8 Ways To Save On Valentine’s Day

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Having the perfect night out doesn’t mean you need to break the budget. Here are eight ideas to help you save this Valentine’s Day.

  • Cook a romantic dinner at home instead of eating at an overpriced restaurant. Set the ambiance with some scented candles and soft music, and save a bundle! Giving each other massages or a foot rub could be an added bonus.
  • Make your own gift. Instead of buying a pricey piece of jewelry, frame a nice picture of the two of you or write a meaningful card.
  • If you are going out to eat, make sure to check sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and RetailMeNot for deals on restaurants near you before making reservations.
  • Skip the wine bottle at the restaurant and pop the cork at home instead.
  • Explore the great outdoors! It may be cold out, but you can still have fun just enjoying the fresh air. Bundle up and take a refreshing walk under the stars. Then, go home and warm up with steaming mugs of hot chocolate.
  • Get yourself a great work out and have a fantastically fun date by going ice or roller-skating! You can even take a class together.
  • Get cultured on a budget by taking advantage of a local museum’s free or discounted rates at specific times or nights.
  • Have an awesome time at the neighborhood comedy club. Entrance tickets can be as cheap as $5 apiece!

We’d love to hear from you. How do you save on a date without compromising on the quality of the evening? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

Should I Make A Balance Transfer?

 

Q: I’m considering a balance transfer to an interest-free card. Is that a good idea?

A: Transferring some or all of your credit card debt to one that includes an introductory interest-free period can help you move toward a debt-free life. However, there are some things to be aware of. Consider these pros and cons:

Pros

Interest-free debt
Your biggest push for making a balance transfer is to get a break from the interest that’s added to your balance. Depending on the offer, that may be up to 21 months. Making a balance transfer will allow you to take a real bite out of your debt and make progress toward getting rid of it completely.

Convenience
The more monthly bills you need to pay, the greater the chance of missing a payment. A balance transfer lets you consolidate the balance on several different cards into one, decreasing the number of monthly payments you need to make.

Motivation
Taking this significant step toward paying down your debt may motivate more careful spending habits.

Cons

High interest fees
At the end of a predetermined amount of time with your new card, you’ll be hit with interest rates that are unusually high. While you may plan on paying down your balance before the interest rate kicks in, you may not be able to do so. Also, many balance transfer cards do not offer the same interest-free deal for new purchases.

Transfer fees
Most balance transfer offers charge a minimum of 3-5% of the balance you’re transferring. So, while you may not be incurring interest, the transfer isn’t always free.

You need excellent credit
If you’re considering a transfer, know that you often need to have a credit score of at least 700.

Increased monthly bills
Often, a company offering to accept interest-free balance transfers will only accept a portion of the amount, adding one more monthly bill to track. This increases your chances of missing a payment. If your entire balance can’t be transferred, give priority to your interest-free payment, but don’t neglect other bills.

Negative impact on your credit score
With the recent changes to the VantageScore system, having less available credit while using a small percentage of it is considered the smart choice. Opening a new card without closing an old one means you will have more available credit and may lower your score. Also, having lots of open cards will make lenders view you as a risk.

If you’re sinking in credit card debt but don’t think a balance transfer is for you, we can help! A personal loan might be a solid first step toward debt freedom. Call, click, or stop by an Insight Branch today, to hear about our competitive rates and options.

Have you ever made a balance transfer? Tell us all about it in the comments!

What Happened With Security At Intel?

Early this month, two security flaws were found in the architecture of chips designed by Intel. This potential breach may affect thousands of devices. Here’s what you need to know about the vulnerabilities.

The two flaws: Meltdown and Spectre
Meltdown is considered the less significant threat and has already been patched in many computers.

The Spectre vulnerability, on the other hand, is more problematic. It involves the foundation of the chips that form the computer’s infrastructure. This means it is likely that the problem can only be fixed by redesigning and replacing affected devices. It also impacts an allegedly secure area of the chip architecture, where information like passwords and encryption keys are stored. If exploited, it can grant hackers unchecked access to this information.
Since the two flaws represent problems in the hardware of the product, and not in the software, they are more difficult to patch. This also means the number of affected devices is astronomical and includes operating systems like Windows, Android, macOS and more.

Can the flaws be fixed?
As mentioned, the Meltdown vulnerability can be amended with a patch. While the patch resolves the vulnerability, it slows down computer systems by a full 30%. Despite this drawback, Intel urges all consumers to use the patch.
Spectre, though, has no known fix. Many experts claim that redesigning computers may not even resolve the flaw, as there is currently no known solution for the problem. It can be many years before computers and chips include fixes for the Spectre flaw.

Have the flaws been exploited?
Fortunately, there have been no known exploits of the flaws thus far.

How has Intel responded to the flaws?
Security researchers have actually known about the flaws for months – and have been working to patch them during that time. In fact, most consumer systems are already patched against Meltdown.

Intel has also made several statements in response to the discovery, though it hasn’t addressed the problem of Spectre and the potential need for a massive redesign of its product.

“Check with your operating system vendor or system manufacturer and apply any available updates as soon as they are available,” Intel said.

Intel claims that Spectre and Meltdown patches will be coming to 90% of the company’s affected chips.

Is Intel the only company that has been affected by the discovery?
While Meltdown mostly impacted Intel chips, Spectre has affected other chips, including AMD and ARM processors and IBM’s Power chips.

Fingers continue to point at Intel. The company clearly knew about the problem for a while and failed to let the public know. Critics also claim Intel has not responded to pointed questions about Spectre.

What do I need to do now?
Be sure to apply any updates as they reach the market and keep your antivirus software updated and operating at its strongest level.

Why Do I Need To Get Preapproved For A Loan?

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Q: Is there any reason to get pre-approved for a loan?

A: For a large purchase, such as a home or car, having that pre-approval in hand before you start shopping is crucial. A pre-approval is a written letter from a lender specifying how large of a loan you will be eligible for. The letter will also detail your estimated interest rate on the loan.

Here are some other key advantages of getting a pre-approval:

1.) You’ll know what you can afford

Having this information in hand will simplify your search. It will also help you avoid disappointment later. Be sure to calculate other monthly costs, such as property taxes, home insurance and increased auto insurance rates when determining the amount of money you’ll need to shell out each month.

2.) Don’t get taken for a ride

When you’re unsure about how much you can spend on a car, the dealer will capitalize on your uncertainty by trying to sell you a car that barely skims the maximum amount you’ve told them you can afford. They may also focus only on a monthly amount you can afford. They’ll then try to inflate the payment with unnecessary charges and fees only because they fit within your named payment amount. In contrast, when you show the dealer your pre-approval letter, they will have to show you cars with price tags that fit within your loan amount.

3.) Be taken seriously

A car dealer will take you more seriously when you walk in with a pre-approval. Having that information in hand shows you’re ready to buy. When purchasing a home, a realtor will be able to assist you more efficiently when you know exactly how much house you can afford. They’ll also give you better service since you’re showing that you’re serious about buying a home. In fact, many realtors will only work with buyers who’ve obtained a pre-approval.

4.) Know you have financing you can trust

When you show up at the car dealership with a pre-approval from your credit union, you know the deal is in your best interest. Many dealers have access to several financing options and they’re almost always going to offer you options that are in their own wallet’s best interests.

5.) Purchase your dream home

A pre-approval helps you stand out from the pack. If you’re house-hunting in a competitive market, having your pre-approval will give you a leg up on bidding wars. A seller will be more eager to work with someone who’s already started the mortgage process.

In the market for a new home or car? Don’t forget to call, click, or stop by Insight Credit Union to hear about how we can help with your mortgage and auto loans!

Based on your own experience, why do you think it’s important to get pre-approved for a loan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Getting Your Finances Ready For 2018

2018 is here – are you ready?

Usher in the new year with plans for financial improvement and resolutions to meet your goals.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Fine tune your budget

It’s great to start off the new year with a plan. A budget is just that—a plan that starts with the income you expect and your fixed expenses such as mortgage payments, insurance and utilities. The plan incorporates your savings goals, and the remaining money is designated for your other expenses. A realistic budget will help you set your financial goals and will remind you to stick to them. Now is the perfect time to assess last year’s budget or create a new one if you don’t yet have one in place.

Reviewing how you spent last year’s money will help you make better financial decisions for the year ahead. While thinking about it, include a method for tracking your spending. You can do this on a spreadsheet or tag items in your checking account. There are also a variety of apps to make budgeting easier.

Even with a solid plan, there can be surprises along the way, so be sure to build an emergency fund into your budget.

Plan ahead to meet your goals

Consider how you will accomplish your goals. You might have shorter-term goals, such as purchasing a new home, as well as longer-term goals, like retirement. Each set of goals requires different kinds of planning and saving.

Financial planners recommend setting up a separate savings account for each goal. This way, your progress toward that goal is clear.

It’s best to work backward for determining how much you need to save for each goal. Determine the cost of your goal and then establish a reasonable time-frame as well as how much you’ll need to save each month to reach it.

Spend mindfully

Make your financial future more secure this year by identifying your wants versus your needs. Your needs are necessary for survival and include food and shelter. Your wants are simply things you desire – like a luxury car. Tend to your needs first. Then, if there is money remaining, consider your wants.

This might sound obvious, but for many of us, the lines between wants and needs can easily become blurred.

Maximize tax contributions

Tax deductions can be a valuable source of savings. If you have employer-matching funds available, take advantage of them. Also, verify with your HR contact and your accountant that you are contributing the optimal amount to your 401K and IRA.

Check your flexible savings account (FSA)

If you have unspent money in your FSA, now is the time to use it. Your pre-tax dollars in such accounts typically need to be spent before the end of the year or they are lost.

Put the brakes on holiday spending

Avoid going overboard on holiday spending or you might spend the beginning of the year trying to pay it all back.

These are just a few of the many ways you can prepare financially for the coming year. With a little attention to some often-overlooked details, a little perseverance and a little mindfulness throughout, you’ll be moving forward with a strong foundation and positive outlook.

What are some of the things that you’re doing to prepare for 2018? Share them with us in the comments!

 

Comfort Food for Cooler Weather: Gourmet Grilled Cheese

After a long day at school or work, there’s nothing better than some good comfort food. Help you and your family settle into the cooler weather with this all-time cheesy favorite. The artisan bread lends a depth of flavor to a classic sandwich and will have both kids and adults begging for more. Even better – you’ll be saving money by dining in.

Ingredients:

1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces white mushrooms, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 slices caraway rye bread
8 deli slices Havarti or Gouda cheese
2-4 tablespoons butter

Preparation:
1. Heat a large skillet over a medium-high flame. Add olive oil and heat.
2. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until translucent and soft.
3. Add mushrooms and continue sautéing until onions have caramelized and mushrooms have cooked through. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly.
4. To assemble sandwiches, layer the mushroom mixture with the cheese between two slices of bread.
5. Return skillet to stove over a medium flame and melt 1 tablespoon of butter.
6. Place 2 sandwiches in the pan and fry a few minutes on each side, until the bread browns and cheese has melted. Add butter to pan in between sandwiches as needed.

Serve hot and enjoy!

Yields: 4 servings

How Can I Shop Safely On Black Friday?

Q: I love Black Friday but I worry about the risks. With the possibility of being trampled or of my credit card being compromised, there’s so much that can go wrong! How can I protect myself without missing out on the biggest shopping day of the year.

A: Black Friday does pose some serious risks to shoppers, but with the proper safety measures, you can happily join the bargain-hungry crowds on November 24.

Here’s how:

1.) Plan ahead

Planning ahead means you’ll spend less, be out of line faster and decrease your risks. Sites like BlackFriday.com can help you plan your day and find the best deals.

2.) Credit card only

Credit cards are the best way to shop when there are high risks to your safety. You can always dispute a charge; you can never reclaim stolen cash. Also, keep your card as close to you as possible. If using a debit card, cover the payment terminal with your other hand when inputting your PIN. 

3.) Shop with a friend

The mall may be crowded, but a determined criminal can find a way to corner you and empty your wallet or take your bags. Stick with your friends and never enter deserted areas alone.

4.) Keep your cool

Nothing you can purchase on Black Friday is worth your health or safety. Avoid all scuffles with fellow shoppers.

5.) Move your car

If you spend the day at the mall and routinely drop off your bags in your car, it’s best to move your car to a different spot. Thieves may be watching shoppers leave the mall with lots of bags and follow them to their cars. If they see you dropping off your goodies and then heading back to the mall, they’ll consider making off with your things. If you drive off, though, they’ll think you’re leaving and won’t follow you.

6.) Online safety

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are notorious for online scams of every kind. Here’s what to remember when shopping online:

  • Beware of phishing scams

Be alert for suspicious looking emails and links. Delete anything that doesn’t look right.

  • Make sure your connection is secure

Verify security by looking for the padlock icon on the address bar and by using sites with an “S” tacked on to the “http.”

  • Pay securely

Only use trusted payment systems like PayPal or Google Wallet. Shop from sites you trust and make sure they’re legitimate by checking the URL and looking out for sites that end in .org or .net. Never agree to wire money for a purchase.

  • Strengthen your system

Before shopping online, check that your device’s security systems are updated with the most recent protection and security patches. If you’re using Wi-Fi, make sure the network is secure and requires a password to join.

 Now that you’re armed with tips to tackle Black Friday, do you have any other tips for safe shopping this time of year? Share them with us in the comments!

America Recycles Day

Today is America Recycles Day! In an attempt to raise awareness and help you with your recycling efforts, we’ve put together a list of recycling drop off centers across Central Florida. We’ve made it easy for you to find a location that will help bring new life to your recyclable materials.

Citrus County

Citrus County Fairgrounds
US 41, about 1 mile south of the City of Inverness

Citrus County Central Landfill
230 W Gulf to Lake Hwy, Lecanto, FL (SR 44 between Lecanto and Inverness)

Lecanto Government Center
Off Educational Path, at the Lecanto School Complex, about 1 block from CR 491 in Lecanto

For additional information about Citrus County recycling centers visit: http://www.citrusbocc.com/pubworks/swm/recycling/recycling-dropoff-locations.htm

Lake County

Lake County Landfill
13130 County Landfill Road, Tavares

Lady Lake
1200 Jackson St., Lady Lake

Clermont
10435 Log House Road, Clermont

For additional information about Lake County recycling centers visit: https://www.lakecountyfl.gov/departments/public_works/solid_waste/solid_waste_operations/residential_dropoffs.aspx

Marion County

Baseline Landfill
5601 SE 66th St., Ocala

Blichton
13247 N. Highway 27, Ocala

Canal
457 SE 110th St., Ocala

For additional information about Marion County recycling centers visit:
http://www.marioncountyfl.org/departments-agencies/departments-o-z/solid-waste/recycling-centers-location-list

Orange County

Orange County Landfill
5901 Young Pine Road, Orlando

Porter Transfer Station
1326 Good Homes Road, Orlando, FL

McLeod Road Transfer Station
5000 L.B. McLeod Road, Orlando, FL

For additional information about Orange County recycling centers visit:
http://www.orangecountyfl.net/WaterGarbageRecycling/SaveLandfillSpace.aspx#.Wgxxdk2WyUl

Seminole County

Central Transfer Station
1950 State Road 419, Longwood, Florida

Seminole County Landfill
1930 E. Osceola Road
Geneva, FL

For additional information about Seminole County recycling centers visit:
https://www.seminolecountyfl.gov/departments-services/environmental-services/solid-waste-management/recycling/recycling-drop-off-facilities.stml 

Sumter County

Sumter County Solid Waste Dept. Citizen’s Drop‐off Area
819 CR 529 Lake Panasoffkee, FL

If you’d like more information on this location you can visit:
https://sumtercountyfl.gov/222/Solid-Waste

Volusia County

Daytona – Halifax Fire Station 12
1979 Taylor Road, Daytona Beach, FL

Port Orange– Tomoka Landfill
1990 Tomoka Farms Road, Port Orange, FL

Deland – Kepler Road Fire Station 42
1885 Kepler Road, Deland, FL

For additional information about Volusia County recycling centers visit: https://www.volusia.org/services/public-works/solid-waste-and-recycling/recycling/recycling-drop-off-sites.stml