Wednesday, November 20, 2019

6 Misleading Advertising Ploys To Beware Of This Black Friday


Article      

6 Misleading Advertising Ploys To Beware Of This Black Friday                                                                           
Here at First City, we hate to see your money go to waste, so we've put together a list of misleading advertising schemes you may come across when hunting for deals this Black Friday.

Be an informed consumer and shop smartly!

1. Very limited quantities

That $200-off supersized TV screen on the front page of the big-box circular that just landed in your mailbox looks like an incredible deal-until you show up at the store on Black Friday, only to find it's sold out. Of course, no deal lasts forever, but when a store that has only been open for the day a few hours claims it's already run out of an item, you can assume it only stocked a very limited quantity. The heavily marked-down and heavily advertised item was a ploy to get you into the store to shop.

When checking out the ads for Black Friday, look for an "In-Stock Guarantee" or a "1-hour In-Stock Guarantee." This will allow you to take a rain check for a sold-out item as long as you show up sometime on Black Friday, or in the case of the 1-hour guarantee, as long as you show up within the first hour of opening.

2. No discount

This one is a bit harder to spot, but it's no fun when it happens to you.

In this ploy, retailers take advantage of the Black Friday craze to deceive shoppers into thinking a product is on sale. They'll list an item in a Black Friday circular so you'll assume it's being offered at a discount when the it's actually being sold at its regular retail price.  

You can easily outsmart the stores here by doing a quick check of an item's standard selling price online or pricing app like Shopular or ShopSavvy before running out to buy it on Black Friday.

3. Full price with a store gift card
A favorite Black Friday deal that may not be worth its hype is the item that sells at its regular price and comes along with a store gift card. For example, you might find a $699 laptop being sold at its full price at Best Buy, and rewarding buyers with a $100 store gift card. At first glance, this seems like a fantastic deal. However, some research might reveal that this same laptop is being sold elsewhere on Black Friday for just $550. Also, if you're not a regular customer at Best Buy, you may end up blowing that $100 on stuff you don't need just because the gift card is burning a hole in your wallet.

While gift card deals may be a great way to save on your purchases, think twice before rushing to grab a "with gift card" item on Black Friday.

4. Sales based on a dishonest manufacturer's price

It's easy for an item to appear to be significantly marked down when the manufacturer's price is grossly inflated, but it's also awfully unfair to the less-wise consumer.

When retailers advertise their sales, they'll often post the manufacturer's suggested retail price, or MSRP, for customers to compare. However, this number can be theoretical at best and simply dishonest at worst. If the item was never actually sold at the listed MSRP, the number is essentially meaningless.

Kohl's was actually sued for claiming items were being sold at discounted prices when they were never offered at a higher price to begin with. The retailer has since discontinued this practice, but many other stores continue to advertise inflated or irrelevant MSRPs along with their sale prices.

Avoid getting pulled in by this deceptive advertising ploy by checking out an item's retail price online.

5. Stripped-down or downgraded versions
When shopping for new technological devices, especially computers and TVs, make sure to read up on every feature offered with the product. A common Black Friday ruse is to advertise a discounted item that offers the very minimum in features and accessories. While it's great to walk away with a brand-new computer at $200 less than its usual selling price, it's not exactly the deal you thought it was if you end up having to pay through the nose to buy all those features and accessories that weren't included. These "add-ons" are often essential features whose lack can make the device almost useless until you buy them.

Read through the listed features of every advertised computer and TV before running out to buy it this Black Friday.

You deserve to find fantastic deals this Black Friday. Look out for these deceptive advertising techniques so that you only walk away with actual bargains.

Your Turn: Have you ever been taken in by a misleading ad? Tell us about it in the comments.

Friday, October 4, 2019

4 Super Scary Scams To Watch For This Halloween


 
4 Super-Scary Scams To Watch For This Halloween          

                      

Don't let a Halloween scam spook you! Stay a step ahead of those crooks by looking out for these four scams this season.

 

1. The shipping scam

 

The internet is brimming with Halloween-themed stores in the months leading up to Oct. 31. Lots of these retailers offer an impressive selection of costumes, accessories and decorations at great prices.

 

Unfortunately, though, some of the retailers that own such sites will never deliver the ordered goods. That's because, though the company may exist, and will appear legit, at the end of the day there was never a real intent to ship the item(s). The delivery date may be postponed until after Halloween, or the order might get canceled without notification. Sometimes, the shopper will receive the promised package on time - only the package is empty!

 

Before placing an order with a seasonal store, look for the company's physical address and phone number. Check what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has to say about it and look for information about return and refund policies in case things go south. Finally, as always, be careful about sharing your credit card information with an unsecure site. Look for the lock icon near the URL and the "s" after the "http" in the web address; both indicate you're on a secure site.

 

It's also a good idea to order your costumes and décor in September. This way, you'll have time on your side if you need to return a costume or a product that didn't turn out as expected. You're also less likely to purchase goods from iffy retailers and vendors you don't recognize when you aren't pressed for time. Finally, you won't be forced to spend a ton of money on last-minute shipping costs when you make your purchase early in the season.

 

2. The fraudulent offer

 

In this scam, a bogus company advertises a "Super Special Deal" for "Today Only" offer, or something similar. It will offer amazing Halloween goods for prices that are too good to be true and lure lots of unsuspecting customers into the trap. Unfortunately, the company is bogus and the offer doesn't actually exist. If you purchase the advertised product, you'll never see the product - or your money.

 

As with all potential scams, check out a company's authenticity and a website's security before purchasing.

 

3. The fake ticket scam

 

Planning to take a trip to an amusement park, attend a concert or take in another event on Halloween? Be wary of the fake ticket scam, in which third-party vendors sell bogus tickets to unsuspecting customers right before an event. They'll also tack on an exorbitant commission, claiming that they need to charge extra because of the last-minute purchase. Of course, the ticket is bogus and they'll pocket the ticket money, plus the commission.

 

Make sure to get your tickets to any event you'd like to attend well in advance. Contact the event organizers directly to make sure you've reached the right address. If you find tickets being sold online near Halloween time, do a quick online search to see if the event has already sold out. Check for spelling mistakes and erroneous information about the date and time of the event on the ticket, as well.

 

4. The bogus purchase scam

 

In this scenario, scammers try to convince you that you ordered something you have no recollection of purchasing just to get you to share your personal information. Once the scammers have this data, they'll do anything from emptying your accounts to taking out loans in your name or committing full-blown identity theft.

 

If you receive any emails, phone calls or text messages asking you about a costume you never ordered or a ticket you never purchased, do not engage with the sender or caller. Delete the emails or flag them as spam. Also, block the contact from calling or texting you again. With any luck, the scammer will get the message that you're not an easy target and leave you alone.

 

Here's wishing you and yours a safe and frightfully fun Halloween from all of us here at First City Credit Union!

 

Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a Halloween scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

Friday, September 13, 2019

How Much Money Should I Keep In My Checking Account?




How Much Money Should I Keep In My Checking Account?                                                                 

There's lots of talk in the world of personal finance about how to best manage a savings account. You might read up on financial experts who recommend keeping three to six months' worth of living expenses in your savings account, or maybe you've seen a tip about socking away enough money to cover larger expenses. Either way, there's lots of discussion about the ideal amount of money to keep in a savings account.


But what about our checking accounts? Most of us use these accounts on a daily basis. Every swipe of a debit card, every bill we pay and every personal check we write takes money out of our checking account.  


How much money should we be keeping in these super-convenient accounts? Let's find out.


What's your magic number?


According to a 2019 NerdWallet survey, the average American checking account balance is approximately $2,900 but this number may not be right for you.  


Everyone's financial realities are different, and because of that, we have different answers to the question of how much money we should be keeping in our checking accounts. The general rule of thumb is to try to have one or two months' of living expenses in it at all times. Some experts recommend adding 30 percent to this number as an extra cushion.


To determine your exact living expenses, track your spending over several months, including all bills and discretionary spending. Be sure to include seasonal and occasional expenses as well.  


Why keep that much money in your checking account?


Your checking account is your transactional account. This is where you'll draw the money for all of your spending throughout the month, so you'll want to be sure you have enough funds to cover those expenses. But it goes deeper than that. Here are three reasons you want to keep your checking account well-padded at all times:


1. Avoiding overdrafts. Even high-income earners can miscalculate their spending and end up with an overdrawn account. Why risk being charged overdraft fees for every transaction when you can easily avoid this mistake?


2. Providing a cushion for pre-authorization holds. Some merchants, including those that operate gas stations, hotels, and car rentals, will place a pre-authorization hold on your debit card until you complete a transaction. Pre-authorizations can reduce your available checking account balance by up to $100 per hold. Once your transaction clears, the hold is released and the funds are available to you again. However, until then, the money is tied up. Keeping your checking account well-funded allows you to comfortably agree to pre-authorization holds without fearing an empty or overdrawn account.


3. Keeping liquid funds available. A robust checking account means access to cash is just an ATM transaction away. While most vendors accept various forms of payment, it's helpful to know you have cash available if and when you need it.


Can I be keeping too much money in my checking account?


While it's great to keep your checking account well-padded, taking it to the extreme is not recommended. Having an overstuffed checking account means you're possibly missing out on the higher returns you can earn if you were to keep those same funds in a First City Money Market Account or in a Savings Certificate.


Once you've determined exactly how much money you should be keeping in your checking account, look into other options for the rest of your funds. You can speak to an MSR at First City to learn about our available options and other high-yield options to find the one that's right for you.


If you dare


Now that you've got your checking account numbers all worked out and you've chosen a place to keep the rest of your money, you may want to consider an unconventional practice, which makes money management simpler: opening two separate checking accounts. Some financial experts, such as Kristen Euretig, founder and CEO of Brooklyn Plans, recommend using this approach to give you a separate place for keeping the funds you'll need for bills and the money you'll use each month for your discretionary spending.


Here's how it works. Open a second Checking Account, and as soon as your monthly paycheck clears, transfer all the funds you need to pay your monthly bills into your second account. If you have any bills linked to your previous checking account, be sure to update the information before they are due. This way, you'll be paying all of your bills from one account. Best of all, with two accounts, you'll be able to tell exactly how much spending money you have left each month without doing mathematical gymnastics to determine how much of your money is still earmarked for bills. It's budgeting made simple!


Here at First City, we take the stress out of money management. Optimize your Checking Account by learning the ideal amount of money to keep in your account at all times.


Your Turn: How much money do you keep in your checking account? Tell us what works for you in the comments.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Do My Child's Activities Really Need To Make Me Go Broke?


 
 
Do My Child's Activities Really Need To Make Me Go Broke?                                                                

 

Its back-to-school season and you're just about ready to zip that backpack closed before tossing that supply list into the trash. You've been shopping for weeks to get the right pencils and pens, binders and the dozens of other must-haves. This, of course, is in addition to the perfect school shoes and autumn wardrobe. But now you're done, done, done! Your sanity and your budget are ready for a breather - at least until the holiday shopping season starts.

 

But then your darling daughter comes home breathless from school telling you she's made it onto the school's soccer team. She's thrilled and can't wait to start attending practices and games! Oh, and did she mention she'll need some money for her uniform and equipment?

 

Before you can finish digesting this piece of news, your son barrels through the door and announces he's decided to take drum lessons. It'll only be, say, $600 for the drum set, plus the price of lessons. But that's not a big deal for you, is it?

 

Extracurricular activities are an important part of a child's development. They allow students to shine in ways that may not be possible for them in the classroom. Plus, it helps kids step out of their social circles to forge new and lasting friendships. They serve as a creative outlet and can improve your child's physical and cognitive health. If you have a real prodigy in your family, they may even be your child's gateway to a college scholarship, and possibly a lucrative career.

 

But there's no getting around the truth: Extracurricular activities are expensive. If you've got several school-aged children at home and each one wants to participate in two activities, you can be looking at an investment as high as $10,000 or more because of fees, equipment, uniforms, instruments and supplies.

 

No worries, though; you don't have to choose between your budget and your children's happiness. Here are some ways you can save on your kids' extracurricular activities this year:

 

1. Limit the number of after-school activities you allow for each child

 

If you've got several over-ambitious young ones at home, consider limiting extracurricular activities to just one per child. You'll actually be doing your children a favor by forcing them to pick one activity of focus where they'll be channeling all their energy in one direction.  

They'll also be more dedicated to perfecting their game or hobby when they own their choice. Plus, it'll be easier for them to keep track of just one practice and performance schedule - and a lot easier on your carpool calendar, too! Finally, you'll help your children avoid taking on too much so they are less likely to wind up neglecting their schoolwork or not having any time to spare for family and friends.

 

2. Register early

 

Lots of children's' sports programs offer discounts of up to 30 percent just for signing up early. Speak to your children about after-school programs and sports team’s months before the official season launch so you can register early and snag those early-bird specials. You might also be able to net a discount by pre-paying for the entire season instead of paying on a monthly basis.

 

3. Purchase used equipment

 

Save big on sports gear by purchasing gently used equipment from sites like PlayItAgainSports and SidelineSwap. Some of these sites also allow you to sell your own used equipment.

 

4. Swap equipment

 

If you have friends with kids who are (or were) also into sports and music, see if you can swap equipment and instruments from year to year. Maybe your friend's son was into guitar last year and baseball this year, while your daughter's interests ran in the opposite direction. Swapping with friends allows you to save on expensive equipment while putting your own unused gear to good use.

 

5. Rent musical instruments

 

If you've got budding musicians at home, consider renting the instrument they've taken up this year. There's no way to tell if that burst of passion they're currently nursing for the oboe is just a passing phase or the beginning of a hobby that will last a lifetime. Why blow hundreds of dollars on an instrument only to see it lying forgotten in the attic in a few months' time? Some instruments, like the French horn, can cost as much as $1,000 but can be rented for as little as $50 a month.

 

If your child is convinced they've found their instrument of choice or you've already been renting one for a while, you can purchase gently used musical instruments from resale sites like Craigslist and eBay or through Reverb, a site devoted to selling used musical instruments.

 

6. Volunteer your time

 

If you've got the time to coach or manage a team, or even just to walk around selling refreshments during games, you might be able to nab a discount on the program's fees and equipment.

 

Don't let a tight budget stand in the way of your child's creative and physical development. By making smart, frugal choices, you can turn your children's dreams into reality without draining your wallet.

 

Your Turn: How do you save on your children's extracurricular activities? Share your own tips and tricks with us in the comments.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Regarding the Capital One Breach

Regarding the Capital One Breach

As you may already be aware, we have experienced another major industry data breach, this time from Capital One. Reportedly, one hacker gained access to 140,000 Social Security numbers, 1 million Canadian Social Insurance numbers, and 80,000 bank account numbers, in addition to an undisclosed number of people ís names, addresses, credit scores, credit limits, balances, and other information, according to the bank and the US Department of Justice. BALANCE is available to help you navigate this situation and take actionable steps to protect yourself if you have been impacted by this data breach. First and foremost, we would like to remind you that through BALANCE, you can
  • Speak to a financial coach. Our certified experts can help resolve any issues related to identity theft, or help review a credit report for suspicious activity.
  • View our Identity Theft Toolkit. Our online toolkit is packed with practical tips and resources. It can be found here: http://bit.ly/2wO6Dy0
Other Helpful Information to Share with Your Members
  • Check your credit reports annually from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion for free by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. BALANCE can help you review these reports, including how to dispute inaccurate information.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze wonít prevent charges from occurring on existing accounts.
  • Monitor existing credit card and financial institution accounts closely for charges that are not recognized.
  • Members may also consider placing a fraud alert on their files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you.
As your financial wellness partner, please let us know if there are any other tools or resources you might need to assist your members in navigating this data breach.


Friday, July 26, 2019

7 Steps To A Mid-Year Financial Checkup


 
7 Steps To A Mid-Year Financial Checkup                                                           

 
It feels like you just packed away the holiday decorations yesterday, but believe it or not, 2019 is already half over. As we sail into the season of barbecues and beaches, take a few minutes to give yourself a mid-year financial checkup. A small investment of time can spur important changes that can affect your financial wellness for the rest of 2019 or even for years to come.

 

Use the seven steps detailed below to guide you through your checkup.

 

Step 1: Revisit Your Budget

 

Remember sitting down in December and crunching all those numbers? There's no need for such a detailed job again, but take some time to review your monthly budget. Are you sticking to the planned budget for every category? Are you overspending in some categories or under-spending in others? Do you need to adjust your allotted budget in some areas or maybe trim your discretionary spending across the board?

 

Review your spending over the last few months and make any necessary changes so your budget can continue working for you. Be sure to account for any significant life changes that may alter your financial needs, such as a marriage, the birth of a child, a divorce or a job change.

 

By reviewing and adjusting your budget, you will avoid falling into the mindless spending trap and you will be taking proactive steps toward staying on top of your finances for the rest of 2019.

 

Step 2: Anticipate Large Expenses

 

Now that you've updated your monthly budget, take a moment to list any large expenses you anticipate having in the next six months. This can include household appliances that may need replacing, expensive car repairs that will likely become necessary or an anticipated medical expense that is not fully covered by insurance.

 

Once you have this information in hand, determine which spending category you will take the money from to cover these expenses. Do you have a rainy-day fund that can pay for one or several of these costs? Can you use the money in your emergency fund? Make the decision about sourcing this money now so you don't make the wrong choices when you're stressed and pressed for time in the future.

 

If you do not have enough money set aside for these expenses, build a savings plan into your monthly budget now so you have the funds available when you need them.

 

Step 3: Review Your Tax Withholdings

 

Review your tax withholdings to see if they need any adjusting. If taxes and numbers are not your thing, ask your accountant for assistance with this step. Your goal here is to pay the perfect amount so you're not hit with a huge tax bill at the end of the year but also not lending the government your money interest-free.

 

Step 4: Check Your Credit Score

 

Your credit score is like your money grade, indicating the degree of your financial wellness and responsibility.  Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for your free credit report from any of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

 

If your score has gone up in the last six months, you're doing great! Keep up the good work.

 

On the flip side, if your score has dropped, review your report in detail. Are there any errors you'll need to contest with the Federal Trade Commission? Is there a credit card bill or another line of credit you've been neglecting that is dragging your score down? Are you having trouble remembering to pay your monthly bills in a timely manner? Take the necessary steps to fix your score today, whether that means contesting a charge, setting up an automatic payment on some of your bills or lowering your credit utilization rate by paying with plastic less often.

 

Step 5: Review Your Investments

 

Now is the time to review and adjust all of your investments. This includes your contributions to your retirement funds, any stock investments, bonds, trust funds or savings certificates at First City. Make sure you are maximizing your contributions when possible and that your other investments are performing according to plan, making adjustments as necessary.  

 

Step 6: Tackle Your Debt

 

List every single outstanding debt you carry, including credit card debt and loans. Designate one debt to tackle first, either choosing the one that carries the highest interest rate or the one with the lowest balance. Next, work on a plan to get rid of your chosen debt, being careful not to neglect the others. See if you can trim your budget or boost your income in any way to increase your payments on this debt. Once you've paid it off, move to the next one on your list so you're on your way to a debt-free life.

 

Step 7: Review Your Financial Resolutions and Long-term Goals

 

Which financial resolutions did you jot down at the end of 2018? What are your dreams for the future? Did you want to start socking away another $200 a month? Is your goal to retire comfortably at 55?

 

Take some time to review these goals and to determine whether you are indeed taking the steps necessary for making them happen. If you've been neglecting them for the first half of 2019, create a plan for working toward them for the rest of the year. Remember: With determination and proper planning, nearly any financial goal is possible!

 

Now that you've given yourself a thorough financial checkup, you can kick back and enjoy the sweetness and the sunshine of the season, guilt-free. Happy summer!

 
Your Turn: What's on your list for your mid-year financial checkup? Tell us about it in the comments.

Monday, June 24, 2019

How To Enjoy A Busy Wedding Season Without Going Broke

                                      
It's the season of gauzy canopies, lacy gowns and stiff penguin suits. That being the case, and with wedding invitations flooding your mailbox, you might already be booking your weekends with weddings through the end of August.

 

Celebrating a new marriage together with your friends is great fun, but all those wedding invites can put a real strain on your budget. Between wedding attire, travel costs and gifts, each wedding can add up to a pretty penny. In fact, according to the most recent research by Express Spending & Saving Tracker, the average wedding guest is out $673 for each wedding they attend. That's enough to make you go broke by the time wedding season is through!

 

If these numbers are scaring you, take a deep breath and relax. You don't need to go into debt just to attend your friends' weddings. Just follow these hacks for simple ways to celebrate in style-and within budget.

 

1.) Save on airfare

 

Get the best deal on your flight with these hacks:

  • Clear your browser cache before searching for a flight so airlines don't target you with high-priced flights.
  • Get the lowest prices by booking your ticket for mid-week and/or taking a red-eye flight.
  • Shop on a Tuesday about six weeks before you're needing to fly out to score the best deals.
  • Use apps like Kayak, Hipmunk and Hopper to help you find the best-priced tickets. Some apps will even send you alerts when tickets on a flight you've looked at go down in price.

If your destination is within driving distance, you can also choose to hop on a train, board a bus or rent a car with some friends and turn the drive into a fun road trip.  

 

2.) Think outside the registry

 

Jump off the registry bandwagon and get creative instead! You can gift the couple with a more personalized gift, like a themed breakfast basket for the morning after, tickets and reservations for a dream date night or a customized kitchen package complete with quirky mugs and whimsical gadgets. No one has to know how much (or how little) you spent. But, your gift is sure to be memorable and treasured by the couple.

 

If you're part of a bunch of friends who are attending the wedding together, you can also choose to purchase a group gift. Do some detective work to find out the couple's secret luxury gift wish, like a top-of-the-line grill or a leather sectional sofa, and then let each friend contribute to a pot until you have the full amount. You'll save on your gift costs and you'll know you've given your friends a wedding present they'll be thrilled to receive.

 

3.) Don't buy a gown

 

Don't feel pressured to spend hundreds of dollars on the dress you'll wear to your friends' weddings. Chances are, you won't want to wear the same gown twice in a season. Also, the dress that perfectly matches one wedding color can horribly clash with the décor at next weekend's wedding. Instead of dropping a ton of money on a dress you might wear once, rent a gown for a fraction of the price from rental services like Rent the Runway. You can also borrow from a friend or purchase a gently used gown on sites like OnceWed.com or PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com.  

 

4.) Invest in a good suit

 

Tux rentals can run you up to $150, so if you're looking at several weekends of weddings over the next few months, it might be worthwhile to invest in a staple suit or tux you can wear again and again. Make sure the suit is of decent quality and will make it through hours on the dance floor with its seams and buttons intact. Once you've got your suit in the closet, you can change up the outfit to match different wedding colors and themes by swapping the shirt and tie or the cummerbund and bowtie.

 

5.) Use AirBNB instead of booking a hotel

 

You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on a hotel stay for every destination wedding you attend. Instead, check out AirBNB for affordable lodgings in the area. You can save even more by booking a full apartment or an entire house with a couple of friends and splitting the cost.

 

6.) Don't be afraid to say no

 

Members of the wedding party inevitably end up outspending everyone else thanks to the wedding attire, shoes and the pre-wedding parties they're required to attend. Most of these costs are dictated by the bride and groom. If you're asked to be a bridesmaid or an usher and you know you can't afford the associated costs, don't be afraid to explain your position to your soon-to-be-married friends. They'll likely understand, and either accept your declination or make some adjustment to their plans so you can be part of the wedding party.  

 

Here's to a season of affordable and joyous wedding celebrations from all of us here at [credit union]!

 

Your Turn: How do you save money on wedding expenses? Share your best ideas with us!