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We are pleased to provide you with additional financial information to assist you with your financial well-being. Please check this page every Wednesday for our updates.

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 Four Tips to Improve Your Credit Score

According to an article published by TransUnion Credit Bureau, it is easy for consumers to become worried or concerned about their finances in today’s changing economic conditions.  Here are a few tips to help you manage and keep your credit in good standing.

One: Pay all your bills on time every month.  Late payments, collections and bankruptcies have the biggest negative effect on your credit scores while a long history of on-time payments can help you build a healthy credit report.

Two: Check your credit reports regularly to ensure they accurately reflect credit history. Question information you don't recognize. Contact the creditor associated with the account or the credit bureau if you spot errors.

Three: Keep your credit card balances at less than 35 percent of your available credit limits. If you card limit is $1,000.00, keep the balance you owe to no more than $350.

Four: Coming Soon...

Speak to an Old Fort banker to learn more about our online bill pay service, debt consolidation options and/or savings programs to help improve your financial situation. 

 

How To Establish and Build Credit

 Having good credit can make it easier to obtain a mortgage, a car loan and even rent an apartment.  Good credit can also often assist in paying lower loan rates.  Below are some helpful ways to establish and build your credit.

  • Open a Credit Card.  If you do not already have one, consider obtaining one and begin using it wisely.  To ensure that using the credit card will help your credit score, select a credit card company that reports activity to the credit reporting agency.

  • Pay On Time and In Full.  You must consistently pay your credit card bill in full and on time, or you may actually harm your credit score. 

  • Open a Bank Account.  Although checking and savings accounts do not factor into your credit score, lenders can review your bank accounts to determine how fiscally responsible you are.  Paying rent and utility bills fully, and on time, each month can also be a way to demonstrate to potential lenders that you are responsible.

Establishing and building a solid credit history is essential to your financial well-being.  Please speak with an Old Fort banker to learn more about building your credit.

 

When Should You Start Receiving Retirement Benefits?  

Should you delay receiving your retirement benefit beyond full retirement age and how do you determine when retirement might make the most dollar and sense for you? Here are a few points you might want to consider.

You can take early retirement and begin receiving benefits as early as age 62. Early retirement provides relatively the same total Social Security benefits over a lifetime as full retirement, but in smaller monthly amounts due to the longer period of time they will be paid out. Although leaving the workforce and taking the money is tempting, it is important to recognize that participating early will permanently reduce payments to you (and your spouse). Taking early retirement may also reduce opportunities to save additional monies for your later years as well as reduce the time you have to adequately prepare for retirement. 

You can delay retirement. Many people continue to work past their full retirement age because they are often at the peak of their earning potential. This can increase your Social Security benefits because each additional year you work may add another year of earnings to your record, and higher lifetime earnings may result in higher benefits. Depending on your birth year, benefits will also be increased by a certain percentage if you delay retirement, the increase ending at age 70.

Your individual answer will depend on your income needs, concerns about life expectancy, and the amount you expect to earn on your retirement strategies. To help decide which answer is best for you, you may want to explore the Social Security Benefit Planner website, which can help you estimate your personal benefit amounts.

Social Security income should only be a part of a complete retirement strategy. Knowing as much as possible now may help you feel more confident about your retirement future.  

Ask an Old Fort Banker for information on additional strategies that may increase your retirement income and protect your assets from market fluctuations.  

THE TOP FIVE WAYS FAMILIES CAN MAKE COLLEGE MORE AFFORDABLE

The value of a college degree is not what it used to be, but its importance certainly has not diminished.  In fact, in Sallie Mae’s report, “How America Pays for College,” 90% of families expect their student to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, with 54% expecting a graduate degree.  Of course, if you have read any recent news about the financial details of college education, you will know that it is also a foreboding prospect: there is nearly $1.3 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt, ongoing wage stagnation, and the prospect of enduring years of underemployment.

But it is not all bad news.  A notable paradigm shift is taking place: this year, a whopping 98% of current students are actively engaging in ways to make their education more affordable.

So how does a student and their family better prepare themselves? Here is our first of the top five ways families can make college more affordable:

  1. Save early and save often.  Recent research has shown a link between savings and college success: children from low and moderate-income households with college savings between $1 and $499 are 3x more likely to attend college and 4x more likely to graduate.   
  2. Have a plan. Only two in five of Sallie Mae's respondent families created a plan to pay for college, but they were able to save 3.5 times more and borrow one-third less than non-planners. America Saves can help you make a plan to save for education. Pledge to save and you will receive monthly reminders to save and specific advice to help you save more and pay less for college.
  3. Be realistic in assessing college options.  Academic programs and financial details often take a back seat to personal choices, but considerations like in-state vs. out of state, scholarship opportunities, and work-study programs can mean the difference between college being affordable, or not.  An honest assessment of a school's programs and financial opportunities could knock a personal "want" off the list entirely.
  4. Curb spending wherever and whenever possible.  Did you know that the average price of a new textbook has increased by nearly 30% since 2009?  Whether you are looking at room and board, books and supplies, or personal spending, there is always a way to lower costs.  Many students are choosing to live at home to reduce housing costs, while others opt for a track to get their degrees completed faster.
  5. Leave no financial stone unturned.  “Free money” is available in the form of scholarships and grants.  There are a range of scholarships related to demographics and characteristics like academics, athletic, and artistic.  Find out more at your guidance counselor’s office or online.  By completing the FAFSA, you will receive information about any grants you or your child qualifies for.

Don’t know where to start saving?  It is never too late!

  •  Get familiar with Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) and the benefits for kids in low to moderate income households.
  • 529 Savings Plans are getting some clearer spending guidelines that may boost their already tax-friendly savings benefits.

  • ABLE accounts, tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families, are rolling out this year and may include costs like education and housing for your student.  

 

EDUCATION VALUE

Fed research finds over a lifetime the average college graduate will earn approximately $831,000 more than the average high school graduate.  This includes the cost of tuition and lost wages while obtaining an undergraduate degree.

 

INTERESTING FINANCE-RELATED FACTS YOU NEVER KNEW

We think money and finance is fun and interesting, but if you don’t, here are three interesting finance-related facts that we bet you did not know:

  1. Did you know that money has a short life span?  On average a $1 bill lasts only 18 months, a $5 bill will last two years, and a $10 bill will last three years.  This is why the U.S. Bureau of Engraving & Printing has to reprint over $500 million worth of currency each year.
  2. The U.S. “$” sign has long been in use to represent foreign currency prior to the issue of the first U.S. dollar in 1875.  Not only that, but the “$” symbol never has, nor does it now, appear on any U.S. currency.

The largest numerical bill ever to circulate in the world was 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 and it was the Millard Hungarian Pengo, issued in 1946.  At the time, it was only worth $.20 in the U.S.

EMERGENCY FUND

Saving at least three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses will help you stay on track when life throws you a financial curve ball.  Start early.  Start small.  Stay committed.

  • First, set a goal of saving at least $1,000.
  • Next, save at least one months’ worth of basic living expenses.
  • Finally, work your way up to a fully funded emergency fund.

     Tips to Establish a Savings Goal:

  1. Review your spending to determine your basic monthly living expenses.  Include fixed and variable expenses.  Exclude savings and optional expenses.
  2. Multiply the amount by the number of months you need
  3. See an Old Fort Banker to assist you in setting up your EMERGENCY FUND.

 

401K STATUS

Census Bureau research finds that 67% of Americans do not participate in or have access to a 401(k) retirement plan.

See an Old Fort banker to assist you with your retirement planning.
 

STUDENT LOANS IN THE U.S.

For new college graduates, long-term student loan debt is now the norm. Here is a look at the student loan market today:

  •  Class of 2017 graduates who left school with student loan debt = 70%
  •  Average student loan debt for the class of 2017 = $39,400 (up 6% from 2016)
  • Average monthly student loan payment for a borrower between 20 and 30 years old = $351

If you have student loan debt, please contact an Old Fort Banker in order to develop a strategy to eliminate your student loan(s) as soon as possible.

 

TIPS FOR PAYING BACK STUDENT LOANS

Is the burden of college loans weighing you or a family member down?  Here are a few tips to get out from under this debt:

  1.  Make more than the minimum payment.  You should already have payments set up, so anything extra, even $25 a month, is a start.  If you are making pre-payments while in school, call your loan servicer to make sure all payments are going to the principal rather than the interest.

  2. Consolidate and refinance.  The goal of refinancing is to decrease your interest rate so more of your money goes toward paying down your loans.  When you refinance your student loans, you can get one consolidated loan with one monthly payment, but you will probably want to include only those loans in which you can decrease your interest rate.  A few words of caution: If you refinance a federal loan with a private loan, you might be giving up some protections, such as being able to apply for deferment or an income-based repayment plan in the event your finances take a hit in the future.

  3. Utilizes your raise.  Consider taking half of your raise amount and put it toward student loan payments.
     
  4. Trim your budget. Many who succeed at this say the key is seeing it as short-term, focusing on the free feeling you’ll experience once this weight is off your shoulders.  A few options are:   
    • Cancelling cable TV
    • Not going to restaurants
    • Ordering club soda & a lime instead of alcohol
    • Working extra hours or taking a second job

  5. Student loans in the U.S.

    For new college graduates, long-term student loan debt is now the norm. Here is a look at the student loan market today: 

    • Student loan debt = $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt
    •  
    • Class of 2017 graduates who left school with student loan debt = 70%
    •  
    • Average student loan debt for the class of 2017 = $39,400 (up 6% from 2016)
    •  
    • Average monthly student loan payment for a borrower between 20 and 30 years old = $351

You are only limited by your creativity and motivation.  Every bit benefits your student loan repayment obligation.  Please see an Old Fort banker to develop a strategy to eliminate your student debt.                                                        

 

 

SEVEN WAYS TO USE YOUR TAX REFUND

Tax season is the perfect time to hit the reset button on your finances. Your refund can help put you on the right path toward reaching your financial goals. To help you make the most out of your money, we offer the following tips:

  1. Save for emergencies. More than 60% of Americans are not prepared for unexpected expenses. You can prepare by opening or adding to a savings account that serves as an “emergency fund.” Ideally, it should hold approximately three to six months of living expenses in case of sudden financial hardships such as losing your job or having to replace an automobile.
  2. Pay off debt. Pay down existing balances either by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
  3. Save for retirement, your child's education or future health expenses.  Open or increase contributions to a tax-deferred savings plan like a 401(k) or an IRA.  Investigate opening a tax-advantaged 529 education savings plan to ensure school expenses will be covered when your child reaches college age. Or save for future health expenses with tax-free dollars by investing in a Health Savings Account.
  4. Pay down your mortgage or student loans.  Make an extra payment on your mortgage or student loans principal each year to save money or interest while reducing the term of your loans.
  5. Invest safely with U.S. savings bonds.  The U.S. Treasury allows for savings bonds to be purchased using your tax refund for as little as $50.  Savings bonds earn interest for a maximum of 30 years.
  6. Invest in your current home. Use your refund to invest in home improvements that will pay you back in the long run by increasing the value of your home.  This can include small, cost effective upgrades like energy-efficient appliances that will pay off in both the short and long term.  If you have more substantial renovations in mind, Old Fort can potentially help with a home equity line of credit.
  7. Donate to charity. The benefit is two-fold: Giving to charity will make a difference in your community, and you can also potentially claim the tax deduction if you itemize.

Please see an Old Fort Banker to put you on the right path towards reaching your financial goals.

SIX BASIC STEPS TO PURCHASING A HOME

STEP 1: Deciding Whether to Buy

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of owning?
  • How much can you afford to pay?
  • Where do you want to live?
  • What kind of house do you want?

STEP 2: Finding The Right Home

  • Choosing the right neighborhood.
  • Looking for houses for sale.
  • Using a real estate broker.
  • Dealing with discrimination.
  • Choosing the right house.
  • Evaluating the condition of the house.
  • Knowing what it will cost to own.

STEP 3: Signing On The Dotted Line

  • What is a purchase contract?
  • What you should know before you sign?
  • Using the services of a real estate lawyer.
  • Making a deposit on the house.
  • Other agreements you should know about.

STEP 4: Paying For The House

  • Do you have good credit?
  • Getting a mortgage loan to purchase the house.
  • Mortgage insurance.
  • Appraisals and inspections.
  • Insuring the home and its contents.
  • Costs of getting a mortgage.
  • Old Fort Bank’s Weekly Financial Fitness Article

STEP 5: Becoming The Owner

  • How do you become the owner at closing?
  • What do you do before the closing?
  • What happens at closing?
  • Paying closing costs.

STEP 6: Living In The Home

  • Moving in.
  • Dealing with any problems.
  • Making mortgage payments.
  • Managing your money.
  • Where to go for help.

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