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Monthly Archives: May 2018
Ready to “List It?” Here’s what you need to know before selling your home
Late spring or early summer is arguably the best time to list your home, according to Zillow. School’s out so families are ready to relocate, the warm sun is shining, your lush landscaping is in full bloom, and the longer days invite the opportunity for more showing time. The winner of peak home sales is June, so you’ll be perfectly positioned for the mad rush of eager buyers.
Timing, however, is not the only thing you need to factor into a successful sale. If you’re getting ready to put your home on the market, there are some other important things to consider:
Choose a listing agent
While many sellers would love to avoid paying a real estate commission and list their home on their own, it can be risky. Unless you have considerable experience and understand real estate law, listing your home “For Sale by Owner” could cost you significant time and money. Do your research and find a few licensed real estate agents who are experienced and well versed in your specific market. Interview each one and choose the agent who you feel has the most comprehensive marketing plan, can attract the most qualified buyers, is an effective negotiator, and who can be upfront an honest with you.
Gather important docs
Buyers like to see that a house is well maintained and that repairs and upgrades are done timely and by licensed contractors. A real estate agent should also be aware of any details that can be included in marketing your property. Gather warranties, instruction manuals, and receipts for repairs. Know the age of your home’s appliances, roof, furnace, air conditioning and hot water heater. Include the dates of any home improvement projects such as a bathroom or kitchen remodel, new carpeting or hardwood floor installation, room additions, and window replacements.
Order a pre-listing inspection report
When you’re selling your home, there’s nothing more disappointing than securing a contract and being surprised during the inspection process. Buyers have an easy out if anything of significance or too many items are found to be in need of repair. Hire a licensed inspector to perform a pre-listing inspection, and you’ll know about and have the opportunity to make repairs in advance. This will also alleviate much of the anxiety that accompanies the due diligence period.
Prepare your home for potential buyers
You want potential buyers to oooh and ahhh over your home, not comment on the mess and the clutter. Clear countertops, tables, windowsills, and all other visible areas. Also, don’t forget to straighten closets, cabinets, and drawers since buyers are always curious. You might even consider removing some furniture to make the space feel bigger. Rent a temporary storage unit, donate it, or sell it. You’ll have to decide what to do with it sooner or later, so why not now?
Depersonalize your living areas, too. Potential buyers want to envision themselves living in your home and not be distracted by family photos, keepsakes, or finger paintings. Try to create a blank canvas so they can project their own ideas and visions of a home.
Consider repainting for a fresh, crisp, and neutral look, touch up scuff marks, and make sure your home is clean–especially the kitchen and bathrooms. It’s also a good idea to ask your most honest, unbiased friend to perform the critical odor test. While not necessarily offensive, any distinctive smell in your home can be a deal breaker.
Staging can be a valuable service when selling your home. Professional stagers are design and space experts who evaluate your current furniture and accessory placement and recommend adjustments. They can rearrange what you already own or suggest that you rent or purchase some new items. In the end, they’ll help you take your decorating style to a new level while consciously making choices that are appealing to potential buyers.
Don’t ignore your curb appeal
You only have one chance to make a first impression. Your home’s curb appeal is critical to getting potential buyers in the door. Make them want to see more by mowing the lawn, mulching the gardens, pruning trees, and planting flowers. Consider painting the exterior of your home if it’s been more than five years and pressure wash your sidewalk and driveway. Be sure your mailbox is in good repair and add a plant or two to your front porch. Buyers do judge a book by its cover.
While a professional real estate agent can offer more specific suggestions for your home, these tips will help you get started. The preparation process may not be quick and easy, but in the end, it’ll have more eager, interested, and serious buyers knocking on your door.
Class of 2018: 8 Ways to Prep for Financial Adulthood
Whether you’re graduating from high school or college, a diploma and a job represent the beginning of your personal — and financial — adult life. It’s an exciting, sometimes overwhelming time.
When you have the inevitable “I have no idea what I’m doing” freakout, remember these tips:
Set clear financial priorities
You probably can’t save, invest and pay off debt all at once, so prioritize in this order:
- Save $500 for emergencies, because there will be emergencies
- If your employer offers a 401(k), contribute at least enough to get any “employer match” — it’s free money
- Pay down high-interest debt, like credit cards
Learn a simple budgeting strategy
Identify your after-tax income on your pay stub, then use the 50/30/20 rule as a budgeting guideline:
- Use 50% for necessities like rent, groceries, transportation, utilities and minimum loan payments
- Put 20% toward savings and debt repayment
- Spend 30% on nice-to-haves like restaurants, travel and entertainment
If 50% isn’t enough to cover living expenses, dip into your nice-to-haves bucket.
Learn how credit works and why it matters
Credit is adulthood’s currency. You need good credit to qualify for travel rewards credit cards, get the best rates on loans and insurance and eventually buy a house.
To have a good credit score, you generally must:
- Use credit by taking out loans and opening credit cards. You don’t need to carry a balance on them, though
- Consistently make payments on time
- Use less than about 30% of your available credit. If you have a card with a $3,000 limit, for example, charge no more than $1,000
Check your credit score to see where you stand. If you have bad credit or no credit, consider getting a secured credit card or credit-builder loan to boost it.
Do some money multitasking
In fact, credit-builder loans can help establish credit and save money at the same time.
You can get credit-builder loans through some credit unions, community banks or the online lender Self Lender. Borrow a small amount — say, $1,000 — and repay in installments over a year or two. The lender holds the cash until the loan is repaid. Then you’ll get the money, minus some interest.
Assuming you make full, on-time payments, you’ll get some positive credit history under your belt — and have cash on hand for that emergency fund or retirement account.
Leverage your youth to build wealth
Speaking of retirement, saving for it is one of the best uses of your cash now. Compound interest over decades is like magic: A small amount invested today will be worth more than a larger sum you invest 10 years from now.
For example, every $1,000 you invest at age 22 becomes nearly $20,000 at age 72, assuming a 6% rate of return, according to NerdWallet’s compound interest calculator. If you put off starting by a decade, you’d have to save almost double to have the same amount by age 72.
Start saving for retirement
We didn’t use age 72 by accident — that’s the age at which the class of 2018 can expect to retire, assuming they contribute 6% of their incomes to a 401(k) and have a 50% employer match, according to a 2018 NerdWallet analysis.
If your employer offers a 401(k) with a match, sign up and contribute at least enough to get the match. Increase your contributions annually or whenever you get a raise.
If you don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account, open a Roth IRA through a credit union, brokerage, or robo-advisor and contribute up to $5,500 yearly. The account’s earnings will be tax-free.
Make a plan for your student loans
Student loan payments typically come due six months after you leave school, giving you time to get a job before payments begin. But interest accrues during this grace period — except on federal subsidized loans — so begin making minimum payments sooner if possible.
Once you have very good credit and a job with a steady income, consider refinancing your student loans to save money by lowering your interest rate.
If payments on your federal student loans are overwhelming, review your options carefully. Income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness may offer relief, but both require meticulous attention to detail and annual maintenance to pay off.
Research your job’s market value
Advocating for yourself can be a particularly challenging part of adulthood. As your career progresses, you’ll feel empowered to negotiate your salary if you back your ask with hard numbers.
Research the going rates for similar roles in your field, at your skill level. Then, reference your findings during the negotiation conversation. Even if the employer declines, they’ll likely respect your preparedness and confidence.
Investing 101: What is a CD and are they right for you?
Why do people invest their money? It’s likely because they’re saving for something—a trip, a home, a child’s college education—or simply because they don’t want to work until they’re 108. People earn money by working, but putting your money to work is also an excellent way to build wealth and help you afford the things you want in life.
Investing is the most effective way to grow your money over the long term, but risking what you already have for the prospect of something more in the future can be a scary thought. Couple that with the complexities of the financial markets and it’s easier just to stuff some cash under your mattress.
The truth is, investing doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, there are some conservative options that can help you earn extra cash without pushing you beyond your comfort zone. Both seasoned and novice investors can benefit from the safer, simple choices, like a CD, for instance.
What is a CD and how does it work?
A certificate of deposit (CD) is a promissory note that’s issued by a bank or credit union. It comes with a future maturity date and a fixed interest rate. When you invest in a CD, you, as the investor, agree to loan your money to the issuing institution for a specific period of time and a predetermined rate of return.
When you purchase a CD, you give up access to your funds until the maturity date. For forfeiting your liquidity, you earn compensation in the form of interest. Once the CD matures, the bank refunds your initial investment, which is called the principle, plus your earned interest.
CDs are issued for different terms. Long-term CDs typically offer a higher rate of return compared to short-term CDs. Why? Because your restricted access to the funds is for a longer timeframe and the longer you’re required to hold your investment, the higher level of risk and uncertainty you assume.
How risky are CDs?
On the spectrum of risk and return, CDs are considered conservative investments. Federally-insured bank CDs are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC), and Credit Union issued CDs are guaranteed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Even if the issuing institution collapses, your investments are protected.
The risk that you assume with CDs is interest rate risk. When you invest in a CD, you agree to a specified rate of return. As the financial markets fluctuate in response to economic and political factors, you want your CD’s rate of return to remain competitive. If CD rates rise, your current investments could be locked into a lower rate for an extended period of time. While you don’t run the risk of losing your investment and your earned interest, but you could miss out on the opportunity to earn more money than with your current CD.
One way to reduce that level of risk is called laddering. You can stagger maturity dates among several CDs so that matured deposits can be reinvested at potentially higher rates and you’re able to gain periodic access to cash, if necessary.
Explore your options
As with any investment, be sure to familiarize yourself with the fine print. A common concern with CDs is penalties for early withdrawal. If you experience a hardship and have to cash in your CD, it could significantly affect your earned interest or even your principle. Today, there are specialty CDs like penalty-free CDs, Bump Up or Raise Your Rate CDs, IRA and Jumbo CDs. If you’re considering an investment, be sure to speak with your financial advisor to determine which options will meet your individual needs, both in the short and long term.
Smart ways to save money on Amazon
If you’re buying something online, chances are you’re headed to Amazon.com. Selection, convenience, service, and price are what keep consumers coming back day in and day out and bookmarking the site as one of their favorites.
Don’t be fooled, though. While Amazon’s prices are typically among the lowest, that’s no reason to stop shopping around. But, if price comparisons bring you back to old faithful, there may still be room for savings.
Here are some smart tips for getting the best deals on Amazon.
1. Subscribe and Save
If you’re purchasing items on a regular basis, like laundry detergent, baby food, dog treats, or paper products, be sure to “subscribe and save.” Choose your schedule and quantity, and you’ll receive automatic deliveries of your favorite items when you’re running low. The Subscribe and save feature offers discounts on thousands of items, free shipping, and lets you save up to up to 15% on your entire order. If you’re a Prime Member, you could save up to 20%!
2. Check out Today’s Deals
Electronics, toys, books, snacks, jewelry, fashion, and more–Amazon offers new deals every day. Shop Lightening Deals, Deal of the Day, and Limited-Time Deals when you visit Amazon, or let the deals come to you and opt for a Daily Deals email.
3. “Clip” Amazon coupons
Bet you didn’t know you could use coupons at Amazon.com, did you? From vitamins to motor oil, goldfish crackers to flip-flops, Amazon offers online coupons that further discount your purchases. Simply click the coupon button and choose the offers that apply. Add your coupon-eligible product to your cart and the discount will be automatically applied at checkout. Want a list of available coupons each week? Subscribe and receive Amazon’s weekly coupon email.
4. Send in the trackers
Price tracker apps like Honey will scan pricing from all other Amazon marketplace sellers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. It’ll also give you the price history for the last 30, 60, or 120 days and send you an email alert if the price drops. At checkout, it’ll automatically apply the best promo and coupon codes. Don’t shop on Amazon without it.
5. Double dip with Ebates
If you don’t have an Ebates account, you’re missing out on some serious cash back opportunities. Use the portal to shop on Amazon.com and you can earn an additional 3-5% in rewards, depending on the item.
6. Determine your Prime needs
Amazon Prime offers members free two-day shipping, unlimited photo storage, music and video streaming, access to special discounts and a whole lot more. Sign up for and take full advantage of the 30-day trial before you buy the $99 annual membership to get that extra month of benefits. Then, be sure to add your family members to your account through Amazon Household so they can share in the savings, too!
If you’re a college student with a school email address than ends in .edu, Amazon offers a free six-month trial membership. Once the trial period expires, it’ll upgrade to an Amazon Prime Student membership that only costs $49 a year.
If you’re not into long commitments, you can opt for the Monthly Prime memberships. It’s only $12.99 for a traditional membership and $6.49 for a student membership.
Amazon’s minimum amount required to qualify for free shipping is only $25. Consider the amount and frequency of your Amazon purchases to determine whether or not any Prime membership is a smart investment for you.
7. Slow down for credits
As you check out and place your order, you’ll be prompted to choose a shipping option. Prime members who forgo the free two-day shipping will receive promotional credits that can be applied to future purchases. Be sure to note the expected delivery dates for each option. Sometimes there’s only one additional day you’ll have to wait, which is well worth the savings, in some cases.
8. Get rid of your old stuff
Amazon’s trade-in program will take your old tablets, DVDs, CDs, phones, video games, speakers, and books in exchange for Amazon gift cards. Clean out some clutter, make a few bucks, and buy anything you want on Amazon.
9. Return it for free
With any Amazon purchase, be sure to look for the free returns feature on the item’s product page. Amazon won’t refund your original shipping fee, but a free return option may be the deciding factor between two products or two sellers. It will also allow you to buy with confidence knowing that you won’t have to keep something you don’t absolutely love.
10. Consider the value of nearly new
Check out Amazon Warehouse, a collection of open-box items, including tablets, laptops, TVs, appliances, tools, home goods, clothing and more. The items are typically returns that may have been used, refurbished, or repackaged, but the condition is always clearly noted before you buy. Whether it’s in excellent, good, or fair condition, you still won’t be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, but if it’s that important, you can purchase one from Square Trade.
Refund Mania! Here are six smarter ways to spend your tax refund
The April 17th tax deadline has come and gone, which leads us to the much happier half of the season – TAX REFUNDS! If you were an early-bird filer, you probably already have your tax refund in hand, while the procrastinators will have to wait a little while longer. Either way, you’ll need to come up with a solid plan for that chunk of change.
The average 2017 tax refund in Georgia is expected to be $2,793, slightly lower than the national average of $2,895. Regardless, that’s a hefty sum, especially when you receive it in one big fat check. You may think of it as new-found money, but you need to remember that you worked hard in 2017 and your refund is not just some random windfall. Will you spend it, save it, or invest it?
What’s the plan?
Consider your current financial situation and your priorities. What decisions can you make now that might positively impact your financial future? Here are six smart moves to think about.
1. Transfer it. One of the best recommendations we can offer is to immediately move your refund from your checking account to your savings account. This seemingly insignificant move could be the smartest step in the entire process. Why? Because it’s easy to spend $20 here and $50 there, and when it’s all whittled away, you’ll have nothing of real value to show for it. What to do next is up to you.
2. Catch up on your savings. B-O-R-I-N-G, we know, but excitement isn’t always the goal. Do you have an emergency fund that needs a little boost? Have you fallen a little behind on your child’s college fund? Need to replenish your personal savings? Paying bills and saving for the future is essentially a requirement when you’re adulting. Plus, having some cash stashed away for an unexpected expense would give you some financial peace of mind, and that’s incredibly valuable in today’s economy.
3. Invest in your future. With the help of a financial advisor, find an investment that will help you earn more money in the long-term. Consider an IRA, a 529 plan, or even a traditional brokerage account. Whichever option you choose, be sure to discuss your risk tolerance, time horizon, and ultimate goals before making a decision.
4. Pay off your high-interest debt. Revolving debt is one of the heaviest financial burdens you can carry. As interest compounds monthly and you rack up new charges, your existing balance climbs fast. Now is the time to knock down some debt and regain control over your finances.
5. Spend it on your home. After all, it is one of the biggest investments you’ll make in your lifetime. Shouldn’t you take care of it? Consider some maintenance or improvements that will increase your home’s value, or double up on your mortgage payments so you can pay it off sooner and reduce your accumulating interest.
6. Have a little fun. You need to make a smart decision and use your refund wisely, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself, too. Go out to dinner, take in a Braves game, opt for some wireless earbuds or a trendy new pair of kicks. Just make sure it’s not too extra.
Beware of Wire Fraud
Protecting our members from fraud is always a top priority at Georgia’s Own. One of the areas in which financial institutions are seeing an escalation of fraud relates to wire transfers. Unsuspecting members are deceived into transferring or receiving funds electronically to/from fraudsters. Wire fraud is an intentional act to defraud another individual or entity of his/its money and this is a federal crime.
Fraudsters use a variety of tools including phishing emails, compromised websites/emails, and fake friend requests on social media sites to commit these crimes.
Examples of Wire Fraud:
- Wire request sent to an individual’s name for a real estate closing, instead of an Attorney’s office.
- An email is sent from “a family member who is in jail”, or a person “getting a divorce and they don’t want the rest of the family to know, and they need help”, so the money has to be sent to the lawyer representing them.
- An email is sent from “a member who is travelling overseas and needs some money wired to them because they got robbed in a foreign country and they have no cash.”
- A social media friend sent an email that they received an inheritance and they want to transfer the funds to the United States. The recipient is then asked if the money could temporarily be deposited to the recipient’s account and an offer is made to pay a percentage of the money to the recipient, once the money is transferred to a safer bank. The victim would provide their account number for the transfer to be completed.
Always verify where the money is supposed to be wired to — especially if you get wire instructions by email. Hackers can alter emails (even from people you’ve been working with for several weeks) and instruct you to send money to the wrong place. Be vigilant; always call the recipient to verbally verify the wire instructions. Anyone can be a victim of this type of fraud and should take every precaution to protect themselves.
When you receive funds into your account it’s important to verify you actually received a “real wire deposit” into your account. Fraudsters like to take advantage of their victims when they sense the victim is somewhat confused by promising to send a wire transfer but actually sending the funds using a different (reversible) method. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who sent the funds?
- What were the funds for?
- Where did the funds come from?
Preventing Wire Fraud:
Here are some general rules you should follow to guard against becoming a victim of fraudulent wire requests.
- Confirm email requests from a known party by phone or in person, in case their email has been hacked.
- Be wary of email-only wire transfer requests and requests involving urgency.
- Never wire money to people whom you don’t know – regardless of how convincing or legitimate their wire request looks and sounds.
- Ignore any offer from someone you don’t know who asks you to deposit a check in your account and then instructs you to wire that money to someone else.
- Never open attachments in unsolicited email.
- Frequently update anti-virus and anti-malware programs.
- Closely monitor your bank accounts on a daily basis.
What should a Georgia’s Own member do if they become a victim of a wire fraud? Please contact [email protected]. We also recommend that members contact local law enforcement, as well as the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3) at www.ic3.gov.
With fraud scams becoming more sophisticated and more prevalent, Georgia’s Own is not only ensuring our policies and procedures are thorough and practiced, but we also want to educate our members on what they can do to avoid being victims of fraud. That’s why we remain committed at Georgia’s Own to protecting our members from being victims of fraud. We also want to raise awareness as to what our members should do to stop these fraudsters. After all, prevention is the best protection when it comes to fraudulent activity.