Why Do I Need To Get Preapproved For A Loan?

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

 

Holiday Hacks for Traveling College Students

With the holiday season fast approaching, college students across the country are thinking about their trips home. Whether the traveling takes place during Thanksgiving or Christmas, or both – if that trip means hopping on a plane, you’re looking at some big expenses.

Can a cash-strapped college student pay for airline flights during the most expensive traveling seasons of the year without going broke?

They sure can! Here’s how:

  1. Start saving now

If you’ve got a part-time job, start skimming a bit off each paycheck for holiday travel costs. You can also skip one pricey indulgence each week from now until the holidays. This small sacrifice will help you save up that extra cash for when it’s time to travel. Every little bit adds up!

  1. Use student discounts

Some airlines understand that you’re a broke college student wanting to spend time with family over the holidays. That’s why some, like American Airlines, offer discounts for students of specific colleges. You can also look for other student discounts on sites like studentuniverse.com and STAtravel.com.

  1. Be flexible

Don’t get fixed on flying out of a specific airport, at a certain time or on your chosen day of the week. You can shave dollars off your ticket prices by being flexible. Put things into perspective: What’s an extra fifteen-minute drive when it can save you $75? And, of course, you can always catch up on sleep you lose during a red-eye flight when you get home.

  1. Pack light

Airlines are tightening expenses all around, and these cuts are trickling down to customers in a big way. One area that’s come under attack is luggage. Many airlines are charging for each checked-in piece, while others will ask you to pay just to bring a carry-on on board. Find out what your airline’s policy is before you start packing. If you’re going to need to pay for whatever you stow under the plane or bring aboard with you, pack as lightly as possible. Remember that you’re going home, not headed for the wilderness. Also, most airlines allow you to bring a backpack as your personal bag for the flight, free of charge. You can fit all of your essentials and travel necessities in there, but be careful of liquid restrictions!

  1. Don’t buy anything at the airport

Airport shops, like kiosks at malls, are outrageously overpriced. Window-shop if you’d like to pass the time, but bury your wallet deep in your backpack. It’s also smart to bring empty water bottles and fill them up at the airport so you’re not stuck paying $4.99 for a 16-oz bottle of spring water.

  1. Find a seasonal job at home

If you still find yourself panicking over the money you’ll shell out for holiday travel, see if you can find a part-time job in your hometown. Many retailers are looking for help during this busy season, and if your break puts you in town for a few weeks, you may be able to land a position. The money you earn can help offset your travel costs.

How do you save money on your holiday trips home? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

 

Dining In: Chicken Fingers with Cranberry BBQ Dipping Sauce

There’s no need to cook twice to please the adults and kids in the family. These chicken fingers are kid favorites, but are also sophisticated enough for adults to savor. The cranberry BBQ sauce adds kick to the crunch, and the flavor will bring back a taste of summer as we head into cooler weather. Even better, you can save money by making this fast food favorite at home.

Servings: 3-4

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into long, thin strips
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 egg
  • 1 drop hot sauce
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon parsley flakes
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Pinch coarse black pepper

Cranberry BBQ Sauce

  • ¼ (14-ounce) can whole cranberry sauce
  • 1 ⅓ cups hickory flavored BBQ sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
  • ¾ tablespoon teriyaki sauce

Directions

  1. In a shallow dish, combine flour, salt, black pepper and paprika.
  2. In a second shallow dish, whisk together eggs and hot sauce.
  3. In a third shallow dish, mix panko crumbs, parsley, salt and black pepper.
  4. Dip each piece of chicken first in the flour mixture, then egg mixture and lastly in the panko mixture.
  5. Heat oil in a deep fryer or saucepan to 350 F. Add chicken and fry for 3 ½-4 minutes.
  6. To prepare the dipping sauce: Using a food processor, immersion or  regular blender, blend cranberry sauce until smooth. Once smooth, pour cranberry sauce into a bowl and whisk in BBQ sauce, brown sugar and teriyaki sauce. Serve alongside chicken fingers.

Enjoy!

Tip: This sauce recipe makes a large amount; it freezes well, though.

7 Ways to Save on Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving means giving thanks for all the good in our lives. It also means stuffed turkey and gravy, pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. It’s a time-honored tradition of spending time enjoying a delectable holiday meal while in the company of those we love. It can also mean spending an awful lot of money.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average host cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 guests will spend approximately $50 on the dinner alone. Of course, if you’re expecting more than 10 guests or you tend to overspend when hosting, your costs can easily top that amount. Between the turkey, ingredients for that luscious holiday meal and décor to set the ambiance, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is not cheap.

Looking for ways to cut back without compromising on the quality and festivity of your meal? Look no further! You know that here at Insight we love to keep your wallet plump. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of seven easy ways for you to save on your Thanksgiving costs this year.

1. Verify your guests’ attendance

Before you start writing up a spectacular menu or a detailed shopping list, check to make sure you have an accurate head count of the guests and family members who will be joining you for Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t want to end up with a fridge full of leftovers. Verify that all who are invited are indeed planning on showing, and only then begin planning your menu.

2. Find out what your guests like

While you’re doing your invites, ask for your guests’ individual tastes. You don’t want to forget that Great Aunt Martha is on a strict gluten-free food plan or that your cousin’s spouse is a vegetarian. Aside from specialized diets, ask about particular foods your guests like to eat and those they won’t touch. If something on your menu isn’t very popular with your guests, skip it – even if you think it’s an essential Thanksgiving food. This way, you won’t exhaust yourself over a pumpkin soup that nobody will touch or end your holiday meal with trays full of leftovers and lots of hungry guests.

3. Make it a potluck

Slash your spending and your stress in one step by answering an enthusiastic “yes!” to every guest who asks if they can bring something. Don’t just say anything’s fine, though, or you might have seven desserts. Instead, create a Google Sheet with your planned menu and let your guests add what they’d like to contribute to the meal. This way, they’ll know exactly what you need, you’ll know what they’re bringing and best of all, you won’t be doing all the cooking yourself.

 4. Serve on smaller plates

Most people will load up their plates to capacity, regardless of the plate’s size. Curb the wasting at your table by using smaller dinnerware. Let your guests load up all the way without leaving half-full plates. They can always refill if they still want to eat more later.

5. DIY décor

You can set a beautiful holiday tablescape without blowing your budget; all it takes is a little imagination. Shop the local dollar store for discounted décor that still packs a punch, like colored vases, silk flower arrangements, and other centerpieces. Look for easy, inexpensive DIY ideas online. Finally, get creative by using things from around the house or yard as your décor. For instance, you can create a whimsical candleholder by gluing cinnamon sticks around a candle or design an autumn-themed centerpiece with leaves and pine cones which can be found at your local craft store. You can take a look at our blog on frugal fall decorating for more inspiration.

6. Shop the sales

Grocery stores and shopping centers tend to run specials on turkeys and other Thanksgiving staples starting as early as Halloween. Plan your menu several weeks in advance so you can take advantage of these sales. Keep it flexible until you see the circulars and then base your dishes on the ingredients and produce that’s cheapest. Also, be sure to shop around for your turkey! Supermarkets tend to have the best deals on the birds, with some even running free turkey deals when you spend a specific amount on other groceries.

7. Cook from scratch

Most everything is less expensive – and tastes better – when it’s homemade. Think gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie. Start your cooking well enough in advance so you don’t find yourself relying on too many convenience foods and paying the price both in cash and taste. Your wallet and your guests will thank you!

When you gather around the table with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can be thankful for all the good in your life without feeling guilty over how much you spent on the meal. All it takes is a little planning!

What are some of your best Thanksgiving dinner hacks? Share them with us in the comments!