Is It Worth Traveling To See The Solar Eclipse?

On Aug. 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will occur across the continental United States for the first time in 38 years. There next U.S. eclipse won’t happen until April 8, 2024, so this is an exciting event. It occurs when the moon blocks the sun, turning daylight into night and leaving the sun’s atmosphere momentarily visible.

The path of totality will be relatively thin, and will sweep across portions of 14 U.S. states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. However, every state will get at least a partial eclipse. To view the total solar eclipse, you must be in the path of totality.

So you may be wondering … is it worth traveling to view the total solar eclipse?

According to Keith Spencer, editor-in-chief of The Bold Italic, a total solar eclipse is worth any effort it takes to witness it. NASA has information regarding locations for watching the total eclipse at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov.

The roughly 70-mile-wide path of totality enters the U.S. in Salem, Oregon and will continue through 13 more states before exiting the country in South Carolina. If you don’t live in one of these states, consider traveling to see the total eclipse. Because eclipse enthusiasts from around the world are expected to travel to the U.S. joining millions of Americans to catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon, finding accommodations may be tough. It’s best to pinpoint a location you would like to travel to in the path of totality, and start making arrangements as soon as possible. If that means more than a day’s trip for you, it may be less expensive to plan your stay in a location that’s a day-trip away from the path of totality and travel to view the eclipse on the day of the event.

There are hundreds of locations throughout the U.S. offering special eclipse-watching events. Many of these events include camping/lodging, music, food, and are festival-like in nature. Google “eclipse events” to bring up hundreds of event options to choose from. If you think you may be interested in attending one, start calling for availability immediately, as lots of these events have already sold out.

You don’t need to attend a special event to enjoy the splendor of the eclipse, though. You can just hop into the car with your family, and drive off to enjoy the eclipse on a beach, at a park, or even at the home of a friend or relative who lives in the path of the total eclipse.

If you really want to see the eclipse but have been pushing it off because a vacation simply isn’t in the budget this year, check out our vacation loans!

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Credit Cards or Debit Cards – What’s the Smartest Swipe?

Most people own at least one debit card and at least one credit card. They know they have them, but they may not know about all the differences that exist between using a credit card and a debit card.

Believe it or not, there are many. The most basic difference is the fact that each time you use a credit card, you’re borrowing money. A debit card, on the other hand, simply transfers your own money from your checking account to the vendor you’re paying.

When you use your credit card, your credit union is lending you money, which you’ll need to pay back along with interest. A debit card takes funds directly from your account similar to the way that checks do – only quicker. Some processing terminals will require a PIN and some will require signature.

Both credit and debit cards are convenient, quick and easy. They’re also safer than cash, because cash cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.

Which one should you use? The answer depends largely upon your lifestyle.

1.) Budgeting

Credit cards allow you to buy now and pay later. Unfortunately, this can turn into a nightmare because of the obvious financial pitfalls in being able to purchase things you don’t have the money for now. If you think you’ll be tempted to overspend, regular credit card use may not be ideal for you.

However, it’s nearly impossible to incur thousands of dollars of debt through debit card usage. Most credit unions will cover purchases that put your account into the red, but only up to a few hundred dollars. If this happens, you’re accountable for your purchases and charged an overdraft fee.

2.) Safety

The convenience of debit cards can make fraud more likely. Unless reported promptly, debit card theft or fraud can quickly drain your account. Credit card companies are held to strict liability laws: Consumer liability for credit card fraud is limited to $50. If you report suspicious charges in a written request within 60 days, the company is obligated to investigate and restore the funds to your account if the charges are determined to be fraudulent.

For debit card fraud, your liability is $50 if you notify the credit union within two days of seeing the fraudulent charges. After two days, your liability increases to $500. If you report the activity 60 days or more after it happened, you may be liable for all of it. Although many credit unions have implemented voluntary plans to limit customer liability to $50, there is no federal law requiring them to do so.

In addition to stricter liability laws, credit cards offer consumer protection on purchases. You can always cancel a charge if you are the victim of an online scam or bought something that was never delivered or wasn’t what you expected. This makes credit cards the ideal choice for large or fragile purchases that will be delivered to your home for additional insurance on the purchase.

3.) Rewards

One major draw for credit cards is the points awarded for purchases. That’s a strong advantage over debit cards. The ability to earn airline miles and the lure of a possibly free flight are attractive to many consumers. Of course, you may be paying for those miles with a high interest rate or an annual fee.

Don’t get hooked on the points. Research each card carefully to make sure you’re really getting your money’s worth.

4.) Credit History

Another important benefit to using a credit card is establishing or restoring a positive credit history. Debit card usage may encourage responsible spending, but a major factor in measuring your credit score is your credit card usage. Occasionally using a credit card and paying your bill on time can really improve your credit rating. This, in turn, improves the likelihood of earning favorable terms for home loans, auto loans, personal loans and more.

5.) Annual Fees and Interest

A strong disadvantage of credit cards is the money you spend to keep them. Some cards charge an annual fee, and the interest on your credit card bill can easily be a third of your payment or more. If you’ve overspent one month and are unable to cover the entire amount due, you may need to pay only the minimum payment. More of your payment will soon be going toward interest than toward lowering your bill. This makes the next payment higher, and again you’ll be paying a significant portion toward interest. This is often how credit card debt spirals. Interest becomes a huge hurdle, making it nearly impossible for the consumer to make headway.

If you don’t think you will be able to pay your bills in a timely manner, keep credit card usage to a minimum.

As a UCCU member, you already have access to fantastic rates and optimal security. To find out which debit or credit card is best for you, call, click or stop by today!

Your Turn: In what situations do you prefer to use a debit card or a credit card? Why do you choose one over the other? Share your thoughts with us!

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The Essential Moving Checklist

Getting ready to move? Here’s a checklist you can use to make sure you’re prepared.

3 Weeks Before Move

  • Set up a “move” file or folder
  • Set up a “move” calendar
  • Hold a garage sale
  • Collect financial, tax, and employment documentation needed for your loan
  • Donate un-needed furniture to charity
  • Contact insurance companies to update addresses and/or transfer policies (life, auto, homeowners)

2 Weeks Before Move

  • Arrange cut-off dates for utility companies (telephone, gas, electricity, water, garbage, cable television)
  • Prepare new address or moving notifications for friends and relatives
  • Request change of address kit from post office
  • Check out voter registration for the new area

1 Week Before Move

  • Label items you will need to access easily and place them in a separate room or closet
  • Tend to outdoor items and furniture: water hoses, propane tank from BBQ grill, gas and oil from lawnmowers
  • Properly discard all aerosols, paint, oils, and other flammable or toxic chemicals
  • Arrange new utility services at your new home

Moving Day

  • Remember, items packed last will be unloaded first
  • Conduct a final review of the house including attic, stairwells, closets, cupboards, storage, garage, and behind doors
  • Relax and enjoy your new home

Take the stress out of moving by being organized! Please get in touch with UCCU Mortgages if you have any questions about your home financing!

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6 Ways to Identify Charity Scams

Did you know that Americans donate a collective $373 billion to charity every year?

Generosity makes the world go round. Whether it’s helping out an established organization like the Red Cross or donating to a smaller charity through crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, charity is wonderful.

Except when it’s not. Because, sad as it may be, there are hundreds of crooks who hide behind the security of a charitable organization to rob victims of their money. These scammers impersonate well-known charities or create a bogus one, then solicit funds and pocket the cash.

Most recently, scammers have used the Make-A-Wish Foundation name as cover for luring victims into losing huge sums of money. This incredible organization is dedicated to granting the most longed-forwish of each terminally ill child. They can make anything happen, from a Disney trip to a baseball that’s autographed and personally delivered by Kris Bryant.

Sadly, scammers are now abusing the Make-A-Wish Foundation name and our desire to do good to con people out of their money.

Here’s how it works.

The scammer calls the victim and announces that they’ve won hundreds of thousands of dollars in an alleged sweepstakes conducted by Make-A-Wish. The caller claims to be a government representative of the FTC or another federal institution. The “government official” then explains that the “winner” must pay thousands of dollars for taxes and insurance before they can lay hands on their winnings. To make the call seem authentic, it often bears a 202 area code – that of Washington, D.C., which is the headquarters for the FTC and most federal agencies.

Of course, there is no sweepstakes and the caller is no government official.

In fact, on the Make-A-Wish website, the organization clearly asserts that it does not conduct sweepstakes, ever. If you fall for the scam and wire your money over or share your personal financial information, you’ll never hear from the caller or your money again.

There are several red flags here that should alert you to the fraudulence of this call.

First, the FTC has more important things to do than hand out sweepstakes prizes. Second, you should never have to pay money to claim a prize. And third, no legitimate organization will ask for such large amounts of money to be paid over the phone.

If you’ve been contacted, do your due diligence to stop those crooks from preying on other victims. Report the scam immediately at FTC.gov. Next, let Make-A-Wish know. You can notify them through their website, at FraudAlerts@wish.org. Do your part to prevent these scams from succeeding.

Unfortunately, this latest scam is not the first to use a charity for cover, and it certainly won’t be the last.

If you love giving to charity and helping those who are less fortunate, you may be feeling doubtful now. Going forward, how can you possibly know when a charity that’s soliciting funds is a genuine appeal and when it’s a scam?

As always, UCCU is here to keep you and your money safe. Here’s how to verify that you’re donating to legitimate charities:

1.) Don’t donate over the phone

In general, it’s best not to donate over the phone. It’s difficult to determine authenticity, and up to 95 cents of every donated dollar can go to the telemarketer who just interupted your dinner.

2.) Be wary of sob stories

Tear-jerker tales may get us to part with our money, but a legitimate group will not rely on sob stories to solicit funds. When an organization is preying on your heart strings to the point of discomfort, you may be falling for a scam.

3.) Donate with caution after catastrophe

Natural disasters bring out the kindness and generosity in people. They also bring out the crooks. Well before Hurricane Katrina even struck land, the FBI uncovered 4,000 websites with the storm’s name in their titles, most of which were run by criminals who lived overseas.

When disaster strikes, though, you do want to help – and you still can. Just make sure your money is going to larger organizations and names you recognize. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you. Donate through the charity’s website or by calling them yourself. This way, you’ll know you’ve reached the right party.

4.) Know the charity 

When choosing a charity, do some research. Find out what the charity stands for and about the programs and fund-raising campaigns they run. This way, when someone calls impersonating this organization while collecting for a cause you know they don’t support, you’ll recognize the scam. If all the victims of the Make-A-Wish scam knew that the foundation does not conduct sweepstakes, the scam would never get off the ground.

5.) Read the reviews

Aside from checking out the charity’s official website, you’ll want to read some third-party reviews. You can check for a charity’s legitimacy on objective review sites like CharityNavigator and CharityWatch.

6.) Ask for info

You’ll sometimes be asked for donations over the phone, and the caller will sound genuine and sincere. You’ll be tempted to give money, but first, verify that the solicitor is indeed representing a charity. Ask for details. What is the organization’s mission? How will this money be used? Will you receive a receipt for tax purposes? If the caller isn’t forthcoming or confident with their answers, hang up!

7.) Give safely

As always, never wire money to an unverified recipient. It’s like paying with cash – there’s no way to get it back. Similarly, only provide sensitive information if you’re absolutely certain the caller is genuine. As mentioned, if you’re in doubt, contact the organization on your own to donate funds.

Donating to charity is a beautiful thing. Don’t let a bunch of fraudsters ruin it for you or the beneficiaries of your compassion. Learn how to recognize charity scams so you can continue giving with a full heart. In the end, go with your gut. If something feels off, it’s better to save that money for another charity later on.

Your Turn: Have you ever been duped by a fake charity? Or come close to it? Share your experience in the comments so we can learn from it.

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10 Creative Ways to Save on Energy Costs

We’ve all heard it before: Close the vents in rooms you don’t use, regularly replace your AC filters and vacuum the coils on your fridge. But what if you’re following all the conventional energy-saving tips and your summertime electricity bill is still astronomical?

Here’s where we come in! You know how much we here at Utah Community Credit Union like helping you make smart financial decisions. So we’ve compiled a list of 10 creative ways to lower your electricity bill. And don’t worry; You won’t find any mention of refrigerator coils here!

1.) Plant some trees and shrubs

Trees are a whole lot more than oxygen-breathing beauties; they’re also your key to trimming your electricity bill.

Take a good look at your home’s exterior walls. If there are lots of south- or west-facing windows, you’re likely getting loads of sunlight each afternoon that’s heating your home and forcing your AC unit to work harder. By planting trees and shrubs in front of some of these windows, you’ll lower your energy use in a clean – and green – way.

2.) Go solar

Getting your home’s electricity through solar panels is wonderful – and also incredibly expensive. If you’d love to go green on your home’s energy but can’t afford solar, consider leasing the panels instead of buying them. You’ll be given a set monthly fee, which makes budgeting easier, with no surprises during high-energy times of year. Also, according to Jonathan Bass of SolarCity, the monthly payment for leasing solar panels is often 15% less than the local utility rate.

3.) Rethink your roof

Is your roof dressed in black for 90-degree weather? No wonder your home is so warm! Consider installing a sunlight-reflecting “cool roof” or adding an approved coating to your roof that will deflect heat. Both can reduce your roof’s temperature by up to 60 degrees, which can then trim your AC use by as much as 20%.

4.) Keep your cool

Large, heat-generating appliances can warm up a room quickly. Consider running your washing machine and dishwasher at night or in the early morning when it’s cooler outside.

5.) Lighten up

Lighting generally eats up 25% of residential electricity bills. Listen to what your dad always told you and shut the lights in a room when you walk out. Also, consider leaving lights off completely if it’s sunny out and your windows are open. Lastly, switch to CFL or LED bulbs. By swapping out just five heat-generating incandescent light bulbs in a high-traffic area in your home, you can save $65 a year on energy costs.

6.) Fix leaky windows and doors

If your home isn’t a new build, you likely have leaking windows and doors. Caulking regularly shrinks. Structural walls of houses tend to shift with time.

To check if your doors and windows are leaking air, thus making your AC put in extra effort to keep you cool, run the match test. Shut off your AC, and close all doors and windows. Light a match and hold it near the windows and exterior doors of your house. You’ll see an air flow if the flame moves, meaning there are leaks.

And, if you’ve got air leaks, you can easily reseal your windows by weatherstripping the problem areas. Your leaky door may need a door sweep replacement. Just peel off the old one and bring it to a home improvement shop so they can help you find a new one that fits your door.

Sealing leaks is easy, economical and can cut your energy costs by 30%.

7.) Get smart!

We live in the age of the smart … everything! By installing a smart thermostat, your home will be programmed to cool off at exactly the times you need. Best of all, you can control the settings even when you’re away from home. Let your AC cool off people, not empty rooms.

8.) Pull out the plug

Did you know that up to 75% of energy consumption by home electronics happens when they’re turned off? Save money by pulling out the plugs when you’re done with your electronics, both big and small. Think toaster, coffee maker and even entertainment center. Why pay for something you aren’t using?

9.) Fire up the grill

If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen! An oven that’s cranked up to the standard 350° and a flaming stove-top will both make your AC unit work harder. But who wants to stand over a hot stove on a beautiful summer day anyways? Step outside for a cold picnic supper or make good use of your grill for dinner prep. You’ll keep the heat out and enjoy the glorious sunshine at the same time!

10.) Laundry smarts

An incredible 90% of the energy used when doing laundry comes from heating the water. When possible, choose the cold setting on your washing machine to reduce your energy consumption. The next big culprit in electricity use in the laundry process is the dryer. Hanging your clothes to dry will trim your bill significantly. If you must use the dryer, consider sticking some tennis balls in there to make the dryer more efficient and help it finish its job faster.

Your Turn: Do you have an energy saving hack that keeps your electric bill manageable, even in the summer? Share it with us in the comments!

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Flipp: Groceries, Simplified

A typical Saturday afternoon …

You’re pawing through your weekly stack of ads, searching for a store that has both cereal and peanut butter on sale, while mentally scanning your pantry and fridge for missing staples. Unfortunately, your search is fruitless. At this rate, you’re better off heading out to any store to do your shopping before the day is through.

Saturday afternoon, take two …

You breeze through checkout as the cashier announces that you’ve saved $27 in specials and coupons. You’re thrilled with the extra cash in your pocket and you’re confident that you haven’t forgotten anything. You smile and pat your phone. The Flipp app has saved your sanity again.

If the first scenario sounds too familiar to you, get the free Flipp app and transform your shopping experiences. That’s right, say goodbye to that heap of flyers! No more tedious coupon-clipping! Flipp makes saving fun and stress-free.

The app streamlines the entire coupon-searching process by making it all digital. Flipp will give you access to all the information you’ll find in the weekly flyers of more than 800 chain stores, including Smith’s, Target, Walmart and hundreds more. Instead of searching through mountains of paper flyers, you can now search the app in mere seconds.

Here are some of the features you’ll find on the app:

1.) Item search

Need peanut butter and want to know which store has it on sale? Simply type in “peanut butter” and the app will do the work for you, pulling up a list of local stores that are selling peanut butter at a discounted price. This allows you to comparison-shop in seconds, all from the comfort of your couch.

2.) Adjustable percentage-off

Are you looking for extreme sales only? A helpful slider at the bottom of the app’s screen allows you to adjust the percentage-off setting to your liking. The app will then filter out the items that don’t match your percentage-off criteria.

3.) Ad categories

Looking for a specific category of ads? The app allows you to choose the categories you’d like to search; including groceries, office supplies, housewares and more.

4.) Shopping list

Never forget an item again! Flipp’s “Shopping List” feature allows you to plan your grocery list ahead of time and makes the actual trip to the store (or stores) simpler. You can build your list as you find items on sale by simply tapping them, and then reviewing them in the “clippings” setting. You can then review your clippings and choose which ones to add to your list.

Alternatively, you can create your list without looking at the circulars. Let Flipp do the job for you. It will search through the local flyers to find deals on the items you’ve included on your list. That’s money saved without the hassle!

While at the store, use the Flipp app to check off the items you’ve put in your cart with a simple tap, making shopping a breeze.

5.) Extreme couponing

Never miss a sale again! Flipp offers exclusive coupons and deals in the stores you love, helping you take saving money to the next level.

The app’s search feature allows you to compare items instantly and easily. You can also clip coupons directly to your rewards cards for instant savings at checkout.

While thousands of users are thrilled with the Flipp app, critics complain that the app is late in updating local grocery ads. Others claim that too many of the specials offered are not food-related as advertised, and that using the app will not help you stick to your budget.

Try it out, and see for yourself whether the Flipp app is the best thing since sliced bread or not. It may just change the way you shop!

Your Turn: Have you discovered an app that has completely changed the way you do a household chore like shopping? Tell us all about it in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://app.flipp.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Flipp-Flyers-and-Weekly-Ads/product-reviews/B00IJHYEH6/ref=cm_cr_getr_mb_paging_btm_3?pageNumber=3

https://newsroom.flipp.com/index.php/2017/06/15/flipp-is-fourth-fastest-growing-app-in-us/

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Do Your Kids Have Virtual Shopping Smarts?

Did you know that 73% of millennials questioned in a Bazaar Voice survey do all their shopping on their smartphones? It’s not surprising. The world of commerce is constantly becoming more digitized as retailers focus on improving their online presence to cater to cyberspace shoppers.

Online shopping has its downsides, though, mainly in the form of surprises when the item arrives, costly shipping expenses and impulse buys that are made too easily.

Fortunately, it has its upsides, too. Comparing prices between stores is a lot simpler when all it takes is clicking through a few sites instead of traipsing all over town. Couponing is now also just a matter of seconds, with no need for tedious clipping and saving.

Teach your kids to make the best of online shopping with this fun, educational activity. All you need is a computer!

Virtual Shopping Smarts Activity

Sit down with your child to brief them on the ups and downs of online shopping. Talk about comparing prices, checking for discount codes, and being wary of overspending or buying items of inferior quality. Teach them about reading reviews and looking for reputable companies. Mention comparison-shopping engines like Google, and others they may have never used, like Nextag, Price Grabber, Shopping.com, and Shopzilla.

When they have the information down pat, tell them they will now be tasked with buying an item online! The item should be something popular and one they’re interested in.

Give your child a debit or credit card, a fixed budget for the item, and the following instructions:

The goal is to purchase the lowest-priced, yet best-made product. This will earn a minimum of 100 points. They will earn points for each part of the process, using the following guidelines:

  1. The purchase must be of decent quality. They can earn 25 points for this category.
  2. Shipping costs should not constitute more than 10% of the object’s price. The lower the shipping costs, the more they earn for this category, with free shipping earning the full 15 points.
  3. They must search for discount codes and coupons before making the purchase. This can be done by checking coupon sites like Retailmenot and Couponcabin, or by signing up for a store’s emails and earning a promotional discount. 5 points will be rewarded for every discount search/website visited in search of a coupon code. Actually finding and using a discount can earn them 15 points.
  4. If your child is ordering from eBay or another site with multiple sellers, they should be careful to only make purchases from sellers with excellent ratings. Buying from a badly rated seller can cost them 5 points and using a high-rated seller can earn them 5 points.
  5. Price is of utmost importance. If their object is of decent quality and very well-priced, they can earn up to 40 points. 5 points will be given for every search for a cheaper product.
  6. Points will be taken off for any random ad-clicks, failure to do substantial price-checks and comparisons, and for ignoring discount offers.
  7. Sit back and watch, being careful not to offer any advice as your child makes a purchase.
  8. Tally up the score and explain the points you gave, congratulating your child on their online shopping skills.

Your child is now cyberspace-savvy!

Your Turn: How do you teach your kids to avoid the pitfalls and make the most out of online shopping? Share your wisdom with us in the comments!

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Debt Consolidation: Not a silver bullet, but still a good idea!

If you’re up to your eyeballs in debt, the one thing you may wish for more than anything else is a blank slate. If you had a chance to wipe your slate clean and start over, things would be different. Of course, barring a winning lottery ticket, nothing is going to make that much of a change overnight.

There is, however, another option you can take for getting your debt under control. You can use a personal loan to refinance your existing debt. That means you’ll have one monthly payment at one interest rate instead of the stress caused by a bunch of smaller bills coming due on different days of the month.

Of course, this isn’t a solution for everyone. Let’s take a look at the questions you might ask yourself before you take on a debt consolidation loan.

1.) Have I fixed the debt problem?

Think long and hard about why you’re in debt. For most people, it was a medical bill, the loss of a job or some other temporary hardship that got them behind with charges they couldn’t completely pay off right away. If that describes your situation, the fact that you have a job or have paid the medical bill means you’ve solved the problem that caused the debt in the first place.

If, on the other hand, you accumulated debt by overspending on credit cards, a debt consolidation loan may not be the answer just yet. There are other steps to take first, like making a budget you can stick to, learning how to save and gaining responsibility in your use of credit. Getting a debt consolidation loan without doing those things first is a temporary solution that might actually make matters worse in the long run. You’ll have room on credit cards again, which can make the impulse to go spend pretty strong. Give in, and you’ll be back in the same position as before, except now you will have even more debt.

2.) Can I commit to a repayment plan?

If you’re struggling to make minimum monthly payments on bills, a debt consolidation loan can only do so much. It’s possible that the lower interest rate will make repayment easier, but it’s also possible that bundling all of that debt together could result in a higher monthly payment over a shorter period of time. Before you speak to a loan officer, figure out how much you can afford to put toward getting out of debt. Your loan officer can work backward from there to figure out terms, interest rate and total amount borrowed.

If you’re relying on a fluctuating stream of income to repay debt, like a second job or financial windfalls, it may be difficult to commit to a strict repayment plan that’s as aggressive as you like. Instead, what you can afford on a monthly basis may be nothing more than the sum of your current minimum payments. You can still make extra principal payments on a personal loan, so your strategy of making intermittent payments will still help. You just can’t figure them into your monthly payment calculation.

3.) Is my interest rate the problem?

For some people, the biggest chunk of their debt is a student loan. These loans receive fairly generous terms, since a college degree should generally result in a higher-paying job. Debt consolidation for student loans, especially subsidized PLUS loans, may not make a great deal of sense. You’re better off negotiating the repayment structure with your lender if the monthly payments are unrealistic.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with credit card debt, interest rate is definitely part of the problem. Credit card debt interest regularly runs in the 20% range, more than twice the average rate of personal loans. Refinancing this debt with a personal loan can save you plenty over making minimum credit card payments.

4.) Will a personal loan cover all my debts?

The average American household has nearly $15,000 in credit card debt. That’s a big chunk of change. Add on $28,000 in auto loans, and it’s easy to see why debt is such a problem for most households.

The caution with personal loans for debt consolidation is to make sure you can bundle all of that debt together. If you have more than $50,000 in credit card debt, it’s going to be difficult to put together a personal loan that can finance the entire amount. Instead, it’s worth prioritizing the highest interest cards and consolidating those instead of trying to divide your refinancing evenly between accounts. Get the biggest problems out of the way, so you can focus your efforts on picking up the pieces.

Debt consolidation doesn’t work for everyone, but it can do wonders for many people. The ability to eliminate high-interest debt and simplify monthly expenses into one payment for debt servicing can change a family’s whole financial picture. The only way to know if a personal loan to consolidate debt is right for you is to sit down with a loan officer to go over your situation. Gather your account statements and your paycheck stubs, and head to your local UCCU branch today!

Your Turn: What’s your secret weapon in the battle against debt? Any tips and tricks that helped you get a handle on what you owe? Let us know!

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Fidget Spinners: Harmless Fad or Mega Distraction?

Fidget spinners. You’ve seen them practically everywhere. The small plastic gadgets don’t do much, but they’ve completely overtaken the toy industry.

Fidget spinners were initially marketed as a sensory toy for children on the autism spectrum and those with ADHD or sensory processing disorder. Within days, though, the hand-held gadget experienced a wild surge in popularity and became a must-have for every child and teenager across the county – and plenty of adults, too.

The basic fidget spinner is built with three prongs centered around a circle. Flick a prong, and the triangle shape becomes a blur, almost like a ceiling fan. The toys are manufactured by several companies and are sold virtually everywhere – airports, gas stations, grocery stores and, of course, toy stores.

If you’re wondering what the great appeal behind the fidget spinner is, you’re not alone. Just like you, many parents are scratching their heads in bewilderment. After all, the toys don’t make much noise; they don’t beep or flash or do anything too exciting. And yet, the fidget spinner and its cousin, the fidget cube, now dominate 49 of the top 50 rankings on Amazon. They’ve all but invaded classrooms and hundreds of videos have already been posted on YouTube by self-proclaimed “fidget experts” demonstrating dozens of tricks that can be done with the small toy.

And it’s not just kids – the fad has spread to adults, as well. Fidget spinners are showing up in college classrooms, on train rides and at the workplace. In fact, Forbes magazine has already named the fidget spinner the official office toy of 2017.

While toy fads constantly come and go, there hasn’t been a fad of this magnitude since the hula hoop craze of 1958, when an estimated 25 million were sold in just a few months.

Parents and educators are on the fence about this fad, though. The price tag is conservative and it keeps the kids occupied, but some claim it’s a tremendous classroom distraction that should be banned.

While the novelty of the fidget spinner will fade with time, it’s anyone’s guess if they will become a classic like the Rubik’s Cube, or soon lay forgotten in a dusty corner of the playroom, never to be played with again.

Here’s what you’ll want to know about the latest fad:

1.) No scientific backing

Fidget spinners have been marketed as a stress-reliever and a self-care tool for ADHD and autism. Parents of diagnosed children have eagerly purchased these toys in the hopes that they will help their child concentrate in class and perhaps alleviate some of their symptoms.

It’s important to note, though, that there has not been any scientific evidence backing this claim. While some might find that they do provide temporary relief from symptoms, they should never be used in place of therapy or medication.

2.) Choose cheaply

One of the biggest selling factors of this fad is the modest price tag – most go for just a couple bucks. Like every popular fad, though, opportunists have been quick to cash in on the craze. The market boasts luxury spinners with flashing lights, or with more ball bearings to supposedly guarantee a longer spin time. These deluxe versions come with a price tag of a few hundred dollars or more.

Kids are thrilled with the cheaper versions, though, and they fulfill their purpose perfectly. Don’t get sucked into shelling out big bucks, because this fad may be over in a few weeks. By then, your child may never look at a spinner again.

3.) Classroom chaos

A lone spinner produces a low, almost indistinct whir. Multiply that by 25, though, and you’ve got quite a racket. Now imagine trying to teach over that din.

Fidget spinners might look like the perfect classroom toy; they’re small enough to fit under the desk, and make hardly any noise. But some teachers and principals have found them to be too distracting, and many schools have banned them completely. Aside from the collective hum of the gadgets spinning, the toys often go clattering to the floor or are used to demonstrate tricks, further adding to their distraction.

Other teachers don’t mind the noise, though, and claim they support concentration while providing a legitimate sensory aid for those who need it. Make sure your child’s teacher is OK with the fidget spinner being used in the classroom before your child brings it to school.

4.) Smartphone substitute

While no scientific studies have backed this claim, many posit that the fidget spinner’s popularity is linked to its vibrating motion, which mimics that of a smartphone. They theorize that the toy serves as a salve for the smartphone-addicted child, who loves the feel of a screen throbbing.

Whether this is true or not remains to be proven, but if it’s a choice between a phone and a fidget spinner, remember that the toy won’t mess with your child’s attention span or internal clock the way screen time does, making it the better choice.

Here to stay, or gone tomorrow? It’s anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, though, make smart, informed choices about the latest toy fad.

Your Turn: Do you think fidget spinners should be allowed in classrooms? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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Q&A: Risking It When Investing

Each month we will post an answer to a question we’ve received recently in order to help others who might have the same question. If you have any questions you’d like to have answered, please message UCCU on Facebook.

Q: My wife is a risk taker and wants to invest in things that aren’t really in my comfort zone. I know it’s generally considered better to invest where returns are higher, but that also means a higher risk! Is there some sort of middle ground?

A: It’s great that you’re thinking this through. Many couples face the same question, and while the simplest solution might be to split your funds down the middle and invest as you each see fit, that’s not likely to bring peace or wealth into the relationship. In a marriage, for one thing, whether accounts are titled separately or jointly, they are considered marital assets (even 401Ks). And a healthy relationship depends on working jointly toward financial goals, not going it alone.

One of the most difficult issues for couples to resolve is how much risk they’re willing to take with their investments. According to Fidelity’s 2015 Couples Retirement Study, 47 percent of couples disagree about how much money they’ll need to maintain their lifestyle in their later years. Even more troubling, a Harris survey found that 33 percent of couples weren’t saving anything for their retirement years. And, of those who were, one in five said they were clueless about how much their partner was contributing to their accounts.

Some tips if you’re starting down the investment road together:

  • As in so many areas of a relationship, communication is key. Let your spouse or partner know you’re willing to research options together and come up with a plan. Erica Coogan, partner at Moss Adams Wealth Advisors in Seattle, recommends that each partner complete a risk assessment questionnaire and then compare answers. “It makes a subjective conversation a little more objective,” she says.
  • Remember that planning needs to cover both spouses, not just a breadwinner. Experts advise couples to be mindful of the “It’s my money because I worked for it” syndrome. Couples need to work together on a plan for investing (and spending) their money, no matter who earns it. Apart from any resentment, an uneven divide in the ownership of assets can make a mess of cash flow, estate planning and taxes.
  • Consider transparency. Wherever you stand on risk, consider selecting some investments that are, by nature, transparent. This includes individual stocks, bonds and exchange-traded funds. You can also reduce risk by diversifying your portfolio across asset classes. Ask a financial advisor at your credit union for help in untangling the strands of modern-day investing.
  • Think about your time horizon. Allowing an investment to compound leads to much better returns. So, if you’re the more risk-averse half of a couple, and you’ll need your money within 10 years, say with confidence to your partner: Slow down. Remember that it doesn’t make intuitive sense (but is nevertheless true) that your money doubles in seven years if you earn a compounded annual return of 10%. Don’t let a little fumbled math lead to a rash or risky decision.
  • Keep the goalposts in sight. Your mutual goals will determine how, and how much, the two of you should invest. For instance, when do you want to retire? Do you plan to pay for your kid’s college expenses? Purchase a home (or a second home)? Start a business?

Finances are one of the leading causes of separation. The more ownership and open communication a couple has over this potentially rocky topic, the less likely it is that they’ll panic when there’s a ripple in their plans or something happens in the markets.

Your Turn: Do you and your spouse or partner disagree about investments? Let us know how you’ve smoothed that potentially rocky road and headed for a secure sunset.

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