Eight Questions (And Answers) About Currency Transaction Reports


1. What is a CTR?

CTR stands for Currency Transaction Report.  This is a report filed to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) by financial institutions regarding any withdrawals, deposits, payments, transfers or exchanges of currency in the value of $10,000 or more.  CTR’s apply to transactions of cash, foreign bank notes, Federal Reserve notes and U.S. silver certificates.

2. What’s the Purpose of a CTR?

The purpose of a CTR is to enlist financial institutions in the fight against money laundering and other financial crimes.  While transactions of $10,000 or more aren’t inherently suspicious, keeping tabs on large paper transactions helps the government scrutinize potential cases of money laundering and other criminal activity.  Employees of financial institutions have the ability to mark a CTR with an SAR (Suspicious Activity Report) if there are other signs that the transaction may be tied to criminal activity.

3. Who Has to File CTRs?

All financial institutions are required to file CTRs. Broadly, this means banks and credit unions.  But it’s important to know that websites like PayPal and Venmo are also beholden to regulations concerning CTRs and SARs.

4. What is FinCEN?

The motto at The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is “follow the money,” and that’s exactly what this organization does.  The bureau of FinCEN is part of the U.S. Treasury Department.  It is responsible for collecting data on financial transactions and is interested in tracking large or otherwise suspicious transactions because they may be connected to money laundering, fraud, terrorist financing and other crimes.

5. Do Financial Institutions File a CTR for Multiple Transactions Adding Up to $10,000 or More?  What About Transactions of $9,999?

The point of a CTR is to notify FinCEN of suspicious transactions.  While $10,000 is the standard amount, employees of financial institutions are obligated to issue an SAR for transactions that seem to be intentionally dodging a CTR.  For instance, if an individual made a $5,000 deposit to his own personal account as well as a $5,000 deposit to his brother’s account, this activity would warrant a CTR.

In other words, it is the responsibility of the financial institution to look at transactions as part of a larger picture and to make adequate filings of CTR and SAR accordingly.

“Structuring” refers to when individuals regularly make transactions of just under $10,000 to avoid a CTR.  This is an offense for which both the individual making the transaction and the financial institution’s employee could be punished (if the employee failed to file an SAR).

6. Do Financial Institutions Have to Tell Customers About CTRs?

No.  If a member/customer asks, they will be told, but banks don’t need to be forthcoming about this information.  Also, if a customer asks to do a transaction of $10,000 or more and then asks about CTRs, he or she cannot lower the amount for avoiding the CTR.  The teller at the bank or credit union will need to deny any requests to lower the transaction amount as well as file both a CTR and an SAR in response to this request.

7. Don’t CTRs Violate Customers’ Financial Privacy?

Before the CTR was developed, it was the responsibility of individual tellers to call the police over suspicious transactions.  This wasn’t the most efficient or secure way, but it was seen as necessary to protect customers’ financial privacy and protect financial institutions from liability.

However, in October of 1986, the Money Laundering Control Act was passed, making allowances for reporting transactions in the amount of $10,000 or more.  The act stipulated that financial institutions will not be held liable for releasing suspicious transactions to FinCEN.

Today, rather than it being on the shoulders of each individual teller, CTRs are automatically filed for transactions of this size.  It is, however, still the responsibility of bank and credit union employees to look out for other signs of suspicious activity, beyond just the amount.  This is why CTRs, while auto-filed in most cases, also have an SAR check-box on them for bank and credit union employees to use.

8. How Do Financial Institutions File CTRs?

There are many software systems in use by financial institutions to meet the regulatory demands of CTR and SAR filing.  Some institutions use custom software, while others use systems such as  NICE Actimize,  Oracle, DBI Financial Systems and American Bank Systems.

SOURCES:

https://www.fincen.gov/frequently-asked-questions-regarding-fincen-currency-transaction-report-ctr

https://www.treasury.gov/about/history/Pages/fincen.aspx

https://www.fincen.gov/sites/default/files/shared/CTRPamphlet.pdf

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How Low Can You Go? Give Your Child The Grocery Challenge

Do you ever feel like all your money goes toward groceries? Out of all the non-fixed expenses a household can have, food costs take the biggest bite out of the average monthly budget. Understandably, trying to trim the family’s grocery bill is an ongoing battle for most of us. Give your kids a leg up on this lifelong skill by challenging them with this fun and educational activity.

Materials needed:
  • Coupon circulars and/or newspapers
  • Writing materials
  • Calculator
  • Piggy bank
Instructions:
  1. Give your child a reasonable budget to be used for a week’s worth of groceries for your family.
  2. Instruct your child to create a shopping list. Let them know they will be tasked with going “shopping” for every item on the list while spending as little as possible. All extra money should go into the piggy bank.
  3. Tell them to be sure to include all meals, drinks, snacks, ingredients, pantry staples, pet food etc. on their grocery list.
  4. Making no mention of the coupons, have your child complete the task with all the materials provided. After creating the list, let them “shop” for everything by adding the costs of each item and giving you a “receipt” for the total sum. If your young shopper is unsure of an object’s price, they can ask you for help.
  5. Stress that the challenge in this activity is to see how far the budget for a week’s groceries can go.
  6. Introduce the coupons, but explain why buying something you have no need for just because there’s a coupon isn’t smart. Let your child decide which coupons are worth using.
  7. Watch your child use their budgeting skills and smarts to “shop” for the family and try to save as much as possible.

When the task is complete, review the results with your child. How much money went into the piggy bank? Were items written on the grocery list because of available coupons, or were the coupons only flipped through after the list was already made? Did your child first create a menu for the week before writing the list? Did they omit anything important? What did they learn from this activity?

Variations:
  • You can do this in real life, having your child create a shopping list and then taking them to the store. Have them actually select the groceries and make the purchase of all the week’s groceries, trying to spend as little as possible.
  • For younger children, you can create a “store,” using fake money, a toy cash register and a play shopping cart. Place a few items on a table, making sure there are clear prices on each item. Have your child “go shopping” with the money that’s available, making sure they are aware that they must have enough money to pay for every object they put in their cart.
Your Turn:How do you teach your kids about saving money on groceries? Share your best tips with us in the comments!
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Credit Unions Vs. Banks: The Choice Is Clear

Obviously, banks and credit unions offer a lot of overlapping services. Both banks and credit unions take in deposits, administer checking and savings accounts, issue credit and debit cards, and provide home loans in addition to consumer loans.

The key difference: Ownership structure

Banks are corporations – owned by their stockholders. Typically, and especially with larger banks, these shareholders are Wall Street institutions. However, there are many smaller neighborhood and regional banks with more local ownership. Credit unions, on the other hand, aren’t owned by stockholders on Wall Street; we’re owned by our members on the local Main Street!

True, neither banks nor credit unions are in business to lose money. We both need to make profits on our goods and services to stay in business. The difference is this: When a bank makes money, they send their profits to their stockholders. When a credit union makes a profit, on the other hand, we pass it on to our members. This can be in the form of a dividend or credit, better rates, technological investments and a variety of actions that bring greater value to members of the cooperative. And because we’re not so focused on pleasing distant shareholders through issuing a dividend every quarter, we can frequently offer services and loans with lower costs than banks.

Our mutual ownership structure gives us another advantage too: Wall Street can’t pressure us to make unwise decisions for short-term gains at the expense of our membership. Every decision we make is solely in the long-term best interest of our shareholders.

For example: In normal economic times, credit union and bank failures are very rare. That story changed during the mortgage crisis of 2008-09. Leading up to the crisis, publicly traded banks were under intense pressure from Wall Street to make questionable loans so they could keep short-term numbers up. Credit unions were free to make sound and rational decisions that were in the best interests of members, not Wall Street. According to information published by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the National Credit Union Association, banks were failing at a rate three times higher than credit unions in 2008, and had a failure rate of five times that of credit unions.

In good times, credit unions have a great track record. And when times are tough, there’s no comparison.

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Dealing With A Financial Setback

Financial setbacks come in all shapes and sizes. It can be an expensive household repair or major car trouble. It may be increases in your insurance plus a rent hike taking effect at the same time. Or, it can be something more extreme, like getting a pay cut at work- or even being given a pink slip. It may be a medical emergency that isn’t covered by insurance, or some good news that will cost you a bundle, like a wedding or the birth of a baby.

It’s impossible to plan for every financial hit you will take in your lifetime.

The question is: What are you going to do about it?

You could ignore it, and keep borrowing or charging to pay for daily expenses when your income is swallowed up by the surprise. By going that route, you’ll be paying a lot more than you should for this setback because of accumulated interest. But you have options–there are proactive steps you can take. So, if you’re hit with hard times, keep these tips in mind:

1.) Don’t panic

Panic is the first reaction many people have when experiencing a financial setback. It won’t be easy, but do your best to keep your cool. Keeping calm will allow you to think more clearly and resolve your deficit quicker. Remember, as difficult as things seem, they’ll always look a little better after some levelheaded planning.

2.) Crunch the numbers

I’ll disappear if you just ignore me and pretend I don’t exist, said no problem – ever. That’s because problems won’t disappear when they’re ignored, especially not money problems. If anything, they snowball into a mountain of financial issues you really don’t want. So, difficult as it might be, sit down and figure out exactly how much more money you’ll need in order to cover your new expense, or to fill the gap of an income loss.

3.) Keep the money coming in

When you’re dealing with a financial setback, you’re looking at less money than you need to get you through the month. The only way to stretch what you have to fit your needs is to earn more or to spend less. Since tightening your budget is almost always stressful, try to find ways to add to your income first. If possible, put in more hours at work or seek extra projects, even if it means working nights and/or weekends. Consider freelancing or consulting if you can. Take a side job for some extra cash. Do whatever it takes to bring in a little more money to cover the additional expenses.

If you’ve been laid off or your hours have been cut, it’s OK to work at a job that is below your skill level until you find something more permanent. There’s no shame in earning an honest living.

4.) Trim your spending

Now, it’s time to see which expenses you can trim. Before cutting your budget in half, though, take the time to prioritize. List all the expenses you cannot do without and the ones that would be irresponsible to neglect. Don’t skip mortgage payments or neglect your insurance premiums because you’re short a few hundred dollars. Instead, take an honest look at your remaining expenses and see where you can cut back.

If you’re careful, you may be able to cut your grocery bill in half. Trim spontaneous purchases by only using cash – and keep a minimal amount on you at all times. If you’re a two-car family, consider scaling back to one car for now. Push off your vacation plans until things start looking up. Do whatever you can to come up with the extra cash.

5.) Contact your creditors

If you absolutely cannot make some of your minimum monthly payments anymore, contact your creditors before they come calling on you. It’s always best to be up front about your financial situation. Most creditors will be happy to work out a reasonable payment plan with you.

6.) Reach out to family and friends

The people who care about us most are the ones who can get us through anything. Don’t be embarrassed to tell your family and friends what’s going on. They’ll support you and encourage you until you get back on your feet, and they may even be able to help you out with employment opportunities or helpful contacts.

7.) Be proactive

Hindsight is always 20/20. Harness the urgency you feel now to get into the habit of building up an emergency fund. As soon as you’re back on your feet, start putting away money that can be pulled out in future setbacks. Experts recommend that you have 3-6 months worth of living expenses saved up in case you can’t work for any reason. Knowing you have that money to fall back on will take the stress out of these situations.

Do you need help recovering from a financial crisis? Call, click, or stop by a UCCU branch today for help with money management and ending the debt cycle.

Your Turn: How have you maintained your equilibrium during a financial setback? Share your best tips and advice with us in the comments!

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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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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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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.

SOURCES:
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Independence Day Celebrations Yesterday and Today

Do you know exactly what happened on July 4, 1776? What do our Fourth of July celebrations commemorate, and why?

The Reason We Celebrate July 4

July 4, 1776, is the date written on the original Declaration of Independence, even though it wasn’t signed until Aug. 2 of the same year. July 4 was the day in which the Continental Congress officially agreed and approved the final edits to the document that Thomas Jefferson wrote. It declared the words that would establish a new nation, independent of Great Britain’s control.

Thirteen American colonies were already at war over oppressive taxation, but residents weren’t consistent in their opinions and their efforts until the words of the Declaration united them and gave them a foundation for the Revolutionary War victory in 1783. Because the Declaration was also understood to be the first formal statement by any group of people asserting a right to choose their own form of government, it was a significant document for all citizens of the world, not only for the colonists.

Although it was called Independence Day as early as 1791, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t always celebrated on July 4 with a vacation from work and fancy fireworks. In fact, the United States Congress didn’t make it a holiday for federal employees until 1870, nor did lawmakers pass additional legislation to make July 4 a paid federal holiday until 1938.

During the Revolutionary War, July 4 was commemorated with 13-gun salutes (representing the 13 colonies), official banquets for the Continental Congress and their families, and parades and shows for the troops. Ships at sea were draped with red, white and blue while in port and at sail, and General George Washington reportedly ordered a double ration of rum for his fighting men to celebrate.

One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was John Adams, who wrote the following in a letter to his wife, Abigail: “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Celebrating July 4 at Home

Today, we certainly have our modern pomp and parade, shows, games, sports, guns, bells and bonfires to celebrate July 4. But we also have jet fighter salutes at airshows and choreographed fountains and fireworks exploding over lakes, rivers and harbors throughout the country. John Adams probably could never have imagined the majestic displays we take for granted now.

Whether you enjoy a road trip with your family or stay home to barbecue by the pool, you can plan a Fourth of July that’s fun for everyone. In some parts of the U.S., you can even celebrate with your own patriotic fountains and fireworks. Start by contacting your local fire department to learn the rules for purchase and use of fireworks in your area, and to ask if you’ll need a permit to use them. Then, stop by your local retailer to check out their light show fountain kits to complete your patriotic display.

Celebrating July Fourth in Washington, D.C.

If you’re planning to join the crowds gathering in our nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., here are some suggestions for a budget-friendly but unforgettable Fourth of July:

  • See the real deal, the original 240-year-old Declaration of Independence that’s located in the National Archives, north of the National Mall at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., and meet the Founding Fathers in a lively reenactment.
  • Find a good spot on Constitution Avenue before the National Independence Day Parade begins at 11:45 a.m. between 7th and 17th streets. An authentic Revolutionary War Fife & Drum Band as well as top high school bands from across the country provide the sights and sounds of freedom.
  • Stop by the National Portrait Gallery at 8th and F St. NW, Washington, D.C., to see the official, painted portraits of all 43 presidents of the United States, and to hear presidential reenactors telling stories of their time period in history.
  • Catch “We The People,” a 20-minute film at the Smithsonian American History Museum, on Constitution Avenue NW. It chronicles the history of Independence Day, starting from its birth in 1776.
  • Drive about 30 minutes south of Washington, D.C., to immerse yourself in George Washington’s Mount Vernon home along the Potomac River. Savor ice cream, fireworks and music from the Revolutionary War era all day long.

Your Turn: Where will you celebrate July 4 this year? Are you planning a gathering at home, or traveling to visit friends, family or national historic sites?

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_Day_(United_States)
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/july-4th
http://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-declaration-of-independence/fourth-of-july/
http://www.military.com/independence-day/history-of-independence-day.html
http://experience.usatoday.com/america/story/best-of-lists/2015/07/01/fourth-of-july-fireworks-usa-cities/29524219/
http://magazine.foxnews.com/celebrity/17-patriotic-movies-watch-over-fourth-july-weekend
https://washington.org/ways-celebrate-independence-day-washington-dc

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