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August 2018

Back to School Budgeting

While the holidays are infamous for devouring your hard-earned greens, there’s another time each year that blesses your money with wings to find new roosts in the pockets of store owners. That’s right: back to school season. If you’re living on a dime and looking for supplies for the upcoming school year, check out these tips about how and where to shop on a back-to-school budget.

Start Shopping in the Attic

Cobwebs and your grandmother’s old knick-knacks don’t sound like they make the most appealing atmosphere when it comes to shopping. But you’ll be surprised what’s hiding right at home! This is an especially great strategy for big-ticket items like furniture for your dorm room or off-campus apartment. Maybe your parents have a nice sofa they’re planning to part with. Grab it! You can also reclaim pens, binders, unused notebooks and all sorts of other goodies just by checking out your old stuff. Do you have any older (or even younger) siblings? Ask them if there’s anything on your shopping list that they have and would be willing to donate to your cause!

Shopping Equals Splurging?

Not when your budget’s on the line! And that means it’s important to make sure that what you’re buying is what you’re going to be using. For instance, did you ever walk into a department store and see the cutest – but rather expensive – must-have bedding set, complete with fluffy pillows and a quaint rug? Before you buy, consider this: Do you really need the fancy extras? If those pillows are just going to host your dust collection, think about buying a smaller set that includes just the essentials. And that goes for computers, electronics and just about anything you need; don’t buy the most expensive model if a cheaper one can satisfy the same need at an affordable price.

Budget Book Buys

And buy books, we don’t mean just fun reads. With another academic year comes another round of shelling out cash for college textbooks, many of which you’ll discard as soon as your classes are over (if not before). But there’s no rule saying you have to buy books at full price! Local used bookstores will often carry textbooks at deep discounts. Plus, you can visit online retailers or search the internet for websites offering books on a budget. Finally, don’t underestimate the value of word-of-mouth shopping. Find a friend or classmate who has already taken the class that’s on your schedule next semester and buy their books!

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What Can I Do About Robocalls?

Are you sick of grabbing your ringing phone five times a day only to find yet another robocaller on the other end?

If robocalls are getting to you, you’re not alone. Those super-annoying automatic calls have recently exploded, and it’s enough to make anyone go bonkers. More than 30 billion robocalls were made in the United States in 2017, and the Federal Trade Commission answered a whopping 375,000 complaints about robocalls each month.

Unfortunately, those numbers are only rising.

If you feel like your phone is ringing off the hook from robocalls and you’re just about ready to throw it against the wall, read on. We’ll give you the inside scoop on these dreaded calls and show you what you can do to put a stop to them once and for all.

How do they have my number?

Many people ask how so many businesses and scammers have their number. It’s because robocallers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and the internet is making their job easier. Scammers and telemarketers can scrape almost anyone’s phone number off the web.

They might find it on your Facebook page, another social media platform you frequent, or even drag it off your business’s website.Robocallers also buy phone numbers from popular companies or websites that require visitors to log in by submitting some basic personal information that includes their landline and cellphone numbers.

Or, robocallers may simply be dialing thousands and thousands of numbers at random, with no rhyme or reason at all.

Who’s on the other end of the line?

Robocalls come in many forms. Sometimes they’ll be trying to sell you a product or urge you into signing up for a service. Other times, they’ll try to scam you by appearing to represent a government agency, like the IRS.

You might think no one’s buying the marketed product, or that whoever actually believes the robotic voice telling them they’re about to be arrested is super naïve. Remember, though, that even if just a few people agree to buy the product or are taken in by the scam, the minimal cost of running the calls is more than worth it for the person behind the calls.

Here’s how the robocalls take a stab at appearing authentic:

  • Spoofing. Using software, the robocaller can tweak the way their number shows up on caller ID. They can make it look like the IRS is on the phone, that your electric service company is calling you or like a representative from Apple is seeking you.

   Recently, scammers have been using neighbor-spoofing, in which their caller ID looks like a local number. This throws victims off and can help robocallers gain their misplaced trust. 

  • Disguised identity. Robocallers may also choose to appear mysterious and show up on your caller ID as “private number,” “unavailable” or “unknown.”

Steps you can take

Thankfully, you don’t have to be bombarded by those irksome calls for the rest of your life. Here are several steps you can take to keep most robocalls from reaching your landline or cellphone:

  1. Don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers – If you don’t recognize the number on your caller ID, let it go to voicemail. If the ID shows a local number or the name of a recognized company you have no reason to believe is calling you, ignore it as well.
  2. Block unwanted numbers – It’s time to get offensive and start intercepting those numbers before they reach your phone. First, if there’s any specific number that calls you persistently, use your phone to block it and you won’t have to hear from them again.Next, check with your phone service provider about possible technologies you can download to block anonymous calls or those from specific area codes. Some systems allow you to create your own blacklist of numbers that will be blocked or sent directly to voicemail. You can also create a “white list” of numbers you allow to go through and stop every other number from reaching you.You may also want to enlist the help of a robocall-blocking app that can offer you a stronger defense against unwanted calls. Here are some apps that provide this service along with their prices:
  • Nomorobo: 14-day free trial. $1.99/month or $19.99/year
  • RoboKiller: Free 7-day trial.  $2.99/month or $24.99/year
  • Hiya: Free. Hiya partners with Samsung, AT&T and T-Mobile and also has standalone apps.
  • TrueCaller: Free
  1. Require caller input – To keep all automatic calls from reaching your phone, you can set up a call-blocking technology, such as the Sentry Active Call Blocker, that greets all callers with a message requiring them to enter a number before the call can proceed. That’s something robots can’t yet do.
  2. Don’t share your number – Never share your phone number on your social media profiles or pages. If a business asks for your number, do not give it out unless you absolutely must.
  3. Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry – Visit www.donotcall.gov to add your landline and cellphone numbers to the list of registered callers who don’t want to be bothered by telemarketers. Scammers won’t pay much attention to this list, but law-abiding companies that ignore the listed numbers risk being fined and will usually abide by the registry’s rules. This service is free and your number will never be taken off the list.
  4. File a complaint – If you’ve signed up for the Do Not Call Registry and, after a month, you are still receiving robocalls from specific companies, file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov. When the agency receives enough complaints about a number, it will take action.If you’re constantly receiving unwanted calls from a known business after signing up for the Do Not Call Registry, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

You don’t have to let those robocalls overtake your life. Take action today and reclaim your peace!

What’s your best defense against robocalls? Share your favorite tip with us in the comments.

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UCCU Book Review – The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win

When we see people achieving the incredible, we usually assume they were born with greater talents than we possess. Maybe it’s more willpower, an innate talent or resilience that pushes them ahead. Or maybe they simply have a tremendous amount of motivation that propels them forward and helps them reach their goals.

Jeff Haden, in his new book, The Motivation Myth, is here to debunk this long-held belief. He claims there’s no special sauce involved in major life changes. Instead, he believes that motivation is a byproduct of the process of working toward a goal – and not the cause of all that work.

Haden maintains that understanding and internalizing this truth can help anyone become one of those super achievers.

This eye-opening book takes readers from the very beginning, where the actual goal-setting happens, and sees them through until the end, when the impossible becomes a reality.

Haden teaches how to reframe your entire way of thinking about goals and motivation. He offers practical tips and advice for getting yourself “unstuck” at the starting line, giving you ways to stop stalling and move forward with those elusive goals. He proves there is no mystery in accomplishment; no bolt of lightning or super powers at play; just a clear, sensible process that can be duplicated by anyone committed to making it happen.

The author cites examples from his own life to bring his point home, sharing how he has consistently drawn two million monthly views to his blog, completed a 107-mile mountain-bike race and dropped 10 pounds in just one month, all by following his own advice.

Some readers have found the connection he draws between achievement and his process to be overly-simplified and not practical. They claim it’s all hype and not doable in real life. Most readers, though, find the book to be an enlightening guide for overcoming the everyday and transcending the average.

Your Turn: What’s your biggest business motivator? What pushes you to get ahead?




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What’s the Best Way to Finance a Home Renovation

Q: I’m doing some home renovations this summer and I’m not sure how to finance this expense. There are so many loan options, but which one makes the most sense? 

A: Whether you’re gutting your entire kitchen or turning your basement into a home theater, we’ve got you covered! As a UCCU member, you have several choices when it comes to funding a home renovation. And we want to help you find the right one for your specific needs. 

First, let’s take a look at some common choices and why they’re not the best idea for financing a home renovation project: 

1.) Home Equity Loan 

A home equity loan is a loan that’s secured by your home’s value. Home equity loans allow you to borrow a fixed amount of cash, which you receive in one lump sum. Most home equity loans have a fixed interest rate, a fixed term and a fixed monthly payment. 


  • Taking out a home equity loan can mean paying several fees.
  • Receiving all the funds in one shot can push you into spending more than you actually should.
  • You may find that the amount you borrowed is not enough.

2.) Credit cards 

You may already have your credit cards open and won’t need to apply for a new loan, so you may be thinking, why not use this available credit to fund my renovations? 

If you’re only doing some minor touch-ups on your home and you can afford to repay the charge within the next year or two, a credit card could work. 

For bigger projects, though, funding them through your credit cards can have devastating effects on your financial health.   


  • You may be stuck paying interest of 15% or more until you pay off the balance on your card. This means your remodeling project will cost you a lot more than necessary.
  • Your credit score will likely be negatively affected by the large, unpaid balance on your card by pushing your balance to total available credit ratio well above 30%.
  • You might send yourself spinning into a cycle of debt once you already owe so much money on your card.

3.) Personal loans 

Personal loans are short-term loans that may or may not be secured by some form of collateral (like a car or other titled good). They typically need to be repaid within 24-60 months. 


  • Upfront costs and interest rates on personal loans can be relatively high.
  • Like a home equity loan, you’ll receive all the money you borrow in one lump sum. This can compel you to spend it all, even if you don’t need to do so.

4.) Retail credit cards 

Retail stores often lure customers into opening a credit card with the promise of being granted automatic savings when using the card for future store purchases. Some retailers, especially home-improvement shops, may encourage you to finance a large renovation project on their card. However, this is usually not a good idea. 


  • Retail credit cards tend to have exorbitant interest rates of up to 30%.
  • With so much credit available, the urge to splurge and go all out with your renovations will be that much stronger.

5.) Merchant loan 

A merchant loan, or a merchant cash advance, is a loan that’s taken out against a business’s anticipated revenue. If you are a business owner, a merchant loan will need to be repaid with a predetermined percentage of your future revenue.  


  • Merchant loans usually come with high interest rates.
  • The percentage of your sales that you’ll need to pay is fixed. This means that, if your sales spike, you’ll be paying more and putting yourself and your business at a disadvantage.  

There are so many loan options and so many strings attached! How can you fund that home renovation?  

Enter the home equity line of credit (HELOC). 

A HELOC is an open credit line that is secured by your home’s value. HELOCs have adjustable interest rates and have a “draw” period in which you can access the funds, ranging from 5-10 years. When the draw period ends, the loan will have to be repaid, either immediately or within the next 15-20 years. 

If you’re approved for a HELOC, you can spend the funds however you choose. Some plans may require that you borrow a minimum amount at each draw, keep a predetermined amount outstanding (balance), or withdraw an initial advance when the line of credit is first established (initial draw/advance). 

When looking for a way to pay for home improvement projects, we recommend a HELOC. And for good reason.  

Here are just a few benefits of choosing a HELOC over another loan type: 

You’ll save money 

HELOCs help you stick to your budget. Instead of walking out with a huge amount of cash when you open the loan, you’ll have access to a line to use as needed. This credit will only be available to you for a specified amount of time and it will have a fixed amount as your maximum draw. You’ll withdraw money in the amount and at the time you need. Plus, you’ll only pay interest on this amount (not the whole line). This aspect of HELOCs makes them especially convenient if you don’t know exactly how much your project will cost. 

Upfront costs for HELOCs also tend to be lower than those of other loans. 

Flexible terms 

Most HELOCs have fluctuating interest rates, but some lenders allow for the possibility of converting large withdrawals into fixed-rate loans. 

Repayment of HELOCs is also flexible. When the draw period ends, you may be allowed to renew your credit line and continue withdrawing funds as needed. 

Monthly payments also vary. However, many lenders only require borrowers to make payments toward the interest of their loan during the draw period. Once that time is over, the borrower will need to pay back the entire principle of the loan immediately, or over the course of 10-15 years. This is especially beneficial if you don’t have the funds to pay back the loan now, but you anticipate an improvement in your financial situation over the next few years.  

Also, because you’re only paying interest on the money you withdraw, you’ll have the freedom to take out a larger line of credit and decide how much of it to use later on. 

You’re improving your home’s value 

It makes perfect sense to borrow against your home’s equity for adding to its value. If you plan on selling your home within the next 10 years, it is very possible for a HELOC to pay for itself, and then some. 

Are you ready to get those renovation plans rolling? Call, click or stop by UCCU today to get started on your HELOC application! 

How did you fund your home renovation project? Share your choice with us in the comments!









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Investing – Step #11: Expect Fluctuations

If there’s one constant in the stock market, it’s that the stock market is never constant. It will continue to fluctuate every single day.
This means share prices are constantly rising and falling. Consequently, so do the market values of stocks and companies. This happens as a result of changes in the supply and demand for the stock.
To break it down further, when more people want to buy a certain stock than the number of people who want to sell it, the demand – and the stock’s price – will go up. However, when the sellers outnumber buyers, the price drops.
The obvious question, then, is: What makes people want to buy or sell a stock?
There’s no one answer to this loaded question. Stock fluctuations can be caused by any number of factors.
Here are some reasons a stock may go down:
  1. Earnings are dropping
  2. Sales are slipping
  3. A top executive leaves the company
  4. A well-known investor sells their shares of the company
  5. A lawsuit is filed against the company
  6. A market analyst downgrades their recommendation of the stock
  7. The company loses a major customer
  8. Many people sell their shares of the company
  9. A company factory burns down
  10. Other stocks in the same industry go down
  11. Another company introduces a better product
  12. There’s a supply shortage and the company can’t meet demands
  13. Scientists discover that the product isn’t safe
  14. A new law impacting sales or profits is introduced
  15. Negative rumors begin to circulate
  16. Local acts of terror cause uneasiness
  17. Concerns over inflation or deflation
  18. Fluctuating interest rates
  19. Technological changes
  20. Natural disasters
  21. Extreme weather fluctuations
  22. Negative company reviews on social media
  23. Political elections cause directional uncertainty
Here are some reasons a stock may go up:
  1. Increases in earnings and sales
  2. The company is under great new management
  3. An exciting product or service is introduced
  4. The company lands a big contract
  5. There’s a great review of the company, or new product, in the press or social media
  6. Scientists discover the product is good for something else
  7. A well-known investor is buying shares
  8. Many people are buying shares
  9. An analyst upgrades their recommendation for the company
  10. Other stocks in the same industry go up
  11. A competitor closes shop
  12. The company wins a lawsuit
  13. The company expands globally
  14. The industry is hot
  15. The company’s product is in high seasonal demand
  16. Positive rumors or speculation
  17. Optimistic market conditions
  18. A fantastic marketing campaign
This is just a small sampling of some factors that can make a company’s stock go up or down. It can happen for any reason at all. What’s important to remember, though, is that investing will never be a smooth ride – fluctuations are a normal part of the market. No shareholder is immune. Be prepared for your stocks to fluctuate, sometimes dramatically. When it happens, unless conditions in the market are extreme, you simply need to hold on and wait for things to change course.
Have you ever drastically changed your opinion about a company because of rumors or bad press? What about other reasons? Share your story with us in the comments!
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