Thursday, January 14, 2016

Meeting the Needs of Retiring Americans



Andrea Finley, AVP of First City's award-winning Real Estate Lending Department, was interviewed by CU Members Mortgage, our partner in mortgage lending, for an informative paper on serving the needs of retiring Americans.  The White Paper is located here:


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Saving At The Vet: How To Keep Your Furry Friends From Breaking The Bank

Dogs at play in the Antelope Valley - Credit K. Perkins
We all love our pets. Cats, dogs, ferrets and furry babies of all sorts are members of the family. They eat and sleep under the same roof. They give affection when you’ve had a rough day. Your fridge, mantle and social media are full of pictures of your animals clowning around, just like any other family member.

Also like every other member of your family, if your pets get sick, they need medical care. Medical care for a family member – whether they are furry or not – can get expensive. Unlike what you have access to for other members of your family, veterinary insurance is something offered by very few employers.

This unfortunate circumstance can set families up to make tragic decisions. If your faithful furry friend needs medical care to save its life or daily medication to keep dangerous conditions at bay, costs can add up quickly. Yet, putting a price on your pet’s life isn’t easy. If there are multiple animals involved, veterinary bills can become a real source of stress. Letting a pet die because of costs, though, can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being.

There aren’t easy answers to these decisions, and sometimes they’re unavoidable. However, you can take steps to avoid these challenges. Let’s take a look at three steps you can take to keep your furry friends safe and your savings account flush.

1. Stock a veterinary first aid kit
Lots of pet health crises can be handled by a compassionate hand and some basic interventions. Scrapes, burns, and bruises can all be handled without professional intervention. Many accidental ingestion incidents can be solved with an expert consultation and a little bit of caring.

A first-aid kit for pets looks an awful lot like a first-aid kit for humans. You should have supplies for dealing with cuts and scrapes, like gauze, adhesive tape and an antiseptic spray or cream. For general illnesses, you need a thermometer to check for fever (make sure to get a fever thermometer- small mammals have natural body temperatures between 100 and 103), diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergic reactions, and hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting if necessary. You should also include activated charcoal or milk of magnesia to protect against accidental poisoning. Other things to include in an emergency first-aid kit include a blanket, a leash and a muzzle.

It may be frightening to muzzle or restrain your pet, but try to see it from their perspective. Your pet is in pain and relying on instinct. Muzzling will help you feel more calm and secure, since you won’t be worried about being bitten. That calmness will translate to your pet, who will be easier to tend to when they are a little less panicked.

Before you take any steps to heal your pet, speak to an expert. Many veterinarians have emergency contact hours where they may be willing to walk you through basic first aid. The ASPCA also maintains an animal poison control number where you can speak to a trained representative. They can tell you if you need to induce vomiting, what dosage of activated charcoal to administer, or if you need to seek in-person veterinary help immediately.

2. Negotiate
Most veterinarians got into their practice because they genuinely love animals. They want to help your pet feel better. If you’re not sure about your ability to pay, be up front about that. There may be several options available to you.

If it’s prescription medication, you may be able to have it filled elsewhere at a considerable savings. Online pharmacies are usually able to offer discounted prices on many medications and animal medications are no exception. These institutions may require a phone call or a fax from your vet, but most veterinary offices are well-equipped to provide that authorization. When your vet recommends a medication, ask for a written prescription so you can shop around to find the best price.

You may also be able to negotiate the cost of a procedure. Veterinarians may know of local charities that help fund care for animals in need. They may also be willing to reduce the cost themselves, or work out a payment plan with you. No one – especially your vet – wants to see an animal life lost over finances.

3. Consider pet insurance
“Pet insurance” sounds like a ridiculous luxury good for the mega-rich. In truth, it’s no different than any other kind of insurance that protects against expensive calamity. Compared to a veterinary emergency, these plans are very affordable. If you have an older pet, it’s worth considering.

Programs like PetAssure offer a 25% discount on any veterinary services you need at “in-network” veterinarians. There’s no deductible and no limits or exclusions. At $100 per year for 1 dog, the program offers considerable savings.

Every part of veterinary care is expensive. Blood tests on a dog, for example, can easily cost $200. If you need two blood tests in a year, PetAssure pays for itself. In fact, on average, dog owners spend between $500 and $1,000 each year on veterinary services. Getting a 25% discount on that price for $100 is an incredible savings.

Other programs offer more coverage for more money. Healthy Paws, for example, offers 90% coverage for about $230 per year. How much you choose to insure is a matter of personal risk tolerance, but getting some form of insurance is a great way to get peace of mind.

Monday, January 11, 2016

New Years Resolutions

By the end of January, many of us will have forgotten all about our New Year’s resolutions. It can be difficult to change our lives, even when it’s for the better.  Knowing this, we want you to know that, in your financial life, there are changes you can make today that will last the entire year.  Here are three resolutions you can set today and some follow-up goals for the rest of the year.

Today:  Save money automatically.  If you want to improve your net worth, build financial security or make a big purchase at this time next year, the easiest way to do so is simply to automate your savings.  You can set up an automatic transfer to savings so you won’t be tempted to spend it.  With many of our savings products, you can even access the money if an emergency arises.  Check out our savings plans here:
 
Later:  Set up an emergency fund.  How much do you have set aside for a rainy day or to cover the unexpected?  If an emergency came up, would you have to sell investments, cash in your retirement or borrow from family?  Make this the year for setting up your emergency fund.  You’ll eventually want to have at least six months of income put aside where you can get to it. for now, start with $1,000, a month’s income, or whatever feels realistic.  It might be difficult to get in the habit of saving money, but this is the resolution you’ll be really happy you kept if something unexpected happens.
 
Today:  Pay down your debt.  If you’re struggling with debt, there are three basic solutions for paying it down, getting your payments under control and getting ahead of debt.  You can make more frequent payments, pay more each month or lower your interest rates.

Paying more frequently makes sense if you get paid every two weeks: You might already know about the advantage of bi-weekly payments, which let you make the equivalent of an extra monthly payment every year.  If you’re already doing that or you don’t get paid on a weekly schedule, you can also increase the amount you pay every month.  Even an extra $25 per month is $300 per year, and you can set up those payments automatically.  Make sure you increase your payments the most on the bills with the highest interest rates first, even if they don’t have the largest balances.
 
Finally, you can get ahead of your debt by lowering your interest rates.  You can call the creditors who are charging you the highest interest rates and pay the bill, transfer the balance to a credit card or loan with a lower interest rate, or see if they’ll offer you a lower rate due to improved credit.  One way to make this work is to arrange a home equity loan at a lower fixed rate, then move your balances with the highest interest rates to the loan.  You can apply for a loan here:
 
Later:  Get control of your spending.  It’s time to make a budget and stick to it.  Build rewards into the budget so you’ll actually be happy to follow it.  Take a look at what you use your credit cards to buy, then budget at least some money for those items or activities.  You’ll never keep a resolution like “stop eating out,” but you have a good chance of keeping a resolution like “don’t go over the eating out budget.”  This also gives you 12 chances to succeed:  Every month you can do better than the month before.
 
Today:  Make a drawer.  Many of us who have had the misfortune to act as the executor on a loved one’s estate have had the terrible task of finding all the savings, debts, insurance policies and other financial parts of their lives.  Don’t do this to whomever is taking over your life.  Empty a drawer in your kitchen or study and put as many relevant documents in it as you can find.  Make a list of everything in the drawer and everything that’s missing.  Put a copy in the drawer and another with your will so it’s as easy as possible for the grieving individual in charge.  As with any sensitive, personal data, keep this information in a safe place that only you and the likely executor(s) of your estate will have knowledge.
 
Later:  Fill the drawer.  What’s missing from the drawer?  Do you have a will?  How much life insurance do you have?  Do you have enough savings to take care of your children?  What about a plan for how they will receive that money?
 
Talk to a financial planner and insurance specialist to make sure you’re set.  With any luck, 2016 won’t be the year you need it, but if it is, it’ll be better for everyone involved if there’s a plan.
And that’s it … three things to do today and three projects to complete during the year.  None of them are out of reach, so you’re setting yourself up for success by making resolutions you can keep.