6 Financial Tips for Service Members and Their Families

Monday, June 26 at 09:15 AM
Category: Personal Finance
Finances are often identified by service members and their families as one of their most significant stressors – even more than deployments and personal relationships. Financial concerns at home make it extremely difficult for service members to focus on the mission at hand. Planning ahead as much as possible is key for the millions of military families who face unique financial challenges like deployments and relocations.

These financial tips can help lessen the financial burden on military families:
  • Contribute automatically to a Thrift Savings Plan. Military members have access to the Federal Thrift Savings Program, which offers the lowest-cost retirement savings plan available. Have automatic contributions withdrawn from your paycheck. 
  • Plan for deployment. Before deployment, have a family conversation about managing the household budget. Military personnel also receive additional funds while deployed. Decide on the best use for that extra cash, whether it is paying off debt or increasing Thrift Savings Plan contributions. 
  • Meet with your banker before active duty. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers all military personnel entering active duty a variety of financial protections. The SCRA covers issues ranging from interest rate reductions to limits on debt accrual. Ask your banker about the key provisions of this law and how they can help you.  
  • Set up automatic bill pay. Whether you’re stationed stateside or overseas, automatic bill pay will give you and your family one less thing to worry about each month. It can be particularly helpful during deployments in regions where internet access is unreliable and mobile banking isn’t an option.
  • Consider housing options. With mortgage rates at notably low levels, homeownership may seem like a no-brainer. However, service members should consider their options. Frequent relocations and deployments can make owning a home challenging and expensive. Renting may be a smart option for short-term assignments. Decide what’s best for your family and your finances. 
  • Consult a financial advisor. Schedule a visit at a Personal Financial Management Program (PFMP) office, located in your military and family support centers. They offer free one-on-one counseling, as well as other financial education resources. 
Service members juggle a lot of stresses, and we hope to reduce the financial stresses with these tips.
 
Information courtesy of American Bankers Association. 

Tags: Financial Education, Home Loans, Mortgage, Retirement, Savings
 

Trim Your Monthly Expenses

Monday, June 19 at 10:20 AM
Category: Personal Finance
It comes as no surprise summer is a great time to get in shape. But, do you realize there's an easy way to get in great shape without having to put on workout clothes or sneakers or even breaking a sweat? It's called getting into financial shape. And you can accomplish that fairly easily by doing one simple activity — trimming your monthly expenses.
 
Here are some suggestions for losing that extra financial baggage this summer:
  • Get rid of higher-interest debt. If you have credit card debt, you may be wasting a significant part of your monthly budget on interest fees. Try to pay off any debt you can or at the very least, to consolidate higher-interest debt to lower-interest credit cards. To avoid credit card debt in the future, pay for purchases in cash.
  • Lower your cellphone bill. Most of us can't live without our cellphones. We can, however, do without those expensive monthly bills, which can be budget busters. Take some time to review your bill to determine your usage and to see if you can move to a less expensive plan. Or if that's not possible, shop around with other carriers.
  • Share the ride. Gasoline and car maintenance can take a big portion out of your budget. One way to reduce your automobile expense is to carpool with others. Or, if you live close to work, consider walking or riding your bike.
  • Dine in. There is a lot to love about dining out. You don't have to worry about what to cook or spend your valuable time cleaning up. But, dining out frequently can be very expensive. By preparing and eating your meals at home, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars each month. Also, if you work outside your home, pack a lunch and be sure to brew your own coffee.
  • Save energy at home. Put some energy into reducing your utility costs by using energy-efficient light bulbs, turning off lights, and conserving water.
  • Reduce your cable bill. Spending too much on cable? Examine your bill and see if you can get rid of premium channels. Or consider, eliminating cable altogether and using subscription services.
  • Get rid of your gym/club memberships. If you belong to a gym and don't get there often, cancel your membership. It's only worth it if you use it.
The best method for determining ways to save is to record and review your monthly expenses. Then, once you cut your expenses, take that extra money and put it in a savings account. In no time at all, you'll see that you look a whole lot better with trimmer expenses. 

Tags: Credit Cards, Debt, Financial Education, Savings
 

6 Financial Traps New College Graduates Should Avoid

Monday, June 12 at 08:45 AM
Category: Personal Finance
As college students graduate and start their careers, financial responsibility should be a top priority. However, it’s easy to fall into traps that could hinder new college graduates from securing their financial future.
 
New college graduates should avoid the following financial traps:
  • Not having a budget. Simply put, don’t spend more than you make. Calculate the amount of money you’re taking home after taxes, then figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month while contributing to your savings. Be sure to factor in recurring expenses such as student loans, monthly rent, utilities, groceries, transportation expenses and car loans. 
  • Forgoing an emergency fund. Make it a priority to set aside the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Start putting some money away immediately, no matter how small the amount. A bank savings account is a smart place to stash your cash for a rainy day.
  • Paying bills late – or not at all. Each missed payment can hurt your credit history for up to seven years, and can affect your ability to get loans, the interest rates you pay on loans and your ability to get a job or rent an apartment. Consider setting up automatic payments for regular expenses like student loans, car payments and phone bills.
  • Racking up debt. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit. Shop around for a card that best suits your needs, and spend only what you can afford to pay back. It’s a great tool if you use it responsibly. 
  • Not thinking about the future. It may seem odd since you’re just beginning your career, but now is the best time to start planning for your retirement. Contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or similar account, especially if there is a company match. Invest enough to qualify for your company’s full match – it’s free money.  
  • Ignoring help from your bank. Most banks offer online, mobile and text banking tools to manage your account night and day. Use these tools to check balances, pay bills, deposit checks, monitor transaction history and track budgets.  
College graduates can find many enticing ways to spend their paychecks from their first “real” job. However, by avoiding these financial traps, the new graduate can make financial responsibility a top priority instead of exceeding their new income.
 
Information courtesy of American Bankers Association. 
 
Tags: Budgeting, Debt, Financial Education, Savings
 

Watch Your Spending

Monday, February 27 at 09:30 AM
Category: Personal Finance

It often feels like you never have enough money to buy everything you want. Whether you make $150,000 a year or you make $35,000 a year, you can still be just as hard up for cash. In fact, those with the higher incomes may be even more in need of money to meet their expenses.

The simple truth is it isn't how much you make, it is how much you spend. If you make $100,000 and spend $120,000, you are still in debt just as someone who makes $40,000 but spends $48,000 is in debt.

With easily accessible credit it has become very easy to overspend and not even know it. Years ago, when you were out of money, you were out of money. But, today you can easily create debt and not realize how much debit you’re creating. Granted, sometimes events happen that are out of your control. People get ill, lose jobs and face other emergencies. But, many people with debt and money problems haven't faced these emergencies. And if they do in the future, they will have very little to fall back on.
 
What you have to learn is how not to spend your money. Not where and when to spend, but how not to spend at all.

The more you make, the more you spend. Have you ever noticed that as soon as you get a raise, you have it spent? In fact, plenty of people who are planning on getting a raise go ahead and buy that new car or bigger home before the raise even comes. And it goes beyond the large spending. There is a whole new attitude with a higher income. You think you can afford the little things now, but those little things all add up quickly.
 
The key to controlling your spending is found in setting goals. When you have a concrete financial goal you are working towards, you are better equipped to avoid temptation. You may be more willing to drive your older vehicle a few more years if you know the money saved will help you retire one year earlier. Not buying that sweater may seem like a little sacrifice next to realizing the goal of remodeling your kitchen.
 
When you are faced with the temptation to splurge, think about your goal. Find other ways to spend your time instead of shopping. If you never go in the store either in person or online, you won't spend the money.
 
Remember, each dollar you spend is costing you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the long run. Spending is the problem, not the lack of money.
 
The most important thing you can do for your finances is to learn to budget. Take the time to make a budget work for you. A good budget will let you plan for the future, while keeping you aware of exactly how much money you have right now. It will help you see what you’re spending your money on and what you could be spending it on.
 
As you create a budget and watch your spending, you can make your income, big or small, fit your needs. 

Tags: Budgeting, Financial Education, Savings
 

Investors Fare Differently in Wake of Interest Rate Hike

Thursday, February 23 at 09:30 AM
Category: Personal Finance

What does the interest rate hike mean for consumers?

Consumers have enjoyed years of record-low interest rates that provided borrowers with low repayment options on everything from cars to homes, but the Federal Reserve’s rate hike in December caused some investors to wonder how the rate increase will affect their financial portfolios.

Additionally, the central bank has indicated more rate hikes could be coming as soon as this year. If these hikes happen, rates would begin to move out of the historically low range they have been in for the past decade.

What does this mean for consumers? How will higher interest rates impact investors and consumers who have become accustomed to a low rate environment?

Consumers who have savings accounts, or who invest in certificates of deposit or money market accounts, will earn more on their cash savings. For people dependent upon investment income from these low-risk options, even a modest increase in the rate of return can make an impact.

“Many older Americans, in particular, draw income from Social Security and from the interest they earn on their retirement savings,” said Clay Nickel, director of investment strategy for Arvest Wealth Management. “As long as inflation stays in check, the possibility of a higher rate environment may be welcome news to these people.

“However, rates are likely to increase more slowly than past interest rate hiking cycles by the Federal Reserve. This means it may still be difficult to achieve longer-term financial goals through bank deposits, many of which still yield less than the inflation rate. Savers may need to look to investing in financial markets to meet longer-run objectives.”

Investors who will likely see the biggest negative effect on their money are those who have longer-dated bond holdings such as 30-year and fixed-rate bonds. Ironically, as rates go higher, the value of existing contracts decreases. While investors may not lose money per se, they will see a decline in the value of their bonds compared to what they could have earned prior to rate adjustments.

“Every portfolio is different and there are several factors to consider,” said Scott Phillips, chief investment officer for Arvest Bank. “In a rising interest rate environment, you want the maturity date of the bond to be short. The longer the maturity term, the more its value will fall.”

Phillips said selling longer-term bonds and reinvesting in shorter-term bonds puts investors in more of an offensive position and can help minimize loss for investors who may be considering selling their bonds. Investors who purchase a bond and hold it until maturity may be able to avoid any depreciation in the bond’s value, depending on where interest rates stand when the bond matures.  

Stocks, meanwhile, traditionally gain value during times of rising interest rates.

“Initially, people are fearful that rising interest rates will result in slower economic activity and that it’s not a good idea to invest in the stock market,” said Christopher Magee, senior trust investment officer for Arvest Bank. “Historically, stocks have reacted quite well after a jump in interest rates, but it’s still important for investors to be selective when purchasing stocks, as some sectors will perform better than others.

“Ultimately, every investor is unique with their own goals, timeframes, portfolio mix and risk profile. The important thing for them to know is that after 10 years in an historically low interest rate environment, the Federal Reserve has announced its belief that we will likely see rates slowly moving upward in the next year, so investors need to get with a trusted financial advisor, review their current plan and see what, if any, adjustments they need to make.” 

Tags: Financial Education, Investing, Press Release, Savings

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