Plan The Ultimate Family Vacation – Together!

Planning the ultimate family vacation is quite a challenge. This is especially true when you’re trying to fit in the best attractions and give your kids the vacation of a lifetime while staying within a budget.

How can you accomplish all that and still keep your kids happy?

The solution is simple, yet brilliant: Let your kids be a part of planning that vacation! This way, they’ll be the making many of the choices, thus eliminating the usual complaints and groans about your chosen attractions. Plus, your job will be that much easier. As an added bonus, your kids will learn invaluable lessons about budgeting and making choices.

Several weeks before your planned vacation, hold a family meeting. Then, let your kids know what your destination is before enlisting their help in planning the itinerary. Make sure they know what your exact budget is and fill them in on all the best attractions in the area.

Tell them they are going to have to make some very hard choices. They need to decide exactly what they want to do with the vacation budget.

Do they want to try out the famously fantastic Thai restaurant near the hotel and then spend a day at the beach? Or, would they rather pick up a budget meal and take in the huge amusement park in the area? Do they want to go horseback riding and skip the ATVing? Or, would they rather give both activities a miss and spend the money on water-skiing? Let them know that each option is going to make a dent in the budget, so they need to choose wisely!

To make it even more tangible for your kids, withdraw cash for the entire amount you plan to spend on your vacation and place it on the table. Then, when a choice is made, physically subtract the amount it would cost you from the stash of cash. This will allow your kids to actually see how much each attraction will “cost” them and force them to make better choices.

When your meeting is through, you will have your itinerary planned and your kids will have gained an invaluable life lesson in budgeting and decision-making.

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Exercises That Improve Your Focus

As a student, it’s important to find ways to enhance your focus. Perhaps you’ve already tried many methods. Whether it’s a magic supplement promising to turn you into the next Einstein or a veggie smoothie your roommate promises will help you ace every exam, there’s a lot of reason for skepticism. Are there methods that really work?

Just like any muscle in your body, your mind muscles need resistance so they can stretch and grow. Challenge your noodle with the exercises listed below, all of which have been proven to sharpen the brain.

1.) Practice mindfulness

In a super fast-paced world, doing one thing at a time is nearly passé. Multitasking is the wave of the future – or is it?

When your brain is constantly being pulled in multiple directions at the same time, it’s hard to focus on any single task.

Defeat this downside of 21st-century life by resolving to do one task a day with complete mindfulness. When walking to class, leave your phone in your bag and concentrate on the pull of your muscles, the wind whipping at your face, and on your surroundings. When tackling a homework assignment, power down your electronics and focus on nothing else. When having a conversation with a roommate or classmate, focus intently on what they’re saying instead of other thoughts or distractions that may be vying for your attention.

Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis will soon turn it into routine.

2.) Play memory

Remember that matching game you played as a child? It’s time to dig out the stack of cards again! Get a bunch of friends together for a trip back into childhood and play a round of memory. You’ll have loads of fun trying to outdo your friends’ powers of recall and you’ll be giving your brain a real workout at the same time!

If you want to give the game a grown-up spin, have a roommate gather a bunch of random items on a tray. Look at the tray for 30 seconds and then have your partner remove it. How many displayed items can you remember? Keep on playing until you can remember all of the objects easily.

3.) Meditate

Not only does meditation help keep you relaxed and calm, research has repeatedly proven that it significantly boosts your attention span.

You don’t need to run off to a mountaintop for three hours every afternoon. You likely don’t have time for that sort of commitment – not to mention your roommates will think you’ve fallen off the deep end. Try meditating for just 10 or 15 minutes a day. Even short bouts of meditation can improve your focus.

4.) Play brain games

You may be sick of Sudoku, but there are loads of other brain games that’ll keep your gray cells in top form. Search “brain training games” on Google for dozens of fun games that challenge your brain. You’ll find some that boost your memory, improve your attention span and increase your cognitive speed and mental flexibility. To up the fun factor, compete against a friend!

5.) Puzzles

Another childhood favorite, jigsaw puzzles are a great way to exercise the brain. If you’d rather not work with a physical puzzle, you can find lots of free puzzles online.

6.) Physical exercise

When your body starts moving, so does your mind. Physical exercise has lots of benefits for the body – and one of them is keeping your brain cells healthy! You’ll also improve your mental stamina, which is always a good thing.

Give your brain a real workout and give yourself the tools you need to ace every exam!


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Why do I need to get preapproved for a loan?

Q: I’m in the market for a new home, and everyone I talk to, from friends to financial advisors, suggests I get preapproved for a mortgage before I start house hunting. Why is this so important?

A: You’re actually on the receiving end of great advice! When looking to take out a large loan, whether it’s for purchasing a home or buying a car, having that preapproval in hand before you start your search is crucial.

Depending upon the type of loan, the process of getting preapproved for a loan can take time. The lender will begin by asking for your financial history and other personal information. If you have a co-borrower, the lender will need this information about them as well.

You’ll be asked to provide your Social Security Number (SSN) and for permission to allow the lender to access your credit report. If the information you provide is satisfactory, as is your credit report, the lender will begin constructing the details of your loan. When they have determined how large of a loan you will be eligible for, they will grant you a preapproval letter. The letter will also detail your estimated interest rate on the loan, though that will sometimes also depend upon the specifics of your purchase, such as the year and condition of a car or appraisal on a home.

Having your preapproval letter will shorten the loan process significantly when you’re actually ready to take out the loan. However, that is only a small benefit of getting preapproved before you start “shopping.”

Here are some other advantages of getting preapproved for a loan:

1.) You’ll know what you can afford

Your preapproval will tell you exactly what you can afford. This way, you’ll avoid being disappointed later when you have your heart set on a certain home only to be told you can’t swing it financially. Knowing how large a loan you’ll qualify for will simplify your search and get you into your new home or car sooner.

Be sure to calculate other monthly costs, such as property taxes, home insurance and increased auto insurance rates when determining the actual amount of money you’ll need to shell out each month.

2.) Don’t get taken for a ride

Picture this scene at a car dealership:

Salesperson: So, you’re here to buy a new car! What are you looking for?

You: Well, I want something with a smooth ride and –

Salesperson: Got it. And how much of a monthly payment can you afford?

You: Weeelll, I think I can swing up to $200 a month, but I’d rather something closer to $150 if you —

Salesperson: Step right this way please! Let me show our new line of Camrys at just $205 a month! They have the most luxurious feel and the ride is smooth as butter!

What happened here is, quite simply, a salesperson looking to make the most money out of a customer. When you’re unsure about how much you can spend, the dealer will capitalize on your uncertainty and try to sell you a car that just barely skims the maximum amount you’ve decided you can afford.

Also, when you name a monthly payment you can manage, the dealer will work with that number instead of talking about the price of the car. They may try to inflate the payment with charges and fees just because they fit within your named payment amount.

In contrast, when you show up at the dealer with a preapproval in hand, the salesman will have to show you cars with price tags that fit within your loan amount.

Don’t get taken for a ride; get your preapproval before you set foot in the dealer shop!

3.) Be taken seriously

A car dealer will take you a lot more seriously when you wave that preapproval in their face, since having that information in hand shows you’re ready to buy.

When purchasing a home, the same rule holds true. A realtor will be able to assist you more efficiently when you know exactly how much house you can afford. They may also give you better service since you’re showing that you’re serious about buying a home. In fact, many realtors refuse to show homes to buyers who don’t have a preapproval in hand.

4.) Know you have financing you can trust

When you show up at the car dealership with a preapproval from your credit union, you know the deal is in your best interest. Many auto shops have access to several financing options and they’re almost always going to put customers into financing options that are in their own wallet’s best interests.

5.) Purchase your dream home

A preapproval makes you a valuable customer. It also helps you stand out from the pack. If you’re looking to buy a home in a competitive market, you may be competing with several other buyers for the same house. Having your preapproval will give you a leg up on bidding wars. A seller will be more eager to work with someone who’s already started the mortgage process. You can end your search sooner with a preapproval!

In the market for a new home or car? Don’t forget to call, click, or stop by UCCU to hear about our fantastic rates on mortgage and auto loans!

Your Turn: Based on your own experience, why do you think it’s important to get preapproved for a loan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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The Brain/Money Connection

We know that stress impacts our health in various ways, but did you know the brain is also physically affected by stress? Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function. And nothing spells stress like money dilemmas!

Neuroscientist Dr. Sam Barnett conducted research to determine the brain’s appearance while making financial decisions. He found that the ability to make effective decisions in this area is impaired by anxiety.

The complexity of some financial situations makes it difficult to process information and impedes our ability to make rational choices. The number of choices can make people feel anxious. Since the brain has two basic modes, fight or flight, being presented with too many choices can result in confusion and anxiety.

Author James Clear adds that it may be the lack of certainty that augments the anxiety, because financial quandaries rarely have clear-cut answers.

This uncertainty, coupled with the plethora of information accompanying each option, often creates high stress levels. This can lead to hasty, unsound decisions, leading to buyer’s remorse.

Alternatively, when stressed about financial decisions, some choose to make no decision at all. In certain situations, taking no action can have disastrous results.

The science behind the science

The relationship between money and the brain has been researched primarily in the last decade. Scientists have found that different parts of the brain are stimulated when dealing with money. One study, for instance, showed increased neural activity when people play games for money.

Apparently, just the possibility of earning extra money impacts the brain! This proves the brain influences the process of making even the simplest financial decision.

How can we help our brain handle so much information?

Barnett’s study also shows that narrowing down options or having a financial advisor provide a framework for decisions can alleviate anxiety and lead to improved outcomes.

Developing financial plans that consider our long-term wants and needs can also help. A financial planner is the best address for assistance with this process.

A competent financial planner is well worth the outlay. They can help you hone in on the crucial aspects of a broader plan. Aside from leading to better financial decisions, Barnett claims this improves brain function as well.

You can also narrow and focus information by using budgeting tools. Simply putting financial information on paper helps the brain organize and process all that data. In addition, setting financial goals and checkpoints can reduce anxiety.

The bottom line? The best way to make sound financial decisions is to get help. And that’s why we’re here! Call, click or stop by UCCU today to see how we can help.

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The UCCU Book Review – Zero Down Your Debt

Are you sick of being saddled with debt? Are you ready to break yourself free from the shackles of towering credit card bills?
Zero Down Your Debt will show you how to make that happen. This eye-opening book by Holly Porter Johnson and Greg Johnson is a virtual manifesto for debt destroyers everywhere. The personal finance book promises to change the way its readers think about money through its clear and guided approach to debt-free living and financial freedom.
Holly and Greg have been through it all. Through a series of poor choices and uncontrollable circumstances, they found themselves facing a staggering $50,000 of debt. Instead of despairing, though, they created a manageable step-by-step approach toward paying it down, using innovative techniques and a forward-thinking attitude.
Today, they are living a debt-free life and are passing on the wisdom they gained from their journey to you!
In Zero Down Your Debt, Holly and Greg describe the exact tools that helped them climb out of the deep hole they found themselves in. Their primary secret is their self-coined “Zero-Sum Budget,” a budgeting method that is both realistic and powerful. In this plan, every single dollar earned is given a purpose – whether it’s for paying bills, paying debt or putting into savings.
Last month’s earnings are used for this month’s everyday expenses. The plan is simple and demands nothing more than strong resolve, a positive attitude and pen and paper. By employing this plan, every reader is assured a way out of debt.
Throughout the book, you’ll find practical “Action Items.” These doable tips can help real people living on modest incomes win the war against debt.
In Zero Down Your Debt you will learn how to:
  • Unlock the powerful potential of your paycheck to help you save more and move ahead
  • Regain control of your money by creating a monthly plan that works
  • Understand the root causes of your debt
  • Implement a doable plan to eliminate your debt
  • Enjoy debt-free living and true financial freedom
  • Avoid budget destroyers that drain your wallet and demolish savings
  • Prepare for unexpected expenses and financial emergencies
Critics claim the book does not include any new material, believing it is age-old budgeting advice. They say Zero Down Your Debt is all “been there, done that” and will not give readers a fresh outlook on going debt-free.
Many others, though, are thrilled with the book and thanks to its actionable approach, are on the journey to financial freedom.
Pick up your own copy and you may soon find yourself on the same path to a debt-free life!
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Investing – Step #4: Invest 15% Of Your Household Income Into Retirement

Now that you understand the basic investing terms, your first actual investment is going to be one in your future. Experts recommend allocating 15% of your monthly income toward retirement.

Before you start exploring your options, though, you’ll need to set a goal, or a target number. This number will represent how much you need to have saved for living comfortably and independently throughout your retirement. A good way to set a target number is to take your current living expenses and multiply that by 400. This will give you the amount you’d need to have to sustain yourself, based on a 4% investment return.

There are many investment options to consider for retirement. The most common are 401(k)s, IRAs and Roth IRAs, each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s what you’ll want to look for:

1.) Matching funds

This refers to matching monies offered by employers. Most will offer to match your contributions up to a certain limit. For example, your employer may offer a 100% match on the first 3% of your salary. If you earn $60,000, that means for the first $1,800 you have withheld from your paycheck and put into your retirement account, your employer will gift you an additional $1,800 in completely tax-free money. Even if all you do is park that money in something stable like a trust fund, it’s the highest, safest, most immediate return you can earn anywhere in the stock market. Don’t leave free matching money on the table!

2.) Tax-deferred growth

If a retirement vehicle is tax-deferred, this means all the assets parked in that particular fund will not be taxed until they are withdrawn. This allows the money to grow, untouched, for years.

3.) Tax-deductible

If a retirement fund is tax-deductible, every dollar you put into that fund is subtracted from your taxable income, automatically lowering your taxes. For those in their peak earning years, this can provide considerable tax savings.

In the table below, we offer a brief summary of the pros and cons of each retirement vehicle for easy comparison.
Features/requirements 401 (k) IRA Roth IRA
Matching Funds Yes No No
Tax-deductible Yes Depends on income, tax-filing status and other factors No
Tax-deferred Growth Yes Yes No
Taxable Withdrawals Yes Yes No
Maximum Yearly Contribution (2017) $18,000.00 $5,500.00 $5,500.00
Maximum Yearly Contribution Age 50+ (2017) $24,000.00 $6,500.00 $6,500.00
Age Limit For Contributions None 70 1/2 None
Income Eligibility (2017) Any income earned through a company that offers a 401(k) Any earned income as reported on a W-2, wages from self-employment, tips and alimony Any income with a gross worth of less than $118,000-$133,000/yr or $186,000-$196,000/yr for taxpayers filing jointly

Once you have chosen your retirement fund, you’ll need to choose somewhere to invest the money. Low-risk investment vehicles, such as federal bonds or trust funds, are usually the best choice.

If you are saving for retirement through the use of a 401(k), be sure to check if your employer offers a target date fund.

The term “target date” refers to your planned retirement date. You’ll know your employer offers a target date fund if there’s a calendar year in the name of the fund, such as A.J. Holdings Retirement 2050 Fund. Simply make an estimated guess of the year you’d like to retire, and then pick the fund with the date closest to your projected retirement.

A target date fund is a smart choice because it spreads the money in your 401(k) across many asset classes such as large company stocks, small-company stocks, bonds and emerging-markets stocks. Then, as you near the target date, the fund becomes more conservative, owning less stocks and more bonds, automatically reducing your risks as you near the date of your retirement.

To get the ball rolling on whichever retirement plan best suits your needs, you’ll need to speak to an HR representative at your workplace. With a bit of work and a lot of planning, you’ll have your future secured in the best way possible.

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New Technology Alert – UCCU CardSwap

At UCCU excellent member service is a top priority and we are always looking for ways to make our members’ lives easier. It’s why we offer world-class mobile and online banking services that are secure, quick and easy. To that end we are now offering another new service that will provide a better way for you, our valued member, to update your payment card information for your subscriptions, streaming, shopping, and other online services. The new service is called UCCU CardSwap. It was made available to all members Monday, December 18.

With UCCU CardSwap you can update all your favorite digital services, like Netflix, Amazon, and more – at the same time, in the same place – within UCCU’s online and mobile banking. This new technology makes it easier…

  • To switch your preferred payment method to your new UCCU card
  • To update online payment methods to a new UCCU card when one is lost, stolen, or used for fraud
  • To update online payment methods when a renewal UCCU card arrives

To use UCCU CardSwap, simply login and select Services from the main menu, then select CardSwap:


Then – select Get Started:

Next – pick your accounts (scroll while in app to reveal the full list). Full list of possible accounts available at the bottom of this article:

Then – verify your new card information. If you are setting this up for the first time, simply put in your existing UCCU card information:

When setting up for the first time, or when adding new accounts – verify your username and password for your selected accounts and the update is complete. From here you can also add additional accounts or return to the main menu:

UCCU CardSwap means UCCU cardholders no longer need to log in individually for each account and update each provider. So, next time you need to update your online payment information, give UCCU’s CardSwap a try to quickly update your favorite digital services like Netflix, Amazon, and more.

Click here to apply for a UCCU checking account or click here to apply for a UCCU credit card.

Your turn: What are your thoughts around this service? How many accounts could you update through CardSwap?

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Financial Preparation for 2018

2018 is upon us – are you ready?

Usher in the new year with plans for financial improvement and resolutions to do more.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Tune your budget
It’s great to start off the new year with a plan. A budget is just that-a plan that starts with the income you expect and your fixed expenses such as your mortgage, insurance and utilities. The plan incorporates your savings goals, and the remaining money is designated for your other expenses. A realistic budget will help you set your financial goals and will remind you to stick to them. Now is the perfect time to assess last year’s budget or create a new one if you don’t yet have one in place.
Reviewing how you spent last year’s money will help you make better financial decisions for the year ahead. While thinking about it, include a method for tracking your spending. You can do this on a spreadsheet or tag items in your checking account.
Even with a solid plan, there can be surprises along the way, so be sure to build an emergency fund into your budget.
Plan ahead to meet your goals
Consider how you will accomplish your goals. You might have shorter-term goals, such as purchasing a new home, as well as longer-term goals, like retirement. Each set of goals requires different kinds of planning and saving.
Financial planners recommend setting up a separate savings account for each goal. This way, your progress toward that goal is clear.
It’s best to work backward for determining how much you need to save for each goal. Determine the cost of your goal and then establish a reasonable time-frame as well as how much you’ll need to save each month to reach it.
Spend mindfully
Make your financial future more secure this year by identifying your wants and needs. Your needs are necessary for survival and include food and shelter. Your wants are simply things you desire-like a luxury car. Tend to your needs first. Then, if there is money remaining, consider your wants.
This might sound obvious, but for many of us, the lines between wants and needs are blurred.
Maximize tax contributions
Tax deductions can be a valuable source of savings. If you have employer-matching funds available, take advantage of them. Also, verify with your HR contact and your accountant that you are contributing the optimal amount to your 401K and IRA.
Check your flexible savings account (FSA)
If you have unspent money in your FSA, now is the time to use it. Your pre-tax dollars in such accounts typically need to be spent before the end of the year or they are lost.
These are just a few of the many ways you can prepare financially for the coming year. With a little attention to some often-overlooked details, a little perseverance and a little mindfulness throughout, you’ll be moving forward with a strong foundation and positive outlook.
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De-stressing After the Holidays

The holidays are just about over, and winding down is never easy.

Returning to the real life is a grind – and not everyone manages it well. For some, after a bumpy few days, they’re back on track. For others, the ‘blues’ set in, accompanied by a loss of appetite, feelings of wistfulness and homesickness. This often leads to a mild depression and sense of anxiety.

For those who can’t bounce back after the holidays, psychologists have devised various methods for coping. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1.) Lazy last day

On the last day of the holiday vacation, we try to squeeze in as much as we can as the hours slip by. Therapists recommend doing just the opposite: Pull back on your schedule by engaging in calming activities that help your body return to your normal habits.

2.) Catch up on work

Reduce the stress of returning to piles of paperwork by contacting a co-worker who didn’t take off for the holidays. That person can fill you in on the important happenings during your absence and inform you of the most urgent assignments awaiting your return.

3.) Homesickness help

If you’ve been traveling during the holidays, it may be super-helpful for you to relive your holiday experiences – or not. For some, looking at photos of the holidays can be pleasant and soothing. For others, though, reliving memorable events can trigger feelings of anxiety and thwart any efforts to deal with the present.

4.) Calming techniques

A great way to decompress is to engage in yoga and breathing techniques. Taking deep inhalations and long exhalations encourages brain activity and stimulates effective blood circulation while soothing your inner soul. Deep breathing will help you transition from a state of exhilaration to a normal level of existence.

Meditation has also been proven to help reduce the stress of returning from a holiday.

5.) Jet lag

It’s no fun when your sleep-wake cycle is disrupted by jet lag. To minimize this effect, doctors advise travelers to get out into the sun as soon as possible upon disembarking. When the sunlight hits your eyes, it helps readjust the sleep-wake cycle.

Even if you haven’t flown anywhere, you may have similar symptoms from coming down from a heightened experience. A 15-minute walk in the sun can help you decompress.

6.) Physical exercise

Exercise releases endorphins which flood us with happy feelings while decreasing stress hormones. A win-win solution to the blues!

7.) Your next vacation

Some therapists suggest that planning your next vacation immediately can help you overcome the post-holiday blues.

Others disagree and encourage focusing on the present.

8.) Talk it out

If you’re still having difficulty re-entering your pre-holiday existence, have a heart-to-heart with a friend or relative. They can act as a sounding board, help you sort out your feelings, and offer solutions you may not have considered.


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