Spring Cleaning for Your Finances
Spring is finally here! That means it's time to open up the windows, sweep out the garage, and do some spring cleaning. As you create your cleaning list of what needs dusting off and organizing, don't forget your finances. Not only does it help with budgeting, tidying up your finances can also help reduce stress during tax season! Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Dispose of Old Paperwork
Shred ATM receipts and bank deposit receipts once the transaction appears on your bank statement. Utility statements don't need to be kept after you've paid them. Shred credit card statements once the balance has been paid off, as well. This helps protect you against identity theft as well as clutter. If possible, switch to e-statements to reduce the amount of paper lying around. Save pdf files or copies of the e-statements until they have been paid, then archive or delete them.
Organize your Credit Cards
Cut up and cancel cards that you haven't used in six months or more, especially if they carry an annual fee or have a higher interest rate than your other cards. You'll have more space in your wallet and fewer bills to worry about. Using less plastic may also help to improve your credit score. If you're trying to eliminate debt as well, try to stick with just one or two credit cards or a debit card.
Update your Beneficiaries
Look back at insurance and retirement account policies to make sure the beneficiaries are current. If your marital status recently changed or you experienced the loss of a spouse or child it is especially important to update your beneficiary information. Make sure the money will go where you want it to go if it gets distributed today, not where you wanted it to go when you first signed the policy.
Speak to your local banker if you have questions about your money or want more tools and ideas for organizing your finances. Many financial institutions offer budgeting and tax tip tools to help you de-clutter.
First Time Home Buyer Event: April 16th
At 6pm on Thursday, April 16th, we will be hosting a free First Time Home Buyer Event inside our lobby at 1516 Losey Blvd. South, La Crosse, WI.
Whether you're thinking about purchasing your first home, or you're looking to purchase a new home and it's been awhile since your first purchase, our home buyer event will give you the tools you need to navigate the home buying process. We will be sharing helpful insight and education on topics like:
- Preparing to buy a home
- Understanding the mortgage loan process
- Loan options available including Conventional, FHA, VA, and WHEDA loans
- Realtor advice from guest speaker Jillian Hugo at Coldwell Banker River Valley
As a bonus, all attendees of this free event will get a special offer to take $100 off their closing costs! Plus, one lucky attendee will win an additional $500 off their closing costs! Seating is limited, so please call one of our friendly mortgage lenders today to reserve your spot. Complimentary refreshments will be provided.
Security Q-Tip: 7 Tips to Frustrate a Fraudster During Tax Season
With April 15 (tax deadline day) just around the corner, consumers are often vulnerable to fraud as W-2s and tax returns containing their personal information circulate over the internet and through the mail. According to a Javelin Strategy and Research study, 12.7 million Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2014. Though down from 2013, it remains the Federal Trade Commission's number-one consumer complaint.
Identity thieves look for every opportunity to steal your information, especially during tax season. Consumers should be on high alert and take every step they can to protect their personal and financial information. To do that, here are a few tips:
1. Don't Share your Secrets
Don't provide your Social Security number or bank account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Neither your bank nor the IRS will contact you requesting this information.
2. Beware of Phising Emails
Phishing attacks occur when criminals use 'spoofed' emails and fake websites of trusted organizations to coerce consumers into sharing personal information. During tax season, fraudsters often pose as the IRS. Don't be fooled. The IRS will never initiate taxpayer contact via unsolicited email to request personal or financial data.
3. Shred Sensitive Papers
Shred receipts, banks statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away. For papers you must keep, like tax documents, keep them in a secure place.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Missing Mail
Fraudsters look for monthly credit card statements, W-2s, tax refunds or other mail containing your financial information. If you don't receive your W-2s, and your employer indicates they've been mailed, or it looks like it has been previously opened upon delivery, contact the IRS immediately.
5. Protect your Computer
Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up to date, particularly if you plan to file your taxes online. When conducting business online, make sure your browser's padlock or key icon is active. Also look for an "s" after the "http" to be sure the website is secure.
6. Use Online Banking to Protect Yourself
Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank that monitor your account balance, when online account statements are made available, or when ACH debits and credits clear your account.
7. Report any Suspected Fraud to your Bank Immediately
Additionally, if the IRS denies your tax return because one has previously been filed under your name, alert the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
7 Ways You're Ruining Your Credit Score
You know your credit score is important, but are you clued in on what you might inadvertently be doing to sabotage it? This three digit number acts like a grade for your financial life and is calculated based on the information in your credit reports, like your history of paying credit card bills and taking out loans.
Lenders use it to determine your eligibility for mortgages, car loans, and credit cards, plus how high of an interest rate you'll pay. Your reports can even be pulled by prospective landlords or employers as they evaluate you for an apartment or job.
A FICO score, which is used by the vast majority of lenders, ranges from 300 to 850. Anything above 780 is considered very good, and anything below 600 is considered fair to bad. Here are some of the top credit score killers:
1. Paying Bills Late
Your history of making payments is one of the most important factors that goes into your credit score, whether it's for a credit card, student loan, or mortgage. It's the first thing a lender wants to know. By slipping up and failing to pay your bills on time, your score gets dinged. With that said, don't assume that just as long as you make payments on time every month you have perfect credit, says John Ulzheimer, credit expert and president of consumer education at CreditSesame.com.
2. Not Paying Bills at All
It's devastating for your credit score when you start missing payments entirely (say, you lost your job and can't afford your mortgage) and they get sent to collections. A collection listed on your credit report will typically remain there for seven years, regardless of whether you pay it off later or not. If you get to the point where you're forced into foreclosure or bankruptcy, that's particularly catastrophic and can easily knock 100 points off your score.
3. Maxing out your Credit Card
If you have a $10,000 limit on your credit card, that doesn't mean you should charge that much every month. In fact, experts say your credit card balance should never exceed 30% of your credit limit, and ideally it should stay below 10%. That means no more than $3,000 should ever be put on a card with a $10,000 credit limit.
It doesn't matter if you never exceed the limit and you're religious about paying your bill in full every month. The fact remains: Amassing big balances on your credit card, relative to your allowance, is harmful to your score.
4. Thinking you Don't Have to Pay if an Item is in Dispute
You're expected to pay your credit card bill every month, even if you're challenging an item on your statement. Were you charged for a catering job you thought was subpar or hotel parking you thought was free? By all means, fight for a refund with the merchant and call up your credit card company to tell them you're disputing the charge. But then pay your credit card bill. Just because you're disputing one item doesn't mean you're suddenly off the hook for paying the rest of your bill on time. A late payment is a late payment as far as your credit score is concerned.
When you co-sign a loan for a relative or friend, you open yourself up to blow-back from any bad activity that happens down the road. The loan will show up on your credit reports, almost as if it's yours, and any missteps like late or missed payments will negatively impact your credit score. While it could make for an awkward conversation at the dinner table, you have to consider the worst case scenario before signing on the dotted line.
6. Taking on Too Much Credit at Once
You shouldn't be opening a lot of accounts in rapid succession, especially if you're younger and don't have a long credit history. It's a red flag that something is going on because it indicates to a lender that you might be in financial trouble and grasping for credit. Plus, every time you apply for a new credit card or loan, a lender makes something called a "hard inquiry" to check you out. This can ding your credit score, although it won't be by much or for too long. Inquiries aren't factored into your credit score after 12 months have passed.
7. Shunning Credit
While it may seem counter intuitive, steering clear of credit and debt isn't the responsible thing to do either. When it comes time to buy a house or a car, and you don't have enough cash on hand to do so, the bank you approach for a loan will assess your risk. Do you have a squeaky clean past or skeletons in the closet? If you're a credit hermit, you'll have little to show either way.
About 15% of your credit score is based on the age of your accounts, and older ones help demonstrate your responsibility over a long period of time. Closing a credit card or other account will decrease your total credit limit. This may give the appearance that you're spending more, at least relative to your allowance, and inadvertently result in a lower score.
Game On! The Ultimate Game Night
We are excited to have a team participating in Riverfront's fundraiser, Game On! The Ultimate Game Night, on April 10, 2015. This fun evening of team competition will benefit Riverfront's Innovation Fund, which allows Riverfront the flexibility to move quickly to create new projects, programs, and initiatives, or purchase adaptive equipment for adults with disabilities served by Riverfront. This fund also provides them with the opportunity to enhance or expand services to adults with disabilities while fulfilling their mission of providing a continuum of innovative support for individuals with disabilities so they may live meaningful lives.
The event will be held in the La Crosse Center Ballroom at 7pm, and doors will open at 6pm. Our team will face off with other teams from our area in five rounds of fun party games. We'd love to have you there to cheer us on as we compete for a chance to win up to $1,500 for the special education program at Central High School!
If you'd like to contribute to this wonderful cause, there are two ways you can help:
- You may purchase tickets online for $30 by clicking here. You may also purchase tickets right at the door, but seating is limited. In addition to all of the fun action, there will be live music, raffle prizes, snacks, and a cash bar.
- Make a monetary donation online by clicking here. Any amount helps and is truly appreciated!
All proceeds support Riverfront's Innovation Fund. We hope to see you there!
Business Corner: 9 Tips for Growing a Successful Business
To succeed in business today, you need to be flexible and have good planning and organizational skills. Many people start a business thinking that they'll turn on their computers or open their doors and start making money, only to find that making money in a business is much more difficult than they thought. You can avoid this in your business ventures by taking your time and planning out all the necessary steps you need to reach to achieve success. Here are 9 tips to grow a successful business:
1. Get Organized
To be successful in business you need to be organized. Organization will help you complete tasks and stay on top of things to be done. A good way to do this is to create a to-do list each day. As you complete each item, check it off your list. This will ensure that you're not forgetting anything and you're completing all the tasks that are essential to the survival of your business.
2. Keep Detailed Records
All successful businesses keep detailed records. By keeping detailed records, you'll know where the business stands financially and what potential challenges you could be facing. Just knowing this gives you time to create strategies to overcome the obstacles that can prevent you from being successful and growing your business.
3. Analyze Your Competition
Competition breeds the best results. To be successful, you can't be afraid to study and learn from your competitors. After all, they may be doing something right that you can implement in your business to make more money.
4. Understand the Risks and Rewards
The key to being successful is taking calculated risk to help your business grow. A good question to ask is "What's the downside?" If you can answer this question, then you know what the worst-case scenario is. This knowledge will allow you to take the kinds of calculated risks that can generate tremendous rewards for your business.
5. Be Creative
Always be looking for ways to improve your business and to make it stand out from the competition. Recognize that you don't know everything and be open to new ideas and new approaches to your business.
6. Stay Focused
The old saying that "Rome was not built in a day" applies here. Just because you open a business doesn't mean that you're going to immediately start making money. It takes time to let people know who you are, so stay focused on achieving your short-term goals and give the rest time to come together on its own.
7. Prepare to Make Sacrifices
The lead-up to starting a business is hard work, but after you open your doors, your work has just begun. In many cases, you have to put in more time than you would if you were working for someone else. In turn, you have to make sacrifices, such as spending less time with family and friends in order to be successful.
8. Provide Great Service
There are many successful businesses that forget that providing great customer service is important. If you provide better service for your customers, they'll be more inclined to come to you the next time they need something instead of going to your competition.
9. Be Consistent
Consistency is a key component to making money in business. You have to consistently keep doing the things necessary to be successful day in and day out. This will create long-term positive habits that will help you make money over the long term.
Starting and running a successful business can be rewarding and challenging. Success requires focus, discipline, and perseverance. However, success will not come over night. It requires a long-term focus and to remain consistent in challenging environments.
Coulee Investment Center: Understanding Defined Benefit Plans
A defined benefit (DB) pension plan can offer its participants a lifetime of retirement income security. Regardless of market movements or other economic events, each participant receives a fixed dollar amount periodically for the rest of his or her life. A DB sponsor meets this obligation each year the participant works by setting aside sufficient assets to fund the present value of the future benefits.
If you are eligible to participate in a defined benefit (DB) plan through your workplace, you have been given an increasingly rare opportunity to help provide for your retirement. A DB plan represents an employer's promise to pay a specified, predetermined amount of money to a retired employee periodically for the remainder of his or her life.
The DB plan was once the primary workplace retirement vehicle for millions of Americans. Unlike a defined contribution (DC) plan -- which allows employees to make contributions to their accounts and direct their own investments -- a DB plan is largely, if not completely, funded by your employer. Your employer maintains all of the investment risk as well. Because the contributions are company directed, the employer is responsible for making sure there is enough money in the plan to pay out your benefit, even if the plan's investments underperform.
In order to receive your benefit upon retirement, most employers typically require that employees work at the company for at least a minimum number of years. This feature is called "vesting." Vesting schedules generally range from three to seven years. Pay close attention to your employer's vesting schedule -- if you leave the company before your vesting period, you could walk away with no benefit. You'll find the vesting schedule and other key information about the plan in a document called the Summary Plan Description (SPD). Be sure to read this carefully.
Another key feature to be aware of is "accrual," or the growth of your benefit amount over time. The amount you are entitled to receive will generally increase the longer you stay with your employer. You will also likely receive a bigger benefit if you wait until your full retirement age (usually age 65) instead of opting for an early retirement (at age 55, for example).
Hybrid Plans: A DB-DC Combination
Some employers offer a type of retirement benefit called a "hybrid" plan. Hybrid plans are defined benefit plans that have many of the same characteristics as defined contribution plans. One of the more popular types of hybrid plans is called a cash balance plan. Like traditional DB plans, cash balance plans are designed to pay employees a specified amount at retirement. But like a DC plan, the funds set aside for each employee are held in an individual account, rather than in a general account for all employees.
One benefit of this setup is that a cash balance plan allows you to easily track your accrued benefit. With traditional DB plans, you are reliant on your employer to provide this information -- usually on an annual basis. Cash balance plans are also portable. If you leave your company, you can generally receive a lump-sum distribution of your vested account balance, which you can move to another qualified retirement vehicle, such as an individual retirement account (IRA) or to your new employer's retirement plan.
Benefits Calculation and Payment
The retirement benefits you accrue under a defined benefit plan are based on a formula that takes into consideration many factors, including life expectancy, current and future earnings, and years of service with the company. Some defined benefit pension plan formulas may reduce pension benefits by a percentage of the amount of Social Security benefits you can expect to receive.
Depending on your employer, you may be given several options on how you want benefits to be paid when you retire (benefits from traditional DB plans cannot be taken earlier than age 55). Some common payment options include:
- Single life annuity: This option allows the retiree to receive a fixed monthly benefit that stops once the retiree dies. A surviving spouse or other beneficiaries are not entitled to further benefits.
- Qualified joint and survivor annuity: Under this option, the retiree receives a fixed monthly benefit as with the single life annuity. However, upon death, the retiree's surviving spouse will continue to receive benefits, either in full or at a reduced percentage until his or her death.
- Lump-sum payment: Under this option, the retiree receives a lump sum in full upon retirement. In this option it is up to the retiree to find a suitable income-generating investment to supply fixed payments.
The payment options for your plan are another key feature you'll find in your plan's SPD. It is important to consider all of your options carefully, and compare the benefit payment amounts under each option. You should also inform your employer if you experience any significant life events, such as marriage or divorce, as they could impact your benefit and related options.
Points to Remember:
- A defined benefit pension is an employer's promise to pay a retired employee a predetermined sum on a periodic basis for the rest of his or her life. The value of the pension is determined by a formula that takes into account the employee's total length of service and earnings.
- Hybrid plans like cash balance plans blend the fixed payments of a defined benefit plan with the individualized account and portability of a defined contribution plan.
- Benefits are paid upon retirement. Common payment options include single life annuity (a benefit for the retiree only, with no surviving spouse payments); qualified joint and survivor annuity (which pays a benefit to the retiree and continues to pay at least a portion of the benefit to the retiree's spouse upon the retiree's death); and a lump-sum payment (a single payment with no continuing benefit).
Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by S&P Capital IQ Financial Communications or its sources, neither S&P Capital IQ Financial Communications nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall S&P Capital IQ Financial Communications be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.
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Securities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA/SIPC. Insurance products offered through LPL Financial or its licensed affiliates. Coulee Bank and Coulee Investment Center are not registered broker/dealers and are not affiliated with LPL Financial.
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