Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment is Here

Open enrollment is here again, and for many Americans this time period - and the entire health
insurance market - spells confusion.

Is Obamacare still in effect? Are premiums really increasing as much as predicted? Do I need to
take action now if I’m happy with my insurance plan? What’s the difference between all the plans
offered in the marketplace?

So many questions! No worries, though. We’ve got answers. Read on for the complete rundown
on open enrollment, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and today’s health insurance options.

1.) The ACA - still in effect?

Before you go shopping for a cheaper or better insurance plan, bear in mind that the Affordable
Healthcare Act is still up and running. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the
current administration has overturned the program or will soon do so. While an alternative health
care plan has been proposed, there has been no change in the current system thus far, and it is not
likely that there will be within the next few months.

What does this mean for the average American?

The ACA has made it mandatory for every American to have sufficient health care coverage. The
penalty for failing to comply with this law is the higher of $695 per adult or 2.5% of household
income.

The ACA also oversees the government-run health insurance marketplace in which insurance
plans can only be purchased during open enrollment. In most states, the open enrollment period
for 2017 is about 6 weeks long, running from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The following states have
extended their enrollment period: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Washington.   
 
2.) Rising premiums or cheaper rates? 

If you ask the average Jane or John Doe if insurance costs are rising or falling, you’d probably
get an earful about ever-climbing premium rates and health care costs. On the flip side, though, is
the government, claiming their subsidized plan and the expansion of Medicaid has health care
costs steadily declining.

In fact, both arguments are true. The silver plans on the ACA marketplace rose by an average of
more than 30% this past year - and 2018 is looking a whole lot worse. Premiums are expected to
rise by as much as 34-50% this coming year.   

The current administration has claimed it will stop paying for many of the key payments to
insurers it’s previously shouldered as part of the ACA. This factor, coupled with the
overwhelming uncertainty surrounding the ACA, has led insurers to drastically increase their
premiums.

The 80% of customers who receive subsidized insurance through Obamacare will be shielded
from these price hikes; it’s the other 20% who will bear the brunt of the unstable marketplace.

The premium increase rates will vary by state and by the individual, but it is quite possible for an
Obamacare customer who was paying $593 a month in premiums in 2017 to be saddled with a
monthly premium of $1,001 in 2018!

All this uncertainty has led to another significant development: Many providers have left the
marketplace plans. This means your doctor may no longer be part of your insurance plan. Be sure
to find out about any possible changes before open enrollment is up, even if you aren’t looking to
change your plan.

3.) Where to apply   
 
If you do not receive insurance coverage through Medicaid, Medicare or your workplace, you
may want to consider changing your insurance plan this year. To find out what your options are,
visit healthcare.gov. Most states offer insurance coverage through this site, while others will
redirect you to a private state-run site where you can purchase a marketplace plan.   
 
4.) Available marketplace plans   

Here’s a quick synopsis of each category of plans available in the ACA marketplace: 
*    Bronze: lowest monthly premiums, highest out-of-pocket costs and very high
deductibles.
*    Silver: the most popular plans available, silver offers moderate premiums and out-of-
pocket costs, with lower deductibles than bronze plans.
*    Gold: high monthly premiums but lower out-of-pocket costs and deductibles.
*    Platinum: the most expensive plans in the marketplace, platinum plans have the highest
monthly premiums but the lowest out-of-pocket costs and very low deductibles.
There is also a catastrophic plan available for individuals under age 30 and people who have
received an exemption from the marketplace due to extenuating circumstances. These plans
include free preventive care, low monthly premiums and very high deductibles.   

5.) Choosing your plan   

When shopping for a marketplace plan, it’s important not to base your decision on price alone.
Many of the cheaper plans come with a heavy price. Your primary care provider or your child’s
pediatrician may not be covered under some of the less expensive plans. You may need to pay
out-of-pocket for many or all prescription drugs. Lastly, a higher deductible can mean that you’ll
end up paying for all of your health care needs in 2018 without “cashing in” on your premiums
before the year is over.   

Be sure to shop around for a plan and do lots of research before making your decision.

Be an educated consumer this open enrollment season so that you make the best decision
possible. Your health is too important for anything less!   

Your Turn: The nationwide health insurance challenge has been hotly contested for years. If
you had the power and means, how would you change the current system? Share your thoughts
with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/the-affordable-care-act-in-2017-myths-and-facts/
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2017/10/31/time-to-shop-for-obamacare-
what-you-need-to-know-this-enrollment-season.html
https://www.aarp.org/health/health-insurance/info-2017/open-enrollment-aca-fd.html
https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/time/money/4826591/aca-premiums-cost-2018

Friday, October 27, 2017

7 Ways To Save On Thanksgiving Costs This Month


Thanksgiving means giving thanks for all the good in our lives. It also means stuffed turkey and gravy, cranberry pie and mashed potatoes. It’s a time-honored tradition of spending time enjoying a delectable holiday meal while in the company of those we love.
 
It can also mean spending an awful lot of money.
 
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average host cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 guests will spend approximately $50 on the dinner alone. Of course, if you’re expecting more than 10 guests or you tend to overspend when hosting, your costs can easily top that amount. Between the turkey, ingredients for that luscious holiday meal and décor to set the ambiance, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is not cheap.
 
Looking for ways to cut back without compromising on the quality and festivity of your meal? Look no further! You know that here at First City we love to keep your wallet plump. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of seven easy ways for you to save on your Thanksgiving costs this year.
 
1.) Verify your guests’ attendance
Before you start writing up a spectacular menu or a detailed shopping list, check to make sure you have an accurate head count of the guests and family members who will be joining you for Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t want to end up with a fridge full of leftovers. Verify that all who are invited are indeed planning on showing, and only then begin planning your menu.
 
2.) Find out what your guests like
While you’re doing your inviting, ask for your guests’ individual tastes. You don’t want to forget that Great Aunt Martha is on a strict gluten-free food plan or that your cousin’s spouse is a vegetarian. Aside from specialized diets, ask about particular foods your guests like to eat and those they won’t touch. If something on your menu isn’t very popular with your guests, skip it – even if you think it’s an “obligatory” Thanksgiving food. This way, you won’t slave over a pumpkin soup that nobody will touch or end your holiday meal with trays full of leftovers and lots of hungry guests.
 
3.) Make it a potluck
Slash your spending and your stress in one step by answering an enthusiastic “yes!” to every guest who asks if they can bring something. Don’t just say “anything’s fine,” though, or you might have seven desserts. Instead, create a Google Sheet with your planned menu and let your guests input what they’d like to contribute to the meal. This way, they’ll know exactly what you need, you’ll know what they’re bringing, and best of all, you won’t be doing all the cooking yourself.
 
4.) Serve on smaller plates
Most people will load up their plates to capacity, regardless of the plate’s size. Curb the wasting at your table by using smaller dinnerware. Let your guests load up all the way without leaving half-full plates. They can always refill if they still want to eat more later.
 
5.) DIY décor
You can set a beautiful holiday tablescape without blowing your budget; all it takes is a little imagination. Shop the local dollar store for discounted décor that still packs a punch, like colored vases, fake flower arrangements, and other centerpieces. Look for easy, inexpensive DIY ideas online. Finally, get creative by using things from around the house – or yard – as your décor. For instance, you can create a whimsical candleholder by affixing cinnamon sticks around a candle or design an autumn-themed centerpiece with leaves and pinecones from your own yard.
 
6.) Shop the sales
Grocery stores and shopping centers tend to run specials on turkeys and other Thanksgiving staples starting as early as Halloween. Plan your menu several weeks in advance so you can take advantage of these sales. Keep it flexible until you see the circulars and then base your dishes on the ingredients and produce that’s cheapest. Also, be sure to shop around for your turkey! Supermarkets tend to have the best deals on the birds, with some even running free turkey deals when you spend a specific amount on other groceries.
 
7.) Cook from scratch
Most everything is less expensive – and tastes better – when it’s homemade. Think gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie. Start your cooking well enough in advance so you don’t find yourself relying on too many convenience foods and paying the price both in cash and taste. Your wallet and your guests will thank you!
 
When you gather ’round the table with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can be thankful for all the good in your life without feeling guilty over how much you spent on the meal. All it takes is a little planning!

Friday, September 1, 2017

First City Credit Union Celebrates its 80th Anniversary



First City Credit Union is celebrating its 80th Anniversary with a number of celebration events in September, culminating on the credit union’s “birth date” or date of establishment, Sept. 28.  We want to invite you, our members, to the festivities!

We will have open house events that will take place in each of the credit union’s eight branches in downtown Los Angeles, Lakewood, West Covina, Claremont, Palmdale, Lancaster, and Pasadena.  The open houses will take place on each Friday in September with refreshments, member gifts, and special product offers for our members.

Sponsor and member appreciation celebrations will also take place in September.  Food trucks will be deployed at several of First City’s main sponsor groups, providing free lunch to staff while the branches will have refreshments and gifts on random days as appreciation for our members and to thank our sponsor groups for their support.

First City was officially founded on September 28, 1937 as Los Angeles County Employees Number 11 Federal Credit Union, with 65 members and a grand total of $149 in deposits!  Today, with more than 55,000 members, $630 million in assets, and 11% in capital, First City is one of America’s strongest financial institutions.

First City CEO Jim Miller wants you to know that “Through the years, we’ve helped thousands of members fulfilling their financial needs. Our success is a reflection of our relationship with the members, sponsors, and communities that we serve.  Their support places First City among the nation’s most financially sound credit unions; a credit union that has received a ‘5-star superior’ rating by the Bauer Financial independent rating firm for 17 consecutive years.”

Your credit union’s commitment to its sponsor organizations and the communities it serves is highlighted by our involvement, fundraising, or sponsorship of several events, including the Lakewood Fun Run, Department of Public Social Services Funmania, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Fight for Life, Department of Children and Family Services Family Fun Day, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Chili Cook-off, LAC+USC Medical Center’s American Heart Association Heart Walk, Antelope Valley Salute to Youth, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Holiday from the Heart, Children’s Miracle Network Credit Unions for Kids, and Claremont’s Shoes That Fit.  In addition, First City conducts Financial Literacy programs for the sponsors and communities it serves.

We invite you to take advantage of the special rates we have to celebrate our 80th anniversary with you, our wonderful members!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Make the Best of 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.) Work twice as hard

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 First City Credit Union today, for help with money management and ending the debt cycle.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Creative Ways To Save On Energy Costs



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

Here’s where we come in! You know how much we at First City love helping you save money. So we’ve compiled a list of 10 creative ways to lower your electricity bill – even when the humidity is thicker than pancake mix. And don’t worry; You won’t find any mention of refrigerator coils here!

1.) Plant some trees and shrubs
Trees are a whole lot more than oxygen-breathing beauties; they’re also your key to trimming your electricity bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, if you’ve got air leaks, you can easily reseal your windows by weatherstripping the problem areas. Your leaky door may need a door sweep replacement. Just peel off the old one and bring it to a home improvement shop so they can help you find a new one that fits your door.
Sealing leaks is easy, economical and can cut your energy costs by 30%.

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Best Deals On Wheels For College Students


You’ve shopped for weeks and you’ve packed for hours. Now, you’re finally ready to load your trunk and pull out of the family driveway toward your next stage in life.

Which set of wheels will accompany you on your rite of passage into the grown-up world?
Yes–you’ve chosen your college, your major, and perhaps your roommate. Now it’s time to choose your car.

There are loads of factors at play when making this decision, though.

First, you’ll need to determine if it makes more sense for you to lease or to purchase a car.
Leasing offers flexibility. It’s the perfect choice for those who aren’t ready to commit to a car for long-term usage. It’s also more practical if you can’t afford to be solely responsible for a car’s maintenance and repairs. Monthly lease payments – even with repair warranties and liability waivers – also tend to be cheaper than payments on a purchased vehicle.

Of course, a lease won’t net you anything of value in the long run. When your lease is up, you’ll be out the thousands of dollars you spent “renting” the car, and have nothing to show for it. Also, if you max out the annual mileage limit, you may end up paying a small fortune in fees.

Purchasing a car, on the other hand, is a commitment that pays off in the long run. If you can afford the down payment, monthly fee, and can foot the bill for any repairs (talk to First City Credit Union about affordable coverage for mechanical breakdowns), it may be the choice for you. Remember, though, that cars depreciate as soon as you take them for their first spin. It’s also hard to predict which vehicle will serve you best a few years down the line.

If you do decide to purchase a vehicle, first determine exactly what you can afford. Don’t take on a monthly payment that’s going to squeeze your budget. Building and maintaining a good credit history is crucial – at every stage in life.

Be sure to do extensive research before signing on a car. As a cash-strapped college student, you need to make the most cost-effective decision possible – but that doesn’t mean buying the cheapest car you can find. Your vehicle should serve its purpose without draining your wallet on fuel costs and repairs.
Carefully screen every car you’re considering for fuel efficiency, safety, warranty inclusion and coverage, and cargo capacity.

To make your search a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of the top six cars for the budget-wise college student. Each one is fuel-efficient, offers excellent cargo capacity, and is well-priced. (Cargo capacity listed is with the rear seats folded.)

1.) 2016 Kia Soul
Starting price: $15,900
Cargo capacity: 24.2/61.3 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined

2.) 2017 Honda Fit
Starting price: $15,990
Cargo capacity: 16.6/52.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: Up to 36 mpg combined

3.) 2017 Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback
Starting price: $18,455
Cargo capacity: 19/47.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 32 mpg combined

4.) 2016 Mazda 3 Hatchback
Starting price: $18,545
Cargo capacity: 20.2/47.1 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 33 mpg combined

5.) 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT
Starting price: $18,800
Cargo capacity: 23/51 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined

6.) 2017 Volkswagen Golf Hatchback
Starting price: $19,895
Cargo capacity: 22.8/52.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 29 mpg combined

Before heading to the dealer’s shop, it’s best to get pre-approved. This way, you’ll know exactly what you can afford, and you’ll be taken more seriously by the dealer. Be sure to drop by First City for your pre-approval and auto loan! Our credit union offers low rates on pre-owned vehicles, so call 800-944-2200 or apply online at www.firstcitycu.org!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Plan The Ultimate Family Vacation – Together!


If you’ve ever taken your kids on vacation and had to listen to them complain about your choice of activities and about not having enough money to do everything, try something different this year! Bring the kids into the budgeting process, letting them know how much you have to spend and what the costs of various attractions will be. You might even withdraw the money needed and make actual piles of cash for each day. They’ll quickly understand that choices have to be made, but making them part of the process will improve their attitudes and lead to more summer fun!

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.

How do you save on a vacation and still keep your kids happy? Share your best tips with us in the comments!