Posts on Mar 2019

5 Ways to Save for Summer in 5 Weeks

Summer vacation. During your elementary, middle, and high school years, those two magical words meant three months of freedom! No school, no waking up early, no early bedtimes. It was your annual reward for grinding through the previous nine months of academic pursuits. Yet somehow, summer always managed to fly by faster than it was supposed to!

Now that you’re an adult, your summertime respite has probably shortened considerably. Instead of three months, you might get a week away—maybe two, if you’re lucky. But just like when you were young, you always wish your time away could last just a little bit longer. It seems like no matter how old you get, summer vacation still holds a special kind of magic.

There’s still time to save for summer vacation!

But even with all the sun-kissed nostalgia that makes summer vacation a lifelong treat, there’s one thing that can ruin the fun faster than a thunderstorm at the swimming pool: vacation-related debt. Summertime memories are fun to recall, but it’s not nearly as fun to receive monthly reminders that you’re still paying the price for that fun—plus interest.

If you’re like most people, summer usually sneaks up on you. You start the year with good intentions, but somewhere along the way you forget to set aside money to cover your vacation plans. With summer only a few weeks away, you might be wondering whether it’s possible to save enough money to cover this year’s vacation. We’re happy to report that it’s absolutely possible! It will take some discipline, but you can do it. Here are five tips to help you get started.

Five Quick and Easy Ways to Save for Summer Vacation

  1. Create a savings plan.
    Sometimes, the easiest way to save money is to identify the ways you’re currently wasting it. By creating and following a sensible budget, you’ll be able to pinpoint the areas where you’re spending too much. For the next five weeks, do your best to eliminate frivolous expenses and only spend money on things that are essential. You’ll be surprised how quickly your savings add up.
  2. Find fun for free.
    Just because you’re saving for summer doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun in the meantime. But it does mean you might need to find some different activities. Movies, dining out, and entertainment can add up quickly. The average cost of dinner, drinks, and movie tickets for two comes in at around $100, so, imagine how fast you could pile up the savings if you decided to cook at home, stroll through a park, play some board games, or browse at a bookstore instead!
  3. Resist the convenience tax.
    We’re all busy. Sometimes it’s just easier to pay for convenience. Whether it’s drive-thru coffee on the way to work or take-out food for dinner, shelling out a few extra dollars can save precious minutes throughout the day. But if you’re trying to save money for summer, you might want to pause these practices. When you consider that you can save $3 per day just by making your morning cup of coffee at home, the money-saving benefits of this step are ridiculously clear. (And don’t worry, we’re only talking about five weeks. You’ll be back to that extra-hot-triple-skinny-no-foam-half-caff latte in no time.)
  4. Hang onto that tax refund.
    If you’re expecting a tax refund this year, well…you’ve probably filed your taxes already. That means either your refund has arrived already or it’s on the way. As tempting as it can be to celebrate your sudden cash infusion with a big purchase, it might make more sense to hang onto that money and use it to pay for your upcoming summer vacation. Yes, that’ll require a little discipline, but enjoying a fantastic, debt-free vacation is worth it!
  5. Cash in on your spare time.
    OK, so maybe this tip isn’t technically about saving—but it can be. If you figure out how to earn a little extra money, that gives you even more chances to save. (See? Told you it could be about savings.) Once you’ve maximized your creative saving methods, it never hurts to earn a little extra money. Side jobs are a great way to make quick cash, and thanks to apps like Nextdoor, Taskrabbit, and Gigwalk, finding work is easier than you think.

 
If you’re saving for this summer, it’s probably going to feel like an all-out sprint. But with a little advance planning, next year’s summer savings won’t have to be quite so stressful. Here at Great Meadow Federal Credit Union, we offer convenient vacation savings accounts that let you automatically deposit a little money from your paychecks throughout the year and withdraw the funds just in time for your stress-free summer vacation. Call us or visit one of our branches in person to learn more about these specialized savings accounts.

Make Spring Cleaning Pay Off This Year!

People sure do like their stuff. Whether it’s the latest tech gadgets or knick-knacks that have been passed down through generations, the things we own hold a special place in our hearts and homes. So, when our possessions pile up, as is their tendency, what’s the logical thing to do? That’s right—rent a self-storage unit. What? That’s not the answer you were expecting?

According to a report by Sparefoot, one out of every 11 Americans pays for storage space to keep their overflowing belongings. That’s right, not only are people finding additional ways to store their things, they’re paying good money to do it—$38 billion a year, to be exact. Spending money to stow away various items you don’t need and will probably never use—seems silly doesn’t it? We agree. In fact, we think springtime is the perfect season to do the exact opposite.

Clean house. Cash in.
Over the past few years, de-cluttering has seen a spike in popularity, thanks in large part to proponents like Joshua Becker and Marie Kondo. While experts like Kondo preach the soul-cleansing benefits of getting rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy,” we recommend doing it for an entirely different reason. Cash. Cold, hard cash.

Don’t get us wrong, we big fan of the physical and emotional perks that come from cleaning house, but we also believe that making a little extra money would make you feel pretty good too. If you’re inspired but unsure where to start, we’ve compiled a helpful list of everyday items that carry solid resale value and the best ways to sell them.

Electronics
Maybe you just upgraded to a new laptop, and you’re wondering what to do with your old (but not that old) one. Perhaps you switched mobile phone carriers and didn’t bother trading in your previous phone. Or maybe you’re staring at a CD/DVD/video game collection that has gotten way out of hand. Before you throw your hands up and your electronics out, see if you can sell them online through services like:
Decluttr
Gazelle
Swappa

Clothing
Do you have a closet full of outfits you never wear? Have you changed your style but held onto all your old accessories? Did you purchase a new pair of shoes only to realize you already had an identical pair in your collection? Whether you’re creating a capsule wardrobe or just freeing up some space in your dresser drawers, you’d be surprised how many people would be willing to buy your gently used items. Millions of people have made some extra money by selling clothes and accessories via apps like the following:
Poshmark
Tradesy
Vinted

Miscellaneous
Let’s face it; some things just don’t fit in neat and tidy categories. But that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. There’s an old saying that suggests “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” That doesn’t mean your stuff is trash, it just means that things you no longer use may be incredibly valuable to someone else. So, before you throw out that vintage nine iron, that dusty old vinyl collection, or your great aunt’s set of decorative collector plates, try listing them for sale on the following sites:
OfferUp
Craigslist
Facebook Marketplace

Once you’ve completed your spring cleaning, minimized your possessions, and made a little money in the process, you might be wondering what to do with your newfound cash. Whatever you do, resist the urge to go right out and buy more stuff! That will just start the problem all over again. Instead, why not contact your credit union and ask them how to make your money work for you? Our team of financial specialists can help you assess your current financial situation and determine how to take smart steps towards a brighter financial future.

Let the Taxpayer Beware: Learn to Spot Six Common Tax Scams

Now that your W2s and miscellaneous tax documents have arrived, tax season is officially in full swing. While it’s easy to get lost in optimistic daydreams about your tax refund and all you’re planning to do with it, it’s important to remember that scam artists are probably dreaming about what they could do with your refund as well.

After reaching an all-time high of more than 700,000 cases in 2015, tax refund fraud has been declining thanks to significant enforcement efforts by federal, state, and private agencies. While these statistics are encouraging, they also highlight the ongoing need for caution and vigilance. So, before you file your 2018 taxes or pay someone to file for you, we want to remind you about six of the most common tax-related scams happening today.

  • Phishing Emails

This one is relatively easy to spot. Why’s that, you ask? Because the IRS doesn’t initiate communication with taxpayers via email. So, if you see an email from the IRS pop up in your inbox—even one that looks remarkably official, don’t bother opening it. For good measure, go ahead and mark it as spam before deleting it. Emails of this type have only one goal: to trick you into clicking a fraudulent hyperlink or responding with sensitive personal information.

  • Phishing 2.0

In 2018, the IRS reported a new twist on traditional phishing scams. In the new approach, fraudsters hacked the systems of legitimate tax professionals, stole tax returns containing personal details, and then deposited funds directly into taxpayer bank accounts. After those deposits hit the bank, the criminals posed as the IRS or collection agencies and contacted account holders demanding a resolution to the error. The goal of these scams is not to simply regain the money deposited “in error,” but to get the victim to share account details that can be used to access the account at another time. If you find yourself with an unexpected deposit in your bank account, the IRS offers helpful instructions here.

  • Phone scams

Though they come via phone call, these scams are essentially the same as phishing emails. The difference lies in the fact that con artists can spoof IRS phone numbers in an attempt to convince unsuspecting people to answer the call. Once the phone call is underway, the person on the other end claims to be an IRS agent and tries to get the individual to confirm private account details in an attempt to “resolve the situation.” If they don’t get the results they’re hoping for, the fraudsters may even follow-up with phone calls where they impersonate law enforcement officials and threaten legal action. To avoid accidentally divulging personal details, it’s best to ignore these calls completely. Just as the IRS doesn’t initially contact taxpayers by email, they also don’t initiate official communication by phone either.

  • Refund Theft

This type of scam takes place at the intersection of identity theft and financial fraud. Using a variety of tactics, criminals obtain taxpayer social security numbers and file fraudulent tax returns in their name—often claiming substantial refunds. Since this happens without the knowledge of the victim, it only comes to light when their legitimate tax return is rejected due to a previous return already filed under the same social security number. While the IRS is committed to resolving these issues when they happen, the process can be long and tedious. To safeguard yourself against tax refund theft, IRS officials recommend obtaining an Identity Protection PIN, also known as an IP PIN. Instructions for securing a PIN can be found on the official IRS website.

  • Shady Tax Prep Services

Since an estimated 79 million Americans use paid tax preparation services, there are considerable opportunities for dishonest preparers to abuse the system. One of the most common scams involves a preparer illegally inflating an individual’s refund and collecting a percentage of the taxpayer’s refund instead of a flat fee. Many times, the problem isn’t identified until after the refund has been issued and the preparer’s fee has been collected. In these scams, the preparer is long gone by the time that the problem is identified, and the taxpayer is responsible for handling the audit on their own. While the practice of a tax preparer charging a percentage of refund isn’t technically illegal, you’re better off avoiding this type of arrangement and opting for a flat-fee service instead.

  • Public Wi-Fi Scammers

It seems like this one should go without saying, but we all use a reminder from time to time. The public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores can be great for hopping online to browse social media, but it’s terrible for filing your taxes. Not only can these unsecured networks be accessed by almost anyone, but dishonest scammers can also set up hot spots that look like the establishment’s Wi-Fi and intercept logins, passwords, and personal information. So, if you’re filing taxes electronically this year (and considering the fact that approximately 90% of taxpayers filed electronically in 2018, you probably are), do yourself a favor: file at home from your personal computer and your secure Internet connection.

As with most financial scams, these can be simple to sidestep as long as you know the signs to look for. If you observe questionable practices or have additional tax-related concerns, you can find helpful instructions here on the official IRS website.

If you are receiving a federal or state tax refund this year and want to make the most of your money, please contact us here at Great Meadow Federal Credit Union. Our financial specialists can help you assess your financial situation and show you all the beneficial programs and products available to you as a credit union member. Call, email, or stop by a branch today!