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.


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.


credit cards

What to Look for When Applying for Credit Cards

credit cards

What to Look at When Applying for Credit Cards

There are many different reasons to apply for a credit card. You could be a student looking to build credit, a new parent looking to spread out payments on baby gear, or a smart shopper wanting to receive cash back. It’s very important that you don’t go overboard with charging everything to your credit card. You need to remember that you eventually have to pay the money back.

There are many things to consider when picking the perfect credit card to apply for.

 

Top 4 Things to Know About Your Credit Card

  1. Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of borrowing on the card. This comes into effect if you don’t pay the full balance each month. Each card has a different APR and is calculated by your credit worthiness and other factors. Having a low APR will allow you to pay less in interest if you’re planning on keeping a balance. We recommend paying off your card in full each month so you don’t waste money on these interest payments.
  2. The minimum payment is the lowest amount that you need to pay each month to avoid a fee. If you plan on not paying off your balance each month, it’s important to understand the minimum payment amount that you are required to pay. You will need to make sure you can afford the minimum payment each month so you can budget accordingly.
  3. Rewards can come in the form of discounts, vouchers or merchandise depending on bank. These points add up after each qualifying purchase until you have enough to cash out on the reward. One important thing to look at is to make sure the card you are applying for has qualifying stores that you use. Otherwise, this rewards system isn’t very useful since you won’t be shopping where you have the potential of earning rewards.
  4. Cash back is an important thing to look at because who doesn’t like saving money? Typical card will offer around 1.5% on qualifying purchases. Again, you need to look at where you will earn cash back. Steer clear of cards that only offer cash back at certain stores. There are plenty of credit cards out there that will give you cash back on ALL purchases.

Now that you know the basic components of a credit card, you’re ready to start applying! It’s so important to start building your credit history when you’re young because it allows you to get lower rates on auto loans, mortgages, etc.


Rear View Of Loving Couple Walking Towards House

What to Expect When Purchasing a Home

Rear View Of Loving Couple Walking Towards House

Mortgages & Home Buying 101

Owning a home is a dream for many people. It’s something they hope to accomplish at some point in their lives. Sure, it is a hard task that requires a lot of work, but with proper budgeting anyone can do it! Mortgages and home buying can be very confusing and scary but researching the steps will relieve some stress. Provided below are common questions and answers people have.

It takes how many years to save for a down payment on a home?

Unfortunately, saving for a down payment on a home can take a lot of hard work and planning. Using the following example, we can illustrate the process you can take to figure out how long you will need to budget for.

Assume you make $56,000 and save around 15% of your income each month. That’s around $8,400 a year. It would take about 5 years to build a 20% down payment for a $216,000 home.

Buying insurance on your loan will allow you to have a smaller down payment but might be offset with greater monthly payments. With proper planning and a bulletproof budget, owning a home can be easy and a great goal to look forward to!

What Should I Expect at Closing?

Once you’ve taken all of the steps in saving, getting a mortgage, and finding your dream home, it’s time to close! There are few things you should be prepared for.

  • Your lender will send you a closing disclosure that outlines the terms of your loan, final closing costs, and outstanding charges or fees.
  • Do a final walk-through of the property to make sure everything is as it should be. For example, make sure any repairs that were made are as expected and that you are happy with your future home.

What to Bring to Closing

  • You will sign many legal documents between you and your lender.
  • Pay attention to all of the costs and escrow items. A majority of the time, the buyer is required to bring funds in the form of a cashier’s check made out to the escrow company.

Present Parties

  • Closing agent
  • Attorney
  • Title company representative
  • Home seller and their real estate agent

Closing Documents

  • Loan estimate and Closing disclosure
  • Initial escrow statement
  • Mortgage note and Deed of Trust
  • Certificate of occupancy


How to Use a Student Credit Card

When it comes to credit cards it’s very important to know key factors on how to use them correctly, especially as a student. If you don’t know how to properly use them, you could end up with a bad credit score or worse: end up in debt. To help prevent those scenarios, here are some tips you should know as a student.

You Choose Your Credit Card, not the Other Way Around

It’s important to not just apply for a credit card because you want a “free” new item, like a shirt or phone case. It’s important to research the company and see if the card you want is actually a good offer. Make sure to check for fees, interest rates and of course, compare it to other companies to see which offer is better and benefits you the most. Like stated in thebalance.com, the best credit cards for students to look for have no annual fees, low interest rates, and a low credit limit.

One Credit Card is Enough

As a student, you have a lot to pay for, especially when you think about your future. College includes having to pay for textbooks, food, rent, parking, and membership fees. Having just one credit card can help limit your spending. This will help you to not build up a ton of credit card debt. With one credit card, you can pay for most of those expenses and only focus on one card to pay off.

Control Your Spending

Don’t go over your credit limit! As a student, you might not focus on how much you spend, but it is very important to understand that getting too close to your credit limit makes it more difficult to pay it back in full at the end of each month. Also, know that credit bureaus do not like when you use more than 30% of your credit limit. To avoid overspending, keep track of the items you purchase and record them so you know if you are getting close to your limit.

Your Card, Your Money

Don’t let someone else use your card! When you apply for a credit card it’s for you to use, not anyone else. It’s your credit card, so it’s your responsibility. Allowing a friend or even a family member to borrow your credit card, even if they pay you back, is risky. Also, lending your credit card can cause you to get close to your credit limit because you don’t know how much they are planning to spend.

A Credit Card is Credit, not Debit

Credit cards and debit cards are two different things. Understanding that a credit card is not a debit card is important; don’t take cash out. This is known as a cash advance; credit card companies can charge from 2-5% cash advance fees and other fees due to the withdrawl. It’s important to stay away from cash advances and to read over the terms that go along with cash advances from your credit card company.

Credit cards have many uses, but it’s important to use them correctly. Keep these tips in mind once you receive your first credit card.


5 Saving Money Tricks for this Holiday Season

The Holiday season is upon us and this could either mean you are overly excited about the celebrations or you’re overly stressed out about money. Granted, you can also be both, excited and stressed out. This is normal during this time and we are here to offer you some guidance.

How can you save your money and spend wisely this holiday season?

Make a Budget

It should be no surprise to you that a budget is the smartest way to keep track of your money. You should keep one year-round but you should also have a separate one during the holiday season.

When you create your holiday budget, be smart and avoid setting yourself up for failure. Do not set a budget that is unrealistically low or one that is way too high. Also, think about cutting back in other areas. Can you avoid brunch Sundays with your friends for a month? Or even little things like buying coffee every morning?

Make a list of gifts that you absolutely need to get and another list of gifts you can make yourself. Getting a beautiful printed picture in a cute affordable frame can be just as nice as a $50 bottle of wine. After all, it is the thought that counts.

Make a Potluck

Getting your friends and family together to celebrate is always a beautiful tradition. However, if you are the host, it can be a very expensive one too. Deviate from the all-or-nothing thinking and ask your friends to help you with side dishes and dessert for your celebration. Not only will a potluck save you money, it will also save you precious needed time.

Get Flying Deals and Discounts

If you’re planning on taking a nice trip out of town, search for discounts. Gone are the days where travel agents had the only good flight packages. Now you have a million ways to get discounted fly tickets, car rentals and hotels. In fact, you can even get some travel benefits with your BSCU credit card.

Here is a trick: When you search for flights online, make sure to check at different times of the day. Believe it or not, some flights can get very cheap when you purchase them at odd hours like 2:00am.

Have Will-Power and Know When You Need to Stop

When your list is finished and you’ve checked it twice, it’s time to stop shopping. Know when you’re finished, and avoid stopping by the mall “just to see what they have” – this can lead to making poorly planned purchases and blowing your budget.

Most people get the itch to shop a few days before Christmas, if this is you, then leave some shopping you NEED for the last days. This way, you will still feel like you are getting something but you are not just “checking things out.”

Time to Use Coupons.

If this isn’t typically you, that is okay but during this time you’ll be wise to utilize coupons. You can get coupons online, via email, through a newspaper and you can even buy a cheap coupon book at the mall. The point is you have choices. Do not buy that $25 dress when you can get it for $15. Be smart because every dollar adds up.

Finally, remember to enjoy this time with your family and if you have to spend, spend wisely. We hope this helps.

 


3 Ways to Help Your Teens Build Good Credit

When your teen finally takes the big leap and moves out of the house, they’re going to need a solid credit score for a lot of life steps: renting an apartment, getting a loan or finding a good deal on insurance.

For that reason, it’s important that teens build up their credit scores before they move out. There are a few ways you can prepare them for this in the years leading up to graduation.

  1. Make sure they have a checking account and debit card to go along with it
    Getting your teen started with their own bank account is a significant step in building their credit score without ditching their safety net. A teenager under 18 years old can still sign up for a debit card; they just need a co-signer. Since you are co-signing on the card, your personal account will be linked to your teen’s in case of an overdraft. With this checking account and debit card, you should also teach your teens the importance of managing money well.
  1. Teach them the credit card basics
    Credit cards are a bit more complex than debit cards, so it’s important to sit down your teen and help them understand the basics. Signing them up for their own credit card is a bigger step than signing up for a debit card, but it’s an additional step that will help boost their credit score — assuming they pay the bills on time and in full. U.S. News & World Report contributor Amelia Granger says that the most critical skill a teen can learn is to pay their bills in full, even if that means starting with a smaller credit limit. Make sure you are monitoring your teen’s bills to confirm they’re not damaging their credit score rather than building a good foundation for the years ahead.

 

  1. Help them open a Secured Credit Card
    A Secured Credit Card is the perfect card to teach your teen how to properly manage money. It does this by not allowing them to use the money they don’t have, instead locking in a minimum amount of $500 they must use as if it were borrowed money from the bank. This card will help them improve their credit score and after a year they will be able to apply to a regular credit card.

Responsible money management is tough to practice if you learn it late in life. Your kids will be much better off by teaching them good financial practices.


Shopping Online Vs. In-Person

With the advent and spread of smartphone technology, entrusting your money to an online bank has become an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional experience. Traditional banks, however, still offer several distinct advantages that the online experience cannot provide, including in-person customer service when you have questions or concerns.

How do you decide which type of bank to use? Here are a few things to consider about your transactions.

Getting cash

If you use cash on a regular basis, make sure to consider the locations and accessibility of in-network ATMs before choosing your bank. Choosing a local bank or credit union means you should have good access to multiple ATMs, and many banks will reimburse you for fees incurred by using other ATMs.

Online banks don’t typically have ATMs of their own, which means you are more likely to pay a fee to withdraw your cash. These fees usually run a few dollars per withdrawal, but can often be frustrating since you are paying to take out your own money. This isn’t always the case, though. According to Business Insider’s Megan Durisin, some online banks will provide you with compensation for your fees. However, there is usually a cap on how much they will reimburse you per month.

Making deposits

When choosing your bank, you also want to consider how you will deposit money into your account. While both online and traditional banks usually allow direct deposits from your employer, online banks have several restrictions when it comes to other deposits.

At a traditional bank, you can deposit cash, checks, money orders and more. Simply walk into your bank and speak with a representative about your deposit. If you make a significant number of deposits, especially with checks or cash, traditional banking is a convenient option.

With online banking, your deposit options are a bit limited. Depending on your bank, you might be able to digitally deposit a check, but there are usually limitations on how much you can digitally deposit in one day. If your check exceeds that limit, you’ll have to mail it in. To deposit cash to an online bank account, you may have to purchase a money order and mail that in, as well. “You might have to pay a small fee for the money order,” explains Spencer Tierney, a contributor at NerdWallet. “For amounts larger than $1,000, you may have to spring for a cashier’s check at a bank.”

Customer service

Many online banks provide great customer service, including online live chats and call centers. But for some, speaking face to face is an important part of creating a trusting relationship with your financial institution, and it is a service that Durisin notes can only be offered by a traditional brick-and-mortar bank.

Choosing your bank is a personal decision that should be based on services that are most important to you and your lifestyle. Speak with a representative at either a traditional or an online bank to learn more.

 


How Community College Can Save You Money

Financial benefits of taking classes or earning a degree at a community college

To college hopefuls, the financial burden it represents can be daunting. However, community colleges offer multiple money-saving opportunities while still allowing you to earn an education.

  • Tuition savings

Tuition is perhaps the most immediate money-saving benefit of applying to a community college rather than a larger four-year university. Hocking College lists the average cost of tuition and fees at a four-year university as follows: One year at a private school runs an average of $33,480, and one year for in-state residents at public schools runs an average of $9,650. Comparatively, community college costs an average of $4,900 per year for public institutions and $15,478 per year for private institutions. Hocking College notes that community colleges only require two years of schooling while traditional colleges require four. As such, the price difference becomes far more pronounced when multiplied.

  • Room and board savings

Another source of savings, as pointed out by The Princeton Review, is room and board. Because there is a community college located within 90 percent of U.S. residents’ commuting distances, this allows students to continue to live at home while they complete their degrees.

  • Job savings

Community college students often take classes part-time while keeping their job. This allows the chance to save up money or pay for classes going forward. Hocking College says that this could be an especially good choice for nontraditional students, such as parents or older students, who simply don’t have the ability to take full-time classes.

Even if the student is not of a nontraditional group, community college degrees are only two-year degrees. This means that students can go into the workforce in half the time it would take attending a four-year school, giving them a head start in the workforce.

  • The 2+2 plan

Community college can also help students whose ultimate goal is to complete a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. The method for doing so is often referred to as the “2+2 plan.”

The plan involves taking advantage of the above sources of savings for two years at a community college before transferring the credits to a larger university to complete a degree. According to U.S. News, many community colleges offer agreements that ensure student credits will transfer to certain four-year schools. It described the situation in Massachusetts, where community college graduates with a GPA of at least 2.5 can transfer all credits, guaranteed, to any state university by using the Joint Admissions or MassTransfer programs.

In theory, this academic plan could result in a significant savings when pursuing a bachelor’s degree. However, both U.S. News and Dr. Robert Ronstadt, a former vice president of Boston University writing for Forbes, offer warnings about the 2+2 plan.

U.S. News says that not all four-year institutions accept credits from all community colleges, so students should speak to advisors at both schools to make sure that transfer credits are accepted, and under what circumstances they are accepted.

Dr. Ronstadt says that the 2+2 plan can also lead to trouble if it isn’t completed properly. The problem, he says, is that to achieve the savings promised by the 2+2 plan, students absolutely must graduate in the implied four years. If classes at the larger university prove to be difficult or not enough credits transfer, causing the student to take 3 or 4 years at the second school, the savings from the two years in a community college are swiftly consumed. In addition, to successfully complete the 2+2 plan the student needs to be a full-time student at the community college, which could put an overwhelming burden on students who need to work to pay expenses, potentially causing schoolwork to suffer and jeopardizing the transfer to the four-year school.

Overall, community college can definitely save students money due to lower cost of tuition, convenience of location and the option to work while taking classes. Whether the student then uses these boosts to transfer to a bachelor’s program at a four-year school or to graduate and enter the workforce is up to them.


4 Ways to Start Investing in Your 30’s

If you’re in your 30s, now is the time to prioritize investment

Your 30s are a time of transition. While you are no longer in the beginning years of adulthood, retirement is still far away. Investing may seem like less of priority than starting a family, purchasing a home or paying off student loans.

While these are important goals, your 30s are a crucial decade for investing. According to finance writer Paula Pant in an article for The Balance, if you begin saving for retirement at age 30, you will need to save at least 15 percent of your income to retire at age 65.

Whether you’ve already prioritized investing or need a place to begin, these are some options to help you build wealth and save for retirement.

 

  1. Focus on your 401(k)

If your employer offers a 401(k), maxing it out is one of the most important investing steps you can take in your 30s. According to the IRS, the maximum you can contribute in 2018 is $18,500. Your contributions are taken from your paycheck before taxes and are not taxed until you make withdrawals for retirement. “Perhaps best of all, many employers will match your contributions, at least up to a cap,” finance writer Arielle O’Shea notes in a February 2017 article for NerdWallet. “That’s free money you won’t find through other offerings.” If you’re unable to contribute the maximum amount to your 401(k), taking full advantage of your employer’s match is a good place to start.

 

  1. Consider a Roth IRA

If you’ve maxed out your 401(k), or if you don’t have access to one, consider opening a Roth IRA. According to O’Shea, Roth IRA contributions “go in after tax, which means no tax in retirement. Your money also grows tax-free in a Roth IRA.” For 2018, the IRS says you can contribute $5,500 to a Roth IRA unless your income is above $120,000.

 

  1. Other investment accounts

Beyond your 401(k) and Roth IRA contributions, investing in stocks is another avenue to consider. Picking individual stocks is one option, although successfully doing so requires a high level of research and expertise. Another option is an index fund. According to finance writer Dayana Yochim in an August 2017 article for NerdWallet, “When investors buy an index fund, they get a well-rounded selection of many stocks in one package without having to purchase each individually. And because these funds simply hold all the investments in a given index … management fees tend to be low. The result: Higher investment returns for individual investors.”

 

  1. Investment risk

Any investment involves risk. However, O’Shea writes, “Risk is one reason there’s such emphasis on investing when you’re young—young people have a long time horizon before retirement, which means they can worry less about short-term volatility. That allows them to accept risks that should lead to higher average returns over the long term.” For example, stocks offer a higher return on investment, but they are also riskier. Bonds and mutual funds carry less risk but a lower return rate. A more aggressive investment strategy for your 30s might emphasize a heavier allocation of stocks with a smaller percentage of bonds. Then, as you get older, you can slowly shift your investments to focus on safer holdings.

 

While in your 30s, it is important to prioritize investing in retirement, especially if you’re only just getting started. Whether that’s the case or you’re building on what you’ve invested, the additional effort will help put you on the path to peace of mind and a secure retirement.