April 2016

The Benefits of a Mortgage Preapproval -- and How to Get One

Unless you were recently selected as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft or released a hit album, you probably won't pay for your new house in cash. Like millions of Americans, you'll take out a mortgage.

Before you begin your housing search, try to get a mortgage preapproval, which is usually good for up to 90 days. After reviewing and verifying some of your financial information, lenders will tell you how much money they'd be willing to let you borrow. Getting preapproved can speed up the sale process and demonstrates to sellers that you're serious about buying.

Here's a closer look at how you could benefit from a mortgage preapproval and what it takes to get one.


On a very basic level, buying a home is like deciding where to go for dinner. Although the possibilities may seem endless, you'll need to stick to your budget. Ask yourself, how much house can I afford? And stay within that range. Otherwise, you may end up regretting your decision. A mortgage preapproval ensures that you can focus on looking at homes that you can afford, since a lender provides you with a letter saying how much money you could get from it for a mortgage.

To obtain a preapproval, you'll need to provide your would-be lender with some financial documentation, including a copy of your credit report, tax returns, pay stubs and checking and savings account statements. This helps financial institutions determine your creditworthiness. Usually it's free, but you may have to pay the lender's cost to get your credit report.

Getting a mortgage preapproval isn't a 100% guarantee that you'll receive a loan. However, as long as there aren't any dramatic changes in your personal finances, it's fairly safe to assume that the lender will let you borrow the stated amount. Therefore, it's best not to switch jobs just before applying for a mortgage and to avoid racking up additional debt between getting preapproved and actually trying to borrow the money.


When looking at homes, a preapproval letter can be a great tool with which to impress sellers. This document indicates that you're serious about buying. More importantly, it shows you'd probably get the needed financing and that you have the backing of a lender to go through with a deal. Having that kind of support could even give you additional leverage when negotiating the final price of a home.


Although they sound quite similar, a mortgage pre-qualification is not the same thing as a preapproval letter. The former is simply when a lender provides a potential homebuyer with a rough estimate of how large of a loan he or she might be able to take out. This is based on very little background information, and so pre-qualification letters don't carry much weight if presented to a seller.


Before applying for a preapproval, work on improving your credit score. Reduce your debt as much as possible while making sure not to accumulate any more of it. These moves will make you look like a better risk to lenders.

Once you have a preapproval letter in hand, you'll be that much closer to buying your own home, even if you haven't won the lottery.

Produced by: Nerd Wallet

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

March 2016

Financial Budgeting

Establishing a budget is an important part of financial planning. It's easy to overspend on material things and eat out, but doing so too frequently, can leave you in financial stress in no time. By tracking how much money you spend opposed to how much money you're earning, you can help prevent yourself from falling behind on your bills and racking up debt.

Use these steps to help establish a monthly budget:

1) Total up how much money your household brings in once a month

2) Total up how much money must go out every month towards bills (rent, electricity, water, heating, gas, etc.)

3) Total up how much money goes out towards optional things (cable, internet, A/C, etc.)

a) If this total is too high, consider downgrading some services

b) Lower your cable subscription

c) Downgrade your internet speed

d) Use your A/C in moderation

4) Put a percentage of money (as much as you can afford) into a savings account once a month as a rainy day fund. You don't want your bills falling behind due to unexpected car repairs.

5) When thinking of money going out, always consider special occasions on a month by month basis (birthdays, holidays, weddings, etc.)

6) If the money going out outweighs the money coming in, consider cutting back on the optional things.

7) After all the money that goes out has been accounted for and you have put some rainy day money in the savings, the remainder of your money can be used to splurge or save even more.

Sitting down and figuring out a budget can be a chore, but in the long run, it will help relieve major stress in your life. By tracking and paying attention to how much money goes out, you can greatly reduce your risk of falling into financial struggles. Astera offers an amazing budgeting tool called MoneyDesktop right within your online banking account. You can plug in accounts from any institution and keep an up to date budgeting tracker of all incoming and outgoing money to help you balance your financials. You can even plug in goals that you look to reach, such as becoming debt free, or saving to buy a new vehicle and MoneyDesktop can help guide you to achieving those goals.

If you feel you're struggling with financial debt or need help budgeting your month to month spending, Astera has partnered with GreenPath Debt Solutions, and they can help you get back on track. To schedule an appointment with GreenPath, call 1-877-337-3399 or visit

February 2016

Tips for Paying Down Debt!

The bills keep coming in and no matter what, you can't seem to get ahead while trying to pay your debt down. We live in a swipe and sign world and if you aren't managing your money, you can end up being in over your head in debt. Creating a budgeting plan, paying your bills on time and changing some spending habits can get you on track to help eliminate debt and start putting money in your savings account.

Create a Budget – When was the last time you truly took a look at your finances other than a quick glance to make sure your paycheck was deposited in your account? There are great online resources or you can do it the old-fashioned way and get out a notebook and pen and input all of your income sources and all monthly expenses. It is one thing to stop and get a cup of $4 coffee and not think anything at the moment. It is when you see you have spent $200 a month on that coffee that it sinks in.

Paying on Time – Late fees and higher interest penalties for not paying your bills on time can drain your savings. It's always important to pay your bills on time to avoid fees and other charges including higher interest rates. Late payment fees can vary and could easily add another $30 onto your bill or more.

What to Pay – When paying down debt, there are a couple of ways to tackle this. The first method? Pay off your highest interest debts first making sure to pay more than the minimum payment. Or, you could also consider paying off low balance debts, especially if you can then transfer a higher interest balance over to that account which will ultimately result in saving you thousands of dollars in interest. Not sure what to do? An Astera representative can sit down with you and discuss your options.

Change Your Habits – Eating out and spending money on yourself is fun, but moderation is key. If you found in your budget you were spending too much on frivolous things, you must change your ways to get you on track and keep you out of debt moving forward. Think need or want when you are about to make that purchase online. When you have a plan, it is much easier to stay focused if you assess your purchases using this simple need or want scenario.

Consolidation Loans – Sometimes debt is just too much and can be overwhelming with no end in sight. A Consolidation Loan may be the solution. Consolidation Loans group your debt into one loan, usually with lower interest rates and lower monthly payments. Having one payment per month can help lower your stress as well as help you pay off your debt sooner and save more money.

Use Bonuses – That extra money may seem like fun ready to be had but, the smartest move is to help yourself, by applying it towards debt. Pay yourself first. If you were to get a $5000 bonus, you could apply $2500 to debt, $2000 towards your savings account and $500 towards fun.

Paying off debt can be a long and trying road, but it can be done. Astera Credit Union's Debt Crusher Loan can help you consolidate your debt. To learn more about our Debt Crusher Loan, visit a member service representative at your local branch or call us at 1-800-323-0048 and ask how we can help you get back on track.

January 2016

Identity Theft & Security

Identity theft is a scary thought, and something that can happen to any one of us. Most of the time you don't even know you're a victim of Identity theft until it's already too late and the damage has been done. By being cautious and never sharing your private information outside of trusted sources, you can help prevent your identity from being stolen and used illegally.

Here are some keys tips that can help prevent you from being a victim of identity theft.

• Never give out your password or private information to unknown or unfamiliar sources. The credit union and other trusted sources will never ask for this information through email or other unsecured methods.

• Do not carry your Social Security card with you. Your social security number can give hackers all sorts of information about your identity, and you don't want to give them the key to that information.

• Use unique passwords that would be hard to guess. Try using phrases instead of words. For instance, "I love to play basketball during the summer", could be a password of 1LtplayBBdt$. By using a number 1 for "I" and a $ for "s" and mixing in capital letters with small letters and spelling out one of the words will make a password much more secure.

• Change your passwords often, and never re-use the same password. If a hacker ever gets ahold of your password, they have it forever. If you go back to using that password that may have been compromised, you just gave them access to your information all over again.

• When selecting pin numbers, use numbers with no personal meaning. Avoid birthdays or special occasion dates, and simply select numbers that have no meaning to you.

• Do not visit untrusted websites online. Sometimes all it takes is for you to open a link or visit a website and all your information is exposed to hackers. Use anti-virus protection on your computer(s) and make sure you have strong firewall protection set up.

• Use extra caution when using free Wi-Fi at stores and restaurants that offer the service. If you do choose to use these services, do not go to any websites or areas that would require you to enter your credit card or any other sensitive information that could be stolen from you. You should also be very aware that the source you are connecting to for your Wi-Fi is actually the correct one. Hackers will sometimes mask their Wi-Fi connectors with what appears to be the businesses, resulting in you connecting to their system and potentially compromising your information.

• Lastly and the most important tip of all, if something doesn't seem right, or feels questionable, ASK. Call the source asking for information directly and verify if it's legitimate. Never do something that makes you uncomfortable. Always trust your instinct and ask someone if you're unsure.

It doesn't take much for hackers to take advantage of your information, but being cautious of potential threats can make you that much more secure. If you ever notice something suspicious on your accounts or credit report, investigate immediately. Acting during early warning signs, can prevent major loss to your financial and credit well-being.

October 2015

Making the Most of E-Banking

Depositing checks and reviewing account balances used to be arduous, time-consuming tasks. Thanks to online and mobile banking, consumers can now complete these chores and more from the comfort of their own homes. Using these services isn't complicated -- it's mainly a matter of knowing where to get started.

Here's a look at how e-banking can make this part of life a bit simpler.

Managing your balances

Knowing how much money is in your checking account helps you avoid running afoul of overdraft fees. With online and mobile banking, customers have round-the-clock access to their financial information.

Before going shopping or making a big purchase, log in to your account and take a quick look at your funds. If your checking account is running dangerously low, you can transfer a few dollars from your savings account.

Online bill pay

More than 80% of consumers consider paying monthly bills to be a medium- to high-effort task, according to the 2014 Fiserv Consumer Trends Survey. To make this job easier, financial institutions like Astera Credit Union have rolled out online bill pay.

Customers have the option to pay bills directly from their laptops or smartphones, and can set up reminders so that they don't forget to make a payment. Setting automatic, recurring payments can lighten the load even more and all but eliminate late fees.

Mobile check deposit

As an e-banking customer, you can also deposit checks using smartphones. Instead of trekking to the nearest branch or ATM, just whip out your iPhone or Android device, open an app and take a picture of the check.

This is both faster and more convenient than making a traditional deposit. Don't fret if you aren't especially technologically savvy -- this feature is often as easy as it sounds, and many financial institutions offer demos that walk customers through the process.

Electronic statements

The benefits of electronic statements, or e-statements, are twofold: As well as cutting the environment some slack, you're making it more difficult for criminals to get their hands on your sensitive information. By enrolling in e-statements, customers also don't need to worry about hunting down misplaced hard copies; the information can be accessed online at any time of day.


To make criminals' lives even more difficult, some financial institutions have introduced alerts to notify customers of potentially fraudulent purchases on their accounts. If, for example, someone got ahold of your debit card number and tried to make a purchase thousands of miles from your home, you'd receive an automated email or text message. If that should happen, contact your financial services provider right away to freeze your accounts.

The bottom line

From thwarting fraud to making certain chores less tedious, e-banking has changed the way people manage their personal finances. As helpful as these services are, it's important to practice caution by creating strong passwords and logging out of your accounts at the end of your virtual banking session. That'll ensure that your hard-earned dollars stay where they belong.

Produced By: Nerd Wallet

January 2015

How are Credit Cards Beneficial?

Many are hesitant and overwhelmed by the idea of a credit card or a line of credit. Although these options can cause trouble if utilized irresponsibly, there can be many benefits if used responsibly. Utilizing your credit card and/or line of credit can help build your credit score.

Why is credit score so important? Credit score allows you to make large purchases such as a house or a car by determining what loans you qualify for and what your interest rate will be. Numbers are frequently used as a determining factor in decision making. As a graduating high school student, your grade point average, ACT score, and/or SAT score are important components of what college you will be attending. As an adult, your credit score becomes the most influential aspect in many significant decisions. It can be thought of as measurement of how dependable and trustworthy you are. So if a dream home or new set of wheels are on your wish list, make sure your credit score is something you are proud of!

Many credit cards offer a rewards system. You can earn points for your purchases and later redeem these points for an array of prizes ranging from cash to vacation options. If you're making purchases anyways, it's nice to earn something back for it.

Let's recap on some of the reasons why a credit card can be beneficial.

  • Help build or rebuild your credit. This provides a better chance at getting approved for the loans you apply for and helps you get lower interest rates.
  • Earn reward points. These reward points can be redeemed for cash, travel, electronics, or other awesome prizes.
  • Convenience. It is much thinner and less of a hassle than carrying around cash or a checkbook.

If you are interested in getting a credit card, stop into any of our branch locations. We would love to chat with you and answer any questions or take care of any concerns. Apply for a credit card online by clicking here.

December 2014

Why You Should Teach Your Kids to Save

Teaching your children the importance of saving at a young age is crucial for their financial futures. Investing in stock markets, simply being more financially aware, and even attending college are more likely to happen if this is done. They are never too young to have a savings account at a financial institution but starting them off with a piggy bank is a good and fun way to showcase small amounts of money can accumulate over time. It is also a great way for parents to empty out those pockets and get rid of that heavy change!

There are many ways to begin informing and training your little ones on the importance of saving and the value of money.

Here are three simple and easy methods for your kid:

  • Help them set small goals. This gives them something to save up for and look forward to. Designate a specific jar for this goal. They are able to visually see their money grow and go towards something on their wish list.
  • Let them learn by experience. Allow them to take their money with them when you head to the grocery store or shopping mall. This gives them the opportunity to actually see what their money can buy and can't buy.
  • Have them earn their money. This teaches them that money is not always easy to come by. Hard work is required! This not only teaches the young ones the value of money but instills the value of hard work. It's a win win!

For kids who are ages 2 to 4 who might be a tad bit too young to grasp those methods, here are three that are more fitting for this age group:

  • Teach them the difference between coins. A penny can buy a pony ride at the grocery store or a quarter can buy a gumball at the gumball machine are great examples for young kids. They will be able to easily recognize coins because they've associated it to something they can relate to. Hopefully the next time they come across a penny, they'll have the urge to save it for a fun pony ride at the grocery store. This is a simple but effective way of instilling the importance of saving!
  • Use what is relevant and relatable to them. Extremely young children are normally not interested in money so using their favorite snack, candy, or even television programs are a good way to gain interest while educating them on the importance of saving. An example would include three checkmarks for good behavior or a task well done can be redeemed for a couple fruit snacks or you can wait and save up for 10 checkmarks for a whole pack!
  • "Good things come to those who wait." Children's eyes light up when they're at a store full of toys and they're in a frenzy to have whatever their eyes land on. Rather than saying, "No. We can't afford that" say, "We can't get that because we're saving up for x, y, and z." This teaches the kids at a young age that having the money doesn't necessarily mean that it's an automatic to spend on what we desire rather than what we need.

These quick and very simple methods can easily be adapted into your everyday lives and can be quite beneficial for your kids' financial future. Start them young! To open a savings account for your kid, stop into any of our branch locations or apply online.

November 2014

Free Coin Counting

Is your piggy bank crammed full of coins? Do you have change scattered in your car and around your home? Forget about the hassle and the time commitment of rolling your coins and come use our coin-counting machines at the Jolly Rd. and Saginaw Hwy. branches for FREE for the rest of the year.

Yes, you heard correctly! The coin-counting machines are surcharge-free for Astera Credit Union members until January 3rd! We wanted to show how thankful we are for your membership and to help you save money; deposit the cash or take it to spend this holiday season.

Year round, our Star Savers Youth Saving accounts are able to utilize the coin-counting machines free of charge and adult members pay just 2%.

Hurry in to our Jolly Rd. or Saginaw Hwy. locations today, and take advantage of our gift to you. Our coin-counting machines are quick and easy to use.Branch locations are as follows:

Saginaw Hwy Address:

5615 W. Saginaw Hwy

Lansing, MI 48917

Jolly Rd Address:

301 E. Jolly Rd

Lansing, MI 48910

September 2014

Member Appreciation Week

Without our members, we would not be the credit union that we are today and we appreciate each and every single one of you--our members! The trust, support, and friendship that our members have shown over the years is truly heartwarming.

To show our gratitude, we celebrated Member Appreciation Week from September 22nd to September 26th, with pizza for lunch on Monday and Friday, and donuts for breakfast, Tuesday through Thursday. Our members took their Astera pride with them, as we handed out color changing cups and silicone Astera wristbands. The kids were in shock to see that the lime green cups turned orange with some ice water inside. We also celebrated our members with a $250 Visa gift card giveaway.

Our Member Appreciation celebration lasted for a week but we appreciate our members all year round! Thank you again for the support and for being a part of our credit union family. We strive to continuously provide you with excellent service, innovative products, and to serve as a trusted partner in your finances!

August 2014

Which Kasasa Account is Right for You?

  • Do you utilize your debit card often within a month?
  • Do you take advantage of Online Banking or Mobile Banking?
  • Are any of your checks direct deposited?
  • Are you enrolled to received e-statements?

If your answers to these questions are yes, then our Kasasa checking accounts are perfect for you! Astera Credit Union offers two different types of Kasasa checking accounts that can be beneficial depending on how you use your account.

If you normally carry a high balance in your checking, then a Kasasa Cash checking account would be a great fit. This type of account earns you interest on your balance.

Our second Kasasa account, Kasasa Cash Back, earns you rewards on your purchases rather than your balance. The Cash Back checking account is perfect for those with a lower balance.

Our Kasasa checking accounts both offer refunds on ATM fees nationwide up to $10 monthly!

If your answers to some of the questions were no, we can work with you on converting the "no" to a "yes." If you are simply not interested, Astera also offers the Regular checking and Check Plus checking accounts so we can still find a checking account to perfectly match your needs and financial goals.

Jessica Vu, Marketing Clerk at Astera Credit Union

July 2014

Three Reasons Why Debit Cards Aren't Scary

In today's world, technology is everywhere and daily advancements can be hard to keep up with. It is amazing and quite funny to see my six year old cousin teach his 47 year old dad how to work an iPad! Even though fun new gadgets seem to be everywhere, one that still struggles for attention is the debit card. While debit cards are not a recent development, there are still many who hesitate to use this piece of plastic. Having previously worked in retail before joining the Astera CU family, I was stunned by the number of customers that pulled large wads of cash out of their pockets. It was unbelievable!

What is so great about a debit card? Why should I use a debit card over cash, checks, and credit cards? Valid questions to ask for the non-debit-card-believers.

1. Convenience - A small piece of plastic is a lot more suitable for your wallet or purse than a stack of bills or a checkbook. With a debit card, you avoid the hassle of counting out bills or exact change. Debit cards also eliminate the tedious procedure of writing out a check at the checkout. Not to mention, a lot of places no longer take checks!

2. Security - Checks provide personal information such as address, phone number, and sometimes driver's license number. Most importantly, your account number is displayed on the check! Cash can be nerve-wrecking to carry in large amounts. If those large amounts were to be stolen or lost, they are most likely gone forever. With debit cards, you are able to cancel a compromised card as soon as you realize it is missing.

3. Rewards - Most credit card users utilize that kind of plastic because it offers rewards. Although the credit card rewards can be extremely beneficial, there are many downsides! With credit card usage, you can expect to pay interest if you carry a balance, fees, and that scary four letter word – debt. Debit cards only access the funds available in your account, thus eliminating your chances of racking up some serious debt. Debit cards with our Kasasa Checking accounts can earn rewards that are even better than what many credit cards offer.

The benefits of using a debit card continue beyond these quick points. Stop into any of our branches to learn more about debit cards and how you can earn rewards with your Kasasa checking account!

Jessica Vu, Marketing Clerk at Astera Credit Union.

June 2014

It's Your Party

With the season of open houses, receptions and other parties upon us, I have been fielding a lot of questions from party hosts about Liability insurance. Whether you are hosting a large party at your home or at a rented space such as a hall, getting protection in place in case there is an accident is a wise item to add to your event to-do list.

If you are hosting the party at your home, your home or renters insurance is the protection that you'll rely upon if there is an accident. Be sure to check in with your insurance agent on what your "liability coverage" is. For homeowners, I always recommend that they carry at least $300,000 in liability insurance. More is always better, especially if you have assets that you would want protected in a lawsuit situation (such as your retirement accounts, pension, or home), or if you have circumstances on your property that you worry about causing injury to someone. For example, I have a front walk to my house that can get slippery when it's wet, so I made sure I had more liability coverage than the minimum. It's important to understand that if there were ever an accident that was covered by your home insurance liability coverage, but the judgment was for more than what you have coverage for, it would be your responsibility to cover the rest. That is why I always ask about assets when we are talking about insurance.

If you are hosting the party at a location such as a rented hall, banquet room or park, you may be asked by the rental facility to "buy a liability policy" or to "provide proof of liability insurance". The good news is that, if you already have a home or renters insurance policy, you won't need a buy a new one. But the key is going to be to call your insurance agent and talk with them about adding the location of the party as an "additional location" to your insurance policy. For a client that I recently helped do this for in preparation for her daughter's wedding reception, we added the location of the reception to her renter's policy, and boosted her liability coverage higher for just the days covering the rehearsal, the wedding and the cleanup afterwards. When everything was over, we removed those extra coverages and location from her policy. She was delighted to not have to buy a new policy.

If you are looking at hosting a big party soon, feel free to contact me to review your options – I love helping clients avoid buying new policies when they don't need to!

From Shantana Goerge, a Sales Representative with Liberty Mutual Insurance. Astera Credit Union members are entitled to special discounts on insurance through Liberty Mutual, so contact Shantana today to see how much you can save! You can also follow Shantana on Twitter! • 517.347.6722 x56547 • 3552 Meridian Crossings Ctr. Suite 560, Okemos, MI 48864

May 2014

Taco Bell Breakfast Review

The Crunchwraps offered up the perfect breakfast zing. Add a little picante and the morning started out just right. The hash browns also hit the spot. -Jeff

Today we received a special treat at Astera Credit Union; Taco Bell breakfast on its first day. It was very good--especially the crispy hash browns and the AM Bacon Crunchwrap. YUMMY, I look forward to many more Taco Bell breakfasts! -Darcy

The #wakeuplivemas coffee was hot, strong, and fresh. For someone that likes strong coffee, I enjoyed it, but for someone that generally likes what I call "brown water" it would be too strong.

The Waffle Taco had great flavor. We had the bacon one, and I was expecting strips of bacon, which too often at restaurants is paper thin and too salty. This was real chunks of bacon, which were all over the place in the best way possible. Every bite had little bacon-y bits of wonder. The eggs were fluffy, the cheese was melty, and the syrup was syrup-y. The waffle lacked crispness (I love a Belgian waffle with a big ol' crispy outside), but this may have been due to first day of breakfast and how busy our Taco Bell was.

The AM Crunchwrap was delish. I can't decide if I liked the sausage or the bacon better, but the textures…oh, the textures! Crunchy from the grilled tortilla and crispy hash brown (not too greasy, and didn't taste like fryer), savory meat, fluffy eggs, and melty cheese--all intermingled with a zesty sauce. Compared to the PM Crunchwrap, I liked that this was a more compact Crunchwrap, rather than the larger in circumference (and floppier) PM.

We finished up with the Cinnabon Delights for breakfast dessert. They could have been crispier, but after picking them up, driving to the office, eating our breakfast, then enjoying them, this could have been user error. -Austin

I was quite skeptical of the breakfast that Taco Bell is now offering. I was uninterested and had no desire to give it a try. Austin, who raves about the breakfast, convinced me to experience the most important meal of the day at Taco Bell. Live mas, right?

The AM Crunchwrap with bacon was delicious! It was the perfect combination of all the best breakfast foods wrapped beautifully in a grilled tortilla. There was just the right amount of eggs, crispy hash brown, bacon, and gooey cheese! The AM Crunchwrap features an amazing sauce that gives this breakfast item a ZING! If you want to start your morning in a scrumptious way… live mas with the AM Crunchwrap! -Jessica

Overall, 4 out of 4 people in the Astera Marketing Department approve of Taco Bell Breakfast. Next time we go for a #FirstMeal run at Taco Bell, we'll remember to grab a Bacon Crunchwrap for the CEO. She was pretty jealous.

For full menu information, visit:

Astera Credit Union is Federally Insured by NCUA and is an Equal Housing Lender.