Personal Banking E-Newsletter - November 2013
Controlling Your Personal Debt
Learn how to control your personal debt and accomplish your financial goals, by making your personal debt work for you.
1. Americans are loaded with credit-card debt.
The average American household with at least one credit card has nearly $15,950 in credit-card debt (in 2012), according to CreditCards.com, and the average interest rate runs in the mid-to-high teens at any given time.
2. Some debt is good.
Borrowing for a home or college usually makes good sense. Just make sure you don't borrow more than you can afford to pay back, and shop around for the best rates.
3. Some debt is bad.
Don't use a credit card to pay for things you consume quickly, such as meals and vacations, if you can't afford to pay off your monthly bill in full in a month or two. There's no faster way to fall into debt. Instead, put aside some cash each month for these items so you can pay the bill in full. If there's something you really want, but it's expensive, save for it over a period of weeks or months before charging it. This way, you can pay the balance when it's due and avoid interest charges.
4. Get a handle on your spending.
Most people spend thousands of dollars without much thought to what they're buying. Write down everything you spend for a month, cut back on things you don't need, and start saving the money left over or use it to reduce your debt more quickly.
5. Pay off your highest-rate debts first.
The key to getting out of debt efficiently is first to pay down the balances of loans or credit cards that charge the most interest while paying at least the minimum due on all your other debt. Once the high-interest debt is paid down, tackle the next highest, and so on.
6. Don't fall into the minimum trap.
If you just pay the minimum due on credit-card bills, you'll barely cover the interest you owe, to shave nothing off the principal. It will take you years to pay off your balance, and you’ll potentially end up spending thousands of dollars more than the original amount you charged.
7. Watch where you borrow.
It may be convenient to borrow against your home or your 401(k) to pay off debt, but it can be dangerous. You could lose your home or fall short of your investing goals at retirement.
8. Expect the unexpected.
Build a cash cushion worth three months to six months of living expenses in case of an emergency. If you don't have an emergency fund, a broken furnace or damaged car can seriously upset your finances.
9. Don't be so quick to pay down your mortgage.
Don't pour all your cash into paying off a mortgage if you have other debt. Mortgages tend to have lower interest rates than other debt, and you may deduct the interest you pay on the first $1 million of a mortgage loan. (If your mortgage has a high rate and you want to lower your monthly payments, consider refinancing.)
10. Get help as soon as you need it.
If you have more debt than you can manage, get help before your debt breaks your back. There are reputable debt counseling agencies that may be able to consolidate your debt and assist you in better managing your finances. But there are also a lot of disreputable agencies out there.
Global Initiatives Week
A diverse group of businesses and organizations in the greater La Crosse region will present the first-ever Global Initiatives Week, November 8th - 15th. Global Initiatives Week is a community-wide effort aimed at highlighting the Coulee Region’s global connectedness, allowing our region to create stronger global awareness while also inspiring others to get involved in global issues.
During this week, businesses in the greater La Crosse region, including Gundersen Health System, Coulee Bank, and Kwik Trip, in addition to area educational systems, have committed to enriching our communities with culturally diverse events.
As part of this initiative, Coulee Bank will highlight the Hmong Culture by exhibiting the following in the lobby on Losey Blvd. the week of the 8th through the 15th:
- Hmong education brochures
- Pictures and a “story cloth”
- Hmong musical instruments
- Traditional Hmong clothing
In addition, the La Crosse Hmong Dance Team will perform in the lobby at 4:30PM on November 15th.
There is also a full week long calendar of events being held at the participating businesses and organizations posted at: www.explorelacrosse.com/global.
Independent Community Bankers of America Provide Consumer Tips on Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity crimes are increasing, and consumers need to be aware of how to prevent attacks.
October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, and the Independent Community Bankers of America® (ICBA) wants consumers to know valuable tips and advice on how to be safe online. ICBA and the nation’s community banks encourage members of the public to stay informed and become educated on how to prevent their financial information from being stolen and misused.
“Cybercriminals are on the prowl looking for unsuspecting victims online to hijack sensitive financial information,” said Bill Loving, ICBA chairman and president and CEO of Pendleton Community Bank, Franklin, W.Va. “The community banking industry as a whole needs to be aware of the increased risk of cybercrimes. It’s vital that we stay alert to protect our customers and financial institutions from these criminals.”
ICBA provides consumers valuable tips when it comes to taking proactive cybersecurity measures:
- Be sure to use unique passwords for all financial online accounts. Never share your password, account number, PIN or answers to security questions.
- Do not save credit or debit card, banking account or routing numbers, or other financial information, on your computer, phone or tablet.
- Be careful about using a password on mobile devices. Be sure to set your devices to automatically lock after a selected period of time to ensure no one can access your smartphone, tablet or laptop.
- Do not provide your secure financial information over the phone or Internet if you are unsure of who is asking for it. Contact your bank directly by using the phone number on the back of your debit or credit card, or stop in your bank to speak with someone in person. Remember, your bank will never contact or text you asking for personal or banking information. Assume any unsolicited text request is fraudulent.
- Be aware of the location of your mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) at all times. Only log on financial websites when you have a secure, safe and trusted Internet connection.
“Contact your community bank immediately if you think your online identity has been compromised,” Loving said. “The sooner you alert proper authorities about suspicious activity, the sooner it can be resolved.”
For additional information about Cyber Security Awareness Month, visit Stay Safe Online’s website at http://staysafeonline.org/ncsam/. For information about community banks, visit www.icba.org.
Winter Preparation Checklist
Conduct a thorough inspection before the season’s first cold snap as part of your winter preparation.
Give your home a once-over and tend to winter preparation tasks and repairs before the year’s first frost. “Getting the exterior of the home ready for the cold winds, snow, and ice is critical for keeping Old Man Winter out and keeping it warm and toasty inside,” says Reggie Marston, president of Residential Equity Management Home Inspections in Springfield, VA. By being proactive, you’ll lower your energy bills, increase the efficiency and lifespan of your home’s components, and make your property safer.
Windows and Doors
- Check all the weatherstripping around windows and doorframes for leaks to prevent heat loss. Replace weatherstripping, if necessary.
- Replace all screen doors with storm doors.
- Replace all window screens with storm windows.
- Examine wooden window frames for signs of rot or decay. Repair or replace framing to maintain structural integrity.
- Check for drafts around windows and doors. Caulk inside and out, where necessary, to keep heat from escaping.
- Inspect windows for cracks, broken glass, or gaps. Repair or replace, if needed.
Lawn, Garden, and Deck
- Trim overgrown branches back from the house and electrical wires to prevent iced-over or wind-swept branches from causing property damage or a power problem.
- Aerate the lawn, reseed, and apply a winterizing fertilizer to promote deep-root growth come spring.
- Ensure rain or snow drains away from the house to avoid foundation problems. The dirt grade — around the exterior of your home — should slope away from the house. Add extra dirt to low areas, as necessary.
- Clean and dry patio furniture. Cover with a heavy tarp or store inside a shed or garage to protect it from the elements.
- Clean soil from planters. Bring pots made of clay or other fragile materials indoors. Because terra cotta pots can swell and crack, lay them on their sides in a wood carton.
- Dig up flower bulbs, brush off soil, and label. Store bulbs in a bag or box with peat moss in a cool, dry place for spring replanting.
- Remove any attached hoses and store them away for the winter to prevent cracks, preserve their shapes, and prolong their life. Wrap outside faucets with covers to prevent water damage.
- Shut off exterior faucets. Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads to protect against pipe bursts.
- Inspect decks for splintering, decay, or insect damage and treat, if needed, to prevent further deterioration over the winter.
- Clean leaves, dirt, and pine needles between the boards of wooden decks to thwart mold and mildew growth.
- Inspect outdoor lighting around the property. Good illumination will help minimize the chance of accidents on icy walkways at night.
- Check handrails on exterior stairs to make sure they’re well secured.
Tools and Machinery
- Bring all seasonal tools inside and spray them with a coating of lightweight oil to prevent rust.
- Weatherize your lawn mower by cleaning off mud, leaves, grass, and debris.
- Move your snow blower and shovels to the front of the garage or shed for easy access.
- Prepare the snow blower for the first snowfall by changing the oil and replacing the spark plug.
- Sharpen ice chopper and inspect snow shovels to make sure they’re ready for another season of work.
- Make sure you have an ample supply of ice melt or sand on hand for steps, walkways, and the driveway.
Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning
- Inspect the firebox and flue system to ensure that they’re clean of any soot or creosote and that there aren’t any cracks or voids that could cause a fire hazard.
- Check fireplace for drafts. If it’s cold despite the damper being closed, the damper itself may be warped, worn, or rusted. Consider installing a Chimney Balloon into the flue to air seal the area tightly.
- Clean or replace the air filter in your furnace for maximum efficiency and improved indoor air quality.
- Clean your whole house humidifier and replace the evaporator pad.
- Bleed valves on any hot-water radiators to increase heating efficiency by releasing air that may be trapped inside.
- Check that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
- Remove air conditioners from windows or cover them with insulated liners, to prevent drafts.
- If you have an older thermostat, replace it with a programmable unit to save on heating costs.
- Install foam-insulating sheets behind outlets and switch plates on exterior walls to reduce outside airflow.
- Make sure fans are switched to the reverse or clockwise position, which will blow warm air down to the floor for enhanced energy efficiency and comfort.
- Flush a hot water heater tank to remove sediment, and check the pressure relief valve to make sure it’s in proper working order.
- Examine exposed ducts in the attic, basement, and crawl spaces, and use a sealant to plug up any leaks.
Gutters, Roof, and Drains
- Check for missing, damaged or warped shingles and replace, as necessary before you get stuck with a leak.
- Check for deteriorated flashing at the chimney, walls, and skylights and around vent pipes. Seal joints where water could penetrate, using roofing cement and a caulking gun.
- Check the gutters and downspouts for proper fastening, and re-secure if loose or sagging. The weight of snow and ice can pull gutters off the house.
- Clean gutters of any debris. Make sure downspouts extend away from the house by at least 5 feet to prevent flooding of the foundation and water damage from snowmelt.
- Clean leaves and debris from courtyard and pool storm drains to prevent blockages.
- Ensure all vents and openings are covered to prevent insects, birds, and rodents from getting inside to nest in a warm place.
Done? Congratulations! You’re officially ready for winter.
Thanksgiving Travel Tips
Simplify Your Thanksgiving Travel Plans
The Thanksgiving holiday is undoubtedly the busiest travel time of the year with notorious transportation delays, traffic and travel snags meeting travelers at every turn. But with a bit of foresight and some planning, you may ease some travel headaches whether you're heading home for the holidays or escaping for a drama-free adventure. Regardless of your plans, you'll be thankful for these travel tips.
It's never too early to start your holiday travel planning. In the early Fall, you can take advantage of lower rates and seats aplenty. To jump on a bargain, sign up for sale notifications from your preferred airlines or Amtrak, and follow your favorites on Twitter and Facebook where special sale notifications may pop up before they are available to the general public.
As more airlines start charging for checked bags, it's a good idea to pack light and carry on your bag. But keep in mind that your fellow travelers will all have the same idea and overhead space may be tight onboard. To lighten your traveling load, consider shipping some of your belongings to your final destination ahead of time, especially presents and bulky items like diapers or extra clothes that you won't need for the journey.
Choose the Best Days
The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year, closely followed by the Sunday after the big day when travelers tear themselves away from the leftovers and football to make the journey home. Avoid these days by flying out on Monday or Tuesday, or even Thanksgiving morning to avoid the dreaded Wednesday travel rush. When you're ready to head home, take flight on Friday when the masses have moved on from the airports to the shopping centers to score the best holiday deals. The crowds pick up again on Saturday, reaching a critical peak on Sunday, before leveling out on Monday.
It's commonsense to arrive at the airport early -- you'll need the time for parking, security and to wait your turn for that necessary cup of coffee. But you can avoid some airport hassles by taking advantage of useful applications that can be used on your smart phone. iPhone users can get the skinny on the airport, including maps showing the gates and restaurant information, using the GateGuru app. Airlines including Southwest, Delta and American Airlines all have mobile websites where passengers can check in, confirm seats and keep track of their flight status.
While you certainly save money and avoid some headaches traveling by land, navigating the highways presents its own set of holiday challenges during the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Traffic can choke heavily traveled routes, like the I-95 corridor on the East Coast, adding hours to generally speedy trips. Follow the same best practices for road travel, including avoiding the highways on the Wednesday before turkey day and the following Sunday. Plan your route ahead of time and travel with a GPS system, smart phone or old-school maps to offer alternatives if you need a Plan B. And to avoid unnecessary delays, bring along an E-ZPass or change for the tolls, as well as plenty of snacks, and be sure to fill up on gas before you hit the road.