Frustrated man pumping gas

STOP overspending on fuel

Save at the Pump!

Buying fuel can be one of the most frustrating, tedious, and painful ways to spend your hard-earned cash. For many, fueling up is a necessity to complete day-to-day tasks. Cutting out fuel completely isn’t realistic, but there are ways to reduce money spent. First, nothing will save you more money than a car that is fuel-efficient and well-kept. Heavy or oversized vehicles tend to guzzle gas, leaving your wallet empty. If you’re currently in this position, seriously consider purchasing a car that is built to get good gas mileage. The following tips will speed up your savings even further.

 

  1. Make sure your tires are always filled with the right amount of air
  2. Use the manufacturer’s suggested engine oil and get it changed as directed
  3. Use your air conditioner only when needed
  4. Remove any bike racks or luggage racks that could weigh your vehicle down
  5. Turn your car off rather than idle if you’re in a situation that allows it
  6. Drive the speed limit
  7. Use cruise control
  8. Use public transportation or some other means to get around
  9. Accelerate slowly at a stoplight when it turns green
  10. Use your GPS to find the fastest route
  11. Combine errands into one trip
  12. Arrange carpools to share the cost
  13. Buy gas with the lowest octane rating
  14. Check websites and apps that list gas stations with the lowest price
  15. If you have a Costco membership, use their pumps when available
  16. Don’t drive far out of your way to save a few pennies at another gas station
  17. Walk into restaurants instead of using the drive-through
  18. Avoid circling a parking lot to find a space that is a little bit closer
  19. Avoid gas stations near the highway as those prices tend to be higher than gas stations further away
  20. Don’t “top off” at the gas pump

 

For more tips you can visit https://www.balancepro.org/resources/articles/frugal-fill-ups-30-ways-to-save-at-the-pump-2


Kickstart your college savings plan

Get started on your savings!

Most people can agree, college is an exciting and scary time for young adults and their parents. Not only is it a new chapter, but it’s also a time where finances are significant.

 

The challenge is knowing how and when to start saving. What’s the right age, how much should you save, and which savings plans are the best? Doing research years in advance is vital to ensure that you’re ready. Check out these tips on how you can get your college savings plan on track:

 

1. Start very early!

The best time to start saving for college is NOW! Even if you have other financial obligations that you need to save for, starting now is vital. You don’t need to pump an insane amount of money right away, but every bit will help. You can visit this simple College Savings Calculator to plug in your personal information and create a meaningful savings plan, no matter what age you or your children are.

 

2. Set expectations

Setting expectations is good because it gives you a goal and a realistic idea of how much you will need. The average annual in-state college tuition in Florida was $14,000 for the 2019-2020 academic year. On top of that, you will need money for rent, food, books, and much more. The cost of college is expected to grow with inflation. But remember, you don’t have to accumulate all of this cash on your own.

 

3. Choose a monthly contribution you can handle

Everyone’s plan will be different according to what they can afford. You want to do the most for your children and make a real contribution, but don’t overextend your budget to do so. You should avoid borrowing money that you can’t payback. A high-interest loan or second mortgage may seem like acceptable options to free up additional funds, but they may put you at tremendous financial risk.

 

4. Research different savings plans and select the right one for you

Options like 529 Plans are a popular way for parents to save for their children’s college expenses. Several investment options will help contributions grow over time, and withdrawals are tax-free. With these types of plans, starting early is crucial. Another popular option is a Coverdell Education Savings Account. They are similar to 529s with one main difference: They let you invest in any stock, bond, or mutual fund.

 

Regardless of how your family chooses to prepare for college, start early so you aren’t stressed when the time approaches. I promise it will come faster than you think! For more information, visit https://www.balancepro.org/resources/newsletters/four-tips-that-will-kickstart-your-college-savings-plan/


child saving some money

Raising Financially Responsible Children

Raising a Financially Responsible Child

Most parents understand that they need to teach their children how to deal with money at some point in their life. Knowing exactly when can be challenging and confusing.

 

Thankfully, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a guide to help families raise money-smart kids. Here are a few important takeaways from the guide that you should consider implementing in your child’s life.

 

Ages 3-5: Introduce basic savings and spending concepts

 

As many of us know, children around this age want everything in sight. They don’t quite grasp the concept that money isn’t an infinite resource for many. According to the guide, parents should introduce the concept of saving and spending.

 

A great way to illustrate this to your child is to give a limited number of coins and talk to them about using them to purchase things or saving them to purchase something more significant in the future. Initially, your child might choose instant gratification over saving for something bigger, but the more you do this exercise the more willing they will be to save.

 

Ages 6-12: Set savings goals

 

When kids enter this range, it’s important that they start to grasp the concept of planning. Savings goals during this period are important and will help with the rest of their financial development down the line.

An exercise that you can do with your kid is to have them write down what they would like in the short, mid, and long-term. This is a great way for them to layout their financial future and then associate a price for each goal. To take it even further, you can attach a budget to show how much they would have to save monthly to reach each of those goals.

 

Ages 13-21: Boost financial confidence

 

Building confidence is so important for teens and young adults. As a parent or a guardian, you can empower your child by ensuring they follow through with their financial plans. If they tell you a goal, continuously check-in and see how they are doing. If you notice them slipping, offer some guidance to get them back on track.

 

The CFPB says that children this age are able to identify trusted sources of financial information. Having the knowledge and confidence to say “No” to financial scams is a valuable skill. For more information, visit https://www.balancepro.org/resources/newsletters/how-to-make-your-child-financially-capable-may-2018/

 


happy young girl photo

Spring into Some Extra Cash

Spring Cleaning is Upon Us

It’s that time of year again when everyone goes through their closets, garages, and storage units, trying to eliminate unwanted items. Before you throw it all away, consider making some money off of it! What you deem as garbage could be an item someone is willing to buy. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you spring into action.

 

Hold a Yard Sale

Yard sales are a great way of getting rid of random items you have around the house. Put them on display in your yard and watch as people line up to take a look. Even with social distancing protocols, you can have a successful sale. Consider teaming up with people around your block to gain more attraction from people passing by.

 

Sell on Facebook Market or Offer Up

Virtually list your items on a social media platform to gain attraction from members of your community. This is one of the easiest ways to get rid of unwanted items. Once you list your item, people will direct message you, either accepting your price or giving you a counteroffer. This is an excellent option if you have a lot of things and want to list them quickly. It takes about 5 minutes for each item to post, and once published, you can sit back and relax.

 

Learn to Earn

Online marketplaces like eBay, Facebook, and Offer Up are all excellent sources of knowledge. If you’re trying to sell something, you can look at these sites to see what people offer for comparable items. Rarely will you be able to sell an item above the market price, so doing your research before you list an item will save you a lot of time and effort.

 

Ditch the Storage Unit

Why are you paying for a place to store stuff you rarely use? This could save you hundreds of dollars a year and give you some extra cash when you sell the unnecessary things within it. Think about items that you may use once every couple of years and ask yourself if it would be cheaper to rebuy that or keep paying to store them. You might surprise yourself with what you can get rid of.

 

Don’t be Emotional!

Emotional connections to “things” are only temporary! Don’t keep items just because you might feel bad 5 minutes after selling them. Declutter your space and get some cash for those unused items. Not only will your bank account thank you, but you’ll breathe a sigh of relief once your living space is more organized.

 

https://www.balancepro.org/resources/newsletters/quick-tips-march-2014/


Pile of Debt

The Consequences of Debt

What happens if you don't pay your debt?

Debt is an obligation that requires the debtor to satisfy the financial needs of the creditor. Unpaid debt carries many harmful consequences. It's essential to educate yourself with the burdens of debt - here's what you can expect:

  • Unpaid debt will be sent to a collection agency
  • Your credit history and score will be affected
  • Debt takes a hefty amount of time to disappear
  • Contact from debt collectors

 

 

Collection Agency

 

"Under the federal law an original creditor can send your account to a collection agency once it's 31 days past due, though some creditors may try to collect the payment on their own for up to 180 days," according to Christina Lucey, director of product and financial advocate at the personal finance website CreditKarma.com. If you default on a credit card, loan, or monthly utility payments, you run the risk of having your account sent to a third-party collection agency in which you are still liable to pay off the debt.

 

 

Credit Score

 

Debt consumes an outstanding 30% of your credit score. Payment history, credit utilization, age of accounts, and recent inquiries can all negatively impact your credit score if you are dealing with debt. Quickly paying off your balances helps raise your credit score by lowering your credit utilization. If you lose control of your debt and are forced to choose debt settlement or bankruptcy, it will severely damage your credit score in which it takes several months, even years, to recover.

 

 

Impact of Debt

 

Unpaid debt reported to creditors takes an excessive seven years to disappear from your credit report. Creditors reference credit scores as a factor in their decision to offer credit cards, loans, or even approval for housing or vehicles. Debt also contributes to stress and depression, which can lead to more extensive mental health issues.

 

 

Financial Advisor

 

Bad news? You're in debt. Good news? BrightStar Credit Union offers its members free advisors to help with consolidating debt, surviving rough financial patches, and many more financial questions you may have. Advisors at BrightStar use their knowledge and expertise to construct personalized financial plans to achieve their clients' financial goals. Our advisors check in with their clients regularly to re-evaluate current situations/future goals and plan accordingly for continued success.


Car sales person reading the contract

Zero Percent Auto Loans: The Catch

Is it really zero percent?

Dealerships and manufacturers love to offer zero-percent financing as a way to attract customers. This sounds like a tempting offer, but less than 10% of applicants actually qualify for this special financing. Not only do most people not qualify for this type of loan, but they are also packed with hidden fees and charges. If you are considering a loan option like this, read the fine print very carefully before proceeding with the loan. The last thing you want to do is get stuck with an expensive loan.

Hidden Fees

If a business were offering a truly zero percent financing loan, they would quickly go out of business. Many manufactures and dealerships who provide zero percent financing have hidden fees in the fine print that they might not tell you outright. Typical fees include annual membership fees that range from a few dollars to several hundred and can often make the cheap loan rate very expensive in the long run. Another common term is that the borrower will receive penalties for early repayment, which can include retroactive interest or additional charges.

Credit Trick

A common trick with zero-percent financing deals is to give you a credit limit that is barely above the loan amount. If you exceed that credit limit in the slightest, the creditor may be able to increase your interest rates. These rate increases many times can exceed 20% or more. If you do receive 0% APR and this is contingent on a specific credit limit, be sure you NEVER exceed that limit.

Time Limits

Many loans promising 0% financing require you to pay the loan back in full by a particular time. If this deadline isn't met, large interest amounts may be added based on the original loan amount, not just the remainder. If applied, these rates typically exceed 20% and can turn what seems like a great deal into a complete nightmare. When applying for a loan like this, make sure you're realistic about what you can afford and how fast you can repay the loan amount. If there is any question on whether you'll make the payments on time, find a different loan option.

Built-in Costs

If you're getting a zero percent financing car deal, you might have difficulty haggling to get the car price lowered or any other incentives. This allows the automaker to pocket a nice profit on the car's sale despite offering the 0% financing. These inflated prices can make the 0% financing deal a complete waste of money when. You need to compare the difference in cost to a zero percent financing deal and a low-interest rate with the ability to negotiate on the price.

 

More often than not, 0% financing is not what it's made out to be. There are many hidden fees, time limits, and credit restrictions. When making a large purchase such as a car, it's essential not to get tricked into thinking you're genuinely getting 0% financing. With BrightStar's FREE Auto Advisors, they will negotiate the lowest price possible, and you will receive a 0.25% rate reduction on your BrightStar auto loan.


A person calculating their budget

Navigating on a Reduced Income

How to Navigate on a Reduced Income

Many Americans are facing drastically reduced income due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, some people have lost their jobs or have reduced work available to them. With the CARES Act supplemental relief expiring at the end of July, extra federal unemployment benefits may be reduced. There are many ways to navigate a reduced income. It’s all about proper planning and cutting unnecessary expenses.

1. Analyze the Numbers

You need to revisit your budget and make any necessary changes. Figure out what income you currently have so that you can adequately budget what you’re able to spend.

2. Talk to your service providers and financial institutions

If you are unable to make your rent/mortgage, utility, credit card/loan, or other payments, you should reach out to your providers and financial institutions to see if they offer any accommodations. Many credit card providers were allowing their members to skip payments without any consequences. It’s worth asking even if it’s a long shot.

3. Cut out all non-essential items from your budget.

This means anything that is not essential to your life or work. For example, you may have to skip happy hour with your friends on Fridays because you don’t have the available funds with a reduced income. Of course, this won’t be fun, but it’s something that you will need to do. All these non-essentials will return once your income increases.

4. Apply for any and all assistance

Go to your county’s website for health and human services to find out what kind of public assistance they offer. This could include food assistance, childcare assistance, health insurance, work search programs, and transportation certificates. Using these services can help tremendously. Make sure you apply for assistance immediately because it can take some time to process.

5. Look for odd jobs

Exploit your talents and skills by finding different jobs that you can perform to make money. This could be as simple as working for GrubhubUberEatsGoPuff, and other delivery services. You can also sell your own products such as masks, art, handyman work, cooking, cleaning, or dog walking.

6. Learn how to DIY

We sometimes spend money on things that we can do ourselves just for the sake of saving a few minutes. Instead of paying to get your car washed, you can easily grab a bucket and soap to scrub with. If your furry friend needs a haircut but some clippers and do it yourself. It might not be as professional is you’re used to, but eventually, your skills will improve. Doing tasks yourself will save you more money than you may initially think.

7. Stay home and enjoy free things to stay entertained and healthy

Staying home will not only help you stay within social distancing guidelines, but you will also save money by not going out. Enjoy a good book, movie, or an at home workout. This is also an excellent opportunity to discover new hobbies or talents that you may not have considered before.

Navigating on a reduced income can be stressful, but with the proper planning is doable. For more financial tips, visit Balance Financial.


Credit Report showing an excellent score of 765

Understanding Credit in a Changing World

Your Credit Matters!

Understanding your credit is an incredibly vital thing to grasp. It’s what employers, lenders, and even insurance agencies can look at to determine if they will provide you with a service. Especially in today’s world, credit can be a huge lifesaver when needing a little extra help.

What is a credit score?

Your credit score can range from 300-850. Ratings 720 and above will usually give the borrower the best rates available unless it is a thin file (minimal trade lines and history) also known as a false Beacon. The following are the roles of credit scores:

  • One element of the credit decision-making process.
  • Often the key to better rates. Higher scores equal a better rate.
  • Not a money-management tool. This is purely an indicator of how risky you are to a lender.
  • Discovering fraud or credit reporting errors is essential. You want to check your credit score periodically to ensure your personal information hasn’t been compromised.

How Scores are determined

Many different factors determine your credit score. No one knows precisely how much each category is worth, but they are all significant in determining your final number. Below are the different categories with an estimated percentage of how important each is.

  • Types of Credit (10%)
  • New Credit (10%)
  • Length of Credit History (15%)
  • Amounts Owed (30%)
  • Payment History (35%)

There are many mistakes that you can make when it comes to your credit. Each error will adversely affect your credit score. Typically, if you max out your card, it will decrease your score by 10-45 points. Late payments will reduce your score by 60-110 points. A foreclosure will affect your score by 45-125 points, and bankruptcy will decrease it by 130-240 points. Make sure you are responsible with credit to avoid penalties.

How to improve your credit score

It can take time to repair your credit score, but it’s essential to do. The following are ways that you can improve your score:

  • Pay on time, every time. Even if it’s just the minimum, pay it.
  • Pay collection accounts.
  • Keep your old accounts. Don’t cancel old credit cards that aren’t costing you money. The length of your credit is important when determining your score.
  • Avoid maxing out accounts.
  • Limit balance transfers.
  • Avoid excess credit applications. Generally, you only need 3-5 credit cards.

Beware of credit repair companies. They cannot legally do anything that you cannot do yourself for free. Take steps yourself to dispute incorrect or outdated information. Members of BrightStar Credit Union can speak with a financial advisor for FREE to sort out their credit issues and develop a plan to improve their score. Our Balance Financial Advisors will also help build a household budget, understand your credit report, buy a home, protect your identity, rebuild your credit rating, and more.

COVID-19 and your credit score

While employment status isn’t included in your credit report, job loss can still affect your credit. The reason job loss can affect your credit is that you might not stay current on your payments resulting in penalties. Unemployment itself does not prevent you from applying for new credit. The likelihood of a loan denial is much higher with a loss of steady income. Hopefully, during these hard times, you have taken the right steps to ensure your credit score remains healthy.


A lady budgeting

Make the Most of a Reduced Paycheck

Don't worry you will get through this!

Don't stress out!

Bubbles burst, the economy falters, companies downsize, and personal disasters happen which can result in a reduced paycheck. Perpetual salary growth or even maintenance is simply not guaranteed. However, by adopting the right tools and attitude, you can make the most of a reduced paycheck and not just survive, but thrive.

 

Determine whether your situation is temporary or permanent

If you fully expect to be back to your full salary soon, you may only have to adjust to lessened cash flow for a limited time. But before you tap into your reserves (and retirement savings, home equity, cash value life insurance, etc.) it would be wise to behave as if the salary reduction is long-term. Cut down on spending now. Securing your old income may take longer than you think.

If you do not expect to make as much money as you once did, you may be experiencing anxiety, which is normal. You may be panicking about the practical matters to contend with as well, such as how you will pay your bills. Adopting a systematic approach and devising a plan will help you manage the anxiety.

 

Recognize that your salary is not you

This is a deceptively obvious statement. Of course your salary is not you. But many people’s self esteem directly corresponds with how much money they make—the higher the income, the more important they feel. If your mood declines when your income drops, make every effort to dispel the attitude that financial wealth equals worth. It does not, nor does having an abundance of money guarantee happiness. Think back to when you were making more money then you do now. Were you genuinely happier, or did you just have the ability to buy more?

 

Seize the day

Hardship can hone skills and challenge entrenched ideas. Perhaps you worked in the high-tech field because the money was good, but that is not where your passion (or even perhaps talent) truly is. Consider this your opportunity to discover what you really want out of life. After all, if you are going to dedicate forty or more hours a week to your job, it should be something you love. Or at least like.

If you are currently unemployed or are working fewer hours, use this “extra” time wisely. Your options are as varied and abundant as your desires. Consider taking a class—one that will boost future earning potential or for pure pleasure. Write that book, paint the kitchen, start an exercise routine. Or just relax.

 

Analyze your expenses

When cash is copious, it is easy to spend arbitrarily. However, when the salary that sustained such a lifestyle is gone or drastically reduced, its time to take a good look at what you need to spend your money on, not what you can. Prioritize expenses now, and identify which bills take precedence. Mortgage versus car payment? Credit cards versus utilities? Analyze the ramifications of missing or not paying each. If you need help deciding, contact a financial counselor for help.

 

Develop a spending plan.

 

It will help you to discern between those expenses you can and cannot live without. If you find there is simply not enough money to support your necessities, much less your desires, at the very least you now know how much you will require from your next job. If expensive dinners are now a thing of the past, relish in the delights of a cheap pizza, or making cold cuts stretch with lots of lettuce. Enjoy and appreciate the things you may have begun to take for granted.

 

Remember: credit is not supplementary income

When money is tight, credit cards can take on an unusually seductive glow. However, a $40,000 line of credit is not a bonus in disguise, no matter how you much you wish it was. If you use credit to maintain the lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to, it won’t be long before you “hit the wall”. Without an income to support repaying the balance in full every month, you’ll be paying in installments. Interest rates on unsecured credit is not cheap, and if you fall behind by 60 days, the rates will likely skyrocket. Late and over limit fees will add to an increasingly daunting balance. And soon you’ll be wishing you could return all the merchandise you bought and the meals you ate just so you don’t have to open another statement and look at those big, scary numbers. Credit cards are not designed to be emergency savings accounts.

 

Develop a plan

To thwart procrastination, write down what you want to achieve during this time. Be specific: include names of people you need to speak to and proposed accomplishment dates for each task. Update and refer to it regularly. Apathy’s enemy is a detailed and well-thought-out plan.

 

Go forward

Get professional assistance, talk to friends, and find others who are in like circumstances. It is too easy to think you are alone in this—support is key. Vent to those who can empathize; ask for help from those who can assist. Shock, shame, and anger are normal and feeling these emotions is expected. But by adopting a positive attitude and taking pragmatic steps, you can adapt to a reduced income, and achieve a financially stable future.

 

 

Blog Credit: https://www.balancepro.org/resources/articles/how-to-make-the-most-of-a-reduced-paycheck/


A couple purchasing a new car at a dealership

Tips to Save You Thousands on a New Car

Surviving the car dealership

Be Educated!

Whether you’re buying a new or used car, there are certain things to keep in mind when making a purchase. Unless you are a natural-born haggler, you might be a little uncomfortable or uneducated as to how to get the lowest price. A lower price means a lower monthly payment, and who doesn’t like saving money?

Research the Market Value

Just like any other purchase, you want to know what the vehicle is worth. There are many resources and websites available for consumers to check how much a car is realistically worth. Checking on this before going to the dealership will give you peace of mind knowing you’re getting a fair deal. You can assess the value of the car by going to sites like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds. Both sites will help you find the average price per model in your area.

Don’t become too invested in the deal

You need to be ready to walk away from the deal if it’s not adding up. Make sure you keep a clear head and know when to say, “no thanks” and move on. Don’t get attached to a particular car, because in reality, there are thousands to choose from. Saying no and moving on may be a result of the dealer you are speaking to as well. Many are overly pushy and confusing, resulting in a bad customer experience. They may promise one thing, then turn around and take it back. Pay close attention to what they say and take notes if you have to. Auto Advisors are a great tool to use because they help people buy cars all the time. They know what to look out for and how to get the best deal.

Walk into the dealership knowing your out-of-door price

The out-of-door price is the price that you want to walk out with, which includes all fees, taxes, and other costs that you pay. Make sure this reflects the market value that you researched. Go into the dealership with a firm price and then talk the salesperson down. The salesperson wants to make a sale, so if you’re firm and don’t get too set on buying the car that same day, the salesperson will many times settle for your price.

Don’t get sucked into the extras

Here are some common add-ons that the dealership will try to get you to purchase to make it seem like you’re getting an added benefit.

  • Nitrogen in your tires – This is only useful for racing; otherwise, you likely will not notice a difference in your car’s performance or wear.
  • Theft Protection – These packages vary, but most new cars come with a built-in alarm system that will do the trick. There is no need for an advanced system.
  • Rear-seat Entertainment Systems – These are a complete waste of money. Ten years ago, it was a different story, but currently you can purchase a tablet for a fraction of what a rear-seat system would cost.

In conclusion, you need to be prepared and informed when purchasing a vehicle. Going to a dealership underprepared will most likely result in a poor deal that you walk away from unsatisfied. If haggling isn’t your thing, consider using an Auto Advisor. It’s their job to make sure you get the best price. They work with dealerships thousands of times a year, so dealers want to give them the best price possible in order to keep getting their business. You can learn more about our free auto advisors by clicking here.