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Step by step: Setting up a 529!  by Tara

July27

Because the bottom line of this post is so important, I’m going to start with it: Signing up for a 529 was so EASY and took only a few minutes – why did I wait this long to do it?!?!

I’m a big believer in taking the mystery out of things that on the surface seem difficult, but truly aren’t. I’m going to share my experience so you know exactly what to expect and how quick the process was!

Let’s go back to the beginning.

When my husband and I found out that we were going to be having our first child, we started to talk about setting up a 529. What’s a 529? It’s a tax-advantaged way to pay for higher education (read more about it here). Yes, we talked about it, but never got around to actually doing it. We’re just so busy, busy, busy! Our daughter is now 9 months and, after encouragement from our tax advisor, we finally decided to bite the bullet, set aside time and get everything set up.

And, seriously, it couldn’t have been any easier.

Our tax professional suggested www.collegesavingsiowa.com, so that’s what we went with (however, there are other plans you can use – check with your financial planner or tax professional for suggestions!). We decided to tackle what we thought was going to be a tedious endeavor during our daughter’s morning nap. We crossed our fingers, hoping that her nap would last long enough for us to focus! Each individual must open up a separate account, so we tackled mine first.

We logged onto the website, clicked “Open Account,” and we were off!

NOTE: Before you begin, make sure you determine HOW MUCH you can afford to allocate to the 529. You can contribute as little as $25 a month ($15 if contributing through payroll deduction). Iowa taxpayers can deduct up to $2,975 in contributions per beneficiary account from their adjusted gross income for 2012.*

Seven Simple Screens

1. New Participant
The screen asks for everything you would expect when opening an account – your SS#, address, phone number, the usual.

2. Beneficiary
Here is where you enter in everything about the person for whom you’re setting the account up for. This is where you’ll need to enter their SS#, too.

3. Choose Investment
This was the page that took us the most time, as we hadn’t discussed this prior to beginning the process (so you might want to learn from my mistake!). This page is where you choose how College Savings Iowa will invest the money that you are saving. There are two options and then subcategories under those:

1. Age Based Savings Track: Your portfolio’s investments are decided by College Savings Iowa, but you choose one of four tracks ranging from aggressive to conservative. Your portfolio will automatically shift the asset allocation as your beneficiary nears college age. (This is the option we went with!)

2. Individual Portfolios: You make your own asset allocation decisions and your investments stay the same until you change them.

4. Pick Method of Funding
Make sure to have the credit union’s routing number, your account number (can be found on the bottom of your checks), and your financial institution’s phone number.

So how do you want to get money into your 529 account? You have four options: automatic regular contributions from your bank account, onetime allocation from your bank account, with a check (you print a form and then mail it in), or with a rollover or transfer.

For us, the auto transfer is the perfect fit. We were even able to select the date that we wanted the transfers to start. Once your bank account is connected to the 529 plan, you can transfer additional money directly to it from your credit union or bank whenever you’d like! You can also sign up for annual automatic increases, which I thought was kind of cool!

5. Select Delivery Option
There are three categories that allow you to choose the manner in which you’d like to receive notifications:
• Statements – Online, Online with Paper Copy at End of Year or All By Regular Mail
• Transactions/Profile changes – Email or Regular Mail
• Tax Forms – Regular or Email

6. Create User Name and Password
Hooray! You are basically done! Just as the page title suggest, this is the place where you create that ever-important user name and password.

7. Complete Your Account
All of the information that you have inputted up until this point shows up in a nice and neat format on this page. You just need to review for accuracy and edit any section if you have any changes! You’ll need to choose three security questions and a security picture (but beware – the pic choices are super-duper lame).

AND YOU ARE DONE! Time passed? 20 measly minutes – and that’s only because I was writing notes down so I could tell you guys all about what to expect! When we set up my husband’s account, it only took us a whopping 5 minutes since we now had all the decisions made and information at our finger tips.

My biggest regret is that we didn’t do this sooner. I honestly thought it was going to take longer and kept making up excuses. Hopefully I have taken the mystery out of the process and helped put your mind at ease.

Sound off in the comments below: What sorts of savings plan do you have set up for your children?

Six smart money moves  by Tara

July3

Rates are ridiculously low across the board. From auto loans to home loans – we’ve never seen anything like this. But what goes up must come down… err… I suppose it is opposite in this situation. What has gone down surely will rise up – we just don’t know when. So how can YOU use these low rates to your best advantage? Read on, my friends.

With the help of this article, here are some ideas on how you can be a smart borrower:

1) Buy a home or rental property. Long-term mortgage loan rates are the lowest they’ve been in decades. With the combination of low home prices (hello, Buyer’s Market!) and low rates, you definitely shouldn’t put off purchasing that house. (Click here to check out our mortgage website!)

2) Refinance your home. If your current rate is 4.00% Annual Percent Yield or above, you definitely need to consider refinancing. We are seeing a lot of people who have 30 year mortgage loans be able to refinance to a 15 year loan for a similar monthly payment (this, of course, all depends on your credit score, equity in your home, and rate you are able to lock into). Not sure if your situation would work for a refi? One of our helpful mortgage loan officers can usually tell you pretty quickly over the phone. Just call (319)378-0101 ext. 3.

3) Buy a car. Auto rates are incredibly low. Depending on what rate you qualify for, you might be able to get into a new car and barely have to pay interest. It’s like you’re borrowing money for a miniscule cost! Click here to see our current auto rates.

4) Refinance your car. Did you know you could even do this? Say you bought your car and, for one reason or another, ended up with a higher rate. Well, guess what? You don’t necessary have to be stuck with that same nasty rate for the life of your loan. See if you can refi and lower your monthly payments.

5) Lock in student loan rates. Although federal rates are typically low, they have also dropped slightly recently. If you have more than one outstanding student loan, it might be worth calling your loan provider to see if you can consolidate and lock in a lower rate.

6) Pay off credit card debt. We’ve seen rates drop on mortgages and auto loans, but credit cards seem to have gone the opposite direction – except ours – we haven’t changed our credit card rates in over a decade! While you work on paying down your credit card debt, why not consolidate all of it and transfer your balance over to a card with a lower interest rate, such as ours (click here).

There are so many ways that you can take advantage of these low rates! We’re here to help. Even if you’re not sure what you can do, but know you want to save money, stop on by and one of our financial counselors with happily guide you in the right money-saving direction!

Sound off in the comments below: If you had an extra $250 a month, what would you do with it?

Emergency Savings Fund 101  by Tara

May25

Everyone hears about Emergency Savings and how you should have some, but that’s typically where it stops. What exactly is an Emergency Savings fund? How much should you have in it? How do you save money to build up this account? Hopefully this post will point you in the right direction.

Boy Scouts really know what’s up. Their longtime motto is “Be Prepared.” Smart guys. That’s the bottom line for your Emergency Savings. You need to be prepared for the worst, but always keep hoping for the best. For example, an Emergency Fund might be needed if you or another member of the family lost their  job. That alone is stressful, but just think if you didn’t have the funds to cover expenses in the meantime. Be Prepared.

Let’s first talk about what makes up your Emergency Savings. We like to suggest at least 3 months of living expenses.  Think of everything that your money goes towards in the course of the month – and don’t forget about the small things. (Heck, those seem to add up the most!)

Here’s an example of living expenses:

Okay, that’s great! Now multiple the total by three:

Now that you have your living expenses figured out, pop over to this financial calculator on our website to place in the numbers by clicking here.

To be extremely accurate and, dare I say, BE PREPARED, the calculator asks for you some nitty gritty things that we often don’t think about. These include your medical deductibles, insurance deductibles, etc. Adding these numbers into the calculator will give you the most accurate estimate for your Emergency Savings goal.

Now that you’ve inputted those numbers, click ok. The total will be reflected in the “Emergency Expenses” area. If you already have money saved, that’s awesome! Just put that number into the “Amount currently saved” box. Does that account have a rate of return? If so, place that percentage in the next box.

How much a month can you set aside to work towards that Emergency Savings goal? Whatever that number is, put it into the “Amount to save per month” box. Feel free to add the federal and state taxes in, if you so please.

Now it’s time for the calculator to work its magic and tell you how long it will take you to build up your Emergency Savings fund!

Tell us in the comment below, do you have an emergency savings account? Have you ever had a time where you needed to dip into your emergency savings fund?

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The Lebron-Linn Area Connection  by Nick

November9

To kick off the 2011-2012 NBA season, I thought I’d talk about my favorite player: Lebron James. 

I’m a huge basketball fan. When I was little, I used to be obsessed with Michael Jordan. I did everything I could to “Be Like Mike,” from mimicking his sweet moves on the court to attempting his signature tongue sticking out to the side on a layup. Genius.

He retired, I cried myself to sleep, life moved on.

And then Lebron James came into the picture. Phenom Lebron. King James. I was psyched about this guy and absolutely LOVE watching him play! 

Back in July of 2010, my man Lebron became a free agent and had a tough decision to make: 

1)       He could stay with his team in Cleveland (a team he had been with for 7 seasons) or

2)       He could sign with another team.

When you have been with a team for seven seasons, it’s hard to see yourself moving on. You build great relationships, comfort levels, and a solid team structure. Although he did not actually win any championships in Cleveland, he did come close. (In my opinion, Cleveland would have needed to pick up another key player to achieve “greatness”!)

After a flurry of media attention, which you would have had to be living under a rock to avoid, King James opted for a change of scenery and made the decision to join the Miami Heat. Now, I realize that the Heat didn’t get the championship rings this last season, but for a team that had to essentially start from scratch learning how to have 3 superstars, they did a great job. I think it’s pretty likely that they are going to take it all this season!

 You may ask yourself, why is Nick talking about this? 

The reason is because I think Lebron James made the right decision by moving to the Heat and making the move to Linn Area Credit Union might be the right decision for you. Sure, you may already be a member (heck yeah!), but perhaps you have an auto loan, your mortgage or even your credit cards elsewhere. You should seriously take a few minutes to chat with us to see if we could save you some money by moving those items over here! 

We at Linn Area take member service to the next level and will do all we can to WIN with you! (We just don’t recommend buying TV time to announce your decision live on air.)

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Auto Refinance: Top Questions!  by Nick

October18

When people think of “refinance,” 9 times out of 10 they immediately associate the word with refinancing a home. But did you know that you can actually refinance other things – like auto loans! YES! Many people think that if they have an auto loan, they are stuck with that same loan until the term is up. Well I have some good news for you – you’re not! 

Because most people aren’t familiar with the idea of refinancing an auto loan, I wanted to take out some of the mystery for you! As a financial counselor, here are some frequently asked questions I get about the process: 

Q: If I have my vehicle loan at another credit union or bank, do I have to call them to say that I’m moving my loan over to you guys?

A: You do not have to let the other institution know about the refinance. We will send them a check to pay it off (a.ka. a payoff) with a form that will allow them to transfer the title to us. 

Q: What do I need to bring with me in order to refinance my vehicle?

A: We need the VIN# (which you can find on your registration) and a 10 day loan balance payoff from the current financial. It also isn’t a bad idea to bring in the original purchase agreement when you bought it.

Q: How do I get a 10 day payoff?

A: You need to call your financial institution and they will give that to you over the phone. We’d do it for you, but they don’t always give us the payoff without the member’s consent. What some people like to do is make the call while they are in the office with us and we can help facilitate the whole she-bang. 

Q: How long does this usually take?

A: If you are an existing member, you are about 20 to30 minutes away from saving money. 

Q: What if I’m not an existing Linn Area member? Do I need to open an account?

A: Yes, you do need a five dollar savings account at Linn Area Credit Union. This will provide you with a membership to the credit union and we can start saving you money right away! 

Rates are super low right now and if you are looking for ways to cut corners or save a little cash each month, now is the time to capitalize. (In fact, you can bring any loan over to Linn Area and we can see how much we can save you!) It is a very painless process and, hey, if you are able to save money,  it’s a win-win situation!

Just give us a ring-a-ding at 378-0101 x4 or pop into any of our locations. We look forward to helping you!

IDA: Ben’s Success Story  by Tara

October12

Saving money can be tough, especially if you’ve been a victim of a natural disaster (hello, Flood of ’08). We totally get that. But did you know that there is a very cool government assisted program that will actually MATCH your savings dollar-for-dollar? These accounts are called Individual Development Accounts, or IDAs. These funds can only be used for homeownership, higher education, job training, or starting a small business. 

Here’s a story of one of our successful IDA savers, Ben Gardner: 

“I cannot fully express my gratitude towards Linn Area Credit Union for allowing me to participate in the IDA program.  

Upon graduation of high school, I began researching degrees that interested me, and started the process of applying for financial aid. Once I saw my tuition bill, I quickly realized that the loans I had received would simply not be enough. Needless to say, the thought of taking out more loans to cover the bill was not very appealing. With today’s ever increasing college expenses, and high interest rates, I began looking for alternative ways to fund my education.  

Luckily, I spoke with a financial counselor at Linn Area who told me about the IDA program. He informed me that a variety of contributors, including the State and Federal Governments, and the Iowa Credit Union Foundation, were sponsoring a program in which students could save up to two thousand dollars and have the amount matched by all three participants to be put toward educational expenses.

I couldn’t believe it; I thought it was too good to be true. I enrolled in the program immediately. By contributing some money I had received from my graduation party, and working as a pharmacy technician, I was able to save the entire two thousand dollars.  

Throughout the process, the coordinator of the program would remind to me make deposits, keeping me on track with my savings. I even received several sessions of free financial planning education that helped me achieve my goal. Now, when I have a college expense that I can’t afford, I just put in a request and I receive the money quickly.  

It feels great to not constantly worry about finding money to pay for books, fees, and supplies. Having the additional financial assistance from the IDA program has even allowed me to focus more on school. I don’t have to work as much to keep up with all of the bills. I feel truly blessed to have been allowed this opportunity.”

 – Ben Gardner 

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Ben! We’re glad we were able to help you get a fabulous education by taking advantage of this amazing government sponsored program!

For those of you whose ears have perked up, do note that funds are limited and you must meet certain qualifications to take part in the program. Go here for more details! The program is very popular and actually has a wait list – with one exception. If you’ve were affected by a natural disaster with a federal disaster declaration (regardless of the year!) you get to bypass the wait list! Of course, you must meet the regular program income requirements and have some source of earned income from which to make deposits. 

Ready to talk with someone? Get in touch with Sandra at our SE office by phone at 892-7396 or by email scleppe@linnareacu.org.

Win $529 on 5/29 with 529s  by Matt

May25

There are lots of dates that combine to make outrageous days that the “world recognizes” (thanks to the internet of course). There is Star Wars Day (May the 4th), Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th, mateys!) and even Mole Day (October 23rd from 6:02 am to 6:02 pm; it’s a chemistry thing).  But I have one to tell you about that may seem silly, but can make you some sweet moolah back on your taxes and help you save for the education of yourself or your family. You ready for this? 

May 29th (529) is 529 Savings Plan day!  Wondering what that is?  Well, guess what!  I know.  It’s a program offered through the state of Iowa that promotes educational saving.  You can deposit money monthly, quarterly or whenever you feel like it really. You can then withdraw the money when it’s time to pay the tuition bill for yourself, your kids, your grandkids, your nieces or nephews – it’s really that flexible!  Note, this requires rearranging the account to add the person that you’re giving the money to as a beneficiary and fancy stuff like that, but it’s easy to do and you can switch it at any time! 

I’m no tax expert, but I can tell you that you’re able to deduct up to $2,865 from your adjusted gross income when filing your state tax return…so that’s going to save you money! (Be sure to check with your tax consultant for details about qualification!)

I can speak from experience, folks. I actually set one of these suckers up for myself back in February! I’m using it as a place to save to pay my tuition for my continuing education. I found that it was actually ridiculously easy to set up. Only took me about 6.25 minutes! The only thing easier than setting my 529 up is maintaining it.  I’m actually excited for tax season next year so I can earn some extra green back!

I can tell you with complete confidence that this is something you want to look into if you are in school, may go back, have a kid or grandchild you want to help with school, or just might have a kid some day!  

Aside from all this awesome stuff, until the end of the month (May 31st), the state is offering a chance to win $529 (clever right??) in a drawing done for those who register a new account.  For more information, go check out http://www.collegesavingsiowa.com/ and look for this image:

Cut the Cord  by Tara

April1

So many people claim that they want to save money and they’re willing to do anything to make that happen… but are they truly willing to make a sacrifice? I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine that decided to cut the cord. The cable cord, that is. She was dedicated to finding ways to save-save-save in 2011, and this was one of the ways she could make that happen. When I got to thinking about it, this person is actually one of three people in my small circle of friends who has pulled the plug.

Let’s break it down, Hammer Time. Maybe not Hammer time – we’ll just break it down.

The Internet Is King. All of the big broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) as well as some of the cable networks air their TV shows online. For FREE. Worried about missing an episode of Jersey Shore? (Heavens no!) Have no fear, MTV is here.  Hulu also offers all sorts of television shows, movies and clips for free. Need your sports fix? Try Espn.go.com.

Free is good, right? Well sometimes for just a little bit more, you can get A LOT more! For $7.99 per month, you can sign up for Hulu Plus. This program allows you access to every episode of a show’s current season (just be sure to go check the index of available shows to make sure your favorites are there!). This particular route is especially appealing to you tech savvy folks out there, since you can actually stream the shows on your TV, computer, mobile phone and tablets.

Hulu’s revival is NetFlix. For $7.99 you can stream an unlimited amount of TV shows and movies from the company’s on-demand video-streaming library. You can even access these through your gaming consoles, such as the PS3, Wii and X Box. My husband and I decided to upgrade to the $9.99 plan, which allows us to order one DVD at a time, exchanging it as often as we want without any worries of late charges. We love it!

And, for you baseball junkies out there, check out MLB.tv. For a mere $100 a year, you can stream nearly every major league game (with some exceptions). You can watch live or on-demand.

Can’t find the show you’re looking for? You can usually BUY episodes through iTunes! I learned this the hard way when I accidently deleted one episode of Sons of Anarchy. $1.99 and 53 minutes later, I had watched the episode, in HD no less, thrilled with my purchase.

So think about how much you currently pay for cable television. Look at all of the options above. Cutting the cable cord has never looked so appealing!

Tell us below, how much do you rake out each month for the cable portion of your bill? Would you be willing to cut the cord to save some dough?

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How to save without feeling the pinch!  by Mallory

March24

Ready to be jealous? I recently went to sunny Florida for a vacation. Ready to be even more jealous? My primary goal was to visit Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. (I know, I know, I’ve posted 3 blogs and 2 of them involve Harry Potter. Call me crazy, but I love it!) In order to get to my precious Harry Potter World, I needed to buy a plane ticket, pay for a hotel, AND rent a car. The key words being “buy”, “pay”, and “rent” — all of which involve money! Besides just having a job, I knew I’d have to be smart with my money and plan ahead to make this happen.

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: If money is in my checking account, I’m going to spend it. Based on my conversations with friends and members, I’m not alone. Maybe my spending habits sound familiar to you, too. How would I ever be able to save up for this Harry Potter trip I was dreaming of?

I’m going to share with you guys a super easy way to save that can be built into any Linn Area account that receives your direct deposit. It’s a tool called payroll deduction. This service will pull whatever dollar amount you want from your paycheck and place it into one or more accounts of your choosing before you even miss it. (Click here to see more about it on our website!)

In order to successfully save for my big trip, I set up my payroll deduction so that a certain amount of my paycheck never even makes it to my checking – it goes straight to a savings account I smartly labeled “I Heart Harry Potter”. This means that I no longer have the temptation to spend it! And wa-la! A few months later I was able to book my trip and all the other expensive things that go along with it.

I also saved up a few extra pennies in a jar at home, which came in handy when I bought myself a couple yummy Butterbeers at the park (not beer, just delicious). Click here to find out more about Butterbeer than you’ve ever wanted to know!

People use payroll deduction for other un-Harry-Potter-related things. You could put $50 from each paycheck into your “Saving For My First Home” account, $100 toward your auto loan and $30 into your regular savings account. Take it from me, it adds up quickly! You can even sign up online here!

The moral of the story is to let technology do the savings for you and in no time you will be able to buy that new TV or go on that great vacation you have been putting off.

What are you currently saving for or what do you want to start saving for?

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