Don’t Shop Alone, Ask Your CU for Car-Buying Help

This may come as a shock to you, but I know pretty much nothing about cars. I know how to drive one (but only if it’s an automatic) and that’s about it. I tend to think of cars the same way I think of most technology, as a magical creature who works in ways I don’t understand and possesses the free will to decide not to work if I anger it. Your car might be a mechanical, inanimate object, but car definitely has a mind of its own. Needless to say, this approach makes me somewhat clueless when it comes to knowing what features I want in a car, what a good price is, etc.

Right after college I bought a 2003 Jeep Liberty with help from my parents. To give the Liberty credit, it got me where I needed to go (most of the time). But it also once broke down three times in the same week so my Jeep and I were not exactly what I would call best friends. And after spending over $3,000 last year fixing brakes, sensors, tires, and everything else that can possibly go wrong in a vehicle, I decided 2014 was officially the year of a new car for Kelsey!

Although I won’t bore you with my whole car-buying story, I do want to share one super-helpful tip for you to use the next time you are in the market for a new vehicle – ASK YOUR FINANCIAL INSTITUTION FOR HELP! 

I’m lucky enough to work at a financial institution, so I was already familiar with the services our credit union has to offer members who are shopping for a car. Before I even started looking, a loan officer at our credit union sat down with me and walked me through through the pre-approval process. She helped me find out what my credit score was, what interest rate I would qualify for, the price range of cars I should look at, about what my monthly payments would be, and approximately what I could get for trade-in value on my Jeep. Additionally, loan officers tend to know a little (or in some cases a lot) about cars because they finance so many of them! In just a few minutes of chatting, our loan officer was able to recommend a few cars to me that she thought would be in my price range, offer similar features to my Jeep, and that she had heard good things about from other members. Although maybe not all loan officers are as knowledgeable as her, it’s worth asking. If your financial institution can’t give you any advice on car-shopping, they may be able to refer you to someone who can like an auto-buying consultant. Many people never think to ask their financial institution for advice when buying a car, but your credit union or bank can be an excellent resource.

All of that information from my pre-approval was invaluable once I actually visited the dealership. Without the help I got from a loan officer, my guidelines for the kind of vehicle I wanted would have been much more vague. Instead, I went into the dealership with a solid idea of what I was looking for. I was super lucky because my loan officer even accompanied me to the dealership and helped me navigate additional steps in the car-buying process like what kind of warranty to purchase, etc. Although your financial institution might not come right to the dealership with you, you can always give them a call and ask what their advice is on additional coverage for your new vehicle.

She's a beauty! Hopefully she will be nicer to me than my Jeep.

She’s a beauty! Hopefully she will be nicer to me than my Jeep.

 

Long story short, with help from my credit union I was able to drive away from the dealership yesterday in a 2012 Chevy Malibu. I felt confident that I got a good price on a quality car because I had assistance from my financial institution. Lesson learned – don’t be shy! Ask your bank or credit union for help finding your new ride.

P.S. Want to know the best thing about my new car? I found $4.25 in a secret compartment next to the steering wheel!!! Someone clearly forgot it was there before they traded it in. And now that $4.25 is mine 🙂 I’m rich.

I LOVE SURPRISE MONEY!

I LOVE SURPRISE MONEY!

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Choosing a Credit Card Is Easier Than Flappy Bird

If you’re over 18, chances are you get a new credit card offer in the mail almost every day. Visa. MasterCard. Discover. American Express. The choices are endless. Each one promises to have the lowest interest rates, no fees, and an amazing rewards point program.  Sifting through all the offers to find the credit card that’s right for you is like trying to win at Flappy Bird – virtually impossible!

Two is my legit high score. Two.

Two is my legit high score. TWO.

But unlike with Flappy Bird (which you should just give up on playing before you punch your finger into your phone so hard it breaks), there is hope for the first-time credit card applicant. What’s the easiest way to be sure you’re getting a credit card that won’t fee you to death or get you in trouble? Ask your credit union for help! Most financial institutions offer credit cards of their own or have a credit card company they recommend to members. Applying for a card through your financial institution will ensure that you are using a trusted, secure, reliable credit card company.

Once you choose a credit card provider, there’s still the tricky question of which card to choose. There’s “Cash Rewards” Cards, “Travel Rewards” Cards, “Student” Cards, and so many more. They all have different terms, different interest rates, and different gimmicks to get you to choose them. Since your financial institution knows you and your money habits/needs, they can recommend which specific card will work best for you. Unlike a big credit card company, your credit union doesn’t just want to sell you something; they’ll work with you to find a credit card that doesn’t hurt but helps your credit.

Still reluctant to open up the Pandora’s Box of being a credit card holder? Or maybe you’ve already developed some bad spending habits and are working to restore your credit? Whatever your situation, a Secured Credit Card is a great alternative to a more traditional credit card. With a Secured Card you make an initial deposit into a secured savings account of $300 – $5,000. This deposit is pledged as security for your credit card account and will earn interest while you are using your card. You can only spend on your Secured Card as much as you deposited, so you don’t have to worry about racking up a high balance. Additionally, if you get behind or become unable to make payments, your credit card company will use your secured deposit to take care of your outstanding balance.

You can use your Secured Card just like any other credit card – merchants and retailers won’t ever know the difference! And your secured savings deposit guarantees your approval, so you don’t need to worry about being denied because of past mess-ups with your credit.

Still worried that a credit card will do you more harm than good? Here are a few tips for using your credit card wisely:

  • Pay off your balance in full every month. Don’t just make the minimum payment.
  • Limit yourself to just paying for certain things with your credit card. For example, use your card only to pay for gas at the pump. This will keep your balance down and will stop you from impulse shopping with your card.
  • Never pay for something that’s $20 or less with your credit card. This may seem counter-intuitive, but putting a lot of small $5 or $10 purchases on your credit card can really rack up your balance. You can pay for your $3 coffee with cash or your debit card.
  • Put a sticky note on your credit card with your savings goal on it. Say you’re saving up for Spring Break or a pair of concert tickets – put a note right on the card that says “CANCUN!” If you see the note when you pull out your credit card, it will make you think twice about the purchase? Do you really need the item or would you rather save that money for your trip?

Don’t be scared! Getting a credit card doesn’t have to be a scary, grueling experience. Ask the pros at your credit union for help! Now get out there and spend wisely (and just stay away from Flappy Bird. It’s a life-ruiner. It ruins people’s lives.)

My Future Bro In-Law Learns to Love Credit Unions

On the whole, my family is not very good at keeping our opinions to ourselves. When I lived at home after college, watching the evening news with my dad often erupted into loud, spirited debates where I yelled at him about the importance of women’s rights, universal health care, marriage equality, etc. He would then insist that, while those things are all well and go, I have no idea what the value of a dollar is and one day when I have money I will understand fiscal conservatism. My mom during these all too common scenes could typically be found in the kitchen rolling her eyes, occasionally suggesting that we agree to disagree and just shut up already so she could hear the TV.

The tendency to stand staunchly and stubbornly behind our beliefs is not unique to my father and I; every Gillespie has that gene. One of our most legendary family stories is about a time during a holiday get-together when my grandpa hollered at my dad, “STAND UP AND TELL ME YOU’RE AN AMERICAN!” We are, if not right, at least very passionate about our beliefs.

This inherited inability to accept defeat and allow someone else’s opinion to go un-changed got me in trouble this holiday season. My sister and her fiancé were visiting us from California when I had what I thought was an informative discussion with said fiancé about why he should switch to a credit union. After the duo returned home to San Francisco, my mother informed me that it was less of a discussion and more me just yelling at my Future Brother In-Law about how he is a spoiled rich kid. My mom may have a point, but I still think he walked away with some valuable lessons from that conversation.

I thought I would give you some snippets of what I remember from my debate with my Future Brother In-Law because I think it explains the credit union difference and why it’s important to support businesses that are locally and charitably motivated. Plus I will be able to edit out all of the yelling and cursing that occurred in the original, so hopefully what follows will be a succinct, intelligent defense of the credit union philosophy.

www.donttaxmycreditunion.org has great info on the credit union difference.

http://www.donttaxmycreditunion.org has great info on the credit union difference.

Disclaimer: in general, when I get all worked up and intense about feminism, how Nicholas Sparks is the worst author ever, or some other important issue, Future Bro In-Law seems to find it hilarious. Neither he nor his ego were harmed in the making of this blog. Additionally, this is only a transcription of how I remember the conversation. I am sure he would disagree with a lot of it. But if so, he can get his own blog and write a rebuttal. So there.

A Conversation About Choosing Credit Unions Over Banks

Future Bro In-Law: Does your credit union have a mobile banking app?

Me: Yes. We sure do. It works on phones AND on tablets. It’s easy to use, you can do transfers, check balances, whatever you need. It even has graphs so you can track your spending vs. earning. It’s super cool.

FBIL Questions #2: Can you use the app to deposit checks? Because I can take a picture of a check and deposit it.

Me: We cannot do that YET but we are looking into adding that feature. Do you even deposit that many checks?

FBIL: No like one or two per year. From my Nana . . .

Me: Loser. So it’s that’s not a deal breaker. Stop stealing money from your elderly grandmother.

FBIL:  Do you have a coin machine that counts your change for you?

Me: Yes! And it only takes 3% of your total as a fee instead of the 9% CoinStar takes.

FBIL: At **insert name of big bank here** they don’t charge you the fee if you put the money on an Amazon gift card.

Me: Yes, but then you have to use the money on Amazon.

FBIL: You can buy anything on Amazon.

Me: True. But again this isn’t really a deal breaker. How many times have you even used the coin machine?

My Sister Steps In: One time. We did it one time.

Me: Ask some important questions already.

FBIL: **Big Bank He Uses** has locations literally all over the country. Which is convenient because I opened my account in Pennsylvania when I was in high school, used it in New York in college, and now can still use that same account in San Francisco. I could even go to a **Big Bank** here in Maine and do a deposit or something. Doesn’t your credit union only have like 2 branches?

Me: First of all we have THREE branches, thank you very much. And we are a part of something called Shared Branching, a service that connects credit unions across the country. There are over 5,000 locations nationwide that you could go to and use just like your local credit union. So I could find a Shared Branching location in San Fran and go there to deposit a check into my Casco FCU account. It’s amazing. And it means we have just as many convenient locations as any big bank.

FBIL: Ok, but I don’t want to have to switch all of my stuff. Like I have a direct deposit from work for my paycheck. So does your sister. We have all sorts of auto-payments set up. It would just be a pain in the butt to switch everything to a new account.

Me: Funny you should say that because at Casco FCU we actually have something called the Switch Kit to help people with that very problem! You fill in the info of the Switch Kit Form and we do the rest of the work for you. We switch your Direct Deposit, all of your auto-payments, everything. You don’t need to do any of the work.

FBIL: I guess that’s nice but I don’t really see any reason to switch. What’s wrong with **his Big Bank**?

Me: The main difference between a credit union and a bank is that credit unions are not-for-profit organizations. Your Big Bank is owned by shareholders. Any profits (and they make a lot of profits) earned by your Big Bank go directly into the pockets of those wealthy shareholders. You’re investing in their business but what do you get out of it? As a member of a credit union you are a part shareholder of the business. Any net profits made by a credit union are returned to the members in the form of lower interest rates on loans, lower fees . . .

FBIL: I don’t get any fees.

Me: YOU might not get any fees, but other people at your financial institution do. Bigger banks require minimum balances on checking accounts and often charge heftier fees for overdrawing your account, having a check returned, and other stuff like that. If you live paycheck to paycheck like a lot of Americans now-a-days, it can be hard keep a minimum balance. A $25 fee for an overdrawn account could be a big part of someone’s weekly budget.

FBIL: Yeah but that never happens to me. I’ve never overdrawn my account. So it doesn’t really matter to me.

Me: (Note: this is the point where I started to yell a lot about how FBIL is spoiled and should have more sympathy for people who are not as fortunate as him. For everyone’s sake I will edit most of that out.) It’s not all about you! Even if you’re not getting the fees, do you really want to support a corporation that takes advantage of its customers?! Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that you are investing in a company that cares about its members and is going the extra mile to help people?!

FBIL: (starts sentence that he will never finish because I am unstoppable)

Me: Credit Unions are all about people helping people. We are owned and operated locally. If you were applying for a loan at my credit union, the decision to approve you would be made by the people right in my office. If you were a risky applicant, they could decide to take a chance on giving you a loan because you seem like a decent, hardworking person. And they would most likely be able to approve your loan within 24 hours! Can your Big Bank do that for you? Does anyone at your Big Bank even know your name?

FBIL: No.

Me: Exactly! They don’t care what your name is! We know everyone’s name. Credit Unions are all about service to our members. And you may not be getting fees or be denied a loan today, but it could happen to you in the future. Will your Big Bank that doesn’t know your name help you then?

At this point the conversation deteriorated into me talking over anything FBIL said. My dad suggested he just give up and tell me he would switch his account to a credit union even he didn’t mean it just so we could change the subject.

I think there are a few key takeaways from my FBIL’s credit union education:

  1. Being a member of a credit union means being a thoughtful consumer. You aren’t just buying financial products or services based on marketing gimmicks or apathy for investing time into finding a financial institution with a social conscious. You are choosing to invest in a financial institution that cares about its members and will make decisions based on what is good for the membership as a whole, not just what is best for a few shareholders.
  2. A credit union can offer virtually all of the same products and services as a bank. We are fully functioning, technologically up-to-date financial institutions. Being a member of a credit union doesn’t mean missing out on the convenience of a bigger bank.
  3. Being a credit union member is a great way to support your local community. Because of their non-profit roots, credit unions generally are huge supporters of charitable efforts within their communities. For example, here at Casco FCU we actively participate in fundraising for our local food pantry year-round. We help host a free tax prep event every February. We participate in many local road races to raise funds for different causes. Not only do we help our community by providing low to no cost financial solutions, but our employees go above and beyond to help our communities outside of their financial needs, as well.
Words to live by. Waffles. Friends. Work.

Words to live by. Waffles. Friends. Work.

So if you aren’t already a part of a credit union, consider switching today! If I haven’t convinced you yet, I am always available for a good discussion about the credit union difference. Just know that I will not stop talking until you give in and agree with me. I am the Leslie Knope of credit unions, meaning that I love them almost as much as I love waffles.