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Blue Zone: Add 10 years to your life  by Tara


So many of us hope to age “gracefully”. Well, I say get REAL. Why not age “HEALTHfully”? Oh, and possibly add 10 more years to your life?

Millions of dollars each year are spent on creams, pills and procedures to look and feel younger. Books FLY off the e-bookshelf to learn the latest and best way to stay young. Why do we try so hard when the answer is much more simple? Well, Cedar Rapids & Marion and surrounding areas, you are on the cusp of learning the secret. You want to know the secret? I know you do. *whispering * Blue Zones.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard the buzz around town about the Blue Zone, including the exciting event, BLUEhemia, that is happening TOMORROW in the New Bohemia Main Street District (click here for more info!). Check out this super cute Harlem Shake video promoting it:

Let me give you a little background on Blue Zones and why this should matter to you: In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and hired the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better. They decided to refer to these special slices of communities as “Blue Zones”. In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. Without the use of pills, creams and procedures, these groups have found the extra 10 years that we’ve been searching for! What the team consistently discovered was a trend of 9 basic principles that helped people make the right choices to live a longer, yet more healthy life. In Blue Zone lingo, these are the Power 9. *insert a dramatic clashing of cymbals here*

Two years ago Dan spoke to a room full of people in Cedar Rapids and shared a plan to bring these concepts to Iowa. He spent a lot of time talking about how his team set a similar plan in motion in the Albert Lea, MN community and it made a huge change in their health. Fast forward over a lot of hard work to get to 2013 – zip, boom, bang- we are now a designation site for Blue Zones! A heartfelt THANK YOU to all the peeps in CR that made this happen!

If you want to join the fun and get to know how you too can live the Power 9 principles join the town this weekend at BLUEhemia at your NewBo market. Find out more about Blue Zones here or get more information on tomorrow’s New Bluehemia event go here.

So, please, let’s put down the creams, pick up the veggies and move naturally our way to aging “healthfully”. See you there!

Thank you to our Training Specialist Patricia for not only writing this little diddy, but for all of her hard work on the Blue Zone project over the two years! Your Linn Area family is very proud of you!

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Facebook Notifications  by Tara


Guess what! Facebook has changed again! I know, you’re in total shock. ;o)

You may have noticed that posts from businesses aren’t consistently popping up in your news feed anymore. Such a bummer! There are some businesses that I want to know when they have something to say, such as my favorite clothing stores and money saving sites, like Linn Area Credit Union. First, I’ll explain the “why” behind this Facebook fiasco and then show you how to change your settings to ensure you don’t miss any posts by your favorite businesses!

The “Why”

Facebook has a random mathematical equation that keeps track of how often you interact with each business page. If you interact with a page often, you are expressing interest in that business and, as a result, you’re more likely to see their posts in your news feed. I have found that is equation MUST be flawed since there is at least one baby-related company I interact with often and still wasn’t seeing their updates. Is this you, too? Okay, you’re definitely going to want to follow my suggested setting changes below!

The Fix

To be sure you don’t miss a post by your favorite business page, you can enable notifications and choose to have it show in your news feed (though the latter isn’t always consistent). It’s really easy to do!

1. Head over to Linn Area Credit Union on Facebook (FYI: it won’t work from your mobile)

2. On the right hand side on the page, click the “Like” button and a drop down will appear.

3. Select “Get Notifications” and “Show in News Feed.” Check marks will appear to show that they have been enabled.

Like so:

You can also choose to add Pages to Interest Lists, but I’ll have more on that later!

Questions? Just let me know in the comments below! I’m happy to help! :o)

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Back to the Basics: CC Style, Part 4  by Tara


You know how at the end of fireworks shows, they have the grand finale? It’s jammed full of pop, sizzle and BAM! Well this is our grand finale to our credit score series! It’s the thing that everyone has been waiting for…

10 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score (and some of them you can start doing immediately):

  1. Pay your bills on time – EVERY time.
  2. Open a credit card if you don’t have one. Time to start building that GOOD credit!
  3. Don’t open accounts you don’t intend to use. Even if it will get you 10% off your purchase that day!
  4. Add an installment loan from Linn Area Credit Union to your credit mix.
  5. Request a higher limit on the credit cards you carry a balance on.
  6. Keep your balance low in relation to your available credit. We suggest that you never carry a balance that exceeds 30% of your available credit.
  7. Order a copy of your credit report and correct any negative errors. Go to
  8. Don’t close unused accounts in good standing.
  9. Don’t open several new accounts in a short period.
  10. Work with us to boost your credit score!

Come on in to any full-service Linn Area Credit Union and talk with a financial counselor. Together, we can determine how to give your score a lift and see if we can save you money in the meantime.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments!

Back to the Basics: CC Style, Part 3  by Tara


Well hello again! Welcome to your third installment of Back To the Basics: Credit Style. I hope you’re learning lots about the three little numbers that rule the financial world! I think today’s topic is really going to peek your interest.

We help members with credit related questions every single day at Linn Area Credit Union. One of the most commonly asked questions is, “What hurts my credit score?”

Well here it is, folks! A nice little list of things people do that cause their credit score to feel the burn:

  • The easiest to prevent and most common mistake is missing payments. It doesn’t matter what the dollar amount is, if you miss a payment, it’s going to burn. It can take up to 24 months to restore credit with just one late payment showing up on your credit report.
  • Closing unused accounts that are in good standing. This one is a little confusing. You see, closing an account in good standing actually diminishes the number of good trade lines on your credit report.  And it could shorten the length of time of your oldest credit history.
  • Applying for a lot of credit cards and store cards in a short period of time.
  • Having an account sent to collections or (eek) charged off.
  • Closing a credit card that still has a balance.

Who knew credit scores were so needy and sensitive? Just like that person you used to date in high school…

Well here’s some GOOD news! There are some things that DO NOT affect your score:

  • Debt ratio (how much debt you owe compared to your income)
  • Income
  • Length of residence
  • Length of employment

Don’t be fooled, though! These items do factor in when applying for things such as loans.

If you’re credit score isn’t quite where you want it to be, fear not! Next time we are going to share with you TEN WAYS to improve your credit score – things that you can start doing RIGHT AWAY! Holy cow! I can hardly wait!

Back to the Basics: CC Style, Part 2  by Tara


Welcome back! If you’re just joining us, you might want to skip back to here and get your credit score.  ;o)

So now that you have your number (or at least know how/where to get), it’s time to examine how a credit score gets built – and it’s super interesting! Okay, maybe not super interesting, but definitely something you need to know about. :o)

What makes up your credit score?

The Iowa Credit Union League provided an excellent pie chart (mmm… pie!) that helps explain the stuff that gives us that three digit number:

10% Types of Credit In Use: Try to have a good mix of installment (auto, personal loans, etc.), credit card, and mortgage accounts. Try to avoid finance company debt.

10% New Credit: Limit your credit cards and store cards to just what you’ll ACTUALLY use.  (Make sure to ask yourself if saving that extra 10% of your purchase is worth it!) Opening new lines of credit frequently can hurt your overall score.

15% Length of Credit History: The longer you’ve successfully handled credit, the better your score (potentially) will be. This is why we encourage teens to get our Plugged In credit card or auto loans. Go here for more information!

30% Amounts Owed: This is a measure of your “credit utilization” or balance to credit limit ratio. The lower you’re using overall, the better your score. Try to keep your credit card balance under 30% of the available credit limit.

35% Payment History: Put simply, if you’re late on payments, you score WILL suffer. Make sure all payments are being made on time or within the grace period.

Good job making it through all of that! I think you’ve earned a slice of PIE!!! Baw ha ha. In the spirit of pie and pie charts, I have made my own pie chart…

Tell us in the comments below, did any pieces of this credit pie surprise you? Or tell us what your favorite kind of pie is!

Back To the Basics: CC Style!  by Tara


We’re all at different points in our financial journey. Whether it’s your first time around the block or you’re an old pro, it’s a really great idea to go back to basics and revisit the three little numbers that make the world go ‘round – your CREDIT SCORE!!!

We are going to take a closer look at how to improve your credit score through a series of four blog posts. We’ll break it all down so that you understand exactly what makes up your credit score, what actions will hurt your score, and things you can do to start improving your credit score right away.

Think fast – what’s your credit score?

*insert Jeopardy theme song*

Bonus fact while you wait: Did you know that as of January 2011, the National Average score was 692?

Time’s up. How quickly were you able to answer that question? Better yet – how SURE were you of the accuracy of your answer?? ;o) We encourage you to go to once a year to pull your credit report. It doesn’t ding your score and can actually HELP it if you see things on there that don’t seem right. FYI – there is a small small fee to get your credit SCORE, but worth it. (This purchase is Tara Approved!!!)

You know how to get your credit score, but what does it mean and, most importantly, how can you prove it? Just keep your eye on this blog, friends, because we are going to go into detail! Believe me, your credit is going to look fabulous after we’re done with you!

Tell us in the comments below, when was the last time you check your credit score??

Step by step: Setting up a 529!  by Tara


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, 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?

One touch access to Mobile Money for Android phones!  by Tara


If you have an Android phone, this blog post is for you! I am going to show you how to add an icon for Mobile Money to your Home Screen for one touch access to your Linn Area moola!

Here’s the video:

If you aren’t able to see the video, here are the instructions:

1)      Save your unique Mobile Money URL to your bookmarks. (Don’t have Mobile Money yet? Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to get it!)

2)      Open the web browser on your phone.

3)      Go to your bookmarks.

4)      Long-hold on Mobile Money.

5)      Select “Add to Home Screen.”

If you have an iPhone, then you’ll want to go to this post for instructions on how you can get one-touch access on your phone.

Questions? Just give us a call at 378-0101!

Six smart money moves  by Tara


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


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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