All You Need To Know About The COVID-19 Stimulus Plan

couple at kitchen table working on budget

After days of negotiations and last-minute changes, the Senate and the White House have signed a historic $2 trillion stimulus plan to help mitigate the economic fallout of COVID-19. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) will put cash directly into people’s pockets, provide desperately needed funding for hospitals and help struggling businesses remain afloat in these financially fragile times.

Here’s all you need to know about the CARES Act.

Stimulus checks

One of the most crucial elements of the bill is the plan to distribute stimulus checks to Americans in the middle class and lower income levels. Officials hoped to deposit the one-time payments as soon as early April, though Americans likely won’t see the funds until a few weeks later.

Aid amounts will be based on household income reported in 2018 taxes (or 2019 taxes if they’ve already been filed), and will average $1,200 for each adult earning up to $75K a year and married couples earning up to $150K a year. Check amounts will begin to phase out for individuals whose income exceeds the $75K threshold, and for couples who earn more than $150K. Individuals earning more than $99K, and couples with no dependents earning more than $198K, won’t receive stimulus checks. Each household will also receive an additional $500 for every child under the age of 17 living at home. You can look up your anticipated check amount on this calculator.

The feds are hoping the stimulus checks will help the floundering economy and be a welcome relief to the millions of Americans struggling with a job loss or decreased hours due to COVID-19. The checks will provide benefits quicker than a tax credit and offer more spending freedom for recipients.

Increased unemployment benefits 

The enhanced unemployment insurance includes four months of unemployment pay for laid-off workers; expanded coverage for employees who were furloughed; the inclusion of workers who generally do not qualify for unemployment, like gig workers and freelancers; and increased unemployment benefits for all eligible workers by $600 a week for four months in addition to each state’s predetermined unemployment compensation.

Funding for the health care system

The stimulus plan will pump $150 billion in the country’s overtaxed health care system to help it

meet the overwhelming demands of the pandemic. Of this funding, $130 billion will go directly to hospitals struggling to deal with a shortage of masks, ventilators, beds and protective gear; and $1 billion will go to the Indian Health Service. The rest of the money will be used to fund research and treatment and to help the Strategic National Stockpile raise supplies of ventilators, masks and other equipment for hospitals across the country.

Small business bailouts

Small businesses are among the hardest hit by the pandemic and national shutdown to help “flatten the curve.” The stimulus plan will offer $350 billion worth of funds to these corporations to help them remain solvent during these economically lean times. These funds take the form of loans, some of which may ultimately be forgiven.

Funding for state and local governments

State governments are especially active and vocal at this time, as they are the sole elected officials authorized to enact and enforce lockdowns on their jurisdictions. State treasuries are also straining to meet the surge in requests for funding from hospitals and individuals seeking unemployment benefits. Local governments are similarly mobilized during the pandemic, with law enforcement authorities in heavily infected areas putting in long, hard hours daily ensuring the safety and health of citizens.

The CARES Act will distribute $150 billion directly to state and local governments to enable them to address their spending shortages and to fund their increased labor at this time.

Retirement Plans

The act calls for waiving the 10% early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 for purposes relating to COVID-19, retroactive to Jan. 1. Withdrawals still will be taxed; however, taxes are spread over three years, or taxpayers have the three years to roll it back over.

In addition, the loan limit for 401(k) loans has increased from $50,000 to $100,000 and required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs and 401(k) plans (at age 72) are suspended.

Student Loans 

Federal student loan borrowers will be allowed to pause payments on their loans. Loans will be put into forbearance for at least 60 days starting March 13, 2020. No payments should be due until after Sept. 30, 2020.

Federal student loan interest rates will automatically be set to 0% for a minimum period of 60 days until Sept. 30, 2020. If borrowers continue making payments, the full amount will be applied to the principal.

Borrowers do not need to take action to suspend loan payments. In addition, collection efforts, including the garnishment of wages and the seizure of tax refunds, will be suspended on federal student loans that are in default.

Mortgages

Some homeowners could be able to pause payments for at least six months with the possibility of an additional six months of forbearance, according to the act. Homeowners become eligible if they have one of the following types of mortgage loans:

  • An FHA Loan
  • A VA Loan
  • A USDA Loan
  • An 184/184A Mortgage
  • Any mortgage backed by Fannie Mae
  • Any mortgage backed by Freddie Mac
  • Missed payments would be required to be paid back; however, homeowners can work with their lenders at the end of the forbearance period to come up with a manageable payment plan. A moratorium on foreclosures for borrowers with any of the above types of government-backed loans began March 18.

Additional provisions and addenda

There are several other components of the CARES Act, including the following:

  • Establishment of a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to oversee loans to businesses
  • Prohibition for all businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from participating in the loan or investment programs. Their children, spouses and other relatives are also banned from receiving benefits.
  • Provisions to ban stock buybacks during the period of government assistance. There is an additional ban of a year for all companies receiving a federal loan from the CARES Act
  • Establishment of worker protections for businesses receiving the federal loans
  • Prohibition for airlines from using the federal loans for CEO bonuses

The country is going through historically challenging times, but with the combined effort of the federal government, the cooperation and compliance of the public and generosity of each individual, we can all get through this together. Wishing all of our members and their families continued health and safety at this time.

Your Turn: How do you plan to use your stimulus check? Tell us about it in the comments.

The Complete Guide to Prioritizing Bills During a Financial Crunch

Student reading record before the exam

Our vibrant, animated country has been put on pause. Busy thoroughfares are now empty of pedestrians and previously crowded malls are eerily vacant, as millions of Americans shelter in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Forced leave of work has left many wondering if and when they’ll receive their next paycheck.

If you are one of the millions of Americans on furlough, you may be panicking about incoming bills and wondering where you’ll find the money to pay for them all. Let’s take a look at what financial experts are advising now so you can make a responsible, informed decision about your finances going forward.

Triage your bills

Financial expert Clark Howard urges cash-strapped Americans to look at their bills the way medical personnel view incoming patients during an emergency.

“In medicine it’s called triage,” Howard says. “It’s exactly what’s happening in the hospitals right now as they decide who to treat when or who not to treat. You have to look at your bills the same way. You’ve got to think about what you must have.”

Times of emergency call for unconventional prioritizing. Clark recommends putting your most basic needs, including food and shelter, before any other bills. It’s best to make sure you can feed your family before using your limited resources for loan payments or credit card bills. Similarly, your family needs a place to live; mortgage or rent payments should be next on your list.

Housing costs

It’s one thing to resolve to put your housing needs first and another to actually put that into practice when you’re working with a smaller or no paycheck this month. The good news is that some rules have changed in light of the financial fallout of the pandemic.

On March 18, President Donald Trump announced he’s instructing the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to immediately halt “all foreclosures and evictions” for 60 days. This means you’ll have a roof over your head for the next two months, no matter what.

Also, in early March, the Federal Housing Finance Agency offered payment forbearance to homeowners affected by COVID-19, allowing them to suspend mortgage payments for up to 12 months. These loans, provided by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, account for approximately 66 percent of all home loans in America. The payments will eventually need to be covered. Some lenders allow delayed payments to be tacked onto the end of the home loan’s term, while others collect the sum total of the missed payments when the period of forbearance ends.

Speak to your lender about your options before making a decision. A free pass on your mortgage during the economic shutdown can be a lifesaver for your finances and help free up some of your money for essentials.

If you’re a renter, be open with your landlord.

“Consumers who are the most proactive and say, ‘Here’s where I stand,’ will get a lot better response than those who do nothing,” says Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, CEO of AsktheMoneyCoach.com and author of “Zero Debt.”

Your landlord may be willing to work with you. That’s true whether it means paying partial rent this month and the remainder when you’re back at work, spreading this month’s payment throughout the year, or just paying April’s rent a few weeks late, after the relief funds and unemployment payments from the government begin.

Paying for transportation

When normal life resumes, many employees will need a way to get to work. Missing out on an auto loan payment can mean risking repossession of your vehicle. This should put car payments next on your list of financial priorities. If meeting that monthly payment is impossible right now, communicate with your lender and come up with a plan that is mutually agreeable to both parties.

Household bills

Utility and service bills should be paid on time each month, but for workers on furlough due to the coronavirus pandemic, these expenses may not even make it to their list of priorities.

First, don’t worry about shutoffs. Most states have outlawed utility shutoffs for now.

Second, many providers are willing to work with their clients. Visit the websites of your providers and check to see what kind of relief and financial considerations they’re offering their consumers at this time.

It’s important to note that lots of households receive water service directly from their city or county, and not through a private provider. Many local governments have suspended shutoffs, but be sure to verify if yours has done so before assuming it to be true.

Finally, as with every other bill, it’s best to reach out to your provider and be honest about what you can and cannot pay for at this time.

Unsecured debt

Unsecured debt includes credit cards, personal loans and any other loan that is not tied to a large asset, like a house or vehicle. Howard urges financially struggling Americans to place these loans at the bottom of their list of financial priorities during the pandemic. At the same time, he reminds borrowers that missing out on a monthly loan payment can have a long-term negative impact on a credit score.

Here, too, consumers are advised to communicate with their lenders about their current financial realities. Credit card companies and lenders are often willing to extend payment deadlines, lower the APR on a line of credit or a loan, waive a late fee or occasionally allow consumers to skip a payment without penalty.

[Are you making payments toward an unsecured loan at Mutual Credit Union? We understand that you may not be able to meet your monthly payments at this time and we are willing to work with you. Please feel free to reach out to us at to learn about your options.]

Your Turn: How are you prioritizing your bills during the pandemic? Share your tips with us in the comments.

Mutual Credit Union Announces “Pause” on Loan Payments

Contact: Susan Mandarino
1604 Cherry Street
Vicksburg, MS 39180
Phone: (601) 636-7523 ext. 1226
Email: marketing@mutualcu.org
Website: www.mutualcu.org

Press Release

Thursday, March 26, 2020

 

Mutual Credit Union Announces “Pause” on Loan Payments

Vicksburg, Miss. – – Today, Thursday, March 26, 2020, we are announcing our first ever “pause” on loan payments due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 world-wide pandemic. All Loans (Excluding Real Estate, HELOC and Single Pay loans) with due dates between March 16th – April 30th will see advanced due dates into May 2020. President of Mutual Credit Union, Michael Mathews stated, “This virus has brought a level of uncertainty to our community that I have not experienced in my lifetime, and the speed at which it has changed our daily routines is unprecedented. I want our members to know that we will work through this event in time together and we will utilize every available resource at our disposal to assist. Although our lobbies may be closed, we are still here for you.”

We know that COVID-19 has affected many of our members whether it is due to employment concerns, childcare stress and/or overall health concerns during this time and it is our hope that by offering this “pause” payment program that we can help to ease the financial burden our members are facing. We are doing our part during these trying times to offer all the support that we can to our Mutual CU members and to the communities we serve. Our focus truly is you.

If any member wishes to continue to make their April payment(s) as usual, you can access online banking, the mobile app, or call 877-457-3654 to continue your payments on schedule. Loan payments will still be deducted from any member on payroll allocation. If this is your situation, please either email loan@mutualcu.org or call 877-457-3654 option 5 to have your loan payment reversed.

Also, at this time, the following fees will be waived until further notice; transfer fees from savings to checking, money order fees and cashier’s check fees. It is our hope that by freeing up the availability of funds for each member that we enhance our commitment to each other by being what the Credit Union is all about, “People Helping People.” Let’s build our own community stimulus package during this time keeping our focus not on the unknown but on supporting each other while maintaining our “social distancing.”

We thank you for your membership and look forward to continuing to serve you and your families now and for decades to come.

For more information about Mutual Credit Union please follow this link to our webpage. For additional questions, please contact the marketing department at marketing@mutualcu.org or by calling (601) 636-7523 ext. 1226.

###

Fun Activities To Do With Your Kids At Home

challenge-create-your-own-photo-shoot

It isn’t easy to be holed up at home with just your family for company. After two days, you may be thinking there isn’t enough coffee or chocolate in this world for a parent who’s stuck home with their kids for weeks at a time. As the parent, though, you have the unique opportunity to set the tone in your home and decide if these weeks will be a nightmare for everyone, or filled with precious memory-making and family-bonding activities.

Here are some fun activities to keep your kids busy while you wait out the pandemic at home:

Marshmallow Tinker-Toys: For a fun twist on the classic building toy, take pretzel sticks and mini-marshmallows and let your child build a world of sweetness. Have them create pretzel-marshmallow people, houses and towns. It’s creative, sticky fun, and best of all, when they’re done, they can eat their sweet creations!

Puppet Shows: All you need for the show of a lifetime is a cardboard box, some Popsicle sticks, old socks (which may have lost their match) and markers for decorating. If you have googly eyes in the house, glue them on for more realistic-looking sock puppets. Have your child entertain you, or be the entertainer — either way works. Let the show begin!

Scrapbook: Spend some quality time reliving precious memories by digging out the scrapbooking supplies and old photos to create a timeless masterpiece together.

Salt Painting: Move over, glitter; this new painting technique makes designs that are just as pretty and twice as fun! Lay a piece of cardstock on top of some old newspapers. Have your child draw patterns on the paper using Elmer’s glue. The glue lines should be on the thick side. Next, pour table salt over the wet glue, making sure all the glue is covered in salt. You can speed up this step by tilting your paper after pouring the salt. Shake off all excess salt. Now, using watercolors, let your kids paint the salt! This works best if the paint is a bit watery so the brush doesn’t have to touch the salt too often; it can simply drip onto the paper. When your child is done painting, they’ll be left with a spectacular, super-cool design!

Teach a Household Skill: Instead of complaining about the endless housework, enlist your child’s help! Even very small children can help sort laundry, load the washing machine and press the buttons to turn it on (with your supervision, of course). Have the older ones help you bake, letting them put their math skills to use by adding fractions in recipes. And, of course, everyone cleans up their own messes when the day is done!

Simon Says, “Draw!”:  Give this old favorite a twist by breaking out the craft supplies. Set up a table with paper, crayons, markers, stamps and any other fun coloring supplies you have in your house. Seat your kids around the table and begin an intense game of Simon Says, only instead of movements, instruct your kids to draw something on their papers. You can have them draw basic shapes in specific colors, or something more complex if they’re a little older. Anyone who messes up is out of the game!

Balloon Ping-Pong: No need for a bulky ping-pong table! Just tape large popsicle sticks to the backs of paper plates, blow up a balloon and have your preschoolers play ping-pong with their makeshift paddles over your empty kitchen table!

Let it Snow!: It’s been a snowless winter in many parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring the blizzard home. Whip up a batch of homemade snow while you’re stuck inside during the COVID-19 outbreak. Let your kids have a blast creating a winter wonderland that’s almost as good as the real thing. In a large pan or bin, mix 3 cups of baking soda with ½ cup hair conditioner. Note: If you don’t have enough baking soda on hand, you can also use shaving cream for your “snow.” Keep on stirring until the mixture turns cold, soft and feels like … snow!  Dig out the toy cars, small beach shovels and collections of Little People or Playmobil people and let the fun begin!

Scavenger Hunt: If your kids are bouncing off the walls from being cooped up at home, have them let off some steam with a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt. Set up hints around the house and have them race from clue to clue searching for the treasure you’ve hidden for them. If your kids are too young to read, this can work with picture clues as well. The “treasure” can be a special treat you have in the house, a new game or art supply you’ve been saving or their favorite stuffed teddy.

No, it isn’t easy to be holed up at home with your kids. But, with some creativity and a positive attitude (and lots of coffee and chocolate), you can fill this challenging time with warm memories your children will treasure for the rest of their lives.

Your Turn: How are you keeping your kids busy during the pandemic? Share your best ideas with us in the comments.

Financial Do’s & Don’ts During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Bankruptcy

Q: Since the coronavirus has landed on American shores, each day seems to bring more devastating news about the state of our economy. What steps should I be taking to protect my personal finances during this time?

A: The coronavirus outbreak has already generated severe consequences for the national and global economies — and experts say we’re only seeing the beginning of the pandemic’s financial fallout. The virus ended one of the longest bull markets in history, as the stock market plunged by a full 25 percent in one volatile month. In fact, it saw its worst day since 1987. More than that, businesses have been adversely affected by the outbreak in many ways: production lines have been put on hold as the delivery chain is disrupted indefinitely; the global-wide halt on travel has caused tremendous losses for the tourism and airline industries; sports and entertainment industries have taken huge hits; and countless other business lines have been negatively impacted by a dearth of supplies, decreased spending and a shortage of personnel due to quarantines or school closures.

With all this uncertainty, it’s easy to fall into a panic and wonder if there are some concrete steps you should be taking to save your personal finances from impending ruin. Here are some practical dos and don’ts to help you maintain financial stability and peace of mind during this time.

Don’t: Panic by selling all your investments 

Both seasoned investors with robust portfolios and those simply worried about their retirement accounts can find it nerve-racking to see their investments drop in value by as much as 10 percent a day. It may seem like a smart idea to sell out just to spare investments from further loss, but financial experts say otherwise. According to The Motley Fool, most sectors of the economy will recover quickly as soon as the outbreak clears. For example, consumers may not be purchasing shoes or cruise tickets now, but they will likely do so when it is safe to shop and travel again. While the global and national economy may not bounce back for a while, experts are hopeful that individual business sectors will recover quickly.

Do: Trim your spending

The thriving economy the country has enjoyed for a while has prompted a gradual lifestyle inflation for many people. As the economy heads toward a probable recession, this can be a good time to get that inflation in check. Work bonuses, raises and promotions are not handed out as freely during a recession as they were in recent years. Some people may even find themselves without a job as companies are forced to lay off workers in an effort to stay solvent. Trimming discretionary spending now can be good practice for making it through the month on a smaller income. It’s also a good idea to squirrel away some of that money for a rainy day.

Don’t: Put your money before your health 

Financial wellness is important, but physical health should always take priority. If you’re feeling unwell, and especially if you’re exhibiting any of the symptoms of the coronavirus — such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath — call in sick to work. Do the same if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Don’t let financial considerations come before your health and the health of those you come into contact with each day.

As part of a package of executive orders to help mitigate the financial fallout of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump has announced that all employees are entitled to two weeks of full paid leave if they are unable to work because of the coronavirus. This includes contracting the actual virus, self-quarantining for fear of having been exposed to the virus and caring for a family member who has contracted the virus, or for children who are home due to school closures. Be sure to take advantage of this offer by making your health paramount.

Similarly, doctor visits can cost a pretty penny, but when necessary, should always outweigh financial concerns. A co-pay or insurance deductible is a small price to pay for your health.

Do: Consider a refinance

The silver lining of an economic environment like this is falling interest rates. As of March 17, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 3.3%, down from approximately 4.5% of a year ago. Refinancing an existing mortgage at this lower rate can potentially save homeowners several hundreds of dollars a month. That extra breathing room in a budget can be a real boon in case of salary cuts or even a layoff during a recession.

Be sure to work out the numbers carefully before considering this move since a refinance isn’t cost-free. [You can speak to an MSRP at Mutual Credit Union to learn about your options.]

The coronavirus has already impacted the economy tremendously, and will likely continue to do so for a while. Keep your own finances safe by remaining calm, putting your health first and taking some of the practical steps mentioned above.

Your Turn: What steps have you taken toward protecting your finances during this time? Tell us about it in the comments.

Stuck at Home? Spend Your Time Productively

Woman installing laminate flooring.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on normal life around the world. Major retailers and small businesses are closing their doors; leisure travel has almost ground to a halt; the stock market is bearing the brunt of a string of losses; and thousands of schools and universities sit vacant mid-semester while their students are home for an indeterminate amount of time.

For many people, navigating this crisis successfully means being stuck at home for 14 days or more as they wait out a self-imposed or obligatory quarantine. Others may be home due to school closures or because their place of work has temporarily shut down. Still others may be avoiding going out in public in accordance with the president’s recommendation that people not congregate in groups of 10 or more.

While it may, at first, sound like a dream come true, sitting at home without much to do can quickly get old. If you’re one of the millions of Americans waiting out the crisis at home, be proactive about spending your time productively instead of binge-watching six seasons of your favorite sitcom while eating your way through gallons of ice cream. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Learn a new language. Why not use the extra time at home to learn a second or third language? There are many free language apps, like Duolingo, that make mastering a new language almost effortless.
  • Call an old friend. Socializing in person may be out, but the old-fashioned phone still works just fine. A leisurely chat with an old friend can be a wonderful way to pass the time.
  • Get fit. Gyms can be a fertile breeding ground for all kinds of germs and bacteria, but an at-home workout can burn all those calories without the fear of being exposed to COVID-19. There are many exercises you can do without any equipment, like lunges, squats, planks, sit-ups and more. If you’re missing the support and camaraderie you get from your exercise classes at the gym, pop a workout DVD into your entertainment center or turn on one of the many fitness classes on YouTube for a similar experience.
  • Rekindle an old hobby. It’s time to dust off that guitar or pull out the modeling wood and pick up the hobbies you never have time for during your busy working schedule. To keep yourself focused, commit to completing a specific project or reaching a goal while you wait out the outbreak at home.
  • Tend to neglected household repairs you’ve been putting off all winter. Why not use this time to get stuff done around the house?  If you’re missing some important tools and supplies, it’s best to order them online instead of running out to pick them up to minimize possible exposure to the virus.
  • Brush up on your financial knowledge. With the plethora of personal finance blogs and websites available today, beefing up your financial knowledge so you can make the best, informed decisions about managing your money is ridiculously easy. Visit blogs like Thefinancialdiet.comMoneyNing.com, or Mr.MoneyMustache.com for interesting reads on a wide range money topics that can help you broaden your financial knowledge.
  • Declutter. Carve out some time to get started on spring-cleaning your home. Clearing out clutter takes lots of time, and you likely have more time than you know what to do with right now. You can make piles for throwaways, giveaways and keepers. Give your cleared-out closets and drawers a thorough scrubbing while you’re at it. There’s no better time to freshen up the house than springtime!
  • Review your budget. Budgets tend to need frequent adjusting. Use the spare time you have now to review your monthly spending of the past few months to see if your budget needs tweaking.
  • File your taxes. The government has postponed the deadline for paying tax bills, but tax returns still need to be filed by April 15 unless an extension is requested. Filing taxes is nobody’s idea of a good time, but taking care of this necessary chore will make the future you glad that you did when this is all over.
  • Keep stress levels down. Staying cooped up inside when a pandemic is sweeping through the world can really spike up stress levels. Keep calm by ensuring you’re getting enough sleep and minimizing stress triggers as much as possible. This can mean limiting the amount of times you check the news. and/or practicing yoga and meditation. Apps like Headspace can help you achieve complete mindfulness to further reduce stress levels.

Wishing you and yours continued health and safety as we navigate this challenging time together.

Your Turn: How are you keeping busy during your time at home? Share your best ideas with us in the comments.

Online Security Tips For Working From Home

Consumer Alerts from the US Treasury

Teleworking during the Coronavirus outbreak? While working from home can help slow the spread of the virus, it brings new challenges: juggling work while kids are home from school; learning new software and conferencing programs; and managing paper files at home. As you’re getting your work-at-home systems set up, here are some tips for protecting your devices and personal information.

  • Start with cybersecurity basics. Keep your security software up to date. Use passwords on all your devices and apps. Make sure the passwords are long, strong and unique: at least 12 characters that are a mix of numbers, symbols and capital and lowercase letters.
  • Secure your home network. Start with your router. Turn on encryption (WPA2 or WPA3). Encryption scrambles information sent over your network so outsiders can’t read it. WPA2 and WPA3 are the most up-to-date encryption standards to protect information sent over a wireless network. No WPA3 or WPA2 options on your router? Try updating your router software, then check again to see if WPA2 or WPA3 are available. If not, consider replacing your router. For more guidance, read Securing Your Wireless Network and Secure Remote Access.
  • Keep an eye on your laptop. If you’re using a laptop, make sure it is password-protected, locked and secure. Never leave it unattended – like in a vehicle or at a public charging station.
  • Securely store sensitive files. When there’s a legitimate business need to transfer confidential information from office to home, keep it out of sight and under lock and key. If you don’t have a file cabinet at home, use a locked room. For more tips, read about physical security.
  • Dispose of sensitive data securely. Don’t just throw it in the trash or recycling bin. Shred it. Paperwork you no longer need can be treasure to identity thieves if it includes personal information about customers or employees.
  • Follow your employer’s security practices. Your home is now an extension of your office. So, follow the protocols that your employer has implemented.

Want to learn more? Read our small business cybersecurity materials and online security articles. If you’re able to work from home, thanks for helping slow the spread of the Coronavirus.

 

Access the full article from the Federal Trade Commission website.

COVID-19 FRAUD ALERT ON GOVERNMENT ISSUED CHECKS

Consumer Alerts from the US Treasury

As the Coronavirus takes a growing toll on people’s pocketbooks, there are reports that the government will soon be sending money by check or direct deposit to each of us. The details are still being worked out, but there are a few really important things to know, no matter what this looks like.

1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.

2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.

3. These reports of checks aren’t yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.

Look, normally we’d wait to know what the payment plan looks like before we put out a message like this. But these aren’t normal times. And we predict that the scammers are gearing up to take advantage of this.

So, remember: no matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. If you spot one of these scams, please tell the Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov/complaint. We’re doing our best to stop these scammers in their tracks, and your report will help.

Keep up to date with the latest Coronavirus-related scams at www.ftc.gov/coronavirus or by signing up to get these consumer alerts. 

Access the full article by visiting the Federal Trade Commission website.

 

 

What Should Be On My Financial To-Do List This Spring?

Mid adult woman working in her home office, using smartphone

Q: Spring is here, and I’d love to review my finances to improve them however possible. What should be on my financial to-do list this spring?

A: It’s wonderful that you’re using the season to take a deep look at your finances. Let’s review some ways to improve your finances and general money management this time of year.

De-clutter your finances

As you sift through the “stuff” piled up around your home and throw out useless clutter until each closet would make Marie Kondo proud, it’s a good idea to do the same for your finances.

Review your monthly budget and cut out extra expenses that may be cluttering it up. Think about things like subscriptions you don’t use anymore or upgraded apps and services you don’t really need. Next, simplify your monthly bill-paying by moving all due dates to the same day and setting up an automatic payment so you’re never late.

Clean up your money management by using a personal finance app like YNAB or Mint to budget and keep track of your spending with minimal effort. Finally, simplify your savings by setting up an automatic monthly transfer between your Mutual Credit Union Checking Account and Mutual Credit Union Savings Account.

Review your W-4 

Post-tax season is the perfect time to look over your W-4 to determine if you’re withholding too much money — or too little. Remember: A generous tax refund might seem like good news, but what it really means is that you’ve been giving the government an interest-free loan throughout the year. You don’t want to withhold too little money and end up with a big tax bill to pay at the end of the year, either. To find that perfect sweet spot, work out the numbers using the IRS’ withholding calculator; use tax software like Turbo Tax; or ask a professional accountant to help. Don’t forget to submit a new W-4 to your workplace with your new withholding amount in place.

Protect your personal information 

Now that you’ve paid your taxes, it’s a good time to get rid of any documents that can compromise your safety. In today’s digital world, there are very few hard-copy documents you’ll need to hold onto. You can safely shred account statements, credit card bills, utility bills, insurance bills and more. Make sure to keep a copy of anything that requires your signature, such as the deed of your home and your car title, and hold onto unpaid loan statements and your tax returns. Keep these papers, as well as your most important sensitive documents, like your Social Security card, birth certificate and marriage certificate, in a fireproof box or in a locked file cabinet.

It’s also a good idea to clean up your computer and phone, deleting any downloaded documents that can compromise your privacy and deactivating your accounts on websites you no longer frequent. You may want to let your devices “forget” your password and payment history on retail sites as well. The less of your life you have online, the lower the risk of your personal information being compromised if any of these sites is hacked.

Throw away a debt

Did you resolve to work aggressively toward paying down your debts this year? Dust off that New Year’s resolution and take a hard look at your progress this spring. Is the debt going anywhere, or are you still trapped in the cycle of making just minimum payments that mostly go toward interest?

Get serious about getting out of debt by making a list of all debt in order from smallest to largest. Work out a plan for maximizing your payments on this debt, acquiring the necessary funds by pruning an expense category on your monthly budget or taking on some freelance work for extra cash. Once you’ve paid off the smallest debt, work on the next-smallest debt until you’re completely debt-free. As you progress through your list, be sure not to neglect the minimum payments on any of your debts.

Shop for springtime deals

There might be a shortage of major shopping days in spring, but you can still snag a fantastic deal on select items that hit their lowest prices this season. Consumer Reports recommends shopping for vacuum cleaners, digital cameras, air purifiers, space heaters and roofing in early spring. You can also find marked-down premium chocolate, luggage, gift cards and frozen foods this time of year.

Start saving for summer

If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to start putting money away for your summer getaway. Every little bit adds up, and the earlier you start saving, the more money you’ll have to spend on that dream vacation.

It’s springtime! As you celebrate the season of renewal, spruce up your finances to help stay on track for the rest of the year.

Your Turn: What’s on your financial to-do list this spring? Tell us about it in the comments.

6 Financial Lessons You Can Learn From Basketball

Basketball player shooting from free throw line, rear view

With college hoops March Madness coming up, let’s take a moment to review some surprising financial lessons we can learn from the iconic sport and its players.

Lesson 1: Passion breeds success

As any wannabe professional athlete can tell you, it takes more than muscle and talent to be a star. You need to be completely passionate about the sport to really succeed; otherwise, you’ll find it challenging to summon up the single-mindedness and commitment necessary for building your skills and strength.

In much the same way, you’ll see the most success while working at a job you feel passionate about. Your interest in the field will drive you to push yourself harder, set increasingly larger goals and achieve true success on a personal and financial level.

Lesson 2: Discipline is key 

From grueling training sessions to early-morning workouts, basketball requires an endless amount of self-discipline. Athletes must learn to ignore distractions and to devote themselves completely to the game to reach the top. This can mean missing out on social events, pulling all-nighters to keep their grades up and, of course, spending hours upon hours on training sessions and muscle building.

Managing your finances successfully requires a tremendous amount of discipline as well. Will you stick to your budget for groceries this month or blow it all on an expensive product that catches your eye? Will you have the self-control to decline an invitation to join your friends at a pricey restaurant when you already used up your allotted monthly budget for dining out? Will you remember to pay yourself first each month and set aside money for savings when there are so many things you’d love to buy today?

Training yourself to be disciplined with money is the key to a lifetime of financial wellness.

Lesson 3: Set small goals

Young athletes aspiring to compete on a professional level have a long road ahead of them. To bring their long-term goal within reach, they set smaller, trackable goals along the way. For example, they might work on increasing their muscle mass one season and then focus on bringing up their speed the next year.

Setting small goals is equally important when managing your finances. Sure, it’s nice to dream of acquiring your first million or buying a private island, but how realistic are these goals right now? How many years will it take to achieve them? It’s better to set smaller, manageable goals for your money, such as saving up a targeted amount of money, putting away a specific percentage of your monthly income for the future or bringing your monthly discretionary spending down by 10 percent. Just like a professional basketball player, your goals can be progressive, with another, larger goal taking the place of a smaller one you’ve already achieved.

Lesson 4: Diversify, diversify, diversify 

A basketball team cannot be made up of star centers. The team needs every player, each of whom is an expert in their own skill area. The team players then work in perfect coordination, using their talents to compensate for their teammates’ weaknesses and, ultimately, to win the game.

Similarly, the best investors will diversify their investments across different classes to maximize their chance of success. This way, the loss of any investments that don’t work out as planned will be offset by those that do.

Lesson 5: Research, review, revise

Athletes prepare for games beyond training sessions and practice runs. Before a scheduled game with an opponent, coaches will show their players videos of previous games they’ve played against that particular team. This way, the players can get an understanding of what they’re up against, learn the other team’s strengths and weaknesses and develop the best strategy to help defeat them.

In smart  money management, there’s no end to the ways you can build your knowledge. You can check out online financial resources, read the latest in personal finance literature and listen to podcasts on money topics that interest you. You can also stop by Mutual Credit Union to speak to an [MSRP] about the financial resources we offer members. Use the knowledge you acquire to make smart decisions about general money management, your investment strategy and your long-term financial goals.

Lesson 6: There’s no such thing as the easy way out

Players learn quickly that there are no shortcuts to building their skills, stamina and strength. Those who try to take the easy way out by turning to steroids or other illicit sources to help them reach their goals end up ruining their own careers.

Short of winning the lottery, there are no shortcuts to financial wealth, either. Don’t fall prey to get-rich schemes or miracle investments promising astronomical rewards. Instead, follow the timeless rules of money management to maintain true financial wellness throughout your life: Always pay yourself first, invest early to take advantage of compound interest, spend less than you earn and increase your earning potential by investing in your own skills and knowledge.

Your Turn: Can you think of any more financial lessons we can learn from basketball? Share them with us in the comments!