Budgeting Tips for Winter Gift Purchases

It's a feeling that will sound familiar to many: The holidays are approaching and you don't yet have a plan for what you need to buy -- or worse, you don't have the money. If this sounds like you, don't panic. The season is still salvageable. Here are some planning tips.

Find the money

The average American will spend $805.65 this year on gifts, food, decorations and other holiday items, according to a National Retail Federation survey. But that doesn't mean you need to be the "average" American.

Figure out what you absolutely must spend. That's subjective, of course. Your 2-year-old grandchild might not need a gift, but he or she is going to get one from you.

Now that you have the number, do you have the money on hand? If not, your best options likely involve a personal loan or credit card. Interest rates are often lower at credit unions than at banks, whether for loans or credit cards. First Capital Federal Credit Union, for instance, offers a six-month introductory credit card interest rate of 2.99% and holiday personal loans at 8.99%. Your interest rate will depend a great deal on your credit score.

Keep age and relationship in mind

Now the hard part: taking names and making a list. Write down each person you want to give a gift to, then estimate how much you want to spend on that gift. Add up the numbers, and then, if you need to, start chopping.

Grandchildren and non-adult children are a must, but remember to be age-appropriate. Infants don't understand gifts; give diapers or baby clothes to the parents. Toddlers really only relish ripping open the packages, so it's perhaps a bit easier to scrimp on the contents. Then comes the toy era, the gadgets era and the gift card era.

Adult children can be harder on your pocketbook. They might love a new tablet or smartphone, but what they really might need is new tableware. They're making their own budgets, so they understand practicality.

Parents and grandparents probably don't want you spending your money on them. In many cases, they already have everything they want, or at least need. But they still deeply appreciate a gift. Keep this under $50 or go in together with your siblings on a bigger gift.

Friends understand; a card or phone call can generally suffice. For work colleagues, bring in some sweet treats.

Shop -- and make next year easier

You have the money and you've allotted it. Now the buying. If you've procrastinated, consider NerdWallet's four tips for limited time shopping: organize your plan, including dates and times for shopping, use apps to help you out, shop online as early as possible to avoid delivery snafus, and look for deals even when you're in a hurry.

With more time to plan, your options improve. Many credit unions, including First Capital, and banks have Christmas club-type accounts that allow you to set aside a little each month with no service fees, and actually pay you a bit of interest. Doing this through direct deposit eases the pain. In addition, several major retailers have layaway programs, where you pick the gift, pay a little each month toward the cost and pick up just before the holidays.

Lynn Mucken, NerdWallet

© Copyright 2015 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

7 #CreditUnioning Tips for Young Millennials

Once you start receiving your first paychecks after graduation, knowing how to spend or save your money wisely can be tough. While you may be able to do your #creditunioning with just a few taps on your phone, managing money well is much more complicated.

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1. Budget using apps

Tracking how much you spend weekly and monthly shows you where your money goes and how you can save more. You can use a budgeting app that tracks your cash automatically or one where you enter information manually. Choose an app that lets you spend as little or as much time on budgeting as you want. From there, you can identify your total fixed expenses, such as rent and car payments, and more flexible costs such as shopping and dining out.

2. Set up automatic transfers to savings

When you have a rough idea of how much you can save regularly, create a recurring transfer from your checking account to a savings account. By making savings automatic, you can get used to spending "below your means" and never have to worry about remembering to transfer.

3. Avoid overdrawing your checking account

Before you pay rent or spend any other big chunk of money, take a look at your checking account's available balance. This can prevent you from spending more than you have in your account. If you overdraw, you may be charged a fee.

4. Establish credit

Student loans and credit cards can help you build good credit -- as long as you stay current on monthly payments and don't overuse your cards. Your credit score, which shows how responsible you are with credit, is an important factor that lenders check before approving car loans and mortgages. The better your score, the lower the interest rate you which you may be eligible.

5. Repay debts strategically

If you have debts from multiple credit cards and student loans, pay the minimum on each and then contribute more to your higher-interest debts. By making those a priority, you can reduce how much interest you're paying faster than by treating all debts the same.

6. Start an emergency fund

Being financially prepared in case of health emergencies or unexpected unemployment can save you from going into debt. Have a separate savings account just for this purpose -- don't mix it up with your regular savings. A good rule of thumb is to save enough to pay three to six months' worth of living expenses.

7. Set long-term savings goals

Consider saving for retirement in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan or individual retirement account. When you start saving early, you take advantage of compounded returns to make more money off your contributions overall.

From smart budgeting to setting goals, make good money choices now. Since time is on your side, you can benefit from building credit and saving early to be ready for big financial decisions in the future.

Spencer Tierney, NerdWallet

© Copyright 2015 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Spruce Up Your Finances With a Spring Cleaning

As piles of snow fade to distant memory, it's time again for an annual spring cleanup. While you get your house in order, don't forget your finances. They'd probably benefit from some tidying up as well.

Clear the clutter

Not being able to find important documents is a guaranteed source of heartburn, and part of the problem is that most of us hang on to much more than is necessary. Aim to go paperless wherever possible, and in the meantime, shred and trash these documents today:

  • Tax records over 7 years old
  • Pay stubs reconciled with W-2s
  • Expired service contracts and warranties
  • Insurance policies no longer in effect

Your most important documents -- birth certificates and marriage licenses, Social Security cards, car titles and mortgages -- should be stored in a safe deposit box or fireproof container. Separate the remaining paperwork into active and inactive files. The active file will contain things you refer to regularly, such as income-tax-related papers, account statements from financial institutions, loan documentation and active insurance policies. Keep these in an easily accessible place. Move outdated documents to the inactive file for the recommended time period, and then shred them.

Take control of debt

Get a fresh start this spring by cleaning up debt. When bills from multiple sources become unmanageable, consolidation can reduce your total monthly expense and pave the way to pay off debt faster. Financial institutions such as First Capital Federal Credit Union offer a number of debt consolidation solutions, including home equity financing that combines low interest rates with the possibility of deducting the interest from your taxes. If you're carrying a high-interest mortgage, it may make sense to refinance and take advantage of today's interest rates, which remain near historic lows.

Maximize savings

This would also be a great time to tailor savings accounts for life's milestones and surprises. Savings accounts work well for emergency funds, and a club account can help make a special vacation become reality. Share certificates and Coverdell IRAs provide a way to handle education costs, while traditional and Roth IRAs can help ensure a comfortable retirement. If saving consistently is a challenge, an automatic savings plan that puts a portion of your paycheck into savings makes the process easier.

Finally, check your credit, review beneficiaries, evaluate your insurance coverage, and update your budget.

A thorough spring cleaning of your financial house may seem like a lot to do. But the effort will prove its worth with improved financial health and peace of mind for many seasons to come.

By Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet


5 Tips to Help You Fight Identity Theft

Your identity is at risk of being stolen every day, from potential data breaches at retailers and health-care centers to online hacking, ATM skimming schemes and good old-fashioned thievery.

Here are some tips on protecting yourself and keeping your personal information secure, as well as what to do if you fall victim.

Safeguard your information

You need to memorize and keep all of your personal information private, even from family and friends. This includes your personal identification, account and Social Security numbers, credit card data and logon information, and passwords. Never let a website store your information or card numbers.

Create strong passwords for your accounts; your passwords should combine a mix of letters, numbers and special characters. It's also a good idea to change passwords periodically, and don't use the same passwords for all your accounts.

Monitor your accounts

Check your credit and bank account statements frequently to spot any unfamiliar transactions. You should also take advantage of the free credit history checks you can make each year at each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus.

If you find any suspicious activity or errors on your report, notify the corresponding bureau immediately. Some lenders, like First Capital Federal Credit Union, help customers keep up with fraud schemes and hacker threats.

Cautious card use

Only use your debit or credit card at places you know you can trust. Standalone ATMs can be hot spots for skimming scams, so be wary. Hackers sometimes attach electronic card readers to these machines that record your account information to steal it.

At restaurants and other places where your card goes out of sight, it's best to use cash whenever possible and keep track of receipts.

Pay online safely

When making online payments, look for a website security seal that says "TRUSTe." This indicates that the site is in good standing with the Federal Trade Commission's regulations regarding privacy and security. Secure sites also include "https" in the web address.

Report identity theft

If identity theft happens to you, contact the financial services provider associated with the account. You can opt to have your credit report frozen as well.

Then, call the FTC at 877-438-4338 or file a report online. Fill out a police report as well, to ensure the crime has been documented.

Identity theft can happen to anyone, but you can make yourself less vulnerable by taking this proactive approach to protecting your personal information.

By Anna Helhoski, NerdWallet

February 2015


410 Days at FCFCU!

So there I was, December 16, 2013, fifty-nine years old and it was my first day of work at First Capital Federal Credit Union. After thirty-one years of successful employment at a previous employer, I was struggling through the simplest of things, like just finding my office. We have all been there.

Before long with the help of Andrew, Devan and others, I could find my office on a fairly consistent basis. But I also found something else, something I didn't expect. I found a management team that cared more about their staff and members than their own personal goals.

"How could this be?" I thought. How could any business succeed in a very competitive industry when they don't always put dollars and cents first? Yet there it was every month, always positive budget numbers, always near the top compared to our peers. Then it struck me, it was all of us working together for the members that makes us great! I am truly thankful to be part of this team! I guess they are wrong, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

By Chuck Burkhardt, VP of Information Technology

January 2015


Welcome to our New Blog!

Welcome to First Capital's new blog! We are excited to offer you this opportunity to communicate with us on any topic of your choice. Our first question to you is "DO YOU KASASA?" If you don't, you're missing a great opportunity not offered by other banks and credit unions in Central PA. Check it out! Great rates and deals...Kasasa®

By Dennis Flickinger, President/CEO

August 2014