First Car: Plan for the Costs of Ownership

April 14, 2008

Getting a car of your own–and it’s about time.  All you can think about is how great it’s going to be to cruise around town with your friends.  But don’t get ahead of yourself and overlook the expenses associated with car ownership.  There are a number of costly fees looking to hitch a ride with you every chance they get.

Common auto expenses shouldn’t discourage you;  they simply come with the territory of auto ownership.  When you buy your car, there will be tax, title, and license plate fees.  Then there are insurance costs and inspection fees.  And don’t forget about routine expenses like gasoline, oil changes, and tune-ups.

Research the average costs of auto insurance and other expenses ahead of time,  and save money so that you can stay ahead of the auto-expenses game.  Your preparation and resourcefulness will leave you ready for anything that tries to come between you and your new set of wheels.  Now, get out there and take a little drive–and leave auto expenses on the side of the road, looking for an unprepared driver to latch onto.

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Our blog in the news!

April 4, 2008

CQ logo

A big thank you goes out to the Times Union of Albany NY.  Recently they featured our blog, along with our other podcasts, in-school branches and youth initiatives, in the Capitaland Quarterly.

Here is a link to the article:

http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=675726


Going Greener With Your Next Car

April 4, 2008

This post isn’t talking about what color car you want – it’s about cars and the environment!

If you’re as worried about climate change on the planet as you are about climate control inside your car, it’s now easier to pick out the greenest vehicle that meets your needs and budget.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—which regulates tailpipe pollutants as well as measures gas mileage—has combined data from both roles into a new Green Vehicle Guide.  Consulting this and other Internet green car ratings will help you make a more informed decision.

If you look at EPA ratings, you can see which of the cars, vans, pickups, or SUVs you’re considering add least to your hometown air pollution as well as have the least impact on global warming.  And there’s a bonus: Cars with lower carbon dioxide emissions generally have higher gas mileage and so will cost you less to drive.

In trying to think green for your next car, here are some issues to consider:

• Look hard at how you use your vehicle.  Consider your actual automotive needs rather than just your wants.

• Choose the greenest in your category.  Even if the vehicles you’re interested in don’t show up in the EPA or other top ratings, remember that better gas mileage translates to lower emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

• Don’t assume a hybrid is the only answer.  Though gas-electric hybrids top the mileage and green rating lists in most categories, you can find other green choices as well.

• Be alert for quirks in the EPA Rating.  Some vehicles flagged by the EPA as green standouts run most efficiently on E85 ethanol. Check here for E85 availability where you live; you’ll have to put in your zip code.

Greener choices–from small vehicles to large–are becoming available.  For the latest on hybrids and other green cars, visit Edmunds.com and click on Tips and Advice.


Tips to Avoid Late Fees

March 27, 2008

With late payment fees of $39 or more, credit card companies make millions of dollars a year just because we are a little late in making a payment.  What can you do?

The most important thing is to make your payment before the due date.  You will save on the late fee and it will help your credit score, which in turn will save you more money in your future lending needs.  Here are a few tips to help keep you on track and avoid paying late fees:

1.  Be aware of the rules of your credit card.  For example, many credit cards offer low rates, but if you are late by one day not only will you pay a late fee, but your rate will jump up, meaning it will cost you more money!

2.  If you are paying by mail, make sure you send the payment and payment coupon, at least a week before the due date.

3.  If you are paying by online bill payment, schedule your payment 2 or 3 days before your due date, to ensure that your payment is credited on time.

4.  If you find that your credit card payment comes at an inconvenient time, ask your credit card issuer to change the due date to assist you in managing your money.  Most credit card companies would be able to do this for you.

These are just a few common sense tips to help you manage your money and avoid paying fees when you don’t have to!


Give Your Debts a Financial Health Check

March 21, 2008

Woman Workout

How healthy is your financial situation?  Here’s how you can determine your financial health!

A debt-to-income ratio is a measure of financial stability calculated by dividing monthly minimum debt payments by monthly gross income.  Many lenders use debt-to-income ratios to help determine whether a borrower is overextended or not. 

This calculation gives a straightforward depiction of your financial position.  Typically, the lower your ratio, the better handle you have on debt.  Here’s how you can calculate your debt-to-income ratio:

First, determine your debt

* Collect your most recent credit billing statements for current balances on all loans and credit cards
* Outline your total monthly bills using two columns: bill type (such as car loan, mortgage/rent payments, credit cards, and so on) and monthly payment.  Do not include bills such as taxes and utilities in this list.

* Add up the total for all of the monthly payments listed.

* Calculate your monthly before-tax income.  If you receive a paycheck every other week, as opposed to twice a month, your monthly gross income is your before-tax income from one paycheck times 2.17.

* Your monthly debt-to-income ratio is calculated by dividing your monthly debt payments by your monthly income.  For example, someone with a monthly income of $2,000 who is making monthly payments of $500 on loans and credit cards has a debt-to-income ratio of 25% ($500 / $2,000 = .25 or 25%).

What range your debt-to-income should be is subjective.  But, generally speaking if you keep it below 35%, you should be in good shape.  And, remember – the lower your debt-to-income ratio is – the better!

Take a look at your debt-to-income ratio, and look for ways to reduce that percentage!


When is a ‘Free’ Credit Report, Not Really Free?

March 13, 2008

On the surface, it seems logical:  You type the phrase “free credit report” in a search engine to access the Web site that offers free reports–which you’re entitled to, by law.

But here’s the catch:  Your search results might not drive you to the one legitimate Web site operated by the Federal Trade Commission.

Q:  What’s the danger in going to the wrong Web site to get your free credit report?
A:  These sites hook you with offers of so-called free credit reports while aggressively marketing other services.  Go to any site other than annualcreditreport.com and you may wind up paying needlessly for services you don’t want.  Or, you could pay $75 for a credit score that otherwise costs $8 to $12.  In one example, a site advertised a “free credit report” but failed to disclose adequately that, if you signed up, you automatically would be enrolled in a credit-monitoring program and charged $79.95.  Many disclosures are in the fine print and easy to overlook.

Q:  What are some sites to stay away from?
A:  The one most heavily advertised is freecreditreport.com.  Other variations include free-credit-reports.com, freecreditreportsinstantly.com, thefreecreditreportsource.com, creditreport.com, creditreporting.com, and nationalcreditreport.com.

Q:  Which site allows access to free credit reports without trying to sell unnecessary services?
A:  Go to annualcreditreport.com, which was established after the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 gave consumers the right to obtain–once a year–a free credit report from each of the big three credit reporting agencies:  Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  Or, you can call toll-free 877-322-8228.

Q:  Should I order the three annual free credit reports all at once?
A:  You can order them all at the same time.  A better strategy is to stagger your requests throughout the year.  Order a free report from one agency, then wait four months and order a report from a different agency, then wait another four months and order the third report.  After a year, start the process over again.  That way, you’re more likely to detect errors–or even fraudulent accounts set up in your name–than if you wait a whole year to look at all three of your reports.

Another suggestion is to visit any branch of First New York Federal Credit Union.  We can help you understand your credit report and score, and make recommendations on how to improve your score – and it’s REALLY FREE!


Common Credit Report Mistakes Could Cost You

March 7, 2008

If you haven’t requested a copy of your credit report, there are many reasons why you should.

A 2004 study–the most recent available–by the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups revealed that almost 79% of all credit reports contain some type of error.  One-fourth of credit reports contain such serious errors that those individuals could be denied credit or be charged a higher interest rate.

What are the common errors?

1.  Misspelled names
2.  Wrong Social Security numbers
3.  Inaccurate birth dates
4.  Inaccurate information about a spouse
5.  Out-of-date address
6.  “Closed” accounts listed as “open”
7.  The same mortgage or loan listed twice
8.  Absence of major credit, loan, mortgage, or other accounts that could be used to demonstrate creditworthiness

What should you do?  Review your credit report, at least annually, for accuracy.  If you uncover an error, contact the credit reporting agency to have it corrected.  On an annual basis you can get a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.  In between, First New York members can have their credit report run at no charge, to make sure your credit report is accurate.  Visit any branch office for more information.