions without ever having to take out your credit card.

According to the latest survey data from market research firm CMB, only about 15 percent of smartphone users actually utilize these technologies to pay for purchases, but usage nearly doubled from 2013 to 2015 and will likely continue to rise over the next few years as the benefits of mobile wallets are better understood.

If you are not sold on the idea of joining the new trend, here’s why you may want to reconsider:

Ease of use
A mobile wallet is an app that can be installed on a smartphone, or may even come pre-installed. Investopedia explains how they work: “Once the app is installed and the user inputs his payment information, the wallet stores this information by linking a personal identification format like a number or key, QR code or an image of the owner to each card that is stored.”

You may also have to contact your financial institution to allow the mobile wallet app to use the payment card. Once everything is set up, the mobile app uses a radio-based technology called Near-Field Communication (NFC) that communicates with the merchant’s point-of-service terminal. In other words, you only need to wave or hold your device over a store’s reader to make a payment.

Security
Because mobile wallets use encrypted payment codes and never actually transmit your account number, they are much safer to use than credit cards. In addition, paying with a mobile wallet requires your fingerprint or personal identification number, so even if a thief managed to get their hands on your smartphone, they would have a much harder time spending your money than if they had stolen your credit card.

“Even if a thief bypassed all the security, the risk to you is low,” Jeff Blyskal writes in an October 2016 article for Consumer Reports. “Mobile wallets usually require an underlying credit or debit card to fund transactions, and those cards limit your liability for erroneous or fraudulent charges to little or nothing.”

Convenience and incentives
Mobile wallets can be used for more than just emulating credit and debit cards. “In addition to payment cards, the mobile wallet can also be used as a storage device for driver’s license, Social Security Number, health information cards, loyalty cards, hotel key cards and bus or train tickets,” Investopedia explains.

Thanks to mobile wallets, you can carry hundreds of rewards cards virtually, making it easier to keep track of the ones you own and to remember to use them. You can even use mobile wallets to make online payments, removing the need to tediously enter dozens of digits for each transaction.

You can also save money with various reward programs. For example, Android Pay offers rewards for using the app at selected partners, while Samsung Pay offers a tiered rewards system based on how many monthly purchases you make with it.

Widespread adoption
So far, the main obstacles faced by mobile wallets are the different payment methods. While almost all modern smartphones will support Samsung Pay, Android Pay, Apple Pay or a combination of these, all three of these apps may not necessarily work at all retailers.

“Samsung Pay can be used at more than 10 million U.S. stores, Apple Pay at more than 3 million stores, and Android Pay at more than 1 million stores,” Blyskal says. “The numbers will grow as retailers upgrade their payment card readers.”

Being able to use Samsung Pay at more than 10 million stores easily makes it the most attractive of all the mobile wallets, but you have to own a Samsung smartphone to use it. The upside is that it works everywhere: according to Ethan Wolff-Mann in an October 2015 article for the Time’s Money, “[Samsung Pay] works everywhere, since it can mimic a magnetic strip if NFC technology is unavailable; retailers don’t get your credit card info.”

This doesn’t mean that Samsung will continue to be the best option for smartphone owners interested in mobile wallets, as both Google and Apple are strongly invested in using this technology to sell smartphones and will continue to implement rewards for using them. Furthermore, using a mobile wallet speeds up transaction times, which gives retailers extra incentive to adopt NFC-capable card readers.

For the time being, mobile wallet adoption across retailers may still not be good enough to leave your credit card at home. In the future, however, it’s very likely you’ll never need to go out shopping with more than just your smartphone.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

How online banking can keep you from overdrawing your account

Seeing red? Prevent a negative balance in your account by following these simple tips, many of which can be achieved with a simple enrollment in online banking.

TRADITIONAL BANKING SOLUTIONS
Opt out of overdraft coverage.
Debit card transactions cause more overdrafts than any other transaction type, according to a 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently published by NerdWallet staff writer Spencer Tierney. Luckily, since 2010, consumers have had the option of opting out of overdraft coverage, a service that declines debit card or ATM transactions when your account contains insufficient funds. The alternative would be incurring an overdraft fee from your financial institution for the insufficient funds, as well as a returned item fee from the entity receiving your money. Opting out eliminates the additional fee or stops you from making a purchase that would send your account into the red.

Maintain a buffer balance.
Most overdrafts occur due to relatively small sums, often $20 or less. That means you can avoid a lot of overdraft fees by keeping a cushion in your checking account at all times just in case a deposit is delayed or you make a mistake in your register,” says Marcie Geffner of Bankrate.com. U.S. News contributor Simon Zhen recommends a buffer amount equal to the sum of one month’s recurring expenses (rent, utilities, fuel and groceries).

Link an account or line of credit.
Your financial institution may offer the option of linking a savings account, credit card or specified line of credit to your account that would cover an overdraft if needed. “When a transaction causes a negative balance, a [financial institution] will automatically perform an overdraft protection transfer from the linked account to cover the overdrawn amount,” Zhen explains. “Note that [financial institutions] may charge an overdraft protection transfer fee. With a line of credit, you’re simply borrowing from this credit line and you’ll be subject to interest charges, just like any other loan.”

ONLINE BANKING SOLUTIONS
Use online bill pay rather than auto pay.

Automatic bill pay is a great service as far as convenience goes, but it can wreak havoc on maintaining a budget. Instead of setting up auto pay with billers, utilize online bill pay through your financial institution’s online banking. Making the payments manually gives you control over the transaction, so you won’t have to worry about any forgotten expenses pulling your account balance below zero. It’s also a better option than mailing in a physical check, which could take weeks to clear.

Dutifully monitor spending.
Another benefit of online banking is the mobile aspect. Today you can check your account balance anywhere, anytime—sometimes without even manually signing in. Taking full advantage of that increased potential for vigilance can save you big.

Create account alerts.
If you find manually checking your balance to be a bit tedious, automate the process instead. Sign up for alerts through your online banking, which will notify you via email or text message anytime a certain event occurs, such as unusual account activity, an overdraft or falling below a certain amount. Some platforms will even allow you to do this in real time. “When you’re alerted to an overdraft, you may be able to deposit money in time to avoid the overdraft fees,” Zhen says.

By simply being observant and taking advantage of the tools and resources provided to you by your financial institution, you should be able to circumvent overdrafts and their corresponding fees.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

How Online Banking Can Help You Budget Better

Benefits of online banking that can aid in your budgeting process

Online bankingfebruaryfeatured_onlineacctaccess can make a personal budget much easier to manage. Enrolling will offer you numerous benefits to constantly ensure that your finances are on track, such as the following:

It will list all your accounts in one place. With online banking, you don’t have to worry about how much money per paycheck you need to avoid spending in order to save enough for that summer vacation. Make that expenditure or savings goal its own account and either manually or automatically transfer that amount. That way, you will be able to see your total amount of assets, but you won’t be tempted to, or accidentally, spend the money you needed for the plane ticket while shopping at the department store.

You may be able to organize your expenditures by category. Some software that your financial institution may utilize, like FinanceWorks, as well as third-party apps or web browser extensions such as Mint allow you to create expense categories-or better yet, do it automatically for you. This is beneficial for future budgeting purposes or to make adjustments, because you can see how much was paid in a specific area (e.g., electricity, groceries, phone service).

“This saves time and confusion from sorting through months of paper statements and allows you to compare spent amounts with budgeted amounts – so your budget resembles your real life as closely as possible,” says professional money manager and Investopedia contributor Ryan Barnes.

Scheduling and alerts allow you to avoid late payments or overdraft fees. These little charges can take a toll on your finances if you don’t stay ahead of them. Automatic bill paying and scheduling recurring payments will send a set amount of money to a certain payee on the exact date you request, so you can avoid late fees. You can also schedule alerts to tell you if your account balance is getting low, which is helpful to avoid both overdraft and returned check fees, as you can immediately transfer money from another account and conveniently get the information you need to adjust your budget.

You can see your finances in real time. Paying bills and other financial operations are almost immediate (or at least more so than writing a paper check, sending it through the mail and having to wait for it to clear). The widespread adoption of mobile banking (online banking, but not tied to a personal computer) has also facilitated these benefits.

“Consumers have a greater handle on their money since they only need a mobile connection to access their accounts. No Internet service is required,” says Bankrate.com Editor Janet Stauble. “There are fewer surprises, as customers can check their balances and transactions anytime.”

Being able to analyze your finances in real time is especially helpful in the small business realm, says Chris Joseph of Small Business Chronicle, as you can see all your accounts and expenditures right in front of your eyes, while knowing exactly what is liquid and what assets are tied up.

Whether you use it for personal or for business reasons, online banking offers many advantages that can be vital to keeping a successful budget. Check out MyBranch Online Banking by visiting our site!

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

The Secrets to Saving More Money

Knowing which accounts to use can help you save more

Today, there are manysavingsecrets_featured options for where to put your money. From using regular checking and savings accounts to deciding whether to open a money market account or a CD (certificate of deposit) to even opening an account for holiday savings — each offers something to help you save a little more.

Money market accounts and savings accounts
In an article in the Houston Chronicle, finance contributor Leigh Anthony compares these two types of accounts. Both offer interest on all deposits made and are insured by the federal government, making them safe, low-risk investment options.

Both account types also have a federal limit of six transfers per month out of the account. However, money markets act more like checking accounts, giving you the ability to write checks, make electronic transfers, and withdraw money with an ATM or debit card. With savings accounts, you can transfer money, but you may or may not be able to withdraw funds directly without talking to a bank teller, depending on the institution.

“Interest rates on savings account[s] are typically very minimal as there is not a minimum balance required,” reports Anthony. “[W]ith a money market account, the interest rate is higher and may fluctuate based on a schedule posted by the [financial institution].”

A savings account would therefore be more appropriate for putting away cash that you want to save for emergencies or a future large purchase, whereas a money market account would be better for savings that you need to access more often, such as for major home renovations.

CD accounts
Anthony also discusses the difference between a CD and a money market account. Unlike money markets, a CD account has a set interest rate that doesn’t change through the investment term. You can set this term from anywhere between 30 days and five years — and then sit back as your money grows.

Furthermore, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, CDs are reported as low-risk savings accounts with an interest rate that could be higher than a money market account. The money is (probably) federally insured, “and you’re guaranteed to get back what you put in, plus interest once the CD matures” through its predetermined term. But make sure not to withdraw funds before the maturity term ends, or you’ll face a hefty penalty.

Holiday savings accounts
While some institutions offer actual “holiday savings accounts,” this term is broad enough to encompass savings specific for holiday spending. Many people spend a lot of their money during the holidays for gifts and family meals, and a great way to make sure you have funds set aside for these purchases is to open an account just for holiday savings.

“The key is to think about holiday spending the same way you would other recurring, non-monthly expenses, like annual insurance premiums, quarterly tax estimates and home maintenance. Set up an account, and automate deposits from your paycheck like any other bill,” says CFP® Tom Gilmour of LearnVest Planning Services in a November 2014 article in Forbes.

If you need more guidance on what type of savings account to open, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.