For College Savings, 529 Plans Are Hard to Beat

Raising kids is hard enough, so why not make things easier for yourself when it comes to saving for college? Ideally, you want a savings vehicle that doesn’t impose arbitrary income limits on eligibility; lets you contribute a little or a lot, depending on what else happens to be going on financially in your life at the moment; lets you set up automatic, recurring contributions from your checking account so you can put your savings effort on autopilot; and offers the potential to stay ahead of college inflation, which has been averaging 3% to 4% per year.1 Oh, and some tax benefits would be really nice, too, so all your available dollars can go to college and not Uncle Sam. Can you find all of these things in one college savings option? Yes, you can: in a 529 plan.

Benefits

529 college savings plans offer a unique combination of features that are hard to beat when it comes to saving for college, so it’s no surprise why assets in these plans have grown steadily since their creation over 20 years ago.

Eligibility. People of all income levels can contribute to a 529 plan — there are no restrictions based on income (unlike Coverdell accounts, U.S. savings bonds, and Roth IRAs).

Ease of opening and managing account. It’s relatively easy to open a 529 account, set up automatic monthly contributions, and manage your account online. For example, you can increase or decrease the amount and frequency of your contributions (e.g., monthly, quarterly), change the beneficiary, change your investment options, and track your investment returns and overall progress online with the click of a mouse.

Contributions. 529 plans have high lifetime contribution limits, generally $350,000 and up. (529 plans are offered by individual states, and the exact limit depends on the state.) Also, 529 plans offer a unique gifting feature that allows lump-sum gifts up to five times the annual gift tax exclusion — in 2020, this amount is up to $75,000 for individual gifts and up to $150,000 for joint gifts — with the potential to avoid gift tax if certain requirements are met. This can be a very useful estate planning tool for grandparents who want to help pay for their grandchildren’s college education in a tax-efficient manner.

Tax benefits. The main benefit of 529 plans is the tax treatment of contributions. First, as you save money in a 529 college savings plan (hopefully every month!), any earnings are tax deferred, which means you don’t pay taxes on the earnings each year as you would with a regular investment account. Then, at college time, any funds used to pay the beneficiary’s qualified education expenses — including tuition, fees, room, board, books, and a computer — are completely tax-free at the federal level. This means every dollar is available for college. States generally follow this tax treatment, and many states also offer an income tax deduction for 529 plan contributions.

Drawbacks

But 529 plans have some potential drawbacks.

Tax implications for funds not used for qualified expenses. If you use 529 plans funds for any reason other than the beneficiary’s qualified education expenses, earnings are subject to income tax (at your rate) and a 10% federal penalty tax.

Restricted ability to change investment options on existing contributions. When you open a 529 college savings plan account, you’re limited to the investment options offered by the plan. Most plans offer a range of static and age-based portfolios (where the underlying investments automatically become more conservative as the beneficiary gets closer to college) with different levels of risk, fees, and management objectives. If you’re unhappy with the market performance of the option(s) you’ve chosen, you can generally change the investment options for your future contributions at any time. But under federal law, you can change the options for your existing contributions only twice per year. This rule may restrict your ability to respond to changing market conditions, so you’ll need to consider any investment changes carefully.

Getting started

529 college savings plans are offered by individual states (but managed by financial institutions selected by the state), and you can join any state’s plan. To open an account, select a plan and complete an application, where you will name an account owner (typically a parent or grandparent) and beneficiary (there can be only one); choose your investment options; and set up automatic contributions if you choose. You are then ready to go. It’s common to open an account with your own state’s 529 plan, but there may be reasons to consider another state’s plan; for example, the reputation of the financial institution managing the plan, the plan’s investment options, historical investment performance, fees, customer service, website usability, and so on. You can research state plans at the College Savings Plans Network.


1College Board, Trends in College Pricing, 2014-2018

Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, LP (“CFS”) a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS:are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. The Credit Union has contracted with CFS for investment services. Atria Wealth Solutions, Inc. (“Atria”) is a modern wealth management solutions holding company. Atria is not a registered broker-dealer and/or Registered Investment Advisor and does not provide investment advice. Investment advice is only provided through Atria’s subsidiaries. CUSO Financial Services, LP is a subsidiary of Atria. Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions Copyright 2019.

4 Tips to Jumpstart Retirement Planning

Retirement. It seems like a lifetime away, right? Probably something you plan to worry about when you’re a little closer to your retirement date. However, financial experts suggest that the best time to start planning is in your 20s when you typically start earning a steady paycheck.

To put it into perspective, if you start saving at 25 and put away $3,000 a year for 10 years, by the time you reach 65, your $30,000 investment could grow to more than $338,000.* Regardless of your retirement date, it’s never too early to start planning for your retirement. You may be asking, “Where is the best place to start?” and “How should I invest my money to maximize the returns I see at retirement?” Both of these are great questions that we will delve into on this post.

Set your goals

This applies to 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and 40-somethings. How do you know what steps to take if you don’t know where you’re going?

Sit down and figure out your goals. Do you want to buy a house one day? How long do you need to rent and save money? What “bad debt” do you need to pay off now to help you in the long run? These answers may change as life circumstances change, but it’s helpful to know what your goals are and create a plan to achieve them before you set out on your savings adventure.

Take advantage of your employee benefits

Does your company offer a retirement savings account? Most full-time jobs will offer either a 401(k) or a SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees Individual Retirement Account). It’s important to understand what these accounts are, how they work, and whether or not it’s a viable option for you. What’s the difference in a 401(k) and a SIMPLE IRA?

A 401(k) is an investment account you make contributions to out of each paycheck. If your employer matches your contribution up to a certain percentage, that’s free money going into your 401(k) in addition to the contributions you’re making.

A SIMPLE IRA is a tax-deferred employer-provided retirement plan. Like a 401(k), you make pre-tax contributions from your paycheck, and your employer can also elect to match your contributions up to a certain percentage. Unlike a ROTH IRA, when you reach retirement age and begin drawing from the SIMPLE IRA, you will pay taxes on the money you’ve saved.

Good debt vs. bad debt

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as good debt. Debt to buy a home or to start a business is considered good debt as it can be used as collateral. To our 20-somethings, listen up! Consumer debt – credit cards, car loans, and student loans – are always bad. Most consumer debt comes with high-interest rates, which only hurt you as you get older.

No matter what age you are, the best thing you can do is to avoid buying things you can’t afford. But, if you have debt or need to go into debt for a major purchase, have a plan to get out of that debt promptly. Look for places in your monthly budget where you can reduce spending and cut unnecessary costs.

Check out debt consolidation and refinancing options

Consolidating debt and refinancing loans are two great ways to save money on your monthly payments. Debt consolidation is typically used for unsecured debt and is especially effective for high-interest debt like credit cards, while refinancing a loan enables borrowers to “redo” an existing loan to get a lower monthly payment, different term length or a more convenient payment structure.

Both options are a great way of saving money each month. Ideally, you’d be able to measure the savings you’re seeing and put that toward your retirement planning. It might not sound like a lot of money, but even if you were able to save $50 a month, at the end of a year you’d have $600 to put toward your retirement.

Do you have debt that can be consolidated? Do you have loans that can be refinanced? You never know what your options are until you ask. Check with someone at our branch to see if we can save you some money each month to put toward your retirement.

Truth is, there are a dozen different ways you can prepare for retirement early and start saving money. At Scient FCU, we offer our members a complimentary financial review – no strings attached.  Schedule your 30-minute consultation with our financial advisor now.  Visit Scient Financial Services, call 860 441 9090 or email delster@cusonet.com and start preparing for your future.

Tips for Managing Your Holiday Spending

Like almost everything else these days, the holidays have become a barrage of options and choices, with nearly limitless opportunities to overspend. Here are some tips to help you make sure your family’s spending remains in check this holiday season.

Develop a spending strategy

First and foremost, develop a budget. Involving family members will help you establish and maintain realistic expectations at the outset. Remember to include not just gifts, but also holiday meals and parties, travel, greeting cards and stamps, gift wrap, decorations, and any other category you deem necessary. This is also a good time to commit to using cash or charging no more than you can pay off in one month.

Next, devise a method of tracking all your purchases, receipts, gift recipients, and the locations of hidden gifts that you might otherwise forget about. This will make life easier as the chaos ramps up.

Review your credit cards to see if you have any perks. Could you use earned points for travel, or cash-back and gift card rewards to help defray costs?

Track down old gift cards and put them to use now. If you think you’ll never use them, trade them in for cash on a discounted gift card website. There, you can sell your old cards and even buy new e-gift cards at a discounted rate, which you can then give as gifts or use for your own purchases.

Put technology to work for you. You can find apps that offer cash back if you shop online; alert you to online coupons available at nearby stores; round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and put the difference into a savings account; and track your online purchases, scan other stores for better prices, and then automatically email the original stores on your behalf to take advantage of the price-match guarantees. There are myriad options available, so be sure to check reviews and privacy/security measures before downloading.

Think creatively

Gifts. Take time to carefully scan all promotional materials before you head out the door or open a browser, because great deals are often available for limited periods of time. For example, some stores have offered generous gift cards in exchange for buying certain products on Black Friday.

Consider giving experiences rather than gifts, which happiness experts say could lead to more sustained levels of well-being. In fact, you may find that you’ll spend less overall by giving one or two memorable experiences instead of the usual pile of items.

Create meaningful yet inexpensive gifts, such as photo books, calendars, and family recipe books, using online apps and services. This idea is especially appropriate for gifts from children to older family members.

For larger or extended families, make a game out of gift giving. Consider a “Yankee swap,” or implement a gift exchange, where everyone is randomly assigned a person for whom they buy one special gift. Or consider having the entire family chip in a certain amount per person and donating to a favorite charity or sponsoring another family in need.

Food. Nonperishable holiday-related goods typically go on sale in late fall, so plan ahead and stock up. Also keep an eye out for specials; for example, some grocery stores offer a free turkey around Thanksgiving when you spend a certain amount on groceries.

Party planning, decorations, gift wrap. Consider buying the bulk of these supplies at deep-discount stores and splurging on a few special highlight items, such as napkins with an elaborate design, centerpieces of fresh flowers, or fancy bows. If you live in an area where evergreens, autumn berries, and pine cones are plentiful, take advantage of this potentially sophisticated, yet completely free, decor. Or create even more memories by hosting an ornament-making party. Use old costume jewelry or other items to make ornaments and decorations with sentimental value.

Travel. During one of the busiest travel times of the year, deals can be hard to find. Here are some tips:

  • Be flexible. If you can postpone your celebration until after the holidays, you may be able to save substantially on travel costs. (You can also shop the post-holiday sales for gifts!)
  • Avoid airline baggage fees by using carry-on luggage.
  • Use fare-tracking apps to find the best deals.
  • Cost-compare alternative modes of travel, such as train and ridesharing.

It’s never too early to start saving

Finally, get a jump on next year’s festivities by stocking up on supplies during post-holiday sales, opening a savings account with a goal of saving at least as much as you spend this year, and shopping as early as possible to spread spending throughout the year.

Ten Year-End Tax Tips for 2019

Here are 10 things to consider as you weigh potential tax moves between now and the end of the year.

  1. Set aside time to plan
    Effective planning requires that you have a good understanding of your current tax situation, as well as a reasonable estimate of how your circumstances might change next year. There’s a real opportunity for tax savings if you’ll be paying taxes at a lower rate in one year than in the other. However, the window for most tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so don’t procrastinate.
  2. Defer income to next year
    Consider opportunities to defer income to 2020, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may enable you to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.
  3. Accelerate deductions
    You might also look for opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current tax year. If you itemize deductions, making payments for deductible expenses such as medical expenses, qualifying interest, and state taxes before the end of the year (instead of paying them in early 2020) could make a difference on your 2019 return.
  4. Factor in the AMT
    If you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), traditional year-end maneuvers such as deferring income and accelerating deductions can have a negative effect. Essentially a separate federal income tax system with its own rates and rules, the AMT effectively disallows a number of itemized deductions. For example, if you’re subject to the AMT in 2019, prepaying 2020 state and local taxes probably won’t help your 2019 tax situation, but could hurt your 2020 bottom line. Taking the time to determine whether you may be subject to the AMT before you make any year-end moves could help you avoid a costly mistake.
  5. Bump up withholding to cover a tax shortfall
    If it looks as though you’re going to owe federal income tax for the year, especially if you think you may be subject to an estimated tax penalty, consider asking your employer (on Form W-4) to increase your withholding for the remainder of the year to cover the shortfall. The biggest advantage in doing so is that withholding is considered as having been paid evenly throughout the year instead of when the dollars are actually taken from your paycheck. This strategy can also be used to make up for low or missing quarterly estimated tax payments. With all the recent tax changes, it may be especially important to review your withholding in 2019.
  6. Maximize retirement savings
    Deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and pre-tax contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) can reduce your 2019 taxable income. If you haven’t already contributed up to the maximum amount allowed, consider doing so by year-end.
  7. Take any required distributions
    Once you reach age 70½, you generally must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (an exception may apply if you’re still working for the employer sponsoring the plan). Take any distributions by the date required — the end of the year for most individuals. The penalty for failing to do so is substantial: 50% of any amount that you failed to distribute as required.
  8. Weigh year-end investment moves
    You shouldn’t let tax considerations drive your investment decisions. However, it’s worth considering the tax implications of any year-end investment moves that you make. For example, if you have realized net capital gains from selling securities at a profit, you might avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains by selling losing positions. Any losses over and above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 if your filing status is married filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years.
  9. Beware the net investment income tax
    Don’t forget to account for the 3.8% net investment income tax. This additional tax may apply to some or all of your net investment income if your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately, $200,000 if head of household).
  10. Get help if you need it
    There’s a lot to think about when it comes to tax planning. That’s why it often makes sense to talk to a tax professional who is able to evaluate your situation and help you determine if any year-end moves make sense for you.

Timing of itemized deductions and the increased standard deduction
Recent tax law changes substantially increased the standard deduction amounts and made significant changes to itemized deductions. It may now be especially useful to bunch itemized deductions in certain years; for example, when they would exceed the standard deduction.

IRA and retirement plan contributions
For 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 to a 401(k) plan ($25,000 if you’re age 50 or older) and up to $6,000 to traditional and Roth IRAs combined ($7,000 if you’re age 50 or older). The window to make 2019 contributions to an employer plan generally closes at the end of the year, while you typically have until the due date of your federal income tax return (not including extensions) to make 2019 IRA contributions.


Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, LP (“CFS”) a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS:are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. The Credit Union has contracted with CFS for investment services. Atria Wealth Solutions, Inc. (“Atria”) is a modern wealth management solutions holding company. Atria is not a registered broker-dealer and/or Registered Investment Advisor and does not provide investment advice. Investment advice is only provided through Atria’s subsidiaries. CUSO Financial Services, LP is a subsidiary of Atria. Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions Copyright 2019.

Budgeting for Healthcare Costs

It’s open enrollment season, and most of us are thinking about the best healthcare option for us in 2020. Only one thing is certain when it comes to healthcare: the cost for us to stay healthy is constantly increasing.

When it comes time to choose a plan, there are multiple factors to consider so you can budget wisely.

Choose your plans based on more than the premium

People often select their healthcare plan based on the monthly fee they will pay for coverage each month. However, when you choose a plan based solely on this component, you could end up paying more in the long run. There are several other factors to consider when choosing a healthcare plan that will fit your health as well as financial needs. Factors include:

  • copayment (flat dollar amount you pay when you need care)
  • deductible (the amount you must pay before the insurance begins to pay)
  • coinsurance (the percentage of allowed charges for covered services that you’re required to pay)
  • maximum out-of-pocket costs (the maximum amount you will pay for services).

Take previous health history into account

You can’t predict the exact amount of insurance you or your family will need. But you can take your past medical history and family medical history into account when you’re selecting a plan.

By taking these factors into account, you should be able to get in the ballpark of the amount of coverage you’ll need, barring no serious medical emergencies.

Choose wisely

When you’ve signed on for healthcare coverage and the open enrollment period passes, you aren’t able to change your plan during the year unless you experience a big life event. Healthcare.gov describes a big life event such as marriage, having a baby, or losing your other healthcare coverage. If you experience one of those situations, you can amend your plan outside of open enrollment. Because of this, it’s important to choose a plan that works best for your health as well as your budget.

Plan ahead

While healthcare coverage can be good to have when it comes to covering medical expenses, it never hurts to have extra funds. Before an unexpected medical expense arises, plan ahead and set aside some money every month in a savings account. Anything you can stow away for a rainy day will be helpful when the time comes to use those extra funds. Scient Federal Credit Union is here to help. Talk to one of our Member Service Representatives today about setting up a savings account and be prepared.

Like most things in life, there’s no one-size-fits-all health insurance plan. You have to choose the best one for you and your budget.

*** This blog was written for financial purposes and not written by a healthcare professional. This article should not be taken as medical advice.

Last-Minute Halloween Costumes on a Budget

Halloween is almost here and that means your time to find a costume is limited. If you are like many Americans, a Halloween costume is something that seems to slip to the bottom of the list every year. Whether you are putting together a last-minute fix for your kid or a low-key costume for the neighborhood party, we have a few options for you.

Charlie Brown ghost costume

Stick with the classics.

Everyone knows Charlie Brown. While his dreary disposition may not seem like the ideal inspiration for a fun Halloween costume, it is important to remember that Charlie always keeps it simple. Stock up on the following materials and create your own Peanuts ghost costume.

  • 1 white bed sheet
  • 5 sheets of black cardboard paper
  • 1 pair of scissors
  • 1 container of glue

Punny is priceless.

Two men in demin outfitsEveryone knows someone who doesn’t like to dress up. If you are that person, you’re in luck, this one’s for you. This costume commandeers the style of our Canadian brothers and relies heavily on denim. Grab your favorite pair of jeans, a denim jacket or shirt, and one “HELLO MY NAME IS” name tag. Fill out the name tag with the name “Jean” and you’re good to go. As a bonus, this costume will definitely keep you warm even on a cool October night.

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 denim top
  • 1 “HELLO MY NAME IS” name tag
  • 1 marker
  • Denim shoes or hat (optional)

Kick it old school.

Couple dressed as the 70’sStyle is always changing and with decades of life experience comes decades of outdated apparel lining the back of your closet. Dig into your closet and revitalize one of your favorite old-school looks. From the bell-bottoms and big collars of the 70’s to the big hair and bright colors of 80’s your Halloween costume is hiding in your closet, you just have to find it.

  • Willingness to relive past fashion mistakes

At the end of the day, Halloween is about having fun. Keep the stress and the cost low this year and handle the whole process in-house with these easy last-minute costume ideas.

Make Your Money Work for You

Every day you hustle. Nose to the grindstone getting through the workday. You’re working hard for your money, but have you ever stopped to think how your money can work for you?

Making your money work for you goes beyond an emergency fund or simply being debt free – although, both concepts are a necessity in this instance. It’s about taking the money you’re already making and making it generate returns for you.

But, how? There’s no simple answer or even a single way to do it, but these tips can help you get started.

Get out of debt

First things first, if you have debt get rid of it. After all, you can’t invest in you and your future if you’re giving your money to other people. The first step to a debt-free life is figuring out exactly how much you owe. Most people don’t even know how much debt they’re in, according to a study from The Federal Reserve. Once you know how much debt you have, decide how you’re going to pay your debt.

Budget

The most important way to change the way you handle your money is to budget. By creating a budget, you are telling your money what you want it to do. When you assign each dollar into a category, you’re controlling where your money goes and what it does. It’s a great first step in reaching your financial goals. Think about it this way: your budget is like a fitness tracker in that it helps you monitor your money. When you monitor your money and know where it is and what it’s doing, it’s easier to make it do what you want it to do. Check out our monthly budget tool to help get you started

Utilize retirement accounts

Don’t sleep on opportunities to invest in a 401(k) or Roth IRA. A 401(k) is great because you’re contributing pre-tax money into your account, and you get free money from your employer in the process. Think about it like this: you earn $100,000 a year and your company offers a 3% match on your 401(k). If you invest $3,000 (3% percent of $100,000), your company will match that leading to $6,000 being added to your 401(k). A Roth IRA works just a little differently. Unlike the 401(k), a Roth IRA leverages after-tax income. However, when you begin to withdraw the money at retirement, you won’t pay taxes on your withdrawals.

Start a side hustle

Uber, GrubHub, Instagram – all of these companies began with an idea that blossomed into billion-dollar companies. What’s your passion and can you turn that into a billion-dollar idea? Consider starting a side hustle and find ways to make some extra money. It could be a traditional second job, a work-from-home job or turning your ideas into ways that add to your savings. If you can structure your budget and expenses around your primary source of income, any money you make from your side hustle can go straight into your savings.

Create passive income streams

Passive income is money you earn with little to no effort involved. Once it’s set up, passive income will earn you money while you sleep. Creative passive income does require some type of investment upfront, whether that’s time or money, but it’s an investment that can lead to huge payoffs later.

Building your future is important, and it takes a lot of hard work. At Scient Federal Credit Union, we’re just as interested in your future as you are. We want to help you take the necessary steps to make your dreams come true.

Maybe you need to consolidate your debt or look at options to pay off some debt. Maybe you’re looking to refinance your car in order to lower your payments and save a little money each month. Whatever it is, let us help you.

Stop by and see us or give us a call to get started.

Do Millennials Need Life Insurance?

The financial challenges millennials face can be overwhelming. Many young adults have to figure out how to pay off college loans, save to buy a home or start a family, and sock away money for retirement. Given these hurdles, it’s no wonder that life insurance as a financial asset gets little to no attention. But it should. There are many reasons to have life insurance at a relatively young age, but here are some common ones.

Leaving your debts for others to pay

As a young adult, you become more independent and self-sufficient. While you no longer depend on others for your financial well-being, your death might still create a financial hardship for those you leave behind.

You may have debts such as a mortgage or student loans that are jointly held with another person. Or you may be paying your parents for loans they took out (e.g., PLUS loans) to help pay for your education. Your untimely death would leave others responsible for some or all of these debts. You might consider purchasing enough life insurance to cover your financial obligations so others don’t have to.

Funeral expenses can also be a burden for those you leave behind. Life insurance could ease the financial burden of paying for your uninsured medical bills (if any) and for costs associated with your funeral and burial.

It’s less expensive

Premiums for life insurance are based on many factors, including age and health. Certainly, the younger and presumably healthier you are, the less your coverage will cost. This is especially true if you are at a high risk for developing a medical condition later in life.

Replacing lost income

Someone may be relying on your income for financial support. For instance, you may be providing for a family member such as a parent, grandparent, or sibling. In each of these instances, how would your income be replaced if you died? The death benefit from life insurance can help replace your income after you’re gone.

Providing for your family

As your family grows, so do your financial responsibilities. There is likely a hefty mortgage to pay. And there are costs associated with young children. If you died without life insurance, how would the mortgage get paid? Could your surviving spouse or partner cover the costs of day care and housekeeping?

And there are events you should plan for now that won’t happen until several years in the future. Maybe you’ll begin saving for your kids’ college education while trying to save as much as you can for your retirement. Over the next several decades, think about how much you could set aside for these expenses. If you are no longer around to make these contributions, life insurance can help fund these future accumulations.

Work coverage may not be enough

You may have a job with an employer that sponsors group life insurance. Hopefully, you take advantage of that program, but is it enough coverage to meet your needs now and in the future? Your insurance needs may change with time, although your employer’s coverage may not. Also, most employer-sponsored life insurance programs are effective only while you remain an employee. If you change jobs or are unable to work due to illness or disability, you may lose your employer’s coverage. That’s why it’s a good idea to consider buying your own life insurance.

The cost and availability of life insurance depend on factors such as age, health, and the type and amount of insurance purchased. As with most financial decisions, there are expenses associated with the purchase of life insurance. Policies commonly have mortality and expense charges. In addition, if a policy is surrendered prematurely, there may be surrender charges and income tax implications.

Don’t Let High APR’s Hold You Hostage

Actor Hill Harper said it perfectly: “Credit card interest payments are the dumbest money of all.”

This year wasn’t kind to credit cardholders’ wallets. In 2019, cardholders paid an average of 17% APR – the highest level recorded by the Federal Reserve since 1994. To put it into perspective: in 2009, the average APR registered just under 13% and in 2016 it hovered around 12.5%.

(See chart below)

credit karma apr chart

Even the maximum APR has climbed significantly. Financial institutions typically offer a wide range of APRs. As a result of the increase, maximum APRs are around 25% with the media standing at 21%.

So, what does this mean for you?

Well, it means you’re likely paying more in interest than you’ve ever paid. But, don’t worry. There are several ways around paying high interest rates that will actually help you in the long run.

Avoid balance carryover

Ultimately, the best and most responsible way to use a credit card is to pay off the balance monthly. By paying your balance in full each month, you avoid paying interest while reaping the benefits a credit card has to offer. Plus, it helps improve your credit score.

Avoid spending more than you have

We’ve all done it. We have a credit card for emergencies only, but something comes up we really want, and it finds its way to the credit card. Next thing you know, there are multiple unnecessary purchases on there that you’re trying to pay off. The best habit to get into is not spending more than you can pay off monthly. The more you put on a card, the more interest you’re going to be charged.

Do your research

If you’re thinking about signing up for a credit card, do your research. First of all, know your credit score. That’s going to be a huge factor in determining your APR. Also, consider why you want a credit card. Are you looking for cash back options? Do you want to earn points or build your credit? Don’t wander and apply aimlessly. Look at the specific types of cards that are designed for the purpose you want and see which card best suits your needs.

Obtaining and maintaining credit by using credit cards doesn’t have to be a scary experience. Have you talked to someone at Scient Federal Credit Union? We have several types of credit cards that could fit your needs.

Before you go with a big box bank, see how we can help. Stop by a branch, call us today at (860) 445-1060 or visit our Visa® card page.

4 Hacks to Raise Your Credit Score

Your credit score. Chances are you either love it or hate it. It’s either the greatest thing in the world or a total hindrance.

Or, maybe you don’t really know enough about your credit score for it to make an impact on your life.

As a whole, Americans’ credit scores are beginning to increase but our knowledge of credit and how it works is declining. A recent survey from credit scoring company VantageScore and the Consumer Federation of America found that 32% of the people surveyed didn’t know they had more than one credit score. That percentage has risen by about 16% since 2012.

Let’s forget about how many credit scores we have for a second and answer a very basic question: what is your credit score?

Your credit score is a three-digit number ranging from 300 (the lowest possible score) to 850 (the highest score). Lenders use your credit score to make decisions about whether or not to offer you credit – such as a credit card, car loan or mortgage loan. Your credit score is also used to determine the terms of the offer – what your interest rate will be and whether or not you’ll have to make a down payment.

Your credit score is calculated by looking at these categories:

  • Payment history
  • Your income-to-debt ratio
  • Total debt
  • Length of credit history
  • Types of open credit
  • Public records (such as bankruptcy)
  • Number of inquiries for your credit report
  • New credit

So, what is considered a good credit score?

The average credit score in the United States ranges between 670 and 710. According to Experian, a “good” credit score is anything that falls between 661 and 780, which is about 38% of the population.

To put that into perspective, to qualify for an FHA mortgage loan, your credit score has to be a 580 or higher with a 3.5% down payment. Usually, if an applicant falls in that “good” credit range, they’re likely to be approved for credit at competitive rates.

Now that we know what a credit score is and what classifies as good one, the next question to look at is: why does your credit score matter?

Think of your credit score like a report card you used to get while you were in school. Your report card measured your progress during the school year, and your credit activity puts you into a scoring range. But, unlike grades, credit scores aren’t stored as part of your credit history. Instead, your score is generated each time you apply for credit. Fun fact: it actually negatively impacts your credit score if you have multiple inquiries in a short period of time.

What are your major financial goals? Buying a home? Buying a car? Chances are, your credit is likely going to be a factor in framing that financing picture. Your score will actually tell a lender whether or not you qualify for a loan and how good the terms of the loan will be. For instance, the lower your credit score is, the higher your interest rate on a car loan will be.

If you’ve looked at your credit report, and you’re surprised to see it’s lower than you thought, don’t worry.

There are simple ways to fix that.

  • Pay your bills on time. That goes for ALL your bills – not just credit cards and loans. Fun fact: payment history is the most heavily weighted factor of your credit score. It makes up 35% of your credit score.
  • Keep your credit card balances low. Credit history accounts for 15% of your credit score so keep those old accounts open even if you don’t use them.
  • Space out your credit applications. Each time you apply for a line of credit, the inquiry is noted on your credit report. One or two inquiries aren’t a huge deal, but when you have a bunch within a two-year period, it can cause your score to fall.
  • Mix up your credit. Your credit mix, or the types of credit accounts you have, accounts for 10% of your credit score. Basically, lenders want to see that you can use different types of credit responsibly.

Credit doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. There are many responsible ways to start out slowly and build worthwhile credit for the future. Scient Federal Credit Union can help.

Are you looking for help building or establishing credit? We have a number of ways to start you on the right path. Let us help you! Stop by one of our branches today or give us a call to see what options we have.

Scient Service Centers will be closing at 1:00pm on Tuesday, December 24 and closed December 25, in observance of the Christmas Holiday. You may access your accounts 24/7 via Home Banking and the Mobile App. Happy Holidays!