Friday, February 6, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Your Lease and Hello to Your New Home: Where to Start


Thinking of putting your days of renting behind you? Between credit scores, bank accounts, mortgage rates and existing loans, when is the right time to switch from renting to buying? Take these factors into account before saying goodbye to your lease and rest assured your venture into the land of mortgages will be successful.




Understanding your Credit Score
There’s a magic number in the world of mortgages, and it’s called the credit score. If you’re thinking of purchasing, this number is no longer an invisible variable, it’s now a transparent factor in securing the best rate available to you. A mortgage, or the loan acquired to finance the purchase of a house, is likely one of the largest debts that you’ll ever willingly take on and your credit score is a record of your past debts and spending habits used by your financial institution to help determine whether you are financially stable and reliable enough to pay back your loan in monthly installments, typically within 15 to 30 year agreements.

An excellent credit score of 750 points or above will ensure you receive the lowest mortgage rates on the market, costing you less in interest paid over the course of your mortgage, while a credit score ranging between 640-660 leans towards the lower end of the lending spectrum; anything below these scores and your ability to obtain a mortgage may be in jeopardy.

To improve your chances for securing the lowest mortgage rate possible, take a look at your credit score online to verify that you aren’t being penalized for past settled debts and transgressions. Refrain from opening any new credit cards at least a year before applying for financing, as too many open lines of credit will add up to a lower credit score, and may scare off potential lenders.

Consider the “Don’ts”
A few Don’ts to consider: don’t start closing all of your unused credit cards before applying for financing. Closing unused credit cards or transferring credit debt to a new account will lower your credit score and affect your ability to secure the best mortgage rate available. Tempted to purchase that new car you’ve been coveting? Hold off; adding a new loan to the mix or spending your hard earned savings could stave off your chances for acquiring home financing. Skipping or defaulting on any current loans and credit payments will take your credit score down notches as well. Prepare for obtaining a new mortgage by ensuring on-time payments to your open accounts.

Timing is everything
The right time to purchase a new home is when you can comfortably afford a mortgage payment, and not a moment sooner. A rule of thumb to ensure financial stability; home expenses should never exceed more than 28 percent of your monthly income. Committing to a mortgage with constraints that are too tight on your monthly budgets is a recipe for disaster. Until you can afford a mortgage that easily operates within your budget, you are better off renting.

A desirable loan candidate has at a minimum of 3-5 months worth of mortgage payments set aside in a savings account. Make sure you’re depositing a sizable portion of each monthly paycheck to pad your savings account if you plan on purchasing in the near future.

Consider the down payment and loan fees. Your mortgage will end up costing you more than just your monthly payments; you’ll be responsible for down payments and loan fees upfront. Start saving now, you’ll need anywhere from 3 to 20% of the home’s price for your down payment, and roughly $2,000- $4,000 to settle closing costs.

Pre-approval
There’s such a thing as a ‘pre-approval process’ that amounts to extra time spent garnering mortgage financing before you even set out searching for your perfect home, and shopping for the best loan available to you is an integral part of the financing process. Call around to financial institutions in your area for a free, over the phone estimate of the loan you would likely qualify for. Be prepared to offer information regarding your income, assets, and debts. Pre-qualification can help you better understand the price range you’ll be working within when you do set out to check out your potential palace.

Pre-approval requires an appointment with a lending institution and delves into your credit history and current circumstances to potentially offer you a pre-approved loan in good faith, laying out the likely terms of your mortgage agreement in the event that you decide on a home to purchase and opt for a financing agreement with said financial institution. Going through the pre-approval process with several different lending establishments allows you to compare terms among different financial institutions to garner the lowest possible rate on your mortgage.


Dreaming of becoming a new home owner? St. Cloud Federal Credit Union can get you there. We can offer you a stress-free mortgage experience complete with the one on one attention you’re looking for to assist you in better understanding your options and the home buying process. We aim to provide you with the best loan available to you, to not only meet your needs, but exceed your financing expectations. From pre-approval options to indepth information to assist you in your first home buying experience, our mortgage loan department is ready to accompany you on your home-buying journey. Give us a call or stop in to our St. Cloud loan department today.

* Educational topics are meant to provide you general information. Examples are for illustration purposes only and are not specific to St. Cloud Federal Credit Union products.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tips on Buying a Used Car


Each year, St, Cloud Federal Credit Union lends millions of dollars for many different kinds of loans. Buying a new (or new-to you) vehicle can be stressful, since it is usually a purchase that comes with a lengthy investment. At St. Cloud Federal Credit Union, we want to help make the buying process fun for you! When purchasing a used vehicle, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Set your price range – You should plan on making monthly payments that are no more than 20% of your monthly income. Try using the budget calculator to get a good idea of what you can spend. Make a budget and determine your available price range, and don’t shop outside it.

Research – Once you know what you can spend, make a target list of makes and models you would be interested in. check pricing information and vehicle reviews on sites like Kelly blue book or Edmunds. One of the biggest mistakes a car buyer can have is going directly to a salesperson without doing research beforehand.

Check the Vehicle History Report – After you find a car you might be interested in buying, check the vehicle history report. You can look this up using the car’s VIN number or license plate (though license plates can be changes, so it’s best to use the VIN number).

Contact the seller – Develop a good rapport with the seller, especially if it is a private seller. Make sure to ask plenty of questions about the vehicle; owners are more likely to tell you things they left out of the ad this way. Most importantly, do NOT make an offer until you have seen the vehicle. Pictures and descriptions only go so far.

Go for a test drive – The best way to get a feel for the car is to take it out on your own. It is a good idea to drive the car before making an offer as well. If you are not completely confident, get the car inspected by a mechanic before moving forward. It may cost you a little, but can save you thousands in the long run.

Negotiate –When negotiating with the owner or salesperson, start low- make an offer that is in the ballpark of what you are willing to spend, and go from there. Keep in mind that there are a few different taxes and fees that vary from state to state, especially if you are buying from a dealer. Make sure you are aware of all the different taxes and charges before making an offer.


Our number one goal at the St. Cloud Federal Credit Union Loan Office is to help you have fun purchasing a vehicle! We want to make sure you get the right car by offer you a variety of financing options, to make your monthly payments as low as possible. We also provide GAP (Guaranteed Asset Protection) coverage to protect your investment in your new or used vehicle. If you are considering purchasing a new vehicle, new or used, contact us at (320) 258-2190 or visit the consumer loans section on our website for more information.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Financial Fitness Resolutions


With 2014 at a close, it’s time to set your New Year’s Financial Fitness resolution. Setting a financial goal for 2015 will develop a rewarding habit that will continue for many years to come. Whether you are spending less money on the morning coffee, or setting aside a higher percentage of your paycheck for retirement, it’s time to start thinking about your financials, and we are here to help. The following are four easy tips to start your year off right.


Start envelope budgeting- Envelope budgeting is putting cash aside every month for your spending. You can start by dividing your money into certain categories. These can include taxes, rent, child expenses, groceries, date night and more. Assign each category to an envelope and budget your money to each category. Use the money as needed for each category. This will help you decide whether you need to spend the money, or if you can leave it for another time.

Pay down debt- Write down all your cards, their balance, and what the interest rate is on each. Increase payments on the card with the highest rate. If you aren’t already, try paying off the most expensive debt first, and try paying more than the minimum balance on it. Paying only a small percentage of the balance only prolongs the payoff.

Save more for retirement- Start saving, and keep saving! You will reward yourself in the long run if you continue to put 10 to 15 percent of your paycheck in a retirement fund. Make sure you know your retirement needs. Every individual’s retirement needs are different. Determine your needs ahead of time so you can prepare yourself- and your money- for the long haul.

Meet with a financial advisor- These men and women have the knowledge and expertise to guide you through financial decisions. They offer realistic goals that you can reach with their help. Invest in a good advisor and you can get started towards retirement in the right direction.


The best New Year’s resolution you can make is one to develop your own financial fitness. St. Cloud Federal Credit Union is here to answer all your questions you may have about getting yourself “in shape” for 2015. Give us a call at 320-252-2634 for more information. Have a very happy Holiday season and New Year!

Monday, December 8, 2014

St. Cloud Federal Credit Union Participates in PhilanthroFEED Program



As we embark on the Holiday season, we should all stop and give thanks for the blessings we have in our life. Being a team member of St. Cloud Federal Credit Union is one of those blessings that we have. As we consider how fortunate we are, we remember there are plenty of people in our community who are not as fortunate. Looking for a way to give back and help those around us, we participated in the St. Cloud Area Salvation Army “PhilanthroFEED” program. Never heard of PhilanthroFEED? Then check out St. Cloud Area Salvation Army - PhilanthroFEED website to learn more.

On November 18th, a team of St. Cloud Federal Credit Union employees partnered with St. Cloud Area Salvation Army to sponsor and serve lunch to 80+ people. Along with sponsoring and serving the lunch, we also donated $1,735 on behalf of our members to the Salvation Army. Our experience at the St. Cloud Area Salvation Army was humbling. While the services we provided and donations we raised made us feel proud, it also caused us to reflect on something else. At St. Cloud Federal Credit Union, we strive to help our members remain “Financially Fit”. After serving this lunch, we were reminded that there are people who have to take financial fitness very seriously, because they often live paycheck to paycheck.

That is why we are challenging other St. Cloud area businesses and community members to consider participating in the PhilanthroFEED program. Count your blessings and please remember those less fortunate in our community.






Wednesday, November 26, 2014

5 Ways to Save Money During the Holiday Season



The holiday season can be great for many reasons. It’s a great time to be with friends and family, throw company parties, and attend religious gatherings. While the holiday season can be great it can also be very stressful. Naturally there are a lot of reasons for this, but it seems the one main reason is financial obligations. With so much going on during the holiday season, it is quite easy to lose track of how you are spending your money until it is too late. At St. Cloud Federal Credit Union, we encourage our members to be #FinanciallyFit. So without further ado, here are five ways to save money during the holiday season…


1. Know Your Budget
The biggest piece of advice we can give is to know your limitations. Figure out what is worth purchasing and doing and what is not. We’re not saying that you should limit your holiday activities, but we are encouraging you to be smart with your money. By setting a budget of how much you can afford to spend during the holidays, you will be putting yourself in a position to stay #FinanciallyFit. Your budget should include: gifts being purchased, food costs, travel costs, event costs, and anything else you plan on doing over the holidays. Create this budget, then be prepared to stick to it. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding.


2. Homemade Gifts
Some of the best gifts are not ones that cost a lot, but rather those that come from the heart. Instead of spending your money on gifts for family and friends, invest your time and talent into creating their gifts yourself. To most people, family and friends mean more than anyone, so think of something that they would enjoy. Here are some possible gifts to make:
  • Blankets
  • Hats & scarves
  • Toy chests & jewelry boxes
  • Artwork


3. Do Activities That Don’t Require Money
An outing with friends and family is a great way to spend time with those closest to you. However, not everything you do needs to cost money. There are plenty of things that don’t cost money, such as:
  • Iceskating
  • Sledding/Skiing
  • Caroling
  • Snowshoeing
These are not only examples of creative family gifts that they will remember forever, but also a good way to stay active and get outside during the winter.  


4. Potlucks
The typical holiday feasts are definitely something that most people look forward to. The holiday season is sure to be filled with delicious meals. However, these meals can be quite expensive for one person or family to host. Consider pitching in and having a team effort. A potluck is a great way for everyone to join in on contributing to the feast. Through a potluck, you might be able to enjoy foods you would perhaps normally be hesitant to try.


5. Save your money
Earlier, we covered setting a budget and sticking to it. Have you ever thought about the best way to use the gift cards and financial gifts you receive during the holiday season? It seems as though our natural impulses tell us to instantly spend it, but that is not acting  #FinanciallyFit. Rather, resist your natural urges and save your money. Think about what you would spend money on if you had not been given the money as a gift.  Once you are absolutely sure what you want and CAN afford it, go ahead. You will be in a much better situation to enjoy your purchases.

Hopefully these five tips help you better stay ahead financially and enjoy the holiday season!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spooktacular Halloween Activities

Halloween- a perennial favorite for people of all ages. We’re going to assume you’re busy scheming up costume ideas, picking out your candy selection, and plotting a trick or treat route and (possibly) a party - so we’ve done a little research to help you find some cool, spooky central MN community events this month! Follow the links for all the info you need to make these events part of the fall fun!

MOLITOR’S HAUNTED ACRES
Chances are high you’ve either been to, or heard of this incredibly intricate and terrifying spectacle, presented by Molitor’s Grill and Bar in Sauk Rapids. Now in their 17th year, the folks at Molitors keep upping the scare factor each season. The trek includes a haunted woodsy hayride, followed with foot chases through the House of Horrors, the Quarry Asylum, The Storm Sewer, The Toxic Mineshaft, and finishes with what is arguably the scariest part of all - The Prison. And, since it is Molitor’s, you’re invited to hang out, have a beverage and enjoy a bonfire - whether or not you participate in the haunted jaunt.


HARVEST OF HORROR
This ghoulish attraction takes you a little ways out of town but it’s well-worth the trek. A fairly recent addition to the local Halloween circuit, Harvest of Horror is hayride loaded with shocks and scares. The trek begins with a ride through farmland, called the Field of Screams, before taking a turn into the thickly wooded Timbers of Terror. The event wraps up with Maze of Madness, populated by “creepy lifeforms.” So...yeah. This one isn’t for the faint. Rides are held on Friday and Saturday evenings until the 31st.


STEARNS HISTORY MUSEUM’S HALLOWEEN HISTORIA
Now, while this one has a slightly spooky name, the Stearns History Museum promises a non-scary, fun and educational offering. On October 25, you and the kids are invited to stroll through the museum’s seasonal exhibit, dress up for Trick or Treating, and even join in on a scavenger hunt! The fun runs from noon to 4pm, and admission is $4.


CROSSROADS CENTER TRICK OR TREATING
This is definitely a yearly favorite for folks all over central Minnesota. Get the kids in costume and dodge whatever mother nature throws our way by trick or treating in the comfort of the mall. You’ll know which stores are participating when you see a little pumpkin posted up at their doors. Hours are from 5-7pm...leaving plenty of time to hit your neighborhood for more treats afterward!


TRICK OR TREATING...WITH SCFCU!
You didn’t think we’d skip out on Halloween fun, did you? Come say hello to our team from SCFCU during the Pine Cone Marketplace’s pre-Halloween Trick Or Treat extravaganza. The event will be held on October 25th from 10am-1pm. We’ll be hanging out on the corner; bring your treat bag!

                                 

So, there’s a short list of some great ways to celebrate the season. Do you have any particular plans? Thinking about attending one of these? Leave us a comment and tell us about it!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Financial Fitness Tips For College Students

Hey, everyone, Financial Fitness Phoebe here, hoping this finds you thoroughly enjoying this beautiful summer season.

If you’re a student, chances are you’re beginning to think about the start of that fall semester, and everything that goes along with it. Now, while we’re all acutely aware of the fact that college tuition is expensive, we might not always meditate on just how much money it costs to live the student lifestyle.

The fact is, a staggering number of students leave their alma maters with tens of thousands in debt - and not just because of tuition loans. So, in the spirit of kickstarting some healthy habits pre-fall semester, we’ve come up with a few ways to minimize unnecessary spending - and none of them involve killing the fun of college. 



PAIR UP WITH A FRUGAL ROOMMATE

One of the best ways to stay on top of maintaining good habits is to stick with someone who will hold you accountable. When it comes time to select living arrangements, look for a domestic pal with budget-conscious tendencies. Like any good routine-building, it always helps to have someone to lean on.


HAVE HEALTHY HABITS

Get exercise; studies show that physically fit people are happier and liable to be more driven and focused in everyday life. If you’re a smoker, ditch it. At over $8 a pack here in Minnesota these days, it’s a habit that few can honestly afford to maintain.


BE A HOMEBODY
Now, this is definitely not to say that you shouldn’t hit the town now and then; after all, as a student, you shouldn’t deprive yourself of much-needed time out with friends.Still, preparing meals at home is a killer method of saving money. By making dinner and drinks out the exception, instead of the rule, you’ll see a lot more green in your bank account at the end of every month...and you’ll be able to splurge guilt-free on those treasured occasions.


USE THE LIBRARY

The best free resource for books, movies and music is right at your fingertips - the library. Sure, you might have to wait for a particular title to return to circulation, but you’ll be enjoying the things you like at no cost to you, whenever you like. Just make sure to avoid pesky late fees by delivering them home on time...


JOIN AN INTRAMURAL SPORTS TEAM

Plenty of us well-intentioned folks sign up for memberships at fitness clubs, only to watch our memberships collect dust on our own dimes. Most colleges and universities boast a wide array of intramural sports, completely free (after buying the necessary gear.) Have a favorite sport? Contact the program board at your school and see if there’s a league you can join!


SAVE YOUR MONEY
Ahh, the no-brainer that must be mentioned. When you manage to stick to your budget (by using the tips above and more) you’ll likely end up in the black after your bills are paid. Get that cash into a savings account!

Now, if you do find yourself short on the cash you need for collegiate expenses, remember, we’re here to help! It really is in your best interest to be frugal, but if you do need short-term funds, we can help with a small loan to help you succeed this fall. We’ll be right here with you to make sure you stay on top of your finances and repayment options!