• Hit the ground running in 2017: three goals for your finances

    2017 financial goals

    Is it us, or did we just put away our holiday decorations? 2017 is here, and it’s a good time to reflect on your financial goals for this year. If you’re carrying debt, a little prep now will provide peace of mind.  

    Here are a few ways to get the most out of your money in 2017: 

    Don’t spend more than you earn  

    This classic rule of personal finance is classic for a reason: it works. We all have good intentions when it comes to saving, but it’s easy to fall into the habit of using your credit card when you want to buy something but don’t have the cash. 

    Bottom line? If you don’t have it, don’t spend it. After paying your bills and putting money into your savings, make a discretionary budget (and stick to it!). 

    Create an action plan 

    If you’re trying to eliminate student loan debt or, say, buy a house, break your big goal down into smaller steps. Otherwise, you may get overwhelmed by the larger task and give up.  

    For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to pay off $50K in student loans this year!”, focus instead on eating at home more often, taking one less vacation, or picking up a part-time job—anything that will free up cash to help you meet your goal.  

    Smash debt with the snowball-payment method 

    If you’ve tried to pay off debt in the past and fell short, or finally want to get serious about it, 2017 is your year! It’s time to try the snowball-payment method.  

    Start by identifying your most expensive credit card balance. Pay the minimum on your other cards, and roll the extra money into your payment for the expensive card. Once it’s paid off, focus on the next most expensive card, etc. You’ll save money by paying less in interest over time, and move yourself closer to being completely debt-free. 

    Another great option would be to transfer your high interest credit card balances to our Tucoemas VISA. We’ve got low rates and always have your best interest in mind (and great puns)!

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  • Smart Giving: How to make the most of your charitable donations


    charity donations

    Giving back to the community and the concept of ‘people helping people’ has been the cornerstone of Tucoemas since its inception in 1948. If a cause or charity is inspiring you to give, know how to make the most of your generosity first. The federal government rewards those who make charitable contributions with significant tax breaks, as long as a few rules are met.  

    To be sure you are donating to a worthy and above-board organization, request a copy of its financial report. It summarizes the organization’s tax status, programs, and how the funds are used. With the exception of places of worship, all charities must file such a report with the IRS. You may also contact your state's attorney general's office or the Better Business Bureau for further investigation.  

    Sadly, whenever money is involved, fraud is also prevalent. Be particularly cautious when solicited by a charity. Warning signs of scams include:

    • High-pressure sales pitches
    • Requiring you to make an immediate donation
    • Only being able to offer a “tax ID number,” which is no more than an employer identification number and does not guarantee non-profit status 
    A wonderful aspect of giving is the ability to deduct at least some of your donation from your income taxes. In order for the contribution to be tax deductible, it must be made to a qualified organization that meets IRS guidelines. To know if it does, you may ask the organization. But to be sure, check the IRS’s “Publication 78” online at www.irs.gov for the most up-to-date list of qualified charities, or call the IRS at 800-829-1040.


    How to Donate Money 

    When donating money, for tax purposes and safety reasons, never pay with cash. Either write a check, made payable to the organization (never the individual collecting the donation), or use a credit or debit card. Avoid giving your account information over the telephone. Another way to give money while minimizing your tax liability even further is to donate appreciated assets. By giving stock that you’ve held for more than a year directly to a qualified charity, you can claim a deduction for the full price of the asset – thus escaping a potentially hefty capital gains bill. 

    How to Donate Property 

    If you are considering donating such property as a vehicle or boat to a charity, be aware that the tax deduction rules have changed in response to past abuse of the system. Now, if you donate real property with a claimed value of over $500, your deduction depends on what the charity does with it. If the organization uses your property (or makes a significant improvement to it), you may deduct its full fair market value from your income taxes. If, however, they simply sell the property, your deduction will be the gross price the charity receives from the sale. 

    How to Donate Goods  

    Yet another way of giving to a cause is to donate goods – including clothes, computers, and other personal and household items – to a charity. 

    Before boxing them up and delivering them to your local shelter, first determine their fair market value so you can receive the appropriate tax deduction. Fair market value is considered the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller. 

    Also for tax purposes, be sure to keep a detailed record of your donations. You should have evidence of the condition and number of items you donated, the date you purchased the items and what their original price was, and signed and dated receipts from the organization that received them. 

    How to Donate Time 

    Have more time than money and possessions, or want to share your particular strength with those in need? Volunteer. Tax breaks are available to those who give in this special way. While there is no deduction for the value of services you provide, you may deduct a number of out-of-pocket costs associated with volunteerism, including:

    • Reasonable and substantiated travel expenses
    • Gas and oil expenses of 14¢ per charitable-use mile
    • The cost of entertaining others on behalf of a charity (but not your own entertainment costs)
    • Purchased equipment for volunteer duties (as long as you don’t maintain ownership)
    • The cost of maintaining your own equipment used for volunteer duties
    • Uniforms required for the volunteer service you perform 
    Never before has giving—whether it’s money, property, or time—been more necessary and valued. And by doing it right, your generosity can go a very long way.



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  • Teen Money: Opening checking and savings accounts

    Teen Accounts

    One of the first steps toward adulthood is having a checking and savings account in your own name. These accounts allow you to save money, make purchases, and pay bills efficiently. Both, however, require you to take an active management role, so that you can achieve your goals. 

    Where to open the accounts 
    A great place to open your first account is Tucoemas Federal Credit Union! We’re a local, not-for-profit financial institution that is owned by our Members (account holders), and we often have better loan rates and lower fees than banks. Check out some of our deposit account options for more information.

    Start a savings account 
    Getting into the habit of setting money aside regularly is the foundation for a successful financial future. Be sure to sign up for automatic transfer when you open your account, this will help saving money a breeze. All you have to do is choose the amount you want deducted regularly from your checking account and deposited into your savings account. 

    If you save some of every paycheck, it won’t be long before you’ve put together a nice sum. Financial experts recommend keeping three to six months’ worth of expenses tucked away in a savings account as a cushion for any unforeseen emergencies. However, after you have built up enough to tide you over in the event of an emergency (job loss, unexpected car repairs, health problems, etc.) you can begin to invest your money and get your money to work for you! 

    Managing a checking account 
    After you open your checking account, it is your responsibility to handle and monitor it correctly. This means knowing how much is in your account at all times, reading your statements for accuracy, and never writing checks for more money than you have in it. Monitoring and managing your account is simple with our Mobiliti app! 

    Don’t “bounce” checks 
    Bouncing checks is serious and expensive business. If there aren’t enough funds to cover a check, it will be rejected when it comes in for payment. The check will be sent back to the person who deposited it and you will be charged for “bouncing” it. To help prevent bounced checks, we offer overdraft protection and courtesy pay.  

    You can avoid accidentally writing bad checks by always knowing how much you have in your account. Keep track of the deposits you make, ATM withdrawals, debit transactions and online purchases. You can do all this, and more, with our Mobiliti app

    Managing all of your accounts well is important. If you do, you will you always have the security a savings account brings, and you’ll never waste money on checking account mistakes. If you've got any questions or are interested in opening an account, please visit any branch location.


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  • Zero percent financing - too good to be true?

    Zero Percent financing

    You have probably seen the ads from automakers offering 0% financing deals to purchase a new car, truck or SUV. Wow, you can’t beat 0% right…?

    Well, in many cases you can! Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about a 0% financing offer:

    • If you qualify, you’ll often have to select between taking the 0% offer or the factory cash back rebate.
    • Not everyone qualifies for 0%. You usually have to have a near perfect credit score to qualify for the 0% rate.
    • Many times 0% financing options are only available with certain terms which can cause your monthly payment to be high.

    How Tucoemas can help

    If you qualify, take the rebate offer and then finance your new vehicle with Tucoemas. We have low rates and flexible terms that will be right for your situation. Our Loan Specialists can easily finance the car of your dreams with the terms that work for you.

    While 0% rate sounds great, it may cost you more than financing through Tucoemas – if we can save you money, we will! Save on your next vehicle purchase by financing with Tucoemas. Contact a Loan Specialist at: (559) 737-5777

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  • Personal Finance for Millennials


    Many Millennials, who graduated during a time of job scarcity and enormous student debt, are more than a little skittish about financial matters. After all, in addition to their own challenges, many saw their parents’ generation struggle with layoffs, stock market losses, and the housing crisis. Still, there’s a lot that today’s 20-somethings can do to build a brighter financial future.  

    Commit to Saving. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, saving may seem out of reach. But the first step is to make a budget, identifying where, exactly, all of your money’s going now and pinpointing the wallet sucks that are keeping you from saving. Make it a goal to save at least 10-15% of your income, and start by creating an emergency fund with 3-6 months of living expenses. If, after seriously scrutinizing your budget, you just don’t see room for saving, at least commit to saving any financial windfalls—like bonuses and tax refunds – and saving future salary increases. 

    Looking for Supplemental Income. For many young people who are just starting out, the best way to find money to save is to generate additional income with a side job. If your employer doesn’t prohibit it, you might take on a second job during your off-hours or earn extra cash Ubering or pet-sitting. Or, if you’re a crafty sort, you could try selling your wares on a site like Etsy

    Start Investing Early. Once you have a decent emergency fund, you should start thinking about retirement. Yes, retirement! If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, sign up as soon as you’re eligible, because even small amounts set aside while you’re young will add up to a significant nest egg decades from now. And, if your employer offers 401(k) matching funds, be sure to contribute enough of your earnings to max out the match. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table. 


    Manage Your Debt. No discussion of Millennials’ finances would be complete without a word or two about student debt. If you’re carrying a heavy burden in federal loans, you may have options for restructuring your debt to make it more manageable. If your loans are with private lenders, you’ll have less flexibility, but focus first on paying off the loans with the highest interest rates. The same goes for credit card debt. New grads are often bombarded with credit card offers, so it’s easy to get in over your head. If that’s where you are, rip up any new offers and commit to whittling down your debt by refraining from new charges and always paying more than the monthly minimum. 

    Shape Up Your Credit Score. Being late with payments or, worse yet, defaulting on your credit obligations has a huge and negative impact on your credit score. This may not seem like a big deal if you’re not looking to buy a house or car anytime soon, but it isn’t just lenders who make decisions about you based on your credit score. A poor credit score can cause you to pay higher rates for car insurance in some states. Most landlords and many employers also check credit scores when evaluating candidates. 

    With these tips in mind, please remember that we offer our Members free financial counseling through Balance, a San Francisco based provider of financial education services. To learn more information about this free service and the contact information, please visit our website.

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  • Things to Know Before Buying a Timeshare

    Vacation


    When you visit a beautiful vacation destination, have a wonderful time, and plan to return again and again, you may dream of owning a home there. However, for many, a vacation home – with the big down payment, monthly mortgage, and ongoing maintenance costs — just isn’t in the budget. An alternative many people consider is a timeshare, which can seem like a cost-effective alternative to hotel stays. However, as with any major purchase, a lot of careful research should go into deciding whether or not a timeshare is the right choice for you. Here are some things to consider. 

    Are you the repeat visitor type? 

    As much are you may love this particular destination, take an honest look at your vacation patterns before you buy. Are you the type who likes a lot of variety, or do you prefer the predictability and comfort that comes from returning to a favorite spot at the same time each year? Also look ahead to the future. If, for example, you have young children, is this a place the family will enjoy just as much when they become teens, and that you and your spouse will enjoy once the children grow up and no longer vacation with you? 

    What are the complete costs of ownership? 

    Unless you pay cash upfront for it, you’ll still have a loan to pay with a timeshare. In most cases, you’ll also have to shell out cash regularly for annual maintenance fees, special assessments, utilities, and property taxes. You have to pay these, even if you don’t use the unit, so check to see if there is a cap on fees. When evaluating the cost of the timeshare versus typical vacation costs, remember to account for all of these costs to get a realistic comparison. 

    How will you pay for it? 

    Timeshare developers have a reputation for the hard sell, and “easy” financing may be one of the techniques a salesperson uses to close the deal quickly. But look closely at the contract, because many of these financing schemes come with sky high interest rates – often as high as a typical credit card. 

    It’s not a real estate investment.

    When most people purchase a vacation home or other real estate, they view it as an investment. Even if they don’t use the property a lot, they are building equity in a sellable asset that is likely to increase in value over time. This is not the case with a timeshare. Timeshares are notoriously difficult to sell, and resale scams abound, so no one should buy a timeshare as an investment. And if you take a loss on a timeshare sale, which is likely, you probably will not be able to deduct the loss on your tax return as you would with other real estate or investments. Thus, it’s best to view a timeshare purchase not as an investment, but as one way to lock-in your vacation time at a specific location you know you will return to year after year.

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  • Understanding Different Types of Student Loans

    Student Loans


    If you or a family member will be attending college soon, you’ve probably noticed that the sticker price for a college education has risen considerably in recent years. According to Sallie Mae’s National Study of College Students and Parents for 2015, families spent on average $24,164 for college in the 2014-15 academic year, and 38% of them borrowed at least some money to help pay the tab. 

    Though the costs can be steep, a college degree is a good investment in the student’s future. To get the best value from that investment, however, it’s prudent to make sure you get the right type of student loans for your individual situation.

    Private Student Loans 

    For most people, federal student loans are a better deal than student loans from private entities like banks, colleges, and other lenders. This is because private student loans – though they can be used to pay for the same types of things as federal student loans – are structured much like other types of personal loans. Interest rates can be quite high – into the double digits — and they’re often variable, so there’s uncertainty about exactly how much you’ll owe. Also, repayment options are generally not flexible, and some may even require repayment to begin while the student is still in school.

    Federal Student Loans 

    Federal student loans, which carry fixed interest rates, are generally available to all students – even those from affluent families – and most require no credit check and no cosigner. Though you accrue interest while in school, you generally won’t be required to begin repayment until you graduate. And, those with financial need may qualify for subsidized loans, which reduce their costs even more. After you graduate, if you experience financial hardship, you may be able to reduce or postpone your payments. In some cases, you can even have the debt forgiven through public service work. 

    So, given the many advantages of federal student loans, why would anybody take out private student loans?  

    Well, it’s those high costs mentioned above. While federal loans are a good deal, there are limits to how much a student can borrow, and that may not be enough to cover their college costs. However, though a college degree will usually pay off, it’s important for students to take a hard look at their earning potential after college when deciding how much to borrow. A smart rule of thumb is to borrow no more than what you expect to make in your first year of employment after graduation – this ensures a reasonable debt load that can probably be paid off within ten years or so. 

    And remember, neither federal nor private student loans are likely to be forgiven, even if you declare bankruptcy. So, even if you can borrow more, it’s wise to take on the minimum amount of debt you absolutely need.

    We have partnered with Sallie Mae to offer the Smart Option Student Loan. This loan is an ideal solution to help you pay for college expenses not covered by scholarships and federal loans. 


    • Multiple in-school repayment options plus a choice of competitive fixed and variable interest rates provides even more flexibility
    • No origination fees and no prepayment penalty
    • Rewards and interest rate reductions available
    • Rates that reward creditworthy borrowers
    • Applying with a creditworthy cosigner may help you qualify and/or receive a lower rate
    • 100% US-based Student Loan Specialists 
     To learn more please visit our Consumer Loans page.



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  • The Troublesome Ticket: How To Spot And Avoid A Fake

    concert tickets


    After months of waiting; after a five-hour car ride and after waiting in line for what feels like a lifetime, you've finally gotten into the concert experience of a lifetime. Beaming, you step forward and hand your ticket to the security guard at the entrance. You begin to stride forward, but he stops you dead in your tracks. He can't let you into the concert because your ticket won't scan. I'm afraid to be the one to tell you this, but you've been sold a fake ticket. 

    In a world where almost everything can be accessed online, live performances are a valuable experience. Unfortunately, scam artists across the globe have realized this and are turning that value against people. Users on sites like Craigslist and eBay have been selling fraudulent tickets for performances and sporting events for years. Concert or sporting event tickets can cost hundreds of dollars at face value these days, and much more than that as the date of the event approaches. Scam artists have tapped into that market big-time. All they need to do is ask you to pay online or mail your payment to a private PO box, and they're almost untraceable. 

    So, without question, by purchasing tickets online, you're putting your wallet at tremendous risk. Shelling out hundreds of dollars for a piece of paper anyone can forge is a gamble any way you look at it, but using faulty tickets can pose other dangers as well. For example, if you pay with a personal check, an experienced con artist might attempt to use the information on it to steal your identity.  Even if nothing else goes wrong with the sale, if you show up to the event with a faulty ticket, you could be arrested for trying to pass it off as real. 

    Given the spread of online ticket exchanges, it may seem that there's no alternative to buying tickets online. The era of the box office windows may be drawing to a close, but that doesn't mean the safety it provided has gone away. So, what can you do to protect yourself? Try these 6 handy tips. 

    1.) Do your research 

    For starters, find out as much background information as you can. See if you can find out exactly what a real ticket looks like, so you can spot differences in a forged one. For sporting events, most national sanctioning organizations include holograms and other hard-to-fake pictures on their tickets. When in doubt, contact the venue. 

    2.) Spot the spec 

    "Spec" tickets are being sold speculatively. These are not tickets that the seller has in his or her possession. They are tickets the seller expects to have after they come up for sale. If you see tickets for events that haven't been released by the box office yet, this is likely how they're being sold. Steer clear, as a "spec" seller is just as likely to take your money and run as they are to give you a ticket. 

    3.) Make sellers do their homework 

    There are ways you can strike preemptively against fake ticket scammers. Ask for a copy of the seller's invoice, proving that the tickets have been paid for in full. This is no different than asking for a receipt to prove the goods you're buying aren't stolen. For season ticket holders selling one event, you can also ask them for the ticket account number, which will always be printed at the top of the ticket. Also, ask the seller why they're selling. Imagine yourself as a teacher and the seller as a child who's asking for a homework excuse. Be skeptical of reasons why the seller is missing the event. No one schedules a funeral a month in advance. 

    4.) Deal with reputable websites 

    Craigslist should be the last resort for buying tickets to events. Check reputable websites like Seatgeek, StubHub and Ticket Exchange before you dive into Craigslist. Better yet, ask your friends if they know anyone with tickets. It's always easier to deal with friends or coworkers than with anonymous strangers. 

    5.) Trust your instincts 

    Always be wary of people who are selling tickets at face value or less. Unless prohibited by state law, many people who resell tickets will do so at many times face value. Someone with a last-second conflict will still likely attempt to get at least face value for tickets to a popular event. Think like a scalper. If you saw a ticket for sale below face value, wouldn't you snap it up, knowing you could multiply your money at the event? If a deal feels too good to be true, you know what to do. 

    6.) Manage the meet 

    See if you can meet your contact in person. Aim to meet in a well-lit, public place. Many grocery stores and other large retailers offer their parking lots as safe spaces for all sorts of transactions and they would be excellent candidates for this one. As far as payment goes, cashier's check is the safest way to pay a stranger, since it contains little personally identifiable information and doesn't require the same level of trust as a personal check. With the rise of mobile payment apps like PayPal and Square, it might be wisest to pay through one of these in order to create a digital paper trail should something go wrong with the ticket. Always inspect the ticket carefully for signs of fraud before handing over any money. If the seller doesn't agree, walk away. 

    No matter how high-definition the video gets or how free of ads it is, it'll never compare to the thrill of being at a live performance. That being said, even a live performance is never worth giving up your account information and funds for the possibility of being arrested at the gates. Go enjoy your concert, but never stop being wary of scam artists in the digital age. 

    Bonus Tip: Once you have your tickets in hand, you may be want to share your exciting news on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. That's cool. You're excited and you should be. But also be careful not to post a picture of your ticket(s) containing all the relevant info that is unique to your purchase (such as seats and ticket serial numbers). Sophisticated scammers can replicate your ticket using that data and leave you facing a lot of questions when you try to attend the event.


    SOURCES:

    http://www.fraudguides.com/internet/craigslist/ticket-scams/
     

    http://consumer-law.lawyers.com/consumer-fraud/step-right-up-beware-of-ticket-scams-and-risks.html



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  • Five ways to cut monthly expenses

    Ever notice how your monthly expenses always seem to equal whatever salary you’re making, even after you get raises? The phenomenon is called “lifestyle creep” and it can keep you from reaching all kinds of financial goals, from paying down debt, to saving for retirement. One way to get lifestyle creep under control is to have any future raises you get direct deposited into savings – like a 401k account through your employer, or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). But here are five things you can do right now to cut your monthly expenses.

    cut expenses

    Make a Budget 

    The first step toward cutting expenses is to make a budget, so you know exactly where your money is going. Start with major categories, like rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation, meals, clothing, and entertainment. Then break it down even further to ferret out items that are ripe for reducing. Many people, for example, are surprised to learn just how much they pay for pricey lattes and snacks from restaurants and vendors that would cost a fraction of that amount if they were made at home or purchased at a grocery store. 

    Lower Your Mortgage Payment 

    The biggest monthly expense for many people is their home mortgage. If you haven’t examined that loan since you bought your home years ago, it’s quite possible that you could save a lot of money – both now and over the life the loan – if you refinance at a lower interest rate. To know whether refinancing makes sense, please contact our Loan Department at (559) 737-5777.

    Get an Insurance Checkup 

    If you have a car, you absolutely must have car insurance. But it pays to shop around periodically to make sure you’re getting the best deal. If you have a decent emergency fund on hand in case of an accident, one way to lower your premiums is to increase your deductible. Also be sure to examine your policy for “extras” you may not need. For example, you could be paying for roadside assistance both through your insurance policy and through AAA.

    Examine Your Car-Payments 

    Another costly expense is your car loan payment. A great way to reduce this expense is to re-finance your existing high rate loan, with Tucoemas. To learn how to save money by refinancing your car loan, apply online or contact our Loan Department at (559)737-5777.

    Cut the Cord 

    If you’ve already ditched your land line, good for you! If not, doing so is one of the quickest and most pain-free ways to trim your expenses. Most all of us have our cell phones with us all the time anyway, and if you really like the feel of a traditional phone in your hand, a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) plan that provides phone service over the Internet is a lot cheaper than traditional land line service.


    For more financial fitness tips and much more, please visit BALANCE - a free resource for our Members!

    Not a Member? Join Today!


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  • Spring Cleaning for Your Finances

    Spring cleaning

    The freshness of spring motivates a lot of people to throw open the windows and doors, and do a thorough spring cleaning. It’s a great way to take stock of what you have, organize it so everything’s more accessible, and ditch the clutter that’s keeping you from enjoying your space. While you’re at it, why not dive into a bit of spring cleaning for your finances, too?   

    Check Your Tax Withholding 

    You just filed your income taxes. If you got a big tax refund, that’s the good news and the bad news: good that you didn’t have to write a check to the IRS, and bad because a big refund means you overpaid. Basically, you’ve been shorting your take home pay to give the government an interest-free loan. So, examine the personal allowances you claimed on the W-4 form you completed for your employer. If you’re consistently getting big tax refunds, it’s likely you’re claiming too many allowances and, thus, having more money than necessary withheld from your paycheck.   

    Review Insurance Policies 

    You want to make sure that you have the right types and amounts of coverage. For example, you may have purchased a home or gained other assets since you first took out your auto policy. If so, it may be wise to increase your liability coverage. It may cost you more in the short-term, but you’ll be glad you had proper coverage if you need to make a claim. On the flip side, if you have auto and home policies with different companies, you may be paying too much. Oftentimes, you can save by bundling both auto and home insurance policies with the same company.   

    Evaluate Your Credit Cards 

    If you’re carrying credit card balances, you’re throwing away money, so make a strategy to pay off that debt. Lots of credit card issuers want your business, and periodically run balance transfer promotions that let you consolidate your balances onto one card that carries a super-low rate for a fixed period of time, with no balance transfer fee. If you’re able to do this, be sure to pay off the debt before the interest rate goes back up to the regular rate. And remember, don’t close those old credit card accounts, because that could ding your credit score. Instead, once you’re free of credit card debt, use all of your cards periodically to keep them active, and discipline yourself to pay off all your balances each month.   

    See our credit cards page for more information about our low rate cards.   

    Consolidate Retirement Accounts 

    If you’ve been fortunate to work for companies that offer 401k retirement plans, you may have accumulated several accounts that are sprinkled among various employer-sponsored plans. While diversifying your investments is always a good idea, it’s easier to manage them if they’re consolidated in one place. You have a couple of options. Your current employer may allow you to rollover other accounts into your current 401k, but only do that if your current plan offers low fees and solid investment choices. You can also roll over those old 401k accounts into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), where you have a broad range of low-cost investment options. Just be sure you do a direct rollover, so you don’t incur any tax penalties.

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