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May 2017 E-Newsletter

Making the most of E-Banking

If you’re reading this article online, you’re probably at least somewhat tech-savvy. But when it comes to digital banking, you might be missing out on a few time-saving tricks. Here’s how the Internet can help make your financial life easier.
 
Online banking: You don’t have to leave home for everyday transactions, because financial institutions offer a slew of online banking tools. For example, you can set up free online bill pay, review your statements and see when checks clear and more. You can also make transfers between accounts at different financial institutions.
 
E-statements: With so much snail mail, it’s easy to miss a statement without realizing a thief could have pocketed the information. You can increase your security — and lighten your carbon footprint — by signing up for electronic statements. You’ll receive an email monthly or quarterly with account balances while still having access to that information anytime online.
 
Mobile banking: Have you ever found yourself dining out with friends and wondering whether there’s enough money in your account to pay for dessert? If you’ve downloaded a mobile app from your financial institution, you can use a smartphone or tablet to check your balance, pay bills and transfer money between accounts while on the go.
 
Getting mobile alerts can also increase your security by putting you in constant contact with your accounts. That’s particularly important now: A NerdWallet study analyzing data on credit fraud indicates that cybercriminals are likely to make online shopping a particular target in the coming months. The sooner that you alert your bank to a suspicious transaction, the more quickly it can limit any damage.
 
Automatic bill payments: Many people dedicate an hour or two at the end of each month to paying electric, gas, water and cable bills. Financial institutions that provide automatic bill payment services let you avoid that time and hassle. Once you identify the bills you want paid and when, the service will take it from there. All you have to do is ensure that there’s enough money in your account to cover the bills and check in to verify that all the bills were paid.
Using all of the digital tools available for banking can make financial tasks more convenient and give you more time for the things you enjoy. It’s worth looking to see how e-banking can help take some stress out of your busy life.
 
© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Coulee Bank's Q-Tip: Celebrity Death Phishing Scams

The bad guys are exploiting the deaths of famous people, such as the suicide last week of former N.E. Patriots player and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez.
 
When these deaths happen suddenly, scammers send phishing emails to lure curious, gullible people to compromised websites, and then they click on malicious links or open attachments leading to malware infections.
 
Celebrity deaths scams such as Prince, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Paul Walker and Robin Williams have been used by bad guys for their own criminal purposes. Don't be a victim of these scams.  Never click on links in emails or text messages promising you photographs, videos or even new information about celebrity deaths.
 
Don't go to unfamiliar websites to find such information because your workstation may get infected with malware or your identity stolen just by browsing the website without clicking on any links.  For more information about these events, only go to reliable, reputable sites where you normally go. Remember, Think Before You Click!"
 
Q-Tips are provided by Coulee Bank's IT Network Risk Manager, Quentin Fisher. He is always on the lookout for ways to keep our customers' information safe, here at the bank, at work and home.
 
Source: https://blog.knowbe4.com/alert-aaron-hernandez-death-phishing-scams

11 Ways to Save Money on Entertainment

Tickets to concerts, plays, movies: you could live without them, but saving money shouldn’t mean sucking the fun out of life.
 
Here’s how to curb your entertainment spending without giving up your favorite pastimes.
 
1. Trim your services
Explore different pricing options for the services you already have. Take steps to lower your internet and cable bills, such as negotiating, downgrading your plans or bundling the two.
 
2. Seek an alternative to cable
If trimming won’t save you enough, cut the cord completely. Based on the average cable bill cost, this could put upward of $100 back in your pocket each month.
 
Axing cable doesn’t mean you’ll be starved for content. If you can survive without watching networks like CNN and AMC live, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video feature movies, TV and original series libraries. If you must have extra channels, consider replacing your traditional cable package with a service like Sling TV, which offers live TV for a fraction of the cost of cable.
Looking to save even more? If you subscribe to multiple streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, drop the one you use less often.
 
3. Share memberships
Split the cost of a paid membership with a friend or relative. For example, Amazon Prime memberships cost $99 per year, but members can share benefits with another adult for no extra charge by creating an Amazon Household. This gives both parties access to free movie and TV streaming, Prime shipping and Kindle books for about $50 each. Or you can cut your Costco membership fee in half by sharing with a spouse or roommate. Members receive a free household card that they can share with another person over 18 years old who lives at the same address.
 
4. Shop wholesale clubs
Wholesale clubs, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, have an abundance of affordable entertainment. They sell discounted movie and theme park tickets, restaurant gift cards and more in bulk, which is helpful, especially if you’re shopping for multiple people. You’ll also find inexpensive electronics, books, movies and games.
 
5. Get a library card
With a public library card in hand, the entertainment world is your oyster: You don’t have to buy, or even rent, to get your fix. Use your library card to surf the web or check out movies, books, audiobooks, games and music for free.
 
6. Attend free events
Take advantage of street fairs, concerts in the park or other free happenings in your community. Some venues that normally charge admission — such as museums, zoos and aquariums — host free-entry days once per month. Next time you plan a dinner out or hit the bars, look for joints that feature live music or comedy shows. Check your local newspaper, coffee shop or university for a list of upcoming events.
 
7. Volunteer
If the sporting event or concert isn’t free, you still might be able to attend at no cost by volunteering at the venue. Just be aware that you might not fully enjoy the event if you’re busy checking tickets or collecting trash.
 
8. Ask about discounts
Identification is all some people need to save money. Seniors, students and members of the military — or their families — often qualify for discounts at retailers, movie theaters, theme parks, national parks, and restaurants. Kids often receive discounted admissions well.
If who you are doesn’t cut it, your membership status might. For example, AAA and AARP memberships come with savings benefits. Ask if you’re eligible for special rates when making entertainment purchases.
 
9. Buy used
Save serious money by buying televisions, tablets, computers, movies and video games secondhand. Shop thrift stores and used book stores and check retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart for refurbished tech.
 
10. Use credit card perks
Under the right circumstances, plastic is more budget-friendly than cash. Your credit card might offer points or cash back on tickets to the theater or sporting events, electronics purchases and other entertainment-related transactions. Certain cards give exclusive discounts on or early access to event tickets through partnerships and promotions.
 
11. Cut back
An obvious way to save on entertainment without giving up your “wants” entirely is to adjust your budget and set a lower spending limit for entertainment expenses. For instance, rent a movie every other week instead of weekly, or refrain from buying the latest gaming console if your old one still works.
 
The article 11 Ways to Save Money on Entertainment originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Your Money Cheat Sheet

The best financial advice tends to apply to pretty much everyone. You don’t need a spreadsheet of pros and cons and complex scenarios. What you need is a rule of thumb.
There’s no shame in using one-size-fits-all advice. A study of West Point cadets, for example, found teaching rules of thumb was at least as effective as standard personal finance training in increasing students’ knowledge and confidence as well as their willingness to take financial risks. Researchers found money rules of thumb were more effective than teaching accounting principles to small-business owners in the Dominican Republic.

Here are a dozen shamelessly simple money rules of thumb collected over the years. (These address how you borrow and save. If you just want to know how you’re doing with money, we’ve got a quick way to score your financial health, too.)

1. Build up emergency savings
You need to be able to get your hands on cash or credit equal to three months’ worth of expenses. The classic emergency fund advice — that you need three to six months of expenses saved — is great, but it can take years to save that much and you have other more important priorities (see “retirement,” below). While you build up your cash stash, make sure you have a Plan B for a true emergency. That could be money in a Roth IRA (you can pull out your contributions at any time without paying taxes or penalties) or an unused home equity line of credit.

2. Save 15% for retirement…
If you got a late start or want to retire early, you may need to save more. Run the numbers on your retirement plan. For most people, 15% including any company match is a good place to start. Even if you can’t save as much as you should, start somewhere and kick up your savings rate regularly. Retirement should be your top financial priority. You can’t get back lost company matches, lost tax breaks and the lost years when your money isn’t earning tax-deferred returns.

3. …and don’t touch that money
Leave retirement money for retirement. When your retirement fund is small, you may feel like spending it doesn’t really matter. It does. Taxes and penalties will cost you at least 25% and likely more of what you withdraw. Plus, every $1 you take out costs you $10 to $20 in lost future retirement income. Once your retirement fund is larger, it may be easy to convince yourself there are good reasons to borrow or withdraw the money. There really aren’t. Leave the money alone so it’s there when you need it. (See “How to Write a Retirement Plan.”)

4. Save for college
Get in the habit of putting at least $25 a month aside for college soon as your child is born. Even small contributions to a 529 college savings plan can add up over time — perhaps the difference between choosing the best school and choosing a school based on its financial aid package. (But if you have to choose, retirement saving is more important. Your kids can always get student loans, but as you’ve probably heard, no one will lend you money for retirement.)

5. Plan and manage your student loans
Your total borrowing shouldn’t exceed what you expect to make your first year out of school. At today’s interest rates, this will ensure that you can pay off what you owe within 10 years while keeping payments below 10% of your income, which is considered an affordable repayment rate. What if you didn’t limit your borrowing and are now struggling? You have options. (See “Find the Best Student Loan Repayment Plan.”)

6. Cars: Buy used and drive it for 10 years
New cars are lovely, but they’re expensive and lose an astonishing amount of value in their first two years. Let someone else pay for that depreciation and take advantage of the fact that today’s better-built cars can run well for at least a decade if properly maintained. You can save hundreds of thousands of dollars over your driving lifetime this way. (See “How to Buy a Used Car.”)

7. Car loans: Use the 20/4/10 rule
Ideally, you wouldn’t borrow money to buy an asset that loses value, but you may not always be able to pay cash for a car. If you can’t, protect yourself from overspending by putting 20% down, limiting the loan to four years and capping your monthly payment at no more than 10% of your gross income. A big down payment keeps you from being “underwater,” or owing more on the car than it’s worth, as soon as you drive off the lot. Limiting the length of the loan helps you build equity faster and reduces the overall interest you pay. Finally, capping the size of the payments prevents your car from eating your budget. (See “How to Build a Budget.”)

8. Make credit cards work for you
If you carry a balance, look for a low-rate card so you can pay off your debt faster and don’t mess with rewards cards right now. If you pay in full each month (as you should), find a rewards card that returns at least 1.5% of what you spend. You should regularly review your rewards programs to make sure you’re getting enough value from them. The programs can change, as can your spending and the way you use rewards. (For a “lazy optimizer” approach, check out “Sean Talks Credit: How I Maximize My Rewards with Only a Few Credit Cards.”)

9. Square away your insurance
Cover yourself for catastrophic expenses, not the stuff you can pay out of pocket. Insurance should protect you against the big things — unexpected expenses that could wipe you out financially, such as your home burning down or a car accident that triggers a lawsuit. You want high limits on your policies — and high deductibles, too. Small claims don’t make financial sense in the long run. You may gain some small insurance payments, but you risk a rate increase that could more than cancel out your gains.

10. Choose a reasonable mortgage amount
If you can’t afford the payment on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, you can’t afford the house. You may be able to save money by using another kind of mortgage, such as a hybrid loan that offers a lower initial rate. But if you’re using an alternative loan because that’s the only way you can buy the home you want, you may have set your sights too high. A budget-busting mortgage puts you at risk of spiraling into ever-deeper debt, especially when you add in all the other costs of homeownership. (Read “The Huge, Hidden Costs of Owning a Home.”)

11. Choose the right mortgage rate
Fix the rate for at least as long as you plan to be in the home. Plans can change, obviously, but you don’t want a big payment jump to force you out of a home you hoped to live in for years to come. If you’re pretty sure you’ll be moving in five years, a five-year hybrid could be a good option. If you think you may stay for 10 years or more, though, consider opting for the certainty of a 30-year fixed rate. (Compare rates on different types of mortgages.)

12. Back-burner those mortgage prepayments
You have better things to do with your money than prepay a low-rate, potentially tax-deductible mortgage. Shaving years off your mortgage and saving money on interest sounds great. But before you consider making extra payments to reduce your mortgage principal, make sure more important priorities are covered. You should be saving enough for retirement. You should have paid off all other debt, since most other loans have higher rates and the interest isn’t deductible. It would be smart to have that emergency fund built up as well and to be adequately insured. If you’ve covered all of those bases and still want to pay down your mortgage, have at it.

Liz Weston is a certified financial planner and columnist at NerdWallet, a personal finance website, and author of “Your Credit Score.”  Updated March 30, 2017.

The article Your Money Cheat Sheet originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Coulee Investment Corner: Vacation Value

Everyone needs a vacation periodically. Breaking the routine of the workaday world is not only refreshing, but studies show its good both for you and your ability to do a better job. Reducing job stress can lead to more productivity.

It's easy to spend a lot of money on a vacation, but that guarantees neither a good time nor vacation value. With a little planning, you can have a great time and still avoid breaking your budget.

Vacation Value
Whether you find a vacation value or just a vacation depends, of course, on whether you find the kinds of places, activities and people that meet your needs. For instance, a wonderful buy at Disneyland is little value to a couple who prefers to spend a week on the ski slopes.
Here are some tips to trim costs and get more value for your vacation dollar:
  • Plan ahead. You may get the kind of vacation you want at the time and place you want if you book your transportation and accommodations in advance. You'll also have time to put aside money to pay for the trip without using high-interest credit cards at the last minute.
  • Budget for your vacation spending. Figure out how much your vacation will cost, add in the fun extras and then start saving so you don't run up a credit card bill. If you don't have ready cash, but you simply must get away to keep your sanity, check out getting a bank installment loan rather than using plastic. Interest charges will be lower and the debt will be paid back in a set period of time rather than revolving on your credit card bill.
  • Book your flight in advance. The difference in airfare alone can amount to hundreds of dollars, especially when you purchase tickets 14 days in advance and you travel Tuesday through Thursday. Flight bargains like these are offered for limited time periods and tend to sell out early. You have to check with the airlines often or have a travel agent who watches out for you.
  • Buy your vacation cruise well in advance. Cruise-line owners want to make sure their ships are booked. The difference in price can be substantial between a purchase made in November versus one made in January.
Selected Travel Resources
Trip booking
(Look for "deals" and "discounts" pages.)
Hotwire
Travelocity
Kayak
Priceline
Short-term apartment and home rentals
(Apartments may offer better values than hotel rooms.)
HomeAway
AlluraDirect
Guidebooks and references
(A good guide can help point you toward the best values.)
Lonely Planet
Rick Steves
Frommer's
 
Travel Packages
Some people want to wander on their own and are willing to pay for it. But a vacation package that includes airfare, hotel and admissions to local attractions can be very attractive.
With hotel accommodations and vacation packages, you can often save with last-minute flexibility as there are frequently great vacation values available on short notice. You may be able to get last-minute specials -- unsold seats on flights or accommodations at holiday resorts -- for a discount.

Off-Season, Off-Peak and Midweek Values
Golfers can rent luxury suites in resorts such as Palm Springs, Scottsdale and South Florida in the summer for a fraction of their winter prices. The first two weeks in December may also offer prices that are almost as good. Packed during ski season, resorts such as Aspen, Vail and others offer lower-priced summer packages with activities ranging from white-water rafting to bike and Jeep tours, horseback riding and balloon rides. Contact the resort directly and make these reservations early because good deals go fast.

And think midweek and off-peak. You'll avoid crowds and save up to 50%. The Caribbean islands are beautiful year-round, but a week's stay on St. Thomas in November or June costs considerably less than a week in February. In addition to the money saved off-season, there are fewer tourists in town, leaving more room in the duty-free shops and on the beaches. Dates for the high season vary by location, so check with your travel agent or resort website.

Take Advantage of Discounts
If you're a member of a fraternal or special-interest group, you can often save 10% or more on the cost of expenses such as car rentals and hotel accommodations.
Cash in on the competition among airlines by watching out for airline advertisements urging you to take advantage of drastically reduced promotional fares. These offers may require advance purchase, allowing you time to plan a vacation around the best value offered. Also be sure to check major airline websites, which often offer additional discounts on advertised discount fares and have web-only specials.

Be aware that you can be charged more if the airline fare goes up after you make your reservation. Therefore, it's advisable that you pay for the tickets as soon as possible to lock in the fare.

By the way, airlines don't have to give you a refund if the fare drops after you've bought tickets, although some will do so. Keep on the lookout for lowered fares and request a refund or credit voucher if your fare drops.

Distance Can Save You Money
You don't have to be right near an attraction to enjoy it.

Skiers can save substantially on lodging by staying farther away from a mountain resort rather than within walking distance of the lifts. If you must stay on the mountain, know that midweek rates are generally lower than weekend rates. The same is true for popular vacation attractions like Disneyland: Lodging outside rather than inside the park can result in savings.
Sometimes the lower-cost approach, however, may not give you the most value. Renting a condo at a ski resort may be more expensive than staying in an off-attraction hotel, but when you balance the price against the costs of a rental car, the time spent driving and the inconvenience -- especially if you're traveling with children -- it may be a better choice. The bottom line is that a little advance planning can go a long way in making your vacation a fun-filled -- and affordable -- experience.

Required Attribution

Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by Wealth Management Systems Inc. or its sources, neither Wealth Management Systems Inc. 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 Wealth Management Systems Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.

© 2016 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.
 

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