Category Archives: Holiday

How to Avoid Holiday Spending Headaches

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As early Black Friday deals kick off the holiday shopping season sooner than ever, it’s important for you to develop a holiday spending plan to avoid financial headaches in the future, says the American Bankers Association.  The ABA is highlighting seven tips to help consumers minimize their holiday spending debt.

Below are seven spending habits Americans should consider to help relieve the financial stress of the holidays:

  • Plan ahead. Before you start shopping, develop a realistic budget for holiday expenses. Figure out your bottom-line number and set aside holiday cash in increments throughout the year. If you need to use your credit card, think about what you can afford to pay back in January.
  • Keep track of other costs. Don’t forget costs beyond gifts, like postage, gift wrap, decorations, greeting cards, food, travel and charitable contributions. Keep in mind the end of the year is a time when large annual or semi-annual costs like car insurance, life insurance and property taxes arise.
  • Make a list and check it twice. Keep your gift list limited to family and close friends, noting how much you want to spend on each. If you’re donating to charities, factor in the total amount you plan to donate and how much each charity will receive.
  • Shop early and space out purchases. Avoid shopping while rushed or under pressure, which can lead to overspending. Make sure to comparison shop online first, or download an app that lets you compare prices before you buy anything in a store.  Before you head to the cashier (or online checkout), make sure your purchase is within the budget you set.
  • Avoid impulsive spending decisions. Finding a spectacular sale on something you’ve been wanting can easily throw you off course.  Stay strong and stick to your budget.  Don’t be blinded by limited-time incentives geared toward getting you to spend more.
  • Use credit wisely. Limit the use of credit for holiday spending.  If you must use credit, use only one card—preferably the one with the lowest interest rate—and leave the rest at home.  Pick a date when you can pay off your holiday credit card bills, and commit to paying off the balance by that time.  Be sure to check statements for unauthorized charges and report them immediately.
  • Save your receipts and get acknowledgements for charitable donations. Not only will you need receipts for possible returns, you’ll need them to keep track of what you’ve spent and to compare with your credit card statement.  Knowing how much you spent will help you plan for next year, too.  Keeping receipts or acknowledgement letters for charitable donations is a must if you want to receive tax deductions in the spring.

Information provided by the American Bankers Association

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Understanding Interest Rates and Your Financial Situation

interest.jpg Untitled-logo trustWhen discussing bank accounts, investments, loans, and mortgages, it is important to understand the concept of interest rates. Interest is the price you pay for the temporary use of someone else’s funds; an interest rate is the percentage of a borrowed amount that is attributable to interest. Whether you are a lender, a borrower, or both, carefully consider how interest rates may affect your financial decisions.

The Purpose of Interest

Although borrowing money can help you accomplish a variety of financial goals, the cost of borrowing is interest. When you take out a loan, you receive a lump sum of money up front and are obligated to pay it back over time, generally with interest. Due to the interest charges, you end up owing more than you actually borrowed. The trade-off, however, is that you receive the funds you need to achieve your goal, such as buying a house, obtaining a college education, or starting a business. Given the extra cost of interest, which can add up significantly over time, be sure that any debt you assume is affordable and worth the expense over the long-term.

To a lender, interest represents compensation for the service and risk of lending money. In addition to giving up the opportunity to spend the money right away, a lender assumes certain risks. One obvious risk is that the borrower will not pay back the loan in a timely manner, if ever. Inflation creates another risk. Typically, prices tend to rise over time; therefore, goods and services will likely cost more by the time a lender is paid back. In effect, the future spending power of the money borrowed is reduced by inflation because more dollars are needed to purchase the same amount of goods and services. Interest paid on a loan helps to cushion the effects of inflation for the lender.

Supply and Demand

Interest rates often fluctuate, according to the supply and demand of credit, which is the money available to be loaned and borrowed. In general, one person’s financial habits, such as carrying a loan or saving money in fixed-interest accounts, will not affect the amount of credit available to borrowers enough to change interest rates. However, an overall trend in consumer banking, investing, and debt can have an effect on interest rates. Businesses, governments, and foreign entities also impact the supply and demand of credit according to their lending and borrowing patterns. An increase in the supply of credit, often associated with a decrease in demand for credit, tends to lower interest rates. Conversely, a decrease in supply of credit, often coupled with an increase in demand for it, tends to raise interest rates.

The Role of the Fed

As a part of the U.S. government’s monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Board (the Fed) manipulates interest rates in an effort to control money and credit conditions in the economy. Consequently, lenders and borrowers can look to the Fed for an indication of how interest rates may change in the future.

In order to influence the economy, the Fed buys or sells previously issued government securities, which affects the Federal funds rate. This is the interest rate that institutions charge each other for very short-term loans, as well as the interest rate banks use for commercial lending. For example, when the Fed sells securities, money from banks is used for these transactions; this lowers the amount available for lending, which raises interest rates. By contrast, when the Fed buys government securities, banks are left with more money than is needed for lending; this increase in the supply of credit, in turn, lowers interest rates.

Lower interest rates tend to make it easier for individuals to borrow. Since less money is spent on interest, more funds may be available to spend on other goods and services. Higher interest rates are often an incentive for individuals to save and invest, in order to take advantage of the greater amount of interest to be earned. As a lender or borrower, it is important to understand how changing interest rates may affect your saving or borrowing habits. This knowledge can help with your decision-making as you pursue your financial objectives.

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The Business Side of the 4th of July

Untitled-logo trustFireworks & Hot Dogs

As most middle-school age kids know, in the summer of 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies considered a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. And on July 2nd of the same year, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence. Then on July 4, 1776, the delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, arguably the nation’s most historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

From 1776 until the present day, July 4th – also known as Independence Day – has been celebrated as the birth of our country’s independence, with typical festivities ranging from casual family barbecues to local town parades to concerts and fireworks sponsored by large US cities and televised worldwide.

As I was munching on a hotdog and listening to my neighbors launch fireworks into the night sky, it got me thinking about the business of fireworks and hotdogs. We have all seen the big fireworks stores scattered throughout the county and open year round, but I am always amazed at how many fireworks tents pop up in local towns starting about June 1st.

So, it got me thinking. Just how big is this industry? How many fireworks shows are put on across the country? And how expensive is it to do? And I’m curious, what about all those hot dogs?

Well, I was stunned to discover just how much we spend on blowing things up in the sky. Here’s what I found according to the American Pyrotechnics Association:

  • The earliest documentation of fireworks dates back to 7th century China and today, China produces almost 90% of the world’s fireworks
  • There are an estimated 14,000 July 4th fireworks celebrations across our country
  • Many small town shows cost between $2,000 and $10,000 for a short show
  • The larger cities – which often incorporate music, sophisticated computer coordination and much bigger shells – cost about $3-$10,000 a minute. And the average show lasts approximately 17 minutes.
  • Last year, we spent over $1 billion on fireworks – with approximately $750 million spent by consumers and the balance coming from what are known as displays – towns, cities, corporations putting on public fireworks displays.
  • That $1 billion bought almost 300 million pounds of fireworks last year, which is basically a pound of fireworks for every person in the US.
  • Those 300 million pounds of fireworks are the equivalent of 200,000 lightning bolts!
  • Walt Disney World buys the largest number of fireworks in the US per year due to their nightly fireworks shows over the Magic Kingdom.
  • The largest show in the country – the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks – is held with New York City as its backdrop and its organizers launch an average of 1,600 shells per minute, which is more than three times the average of an entire local community show. It is viewed by more than 3 million spectators and has a TV audience of more than 8 million. They will launch more than 50,000 shells from six barges over the Hudson River in a span of 25 minutes.
  • The July Fourth Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular – one of my personal favorites – will attract over half a million spectators and another 8 million people tune in to watch on TV.
  • The National Park Service in Washington, DC, puts on an annual Fourth of July fireworks show at the National Mall. The show boasts the most large shells of any show in the country and lights up the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial at an estimated cost of $4 million.

Hot Dogs

Overall, we will spend almost $7 billion on Fourth of July food. And, if you didn’t know, the month of July also happens to be National Hot Dog Month. Curious how many hot dogs we eat?

Well, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council – that’s a real organization – says that in the US, we eat 20 billion hot dogs each year and over 150 million are eaten on July 4th.

You realize that there are approximately 320 million people in the US, right? That means, on average you and I each eat more than 62 hot dogs a year…

Tying it All Together

So how does this relate to financial planning? Well I’m not sure it really does. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy your 4th of July and have learned a little bit about the business of fireworks and hotdogs. Happy 4th.

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4 TIPS TO GET FINANCIALLY FIT

The New Year is an ideal time to set new goals, as many vow to become more physically fit or get organized.  The New Year is also a great time to assess your finances, gain control and stick to a new budget or saving plan. Taking control of your personal finances will allow you to save and prepare for unexpected expenses.

Get financially fit this January.  Follow the tips below to get started.

Get Organized Consider treating yourself to a post-holiday gift of a financial organization system.  Alphabetized file folders, or filing systems specifically for financial organization are available in January as people begin to prepare for tax season.  Take advantage and start the New Year with an organizational system.  While you’re getting organized, consider buying a shredder to keep your personal information safe from identity theft.

Create a Budget Track your income and expenses to see how much money you have coming in and how much you spend.  If you have debt, establishing a budget will help you to pay down your debt while saving. Use computer software programs or basic budgeting worksheets to help create your budget.  Include as much information as you can and review your budget regularly.  Print several copies of this budgeting worksheet to help you get started.

  • Identify how you spend your money.
  • Set realistic goals, especially if you plan to cut some of your expenses.
  • Track your spending and review your budget often.
  • Points to consider when cutting debt:

Lower Your Debt Debt from student loans, mortgages and credit cards is nearly unavoidable.  Most families carry about $10,000 in credit card debt.  Spending more money than you bring in can lead to financial stress.  Establish a budget to pay down debts while you save.

  • Pay more than the minimum due and pay on time.
  • Pay off debt with higher interest rates first.
  • Transfer high rate debt to credit cards with a lower interest rate.
  • Use credit cards and loans for purchases that will appreciate in value like a home.

Save for the Unexpected and Beyond Pay yourself first.  Saving is important; it ensures a comfortable future that can endure financial surprises.  No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to begin saving.

  • Save at least 10 percent of your income for retirement.  Enroll in a retirement plan or consider optimizing an established retirement plan.  Contribute at least the maximum amount that your employer will match.  Contributions made to these types of plans are tax deductible.  If your employer does not offer a retirement savings plan, many banks offer Individual Retirement Accounts.  IRAs offer tax-deferred growth, meaning you pay taxes on your investment gains when you make withdrawals.
  • Financial advisors often recommend keeping about three months’ salary in a savings account in case of financial emergencies like hospital bills or loss of job.
  • Increase your contribution as your income increases.
  • If you receive direct deposit at work, ask your employer to send a specific amount to your savings account.  Because the money is put into an account before you have a chance to spend it, automatic savings plans are an easy and convenient way to save.  If your employer doesn’t offer direct deposit, many banks allow for automatic transfers from checking to savings accounts.

Resource information provided by the American Bankers Association

Holiday Giving: How to Become a Savvy Charitable Giver

It’s hard to believe there are only 8 days left until Christmas! For many people, it is important to take time during the holiday season to give to those who are in need.  Donating to your favorite cause can be fulfilling, but it’s important to ensure that your gift reaches the intended source. Follow these tips to become a savvy charitable giver this holiday season:

  • Give To an Established Charity
    Unfortunately, there are fraudulent charities that will take advantage of your goodwill.  To avoid this situation, ask for written information about the charity, including name, address and telephone number. A legitimate charity will give you information about their mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax deductible. Find a charity with a proven track record for providing aid.
  • Designate Your Gift
    Some charities allow you to specify exactly where your gift is headed, either to a specific orphanage, to purchase school supplies or to a geographic area in need of relief.  By designating or earmarking your gift, you control where your donation goes and whom it helps.
  • A Proactive Giver is a Smart Giver
    Wise givers don’t give on an impulse or to the first organization that comes along.  Smart givers take time to identify the causes important to them.  Contact a charitable organization, find out their mission and what type of aid and programs they offer.  Work with charities that have targeted outcomes for their giving.
  • Benefits to You
    A donor’s primary motivation may be altruism, but everyone knows there are great tax benefits for those who give. A donation to a qualified organization may entitle you to a charitable contribution deduction.  Remember a contribution to a qualified charity is deductible only in the year in which it is paid, and all charities do not qualify for a charitable contribution deduction.  Always ask for a receipt and save them for tax time.
  • Consider Giving Your Time
    Four out of five charities report using volunteers.  Volunteers are the foundation of many charitable organizations. If you can’t afford to donate money, consider donating your time.  Common volunteer duties include: stuffing envelopes, feeding animals, tutoring, building homes, serving as a museum docent, counseling those in crisis, selling tickets or answering phone calls.

Visit these other sites to find out more on charitable giving:

Resource information provided by the American Bankers Association

3 Fall Activities That Won’t Break The Bank

With the first day of fall officially behind us, it’s time to start taking advantage of all the things offered during this season. As the leaves begin to change, take some time to get outside and appreciate the cooler temperatures and scenery. We’ve listed a few fall favorites that won’t put a dent in your bank account.

  • Take an extended bike ride. Autumn is the perfect season to enjoy the cooler weather with a bike ride. Get the whole family together and take in some of fall’s beautiful landscapes through your local park. Bring along a picnic and enjoy the sights and sounds. Leave the car at home and bike to your favorite farmer’s market. To get some ideas on where to go, check out this article on family friendly bike paths in Louisville.
  • Visit a pumpkin patch. A fall tradition, visiting your local pumpkin patch is a must do for you and your family. Spend one day picking out pumpkins to decorate your home or carve later in the season. Make sure to pick a few extra pumpkins to try out these great recipes for fall.
  • Get crafty. Even if you don’t consider yourself the “crafty” type, take some time this season to take part in some easy and inexpensive crafts. It’s a great activity to do as a family, and you can create a number of things such as decorations for your home and homemade Halloween costumes. This article includes great crafts to get you ready for fall.

Holiday Planning: Make a List and Check it Twice

As the holidays quickly approach, the American Bankers Association is encouraging consumers to plan ahead to avoid excessive debt in the New Year.

“Develop a plan in advance of the holidays, and be sure to check it twice,” said Frank Keating, ABA’s former president and CEO. “Assessing your finances and spreading out your holiday spending are terrific ways to avoid starting the New Year with debt you’ll regret.”

Below are seven holiday spending tips from ABA to help consumers have a financially happy New Year:

  • Plan ahead. Before you start shopping, develop a realistic budget. Consider your income, subtract your normal monthly expenses and then add any savings to whatever cash is left over. If you need to use your credit card, think about what you can afford to pay back in January.
  • Keep track of other costs. Don’t forget costs beyond gifts, like postage, gift wrap, decorations, greeting cards, food, travel and charitable contributions.
  • Make a list and check it twice. Keep your gift list limited to family and close friends, noting how much you want to spend on each.
  • Shop early, spend carefully. Avoid shopping while rushed or under pressure, which can lead to overspending. Make sure to comparison shop online first, or download an app that lets you compare prices before you buy anything in a store. Before you head to the cashier (or online checkout), make sure your purchase is within the budget you set.
  • Avoid traps. Finding a spectacular sale on something you’ve been wanting can easily throw you off course. Stay strong and stick to your budget. And don’t apply for store credit cards you don’t need just to get a one-time discount.
  • Use credit wisely. Limit the use of credit for holiday spending. If you must use credit, use only one card, preferably the one with the lowest interest rate, and leave the rest at home.  Pick a date when you can pay off your holiday credit card bills, and commit to paying off the balance by that time. Be sure to check statements for unauthorized charges and report them immediately.
  • Save your receipts. Not only will you need them for possible returns, you’ll need them to keep track of what you’ve spent and to compare with your credit card statement. Knowing how much you spent will help you plan for next year, too.

Keating noted that banks are committed to helping consumers responsibly handle credit and save for the future.

“Banks offer a wide menu of options to help you save for the holidays and other expenses,” said Keating. “Ask your banker about a customizable savings plan, such as a Christmas account that enables you to set aside money throughout the year for your holiday spending.”

For more information on managing your money – as well as a variety of other personal finance tips and resources – visit aba.com/consumers.

Resource Information: American Banker’s Association