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Consider a Credit Freeze If You Suspect Fraud
You just finished all your Black Friday shopping and news breaks that thousands of consumers' personal information, debit cards and credit cards have been compromised by a store, restaurant or website you recently shopped at. What do you do? One step you can take is to consider placing a credit freeze on your credit bureau accounts. Placing a credit freeze on your account is a free tool that lets you restrict access to your credit report, preventing fraudulent accounts from being opened using your personal information.
A credit freeze does not affect your credit score and also does not permanently:
- Prevent pulling your annual free credit report
- Prevent you from opening a new account
- Affect you applying for a job
- Affect you renting an apartment
- Affect you buying insurance
The only difference is, to do any of the above you will need to lift the freeze temporarily, but doing so is free as well as reinstating the freeze afterwards. The credit freeze will remain in effect until you contact the credit bureaus to remove the freeze again or permanently.
To place a freeze on your credit reports you will need to contact all of the below credit bureaus:
Your financial security is of the utmost importance to us. Visit our security center page for current fraud happenings as well as our quarterly Security Spotlight Newsletter.
INTERNATIONAL CREDIT UNION WEEK!
This year, we're celebrating International Credit Union Day's platinum anniversary of 70 years! To show our thanks to our members we are offering you chances to win some amazing prizes! How? Simply stop into a branch on either Tuesday, October 16 for our CU Lunch Local celebration or Thursday, October 18 for our ICU Day festivities. You can also win by following us on Facebook and participating in our social media giveaways!
Ways to win during International Credit Union week:
- Tuesday, October 16 - Stop into any Astera branch and fill out an entry form. We will select 1 winner from each branch to win a $25 gift card to a local restaurant.*
- Thursday, October 18 - Stop into any branch and make a deposit of $25 or more into your account and earn a spin of our prize wheel.* There will also be free cider and donuts available throughout the day.
- Follow us on Facebook for a special giveaway on Tuesday, October 16 and Thursday, October 18
- All entrants for prizes during International Credit Union week will be entered to win a grand prize of a $200 gift card. One (1) winner will be chosen from in-branch entries and one (1) winner will be chosen from all social media giveaway entries.**
For more information about International Credit Union week, call us at 800.323.0048.
**Limit one entry per person. Winner will be randomly selected. Prize details: One (1) $200 gift card will be awarded to in-branch winner and one (1) $200 gift card will be awarded to social media winner. Click here for official rules.
Build the Life You Love with a Home Equity Loan from Astera
Have you been hoping to go on a family vacation but just can't seem to save up enough money to go anywhere? Maybe you've been trying for years to finish your basement, but the cost just isn't in your budget. Well, did you know a home equity loan from Astera Credit Union can help turn your home's equity into cash and help you build the life you love!
Use a home equity loan to:
- Take a dream vacation
- Remodel your home
- Purchase a boat, RV, or camper
- Pay for college
- Consolidate debts
- Competitive Rates
- Lines of Credit also available
- Use what you need, as you need it, without having to reapply
- In-house processing with fast approvals and efficient processing
- Personal attentive service
Cryptojacking is on the rise. Do you know what it is, and how to protect yourself?
Scammers are at it again, and this time they're coming for your computer's processing power to mine digital currency more efficiently. Cryptojacking is the new, very secretive way that scammers are stealing money, using your computer to mask their activity, without the need to even install background programs on your device. Using malicious code embedded in a website or ad, scammers can access your device's processor without you even knowing it. With access to your processor, they can wait until the middle of the night or after business hours and use your device's processing power to mine cryptocurrency, which can be converted directly into cash.
What can you do to avoid cryptojacking from happening to you or your employees' computers?
- As always with any virus or scam, use anti-virus software, set software apps to update automatically, don't click on links or popups you don't know or trust, and never install anything on your computer you are unsure of.
- Look for apps or sites that appear to be draining your power. If you notice a slowdown in your devices performance, try closing questionable sites or apps.
- Use ad blockers and browser extensions to help prevent cryptojacking. Some apps will even specifically defend against cryptojacking. Make sure to read reviews and do your research before downloading anything on your computer that may not be legitimate.
It can be hard to identify cryptojacking activity on a computer, but a clear sign that something is wrong is if you experience slower than normal performance on your computer or other mobile device.
If you are concerned your computer might be compromised, run a full virus scan on your computer or if it's a work computer contact your IT department.
Astera Credit Union wants to make sure you stay protected. To keep up-to-date with current scams visit our security page and be on the lookout for our quarterly Security Spotlight newsletter which provides tips to help prevent becoming a victim scammers. For more information on cryptojacking click here.
International Credit Union Day Giveaway!
Dreams Thrive Here
International Credit Union (ICU) Day is a day when credit unions all over the world celebrate the credit union movement and show appreciation for members. This year ICU Day is Thursday, October 19, and Astera wants to show you, our members, just how much we appreciate you. Starting Monday, October 16, we will have Facebook giveaways* every day during the week through Friday, October 20.
As an added bonus, if you stop into a branch on Thursday, October 19, you may see one of our Senior Management team members, who will be visiting the branches handing out cider and donuts! That's not all! Stop into a branch to fill out a form, or send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org during ICU week, and tell us why you love Astera Credit Union and you'll be entered to win a $50 gift card.**
Ways to win during International Credit Union week:
- Enter our social media giveaways every day from Monday, October 16 through Friday, October 20.
- Fill out a form at any branch or email us at email@example.com and tell us why you love Astera CU and be entered to win a $50 gift card.
- Stop by your branch on October 19, to meet our Senior Management team and enjoy cider and donuts.
* click here for official rules for our International Credit Union Social Media Giveaway
** click here for official rules for our Astera Testimonial Giveaway
Member Alert: Equifax Data Breach
On September 7, 2017 Equifax Inc. announced a cybersecurity incident that will potentially impact approximately 143 million U.S. consumers. Based on the company's investigation, the unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017. The information accessed primarily includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, drivers' license numbers. In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers, and certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers, were compromised.
What can you do?
- Go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to check whether you are one of the 143 million people whose data may have been compromised.
- Download CardNav on your mobile phone or smart device. Offered by Astera CardNav provides you real-time control over your debit card by letting you decide how and when your card can be used, as well as sending you alerts when a specific type of transaction (that you specify) takes place.
- Monitor your account(s) by actively using online or mobile banking services. Report any suspicious activity you did not authorize on your account.
- Place credit alerts and freezes on your on your report
- Check your credit score annually for free at annualcreditreport.com.
The best way to prevent fraud or identity theft is to be proactive with all of your accounts. On-going and regular account monitoring ensures you will see any suspicious account or card activity right away.
If you have any questions or concerns, please call us at 800.323.0048 or stop by any branch to speak with a member service representative.
-Astera Credit Union
BEST WAYS TO SAVE ON SUMMER VACATION
With school letting out and sultry summer days ahead, it's time to start thinking vacation.
Because it's a supply-and-demand world, you'll likely be up against higher airfare, hotel costs and car rental rates. But here are some tips to help keep things affordable.
IF BY AIR …
If you plan to fly domestically, your best chance to score cheaper fares is by booking about 60 days in advance. For international travel, make it 90 days. This may also be the right time to cash in frequent-flier miles or companion fare coupons. Comparison websites such as Kayak, Skiplagged and Airfarewatchdog can turn up cheap airfare.
IF BY LAND …
Make sure your vehicle is in good running condition. The last thing you want is a blown engine in a one-mechanic town. Depending on your route and time constraints, Amtrak or Greyhound may be affordable alternatives. Renting an RV may also pencil out, particularly with relatively low fuel prices.
CONSIDER VISITING PLACES DURING THEIR OFF-SEASONS
After major league baseball teams break spring training camps in Arizona and Florida at the end of March and it really starts to heat up, airfare and room rates tend to drop dramatically beginning in mid-April and lasting through the summer. You can find high-end hotels with luxurious swimming pools to keep the kids happy for hours. Just remember to get in your golf, tennis and hikes before midday.
This can be a touchy subject because comfort levels are highly personal. If you're traveling solo to a metro area and don't mind roughing it, check out Couchsurfing. Priceline claims to save up to 60% over published hotel prices. You won't learn where you're staying until your bid is accepted, but you name the price, and you can make another offer if your initial one is rejected.
Home-swapping companies operate domestically and internationally. Most often you arrange to exchange homes simultaneously, but in some cases you can stagger swaps to accommodate travel dates. There are fees to join home-exchange services, but typically they are more than offset by savings from avoided hotel costs. Sites to check include Love Home Swap, Knok, HomeLink, HomeExchange and Intervac. You may also be able to exchange vehicles.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Circling back to the RV idea, or for those otherwise open to camping, there are nearly 500 KOA campground sites in the U.S. and Canada. State and national parks are extremely popular in the summer, so campgrounds can fill up fast. Make reservations as soon as you can. For $80 you can pick up an annual pass valid at national parks and federal recreation lands for a full year from the month of purchase. It covers the pass owner and three accompanying teens and adults age 16 and older. No entry fee is charged for children 15 and younger.
AND IF YOU REALLY WANT TO SAVE …
Consider daytrips to places you've been meaning to visit near home. Hikes, wineries, picnicking and swimming at nearby lakes, fun cycling routes, water-park rides and music festivals may fit the bill.
Also, when inquiring about rooms or car rentals, it doesn't hurt to ask whether they offer discounts for seniors, AAA or other memberships. And sometimes you can save money through credit card partnerships with hotel chains or car rental companies.
© Copyright 2017 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Best Ways to Use a Tax Refund
Over the past few years, the average federal tax refund has come to about $3,000. That's not exactly chump change. With the filing deadline approaching, it's not too early to begin thinking about how you'll use a refund this year. Here are five pointers to keep in mind.
1. Pay down debt
It's not as much fun as booking a trip to the Caribbean, but cutting down the amount of debt you owe is one of the best money moves you can make. Outstanding loan and credit card balances can hurt your credit score, making it more difficult to get the best rates on new borrowing. If you're saddled with credit card debt, consider paying off the balance with the highest interest rate first.
2. Save for retirement
Whether it's a 401(k) plan or an individual retirement account, you'll do yourself a huge favor by starting to save for retirement or ramping up your savings rate. Although putting away 10% of your pre-tax income is a good starting point, you'll eventually want to approach 20%. Compound interest and investment returns help the money in these accounts grow, so you'll thank yourself once you retire.
3. Home improvement
If you're a homeowner, taking care of repairs around the house can be a great long-term investment. Just remember to be strategic when it comes to deciding what to fix. Replacing a garage door or installing a new steel entry door can be among the least expensive improvements, at less than $2,000 each on average. But they can provide some of the best returns on the dollar in terms of the market value they add to your home, according to Remodeling Magazine.
4. Save for emergencies
Because it's best to leave money in retirement accounts alone so it can grow over the years, it's important to build a rainy day fund. This should consist of three to six months of living expenses, and the money should be readily accessible. You might be forced to use these funds when you least expect it, to handle medical emergencies or a broken down car that needs immediate repairs. A tax refund probably won't cover half a year's living expenses, so continuing to add to your emergency fund will help you hit your savings goal.
5. Focus on needs
As tempting as it may be to splurge on a new television, you'll probably end up regretting using your refund for anything that lacks long-term value. That includes vacations, shopping sprees and decadent nights out on the town.
If you consistently receive substantial refunds but never put them to good use, consider asking your employer to adjust what's withheld from your pay. That way, you'll avoid giving the government too much money and can use it to cover more pressing needs.
© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved
5 Financial Resolutions for the New Year
A brand new year provides the perfect opportunity to make meaningful life changes, including improved financial wellness. These five financial resolutions can help get your year off to a promising start.
1. Get on budget
Take charge of your finances by creating a budget. Start by calculating after-tax income and subtracting fixed monthly expenses. Then allocate portions of the remaining income for savings, important goals and a few things that just make you happy. If this sounds complicated, relax; today's user-friendly budget apps can take a lot of the pain out of the process. To further simplify money matters, consider setting up automatic bill pay, an automatic savings plan and separate savings accounts for specific goals.
2. Build an emergency fund
Without a solid cushion, any unexpected job loss, medical challenge or serious property damage could lead to lasting financial hardship. An emergency fund with three to six months' worth of expenses can protect your standard of living and offer peace of mind. Commit to making consistent deposits to this fund even if you can only spare a small amount each month. Because you may need to tap into emergency cash at a moment's notice, choose a vehicle that gives you easy access, such as a savings or money-market account.
3. Prepare for retirement
Retirement may not be on the immediate horizon, but when the time comes it may well last 20 years or more. You'll probably need somewhere from 70 to 90% of your final-year income for each year of retirement, and it's unlikely that Social Security will be sufficient. Saving such a sizeable sum takes decades, so it pays to start early. Put as much as you can afford into tax-advantaged Roth or traditional IRAs, and if your job provides a 401(k) plan, contribute the maximum employer-matched amount.
4. Improve your credit
You likely know that credit scores affect financing approval and interest rates. But the influence of those three little numbers actually stretches much further. Prospective employers and landlords frequently check credit, so low scores may mean missing out on the best jobs and apartments. Credit scores also may affect insurance premiums, mobile phone offers, vacation costs, and even whether utility hookups require a cash deposit. For top scores:
• Pay all bills on time.
• Keep credit card balances at no more than 20% to 30% of the credit limit.
• Carry a mix of debt types such as credit cards, auto loans and personal loans.
• Monitor credit to catch and correct any errors or problems.
5. Knock down debt
Even with a great job, high-interest debt can sabotage financial health. To dig out from under this burden, consider concentrating efforts on your highest interest debt first while continuing to make timely smaller payments on all other obligations. When the first balance is satisfied, focus on the most expensive remaining debt and continue this way until you're debt-free.
If debt from multiple sources is unmanageable, debt consolidation may help you regain control. This approach streamlines debts into one payment, often with reduced interest and a lower monthly cost. Depending on your individual situation, home equity financing, personal loans or zero interest balance transfer credit cards may be effective debt consolidation choices.
Smart money resolutions boost financial stability not just immediately but over the long haul as well. The bonus takeaway is the confidence that all life's remarkable milestones and challenges won't break the bank.
If you're looking for some financial assistance, Astera has partnered with GreenPath Financial Wellness to get you back on track in 2017. Their certified financial counselors will take a comprehensive look at your situation and discuss available options to help you achieve your financial goals.
Want to start planning for your future with investments and retirements funds? Our on-site Investment Consultant Kevin Mix is available Monday-Friday for one-on-one discussions on how to plan for a brighter financial future. Call 517-321-6772 to set up an appointment today!
© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Are you going on vacation this Labor Day weekend? Before filling up your gas tank, be on alert for skimming devices that are meant to steal your card information. With the last holiday weekend of the summer, and an increase in people traveling, fraud attempts will be on the rise to take advantage of busier than normal weekend gas sales.
CUNA Mutual Group has some great advice to help avoid having your weekend ruined by possible fraud.
• Look for security tape over the gas pump cabinet to ensure it hasn't been tampered with by unauthorized parties. If the security tape is removed, cut, or the gas pump appears tampered with, do not use it and report it to the manager.
• Use gas pumps located closer to the front of the gas station as fraudsters will typically place skimming devices at gas pumps away from the store to go unnoticed.
• Run debit cards as credit instead of entering a PIN number. This can prevent PIN compromises when you use a debit card at the pump.
• Check your account regularly to spot any unauthorized charges.
For more information on what skimming fraud is, visit our security page here, to read more.
If you suspect your debit or credit card numbers may have been compromised, contact your financial institution and the authorities as quickly as possible.
Who Owns More Than One Life Insurance Policy?
It is raining outside and your car is parked at the back of the lot, about ¼ of a mile away! You are lucky because you have your rain coat on and your umbrella in your hand. You are prepared. And as you step into the foyer, you hold your umbrella with confidence in your hand and push up the latch so it is fully extended and completely opened. As you step outside, to your dismay, the rain pours completely on your head. The holes in your umbrella left you soaked. You needed more protection from the rain and you didn't even know it.
Believe it or not, life insurance is the same way. Most people believe that if they have a policy, they don't need another one. However, most individuals are leaving themselves exposed to the financial challenges if they, or someone they love, passes away. Here are some interesting facts:
• 40% of Americans do not have any form of life insurance protection*
• 52% of Family Security Plan® policyholders have more than one (1) life insurance policy
Where do you stand? Do you have a life insurance policy? If you have only one policy, why would you need more? Here are several reasons to consider:
1. You are married or live with a life partner.
2. Salary increases create a need to replace higher income.
3. Adding children to the family increases financial responsibility.
4. Home-ownership leads to mortgage and bills.
5. As you age, you can afford more insurance and can purchase more insurance.
6. Buying a car and having a large loan attached to the purchase.
7. Adding grandchildren to the family increases financial responsibility.
8. If you have dependents and you want to protect their lifestyle.
9. Protecting the dreams of your children like college and education.
10. Developing a desire to leave a financial legacy to your family.
11. As one approaches 75 years old, needs exist before age limitation are triggered.
12. Lifestyle changes with partner (ie. Going from two income family to a one income)
It is rare indeed for a person to purchase life insurance, in one shot, to cover all of their present and future life events. That is why The Family Security Plan® reaches out to policyholders each year for an annual review. One of the Family Security Plan® policyholders (who owns 33 individual policies) has purchased individual protection on their entire family, including each of their grandchildren.
Give The Family Security Plan® a call and give them a chance to learn about you and your family. They want to make sure you have the life insurance coverage you want, need and can afford.
The Family Security Plan® is here for you!
The Family Security Plan® has been covering thousands of credit union family and friends for over 40 years. The Family Security Plan® offers voluntary supplemental insurance products that are guaranteed to work with your lifestyle and budget. The products are designed to help you minimize the financial risks associated with real life situations that most everyone faces. Whole Life Insurance, Critical Illness Insurance, Accident Insurance and Disability Insurance are all part of the Family Security Plan® suite of products.
Let The Family Security Plan® help provide peace of mind for your family. For more information on The Family Security Plan® portfolio of supplemental insurance products, visit www.familysecurityplan.com, call 855-818-0955 or speak with a dedicated Family Security Plan Representative in your local Astera Credit Union lobby.
*LIMRA 2016 Insurance Barometer Study
Member Alert: Wendy's Confirms Data Breach!
Wendy's has confirmed that 1,025 restaurant point-of-sale systems were infected with malware during a five-month-long data breach. The attack was two-pronged. The fast food restaurant first noticed unusual payment card activity in February 2016 and reported they had disabled the malware responsible for this activity in May. In June, the company found additional malicious activity in other restaurants and discovered a second malware attack. The company said both infections have been removed. Hackers were able to use the malware to access the Point of Sale (POS) systems remotely to steal cardholder names, card numbers, expiration dates, verifications values, service codes and other data. The company has gone onto say that CVV codes were not compromised.
If you've visited a Wendy's location between February 2016 and June 2016, and used a credit or debit card to make a purchase, your information may have been compromised. You should immediately review all your credit or debit card information and contact any financial institution who you have cards with that may have been compromised. To read the official statement from Wendy's click here.
At Astera, our members' financial security is of the utmost importance to us, and although we have fraud monitoring software in place, it's difficult to detect fraud until suspicious transactions have been made. In order to ensure your account is secure, it's critical that you log in to your account either through online banking or mobile banking on a daily basis to review and validate recent account transactions. Arguably one of your greatest defenses against becoming a serious victim of fraud is to have your account set up with text alerts. It is possible to set up your account so that every time your debit or credit card is used, you will receive a text notification letting you know. This service allows you to instantly verify transactions, and if you know you didn't make one, you can contact us so we can restrict access to your account and secure against further losses!
If you suspect your card has been compromised, please contact us immediately and we will assist you. If we are made aware first, via our fraud monitoring software, you will receive a notice detailing next steps from Astera by mail. To ensure proper delivery, make sure your mailing address, and other contact information is up-to-date and accurate. To do this, stop into any of our branches and speak with a MSR to update your information and to do a full account review. Not only will this help identify threats to your account, but it can also be a great time to see what services we have that can make your financial life easier.
Stay up to date with this and other security threats via our social media outlets and the Security Center of our website. If you have any further questions or concerns regarding the Wendy's data breach and how it affects your account, please stop in and see any of our member service representatives or call us at 517-323-3644.
What is a Credit Union?
Dating back to 19th century England, Cooperatives (aka Credit Unions) have been providing financial services to members. But, it wasn't until the early 1900's that Credit Unions would find their way to North America. Looking for an alternative to loan sharks charging high interest, Alphonse Dejardins organized the first Credit Union in Canada to provide affordable credit to working class families in 1901. A few years later, in 1909, he would assist opening the first Credit Union in the United States in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Astera Credit Union shares a similar story. In 1949, John Tome watched his co-workers lose their cars and homes to lenders during a work stoppage. After he learned there wasn't a Credit Union for workers to turn to in their time of need, John contacted the president of the UAW Local 602, Tom Eno, and suggested they organize a Credit Union. That Credit Union would be known as Lansing Fisher Federal Credit Union, and 65 years later we're now known as Astera Credit Union.
To this day Astera continues to serve members and preferred employee partners throughout the Lansing community. At Astera we have strong ties to our history, and you can find our support and presence throughout the General Motors organization. General Motors is one of the world's largest auto makers in the world, and Astera is proud to be of service to many of its Lansing employees
Research shows that employees with Credit Union access view it as a major benefit, which can help employers hire and retain qualified personnel. At Astera Credit Union, our number one priority is to work with our partners to provide convenient, quality financial products and services to our members. Members receive access to things including:
• Valuable savings tools
• A variety of checking options
• 24-hour account access via the internet or phone, with free electronic services
• Direct Deposit
• Lifetime Credit Union membership for you and your family
• Access to financial services and credit counseling
• Many more convenient, low-cost financial products and services
If you're interested in becoming a member or if you'd like more information about becoming a Preferred Employee Partner, contact us at 517-323-3644.
7 BANKING TIPS FOR YOUNG MILLENNIALS
Once you start receiving your first paychecks after graduation, knowing how to spend or save your money wisely can be tough. While you may be able to do your banking with just a few taps on your phone, managing money well is much more complicated. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. BUDGET USING APPS
Tracking how much you spend weekly and monthly shows you where your money goes and how you can save more. You can use a budgeting app that tracks your cash automatically, such as Mint, or one where you enter information manually, like Spending Tracker. Choose an app that lets you spend as little or as much time on budgeting as you want. From there, you can identify your total fixed expenses, such as rent and car payments, and more flexible costs such as shopping and dining out.
2. SET UP AUTOMATIC TRANSFERS TO SAVINGS
When you have a rough idea of how much you can save regularly, create a recurring transfer from your checking account to a savings account. By making savings automatic, you can get used to spending "below your means" and never have to worry about remembering to transfer.
3. AVOID OVERDRAWING YOUR CHECKING ACCOUNT
Before you pay rent or spend any other big chunk of money, take a look at your checking account's available balance. This can prevent you from spending more than you have in your account. If you overdraw, you may be charged a fee.
4. ESTABLISH CREDIT
Student loans and credit cards can help you build good credit -- as long as you stay current on monthly payments and don't overuse your cards. Your credit score, which shows how responsible you are with credit, is an important factor that lenders check before approving car loans and mortgages. The better your score, the lower the interest rate you may be eligible for.
5. REPAY DEBTS STRATEGICALLY
If you have debts from multiple credit cards and student loans, pay the minimum on each and then contribute more to your higher-interest debts. By making those a priority, you can reduce how much interest you're paying faster than by treating all debts the same.
6. START AN EMERGENCY FUND
Being financially prepared in case of health emergencies or unexpected unemployment can save you from going into debt. Have a separate savings account just for this purpose -- don't mix it up with your regular savings. A good rule of thumb is to save enough to pay three to six months' worth of living expenses.
7. SET LONG-TERM SAVINGS GOALS
Consider saving for retirement in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan or individual retirement account. When you start saving early, you take advantage of compounded returns to make more money off your contributions overall.
From smart budgeting to setting goals, make good money choices now. Since time is on your side, you can benefit from building credit and saving early to be ready for big financial decisions in the future.
© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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.
NARROWS THE SCOPE OF THE HOUSING SEARCH
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.
HOW PREAPPROVALS HELP BUYERS
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.
DON'T CONFUSE PREAPPROVALS WITH PRE-QUALIFICATIONS
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
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 www.greenpath.com/astera.
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 $120 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 $500 towards fun.
Paying off debt can be a long and trying road, but it can be done. Astera Credit Union's Debt Crusher Loan can help you consolidate your debt. To learn more about our Debt Crusher Loan, visit a member service representative at your local branch or call us at 1-800-323-0048 and ask how we can help you get back on track.
Identity Theft & Security
Identity theft is a scary thought, and something that can happen to any one of us. Most of the time you don't even know you're a victim of Identity theft until it's already too late and the damage has been done. By being cautious and never sharing your private information outside of trusted sources, you can help prevent your identity from being stolen and used illegally.
Here are some keys tips that can help prevent you from being a victim of identity theft.
• Never give out your password or private information to unknown or unfamiliar sources. The credit union and other trusted sources will never ask for this information through email or other unsecured methods.
• Do not carry your Social Security card with you. Your social security number can give hackers all sorts of information about your identity, and you don't want to give them the key to that information.
• Use unique passwords that would be hard to guess. Try using phrases instead of words. For instance, "I love to play basketball during the summer", could be a password of 1LtplayBBdt$. 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.
Jessica Vu, Marketing Clerk at Astera Credit Union.
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!
Shantana.Goerge@LibertyMutual.com • 517.347.6722 x56547 • 3552 Meridian Crossings Ctr. Suite 560, Okemos, MI 48864
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: http://www.tacobell.com/food/menu/breakfast-menu.
Astera Credit Union is Federally Insured by NCUA and is an Equal Housing Lender.