8 Creative Ways To Save On Heating Costs This Winter

Senior woman saving energy by dressing warm and adjusting her thermostat.

Q: I just got my first wintertime heating bill and I’m reeling. I’ve sealed all leaky windows and I’ve replaced the weather stripping around my doors, but my bill is still astronomical. Short of hibernating until spring, is there anything I can do to keep my heating costs down this winter?

A: Sealing air leaks and weather-stripping are great first steps toward lowering your heating bill. Luckily, there are many other things you can do to hack your way to a lower heating bill this winter.

Here are some creative ways to save on heating costs.

Dust your vents

When’s the last time you removed the covers of your heating vents or radiators to tackle the layers of dust that have built up inside? You don’t have to answer that, but this can be an easy, effective way to lower your heating bills. Dust acts as a natural insulator and can block some of the hot air from heating your home.

Lower your thermostat

Dad was right: If you’re cold, put on a sweater!

You don’t have to set your thermostat to freezing. However, the Department of Energy recommends keeping it at 68 degrees in the winter for maximum energy savings. If you’re still feeling doubtful, consider this: For every degree you crank it down over a 24-hour period throughout the month, you can shave up to 3 percent off your heating bill. This means each lower degree over an 8-hour period can save 1 percent off your bill. If you can lower your thermostat by 10 degrees at night or while you’re at work, you’ll save 10 percent off your heating bill! A smart or programmable thermostat can do the job for you so you don’t have to remember — or even put forth extra effort — to turn it down.

Don’t overdo it, though. Lowering your heat by more than 10 degrees forces it to use more energy than you’ll save to get it back up again. If you can’t sleep unless you’re snug and warm, you might want to invest in a heated blanket or mattress pad to keep you toasty warm on the coldest nights.

Turn on your ceiling fans

Most ceiling fans are equipped with a “summer” and “winter” setting. During the summer, blades should be moving in a counterclockwise direction to draw the cold air upward from the floor so it can cool the room. In the wintertime, you’ll want those blades to move in a clockwise direction so the hot air, which naturally rises towards the ceiling, can be blown downward and can warm up the room.

Use aluminum foil to make your radiator work harder

Tape a piece of aluminum foil behind the radiator to reflect heat into the room instead of into the wall. Don’t worry about how this might look; no one can see what’s going on behind your radiator.

Use zone heating

If you live in a large home with more rooms than you regularly use, keep the lesser-used areas just warm enough to prevent pipes from freezing. You can close some of the vents in these rooms and shut the door to keep that heat in.

On the flip side, be sure to open the doors of the rooms that see heavy use so the hot air can flow evenly throughout the house. Some rooms are naturally warmer than others, and you want your unit to heat your entire home as efficiently as possible.

Rearrange your furniture

Take a quick tour of your home to check if you have any furniture situated near your heating vents. You don’t want to be paying all that money just for hot air to be flowing into the underside of your living room sofa.

You may also want to rearrange your furniture in the wintertime for another reason. No matter how well you seal your windows and doors, the perimeters of rooms are almost always colder than the interiors during the winter. If your favorite armchair is near a drafty window, you’ll feel that cold air blowing in whenever you sit down, which might prompt you to run and crank up the thermostat. Consider rearranging your furniture for the winter so your favorite pieces are in the warmest areas of each room.

Let the sunshine in

The low-in-the-sky winter sun can give you hours of free solar heat each day — if you let it in. Be sure to open the curtains in the early morning hours and to close them at night to keep that warm air inside. You may also want to swap your curtains for thicker, insulated ones in the winter for further protection against the cold night air.

Humidify your air

Remember those hot, sticky days of summer? Use that humidity to your advantage now by investing in a humidifier for the winter. Moisture helps to hold onto heat and will keep the air warmer for longer.

Don’t be left out in the cold! Use our heating hacks to keep your house toasty warm this winter without breaking your budget.

Your Turn: What’s your secret heating hack? Share it with us in the comments.

How To Make Your Career Choice Fit Your Budget

Student reading record before the exam

As you prepare for graduation and begin scouting different employment opportunities, be sure to look at the larger picture before you accept a position.

Hopefully, you’ve chosen a career path that will bring you joy and gratification. Equally important, though, is a job that can support your lifestyle choices. While the positions you consider for your first post-college job will likely offer the opportunity for growth, you’ll still need to pay your bills—and make your student loan payments—as soon as you graduate. A job that brings you satisfaction and a pleasant working environment will not last long if the salary it offers causes you to sink into debt.

How do you determine what kind of salary will be large enough to support your desired lifestyle?

To get this information, you’ll need to create a mock monthly budget for your post-college self.

Using a spreadsheet or paper and pen, create two columns, one for expenses and one for actual dollar amounts. In the expense column, list your typical monthly expenses, including housing costs, transportation costs, health insurance, groceries, entertainment costs, clothing costs, dining out, savings, etc. In the dollar column, list the amount of money you expect to pay every month for each expense.

Your budget should look something like this:

Expense Monthly Cost
Housing $1200
Transportation $300
Health insurance $250
Groceries $350
Student loan payments $350

It will take some research and some hard, honest thinking to come up with these numbers. For housing costs, take a moment to think about where you see yourself settling down after college. You don’t have to know the exact neighborhood you’ll live in, but it’s good to know the city that will work best for you in terms of lifestyle, career path, and family plans. You can narrow this down to a few choices so long as you keep it reasonable. Once you’ve chosen your desired location, research the median rental prices in the area on real estate sites like Zillow and Redfin.

Next, work on transportation costs. If you already own a car, you’ll have an idea of what it costs you each month. Otherwise, spend some time thinking about what kind of car you want to drive. You can find listings on Carfax.com. Include costs like auto insurance, gas, and upkeep, in this category.

Or, if you plan on living somewhere with reliable public transportation, you might choose this route instead. Make a calculation of how much you’ll spend on bus and/or train rides, along with the occasional cab or ride-share ride.

Complete your budget using your best estimates for each category. Once you’ve filled out each expense amount, add up your total and multiply it by 12 to give you the amount of money you’ll need each year for supporting the lifestyle of your choice. (This number will increase with inflation, but since current salaries will likely increase along with the inflation rate, this exercise can still give you an idea of the annual salary you’ll need.)

Now that you have these numbers, you’re ready to go ahead with your job search. When considering possible positions, you don’t have to choose the one that pays the highest salary if there are other things about the job you don’t love. However, it’s best to pursue positions that can actually support you.

Your Turn: Are you choosing your first job for the salary or for other factors? Share your take with us in the comments.

Doorbell Security Cameras Not So Secure


When parents hear, “Mommy!” yelled from their child’s room, it’s usually the result of a minor ouchie, or perhaps a stomach ache.

But, for recent users of a doorbell security camera, hearing, “Mommy!” come from their daughters’ bedroom turned their dreams of peace of mind into a nightmare.

Hackers have recently been gaining access to users’ homes via their systems’ two-way talk features. Two-way talk allows users to see what’s going on in their homes and talk to the occupants from a remote location via smartphone or tablet.

One recent attack involved an 8-year-old girl who was told by a male voice over the Amazon Ring security camera in her bedroom that he was Santa Claus and wanted to be her friend—all after calling her racial slurs and telling her it was OK to mess up her room and break her television.

The frightened girl could be seen and heard calling for her mother in the video provided to the media.

In another instance, a woman was awakened while sleeping in her bedroom by a strange voice coming from her Ring security camera. The voice was yelling for her to wake up and calling her dog.

Google’s Nest Cam security cameras are not immune to hackers, either.

One couple experienced hearing a man’s voice over the camera system. It was talking to their baby and then yelling obscenities at them before asking why the homeowners were looking at him (the crook). They also reported that the hackers had made adjustments to their thermostat.

In yet another Nest Cam incident, hackers warned a family about a supposed North Korean missile strike.

A spokesperson for Ring told The Washington Post in a recent statement that the Santa incident “is in no way related to a breach or compromise of Ring’s security. Customer trust is important to us and we take the security of our devices seriously.”

They added that the hackers “often re-use credentials stolen or leaked from one service on other services.”

Nest’s parent company, Google, told CBS News that Nest’s system was not breached, adding that reported incidents stem from customers “using compromised passwords … exposed through breaches on other websites.”

The Ring spokesperson told the Post, “Consumers should always practice good password hygiene and we encourage Ring customers to change their passwords and enable two-factor authentication.”

To prevent these incidents from occurring, CNET.com urges companies to require two-factor authentication (2FA), not just suggest using it.

“2FA would need a second form of identity, often a one-time code sent to a phone after a username and password are entered, or a physical token that’s plugged in,” according to CNET.

The report adds that hackers are using a technique called credential stuffing, a practice of acquiring lists of stolen usernames and passwords and then trying to use them on different accounts. Software tools have been created to specifically hack Ring cameras.

Ring’s representatives told Vice, “As a precaution, we highly and openly encourage all Ring users to enable two-factor authentication on their Ring account, add Shared Users (instead of sharing login credentials), use strong passwords, and regularly change their passwords.”

Take precautions before hackers take your peace of mind via your home security system.

Your Turn: How do you protect yourself from home security camera hackers? Tell us in the comments.



January 10, 2020

Mutual Credit Union’s annual BUSINESS meeting will be held February 20, 2020 at 6:00 PM in the Cherry Street branch lobby located at 1604 Cherry Street, Vicksburg, MS. This meeting is a chance to review the state of the credit union and the 2019 annual report.

This is a business meeting of the membership, there will not be door prizes or refreshments available during this event.

Elections for the volunteer board of directors and supervisory committee will be open from January 13 through February 14, 2020. Voting will be held electronically through a secure portal on the mutualcu.org website, or by accessing the voting site directly at mutualcu.cuballot.com. You may also request a paper ballot by contacting us at 833-282-6595. Voting is fast and easy!

Working with financial information

How Men And Women Manage Money Differently

man and woman digital banking with laptop

Over the last century or so, society has made tremendous strides toward gender equality on every level — and this includes basic money management. Today’s culture has further narrowed the gap between the sexes, and the caricatures of the “overspending wife” and “overworked husband” have nearly become extinct.

Despite society’s advancements, there are still significant differences in the way each gender relates to and manages money. Dozens of studies have been performed on this subject, with research culled from around the globe. Being aware of these innate differences can help us understand the ways we deal with our finances so we can stop fighting our financial strengths and work on building them instead.

Attitudes toward shopping

Men and women look at shopping very differently. A study by the Wharton School of Business titled “Men Buy, Women Shop” found that women are more likely to view shopping as a recreational activity, while most men just want to get out of that store with their purchase as quickly as possible. Because of this, women will be quicker to notice and care about a store’s environment and the way they were treated by the salespeople.

Spending habits

Consumer Expenditure Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics studied the spending choices of single women and single men. Here’s what they found:

●       Overall spending: Single men outspent single women, but only by a slight margin. Men spent an average of $35,018 a year as opposed to $33,786 by women. It’s important to note, though, that the men earned roughly $10,000 more per year than the women.

●       Food: Single men outdid women here, too. Their annual food bill was $4,173, as opposed to $3,680 for the ladies. They also spent more than double what women spent on alcoholic beverages, at $537 a year compared to the women’s $234.

●       Clothing: Women came in first place in this category. They spent an average of $1,140 on a category titled “apparel and services” while men spent $813. Typically, women’s clothing costs more than men’s even for similar items.

●       Cars: Men outstripped women in this category, spending a total of $5,507 a year on personal transportation costs, compared to women’s $4,273.

●       Entertainment: Men and women spent similar annual amounts on entertainment, but they chose to spend those dollars differently. Men spent an average of $835 on “audio and visual equipment and services” but only $206 caring for pets. Women spent $725 on their home entertainment and $488 on their pets.

It’s not just the spending numbers that set men and women apart, though. There are multiple studies proving that women are more price-conscious shoppers than men. According to PaymentSense, 71% of women say the last item they bought online was on sale, compared to only 57% of men.  Coupons are also used more commonly by women than men, with CouponFollow’s 2017 Millennial Shopping Report showing that 74% of millennial women will look for coupons when shopping online, compared to 65% of millennial men.

Financial goals

Which gender has bigger dreams?

That question is difficult to answer, because men and women tend to have different priorities for their savings. A recent survey by The Motley Fool found that men are most likely to name saving for a vacation as their top financial goal, followed closely by paying off credit card debt. Women had identical goals, but they put their credit card debt first and their dream vacation second.


Although men and women have similar financial goals, there’s a vast difference between how much money each gender sets aside for those goals. A recent report by Mylo Financial Technologies found that men had set aside nearly twice as much money for their long-term financial goals as women. A BlackRock survey published by CNBC had similar findings:  American women nearing retirement age had an average of $81,300 in retirement funds, while their male counterparts had $118,400.

However, if you look at the percentage they save from their paychecks, women come in first place. A recent Vanguard study found that women are more likely to participate in workplace retirement plans, and that they put up to 8 percent more of their pretax earnings into these plans than men in the same earnings bracket.

The discrepancy between the dollar amounts saved and the percentages of incomes earmarked for savings is due to the reality that the average woman is still earning less than the average man. As a result, a female employee saving 10 percent of her salary might have less money stashed away than a male employee who is saving only 8 percent of his paycheck. Add compound interest into the mix, and you have the current gap between the accumulated savings of men and women.


There have been copious studies performed on the different investment habits of men and women. Most of them conclude that, of the two genders, men tend to be more confident in their financial knowledge and more open to risky investments, while women are the more cautious investors with an eye toward the future. Not surprisingly, studies have found that the average woman’s investment strategy and eventual performance tends to be more stable than the average man’s.

Men also seem to take more of an interest in investing. The Black Rock Survey found that 70 percent of millennial men enjoy managing their investments compared to just 36 percent of millennial women.

There is no right or wrong approach to finances. However, with an open mind and the willingness to learn about our natural strengths and weaknesses, we can all improve our money management skills for building a life of financial wellness and success.

Your Turn: Do the money habits of most of the men and women you know match up with the findings of these studies? Tell us about it in the comments.

Word of the Month: Appreciation

Receiving a gift young girl from relative

Uncle Bill was visiting for a week, and Gabi was thrilled.

Gabi loved her Uncle Bill. He had a long, gray mustache that stuck out on the sides like whiskers, a deep, gravelly laugh, and he told the best stories. Gabi especially loved when Uncle Bill talked about growing up in South Chicago with Gabi’s mom and their younger sister, Jenna.

“I was always getting into trouble,” Uncle Bill would laugh. “But your mom? She was always the goody-goody, never stepped out of line.”

Today, Uncle Bill had brought down a small, wooden box and opened it on the coffee table.

“Come here, Gabi,” Uncle Bill said. “I want to show you something.”

Gabi didn’t need to be asked twice. She hurried over and looked at the box.

“What’s inside?” she asked. “Can I see?”

Uncle Bill wagged a finger at her. “Uh-uh,” he said. ”Not yet. First, I want to tell you a little story.”

Gabi settled back against the couch with a little sigh. She really wanted to know what was in the box. But a story from Uncle Bill was definitely going to be good.

Gabi wasn’t disappointed. Uncle Bill started talking about back when he was 9 years old and really into baseball.

“I used to collect Topps,” he said. “Baseball cards, especially ones from my favorite team. I got myself some really good ones, too.” Uncle Bill’s eyes took on a faraway look, and Gabi knew he was getting lost in his memories.

“One time,” Uncle Bill continued, “your grandfather promised me a quarter for every A I got in school. I had a really tough teacher that year, and all of her exams were super hard. But I wanted those cards! So I studied and studied; I did my homework every night; and I skipped lots of fun outings with my friends. I earned those A’s and I got those quarters. And this is what I bought.”

He unlatched a lock on the box and pulled the cover open with a small creak. Inside was a small pile of baseball cards. Each card was wrapped in plastic and they looked very, very old. But Uncle Bill was obviously very proud of them.

“You see this one here?” he said, pointing to a card. “It’s a genuine Ron Santo; it’s worth more than a thousand dollars today. And this one here, this old Ernie Banks card, is worth double that!”

“A few thousand dollars for a little baseball card?” Gabi couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“It’s not just a ‘little baseball card’,” Uncle Bill said, smiling. “These are collectors’ items. They’re very, very valuable.”

Gabi looked at the cards again. Something just didn’t add up.

“I don’t get it,” she said. “How could you pay that much money for these cards when you were just a little boy? How many ‘A’s did you get?”

Uncle Bill looked at her and then he burst out in huge, rolling laughs.

Now Gabi was even more confused. “What’s so funny?” she asked. “What did I say?”

Finally, Uncle Bill calmed down enough to explain. “Do you know how much money these cards cost me when I was a little boy?” Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Just fifty cents, that’s all!”

“But, you said they’re worth thousands of dollars today!”

Uncle Bill smiled again. “They are!”

“How is that possible?”

Uncle Bill carefully put the cards back into his little box, snapped the lid shut and leaned against the couch.

“Let me teach you an important money word,” he said. He spoke slowly and carefully: “The word is app-re-ci-a-tion.”

Gabi knew she shouldn’t interrupt, but she didn’t understand. “Appreciation? What does that have to do with anything?”

“Not the appreciation you’re thinking of,” Uncle Bill explained. “When something appreciates, that means it goes up in value. It’s worth more over time.”

Gabi nodded, thinking.

“Like these cards here,” Uncle Bill said. “They’re worth a lot more today, because they aren’t in print any more. They’re rare and old, and that makes them worth a whole lot of money. Do you get what I’m saying?”

Gabi thought she did. “Does appreciation only work for baseball cards?”

“Well, if you hold onto your sneakers for 50 years, I don’t think they’ll be worth thousands of dollars,” Uncle Bill said, winking. “But limited editions of things that are collected, like stamps, and coins—and baseball cards, of course—usually go up in value over time. And it also works with houses.”


“Yes. My house is worth a lot more money today than it was when I bought it 35 years ago. The neighborhood has gotten very popular, and lots of people are interested in moving there. If I sell it, I would make a lot more money than what I paid for it all those years ago.”

Gabi thought about what Uncle Bill had said. It sounded very interesting.

“I want to save something for a long time, too!” she told Uncle Bill. “But I don’t own anything that can really appreciate.”

“How about I give you a little something to start you off?” Uncle Bill asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“Oh, would you, Uncle Bill? That would be awesome! Thank you!”

Gabi watched as Uncle Bill reached deep into his pocket and pulled out a coin.  Gabi already knew it wasn’t going to be an ordinary quarter. She couldn’t wait to look up exactly what kind of coin it was. And then she was going to put it away somewhere safe, where she could hold onto it until it was worth a whole lot of money.

Just like Uncle Bill.

Talking points:

●       Why do you think collectors’ items appreciate over time?

●       Do you think Uncle Bill’s cards will continue to go up in value each year? Why or why not?

●       As Uncle Bill mentioned, houses usually appreciate over time. In comparison, cars tend to depreciate, or go down in value, instead. Can you think of a reason houses appreciate over time but cars do not?

How Can I Make New Year’s Resolutions That Stick?


Q: Every December, I draw up a list of New Year’s resolutions that look depressingly similar to the ones I wrote last year. How can I make things different this year?
A: It’s fairly easy to dream of change, but it’s another thing entirely to actually make it happen. In fact, research shows that only 8 percent of people achieve their annual resolutions. However, with careful planning and the right approach, it is doable.
Whether your resolutions are about getting into shape, taking control of your finances or being a kinder person, you can reach your goals in 2020. Here are some tips on making change last.
Make it SMART
  • Specific. Don’t be vague about how you want to improve. Resolutions like “Get myself into shape,” or “Try to be a kinder person,” don’t translate into tangible steps. Instead, make goals like “Start working out twice a week,” or “Do one random act of kindness each day.” This way, your resolutions are clear and easy to put into action.
  • Measureable. Make sure your goals have clear markers to help you track progress. Some resolutions, like losing weight, naturally lend themselves to tracking, but others, like self-improvement goals, are more challenging to measure. Take the time now to create markers for your progress to make it easier for you to stay the course.
  • Achievable. Be realistic about what you intend to accomplish. If you haven’t worked out in years, don’t resolve to run a 10K this year. Instead, start small, like committing to a 10-minute daily workout. When you set goals that are within your reach, you’re less likely to abandon them when the going gets tough.
  • Relevant. It’s best to concentrate on the areas where you most need to improve. While other goals may sound nobler, work first on the areas where you know you are lacking.
  • Time-based. Set a specific date for achieving each goal. A self-imposed deadline will push you to work on your resolution today.
Write it down.  Don’t make a list in your head or scrawl your resolutions on a piece of paper you’ll lose by Jan. 2. Instead, save your resolutions on your phone, using a note-taking app like Evernote or OneNote. If you prefer to work with old-fashioned paper and pen, you can slip the paper with your resolutions into a plastic sheet-protector and hang it up in a prominent place where it won’t get lost.
Chart your progress. Use a calendar to check off every day you’ve stuck to your resolutions. Visual reminders of your success can be a powerful motivator. When you look at your calendar and you see you’ve been sticking to your goal for the last six days, you won’t want to break that consistency the next day.
Don’t keep your resolutions to yourself. One of the best ways to ensure success is to share your journey with others. Here are three ways you can do this:
  • Enlist the help of a friend. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’ve changed; it’s a lot harder to fool a friend. Pair up with a pal this year and commit to keeping each other in check. Share your resolutions and designate one day a week, or twice a month, as a check-in day, in which you note each other’s progress and give honest feedback on how you can each improve further.
  • Post your progress on social media. This will make you accountable to an entire audience and just might give you the motivation you need to keep going.
  • Join a support group. The American Psychological Association recommends joining a support group dedicated to your goal, such as a workout class at the gym or a group of coworkers determined to quit smoking.
Celebrate each win. Don’t wait until you’ve shed the last pound or reached your savings goal to celebrate your achievements. Reward yourself for the smaller goals you reach along the way, like a 10-pound target or the first $1,000 you sock away in your savings account. Celebrating your progress will give you the motivation you need to keep on improving.
Embrace imperfection. Don’t expect a 180-degree change this year in the area you’ve decided to improve. While you should never lose sight of your goals, it’s important to accept that perfection is a myth. Trying to force it can leave you feeling frustrated and discouraged. You can be a wonderful, better you without being perfect.
With careful planning and hard work, you can make 2020 the year your resolutions stick.
Happy New Year from all of us here at Mutual Credit Union!
Your Turn: How do you make your New Year’s resolutions stick? Share your tips with us in the comments.

All You Need To Know About Applying For FAFSA


Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) season is in full swing! Whether you’re a college student, a high school senior or you’re seeking financial aid for your college-age child, it’s time to fill out those forms. The rules and deadlines can be confusing, but we’re here to help. We have answered all your questions on applying for FAFSA.
When is my application due?
There are three FAFSA deadlines you need to know: federal, college and state. The federal FAFSA submission has one set date, while each college and state sets its own separate deadlines.
The 2020-21 FAFSA form became available on Oct. 1, 2019. This form is for the 2020-21 award year, which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.Online applications for this form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2021. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 11, 2021. You can look up the 2020-21 deadlines for your college and state using these links:  College deadlines 2020-21State deadlines 2020-21.
You can still submit an application for the 2019-20 FAFSA form, which became available on Oct. 1, 2018. This form is for the 2019-20 award year, which runs from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. Online applications for this form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on June 30, 2020. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 12, 2020. You can look up the 2019-20 deadlines for your college and state using these links: College deadlines 2019-20State deadlines 2019-20.

Who is eligible for FAFSA?

To qualify for FAFSA, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
  • Have a valid Social Security number (unless you are from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia or the Republic of Palau).
  • Men must be registered with Selective Service.
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school.
  • Have a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent.
There are more eligibility requirements for FAFSA. You can view the full list of criteria here.
How do I apply for FAFSA?
You can now apply for FAFSA using the free  myStudentAid app. If you use the app with an Apple device, be sure to disable the “smart punctuation” feature before filling out the form to avoid errors.
If you’d rather not download an app, you can also apply for FAFSA online at FAFSA.ed.gov.
You can still send in your application via snail mail, but this is not recommended for several reasons: The online applications are simpler to complete and generally have fewer errors because they only ask you relevant questions and are designed to detect common errors. Your application is also likely to be processed quicker when submitted online. Finally, when applying for FAFSA online, you will be given the option to have your IRS data automatically retrieved and then populate the relevant fields, significantly lowering your chances of errors in your tax reporting.
What are some common mistakes people make on the FAFSA form?
A careless mistake on your form can delay your application and limit your eligibility for aid. To avoid errors, be sure to read every question carefully and to review your application before submitting.
Here are some of the most common errors on FAFSA forms:
  • Leaving blank fields. If a question does not apply to you, enter a “0” or write “Not applicable.”
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields. There is no need for either of these symbols; simply round to the nearest dollar.
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security number or driver’s license number. Triple-check these numbers to ensure accuracy.
  • Using the wrong name. Be sure to use your full legal name as it appears on your Social Security card.
  • Entering the wrong address. Use your permanent address only to avoid confusion.
  • Forgetting to list your college. Be sure to obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan on attending and list it along with any other schools where you’ve applied for admission.
  • Forgetting to sign and date. Don’t forget this crucial step!
Can I apply for FAFSA as an independent?
If for whatever reasons your parents are not paying any part of your college tuition, you may be able to apply for FAFSA as an independent. If you can apply as an independent, your parents’ income will not be considered when your eligibility is determined.
You may be able to apply for FAFSA as an independent if you meet any of the following criteria:
  • You will be 24 years of age or older by Dec. 31 of the award year.
  • You are an orphan (both parents deceased), ward of the court, in foster care or you were a ward of the court at age 13 or older.
  • You are a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or serving on active duty.
  • You are a graduate or professional student.
  • You are legally married.
  • You have legal dependents (excluding a spouse).
  • You are an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship.
  • You are homeless.
If you do not meet any of these requirements, consider contacting a financial aid administrator to discuss your options. The administrator may be able to provide a dependency override if you can prove you’re living or fleeing from an abusive or hostile home environment. They may also be able to deem you eligible for unsubsidized Stafford loans if you can prove your parents no longer support you financially. Finally, you may qualify for some education tax benefits, such as the Hope Scholarship tax credit and the student loan interest deduction.
The sooner you apply for FAFSA, the greater your chance at obtaining the limited financial aid offered by your college and state.
Don’t delay! Apply today!
Your Turn: Have you filled out your FAFSA forms? Share your tips with us in the comments.


Holiday Shipping Calendar: The Days You Need to Know for 2019

shipping package

With a whopping six fewer shopping days in 2019 than 2018, holiday deadlines are going to creep up on you faster than ever—and that includes your holiday shipping calendar.

The secret to making sure all your packages arrive on time is knowing how mail and package carriers work and the various deadlines for each type of holiday shipping. If you’re thinking you might be edging up to the last minute on shipping holiday cards and gifts, it’s important to know the cut-off dates for the 2019 holiday season.

The Inside Scoop on Holiday Carrier Deadlines

What do the terms “Priority Overnight,” “Next Day Air” and “Priority Mail Express” have in common? They all mean that a package is arriving the next day—but FedEx, UPS and USPS call these services by different names.

That alone can seem confusing, but there’s another anomaly you should be aware of: Three-day doesn’t always mean “three days” during the super-busy season. For example, close to the holidays, you have to send something nearly a week before the big day to take advantage of UPS’ “3 Day Select Shipping.” With December 25 falling smack in the middle of the week on a Wednesday, you have to think ahead a bit given that we are dealing with “business days.”

Here is UPS’ official recommended last-chance dates for the various types of service:
UPS Ground: Dec. 13
UPS 3 Day Select: Dec. 19
UPS 2nd Day Air: Dec. 20
UPS Next Day Air: Dec. 23

Refer to their complete “recommended” delivery schedule so you’re not caught in a bind. FedEx has a whopping 12 shipping options to and from some locations.

Finally, the dates the United States Postal Service (USPS) recommends as the final option for getting a package to your loved one on time in the contiguous United States:First-Class Mail Service (1 to 3 business days) Dec. 20
Priority Mail Service (1 to 3 business days) Dec. 21
Priority Mail Express Service (overnight delivery guaranteed) Dec. 23
USPS Retail Ground (ground shipping for items larger than a letter) Dec. 14

Location Plays a Part

Do the specified days seem a little confusing? Where you’re shipping from and to can play a role in how many days it takes, but it’s best to plan for the longest-case scenario, to be safe.

You’ll also want to check the carrier location closest to you to verify the availability of specific shipping services, such as overnight delivery, so you’re not caught in a last-minute bind. FedEx, for example, allows senders to send mail overnight only to locations within their overnight service area.

If you’re really cutting it close, check the pickup time at the mail carrier location. Dropping your mail off before that time can save you money on shipping or get your mail to the recipient a day sooner.

And if you plan to ship anything internationally, send it well in advance, as the delivery time frame is significantly longer. You can check the carriers’ websites for more information.

Packing For Success

Getting your holiday gifts to the recipients by Christmas is important, but it’s just as important to get them there in one piece. And since you don’t have the benefit of Santa’s elves preparing your packages, your best bet is to purchase the right type of shipping supplies. Check your holiday shopping list twice for these holiday package shipping necessities:

A sturdy shipping box that can withstand the journey
High-quality packaging tape
A permanent marker for addressing the box
Festive gift wrap
Plenty of packing peanuts or bubble wrap to fill the box any space left in the shipping box. The less room the item has to move, the less likely it is to get damaged during holiday shipping.

When it comes to holiday shipping, preparation makes all the difference. Save yourself money and stress this holiday season by getting your gifts packaged up and sent out by the deadline of your mail carrier of choice.

About the Author

Source: Office Depot.com Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer who specializes in small business, finance and real estate.

Holiday Scams and Tips to Avoid Being Caught in a Fraudulent Scheme

Fraud schemes are hardly limited to the holidays, but they tend to spike during this high-spending and stressful time of the year. Mutual Credit Union would like to help arm you, our members with information on the fraud practices you may encounter and how to avoid becoming a victim.
Technology has created many more options for you to access accounts and make purchases, fraud too has opened up more sophisticated avenues. But it is always good to be reminded of the basics: to continue to be skeptical about calls, texts, and emails. Here is a refresher of several important fraud methods you might see:

Brute Force schemes are attempts to crack a password or username, find a hidden web page, or find the key used to encrypt a message using a trial-and-error approach to guess correctly. This is an old attack method, but it’s still effective and popular with hackers.

Skimming is perpetrated by using electronic devices to secretly scan and store credit and debit card numbers and PINs. ATMs and some unattended terminals, such as gas stations, are targets for this practice. This information can then be sold to fraudsters or used to commit theft directly. Fraudsters can use the numbers to make online purchases or to create fake cards for in-store transactions.

Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails claiming to be from reputable companies in order to make you reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

SMiShing (SMS phishing) is the act of attempting to acquire personal information such as passwords and details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity through SMS text messages on cell phones. SMiShing messages may come from telephone numbers that are in a strange or unexpected format with links directing to fake websites.
A typical SMiShing occurrence can begin with a you receiving a text message inquiring about a suspicious transaction on an account. In reality, the fraudster is looking to obtain other information from you such as debit/credit card numbers, CV2 codes, expiration dates, PINs and other web login credentials. Please note that legitimate SMS text messages from Mutual CU will NEVER include:

• Requests for cardholder’s data, such as card numbers, PINs, CV2 Codes, or Expiration Dates
• Vague reference of a “merchant” transaction; details should be included
• Hyperlinks to unknown websites
• Phone numbers as hyperlinks

Vishing is the telephone equivalent of phishing. It is described as the act of using the telephone to scam you into surrendering private information that will be used for fraudulent purchases or identity theft.

Some holiday scams your cardholders may see:

Seasonal Travel Scams

• Beware of deals that are too good to be true
• You should always know who your travel is being booked through

Holiday Charity Scams

• A legitimate charity will welcome donations whenever the cardholder chooses to make it. Fraudsters will pressure them to make it immediately.
• Don’t make any donation with a gift card or wire transfer.

Fraud Fighting Services at Mutual Credit Union:

  • Enroll in two-factor authentication to login to online banking
  • All members are enrolled in Text (SMS) notifications for any fraudulent activity that is detected on debit or credit cards
  • Enrolling in CreditSense will alert you to any changes on your credit report
  • Setting up SAMCards Manager allows you to set alerts for places, dollar amounts, regions and to turn your cards on or off

Visit MutualCU.org for any additional information you may need for any of these services.