April 15 is fast approaching, but the looming deadline to file your tax return doesn’t have to be a source of stress. Here are a few ways you can ensure a smoother filing process for this year’s tax return.
1. Take inventory of all your documents.
Before you can get started on your taxes, you need to be sure you have all your important documents handy. These include forms that show your annual wages and income, like W-2 and 1099-MISC forms.
You’ll also need any documents that show social security or unemployment payments you received, or interest you earned on investments. If you run a business, you’ll also need your receipts for business expenses.
These are just a few of the possible documents you may need—if you own a home or pay interest on student loans, for example, you’ll need additional documentation. Check this list from the IRS for a full listing of the documents you may need.
2. See if you qualify for free tax prep tools.
You don’t necessarily need to hire an accountant or purchase software to file your taxes. Using IRS Free File, you can locate free tools that help make the process of filing your federal tax return a little bit easier.
If you earn less than $69,000 a year, IRS Free File can connect you to free software that helps you find tax breaks and fill out forms—some of this software can also provide free state tax returns.
If you earn more than $69,000, you can use the IRS’s forms to file your federal return online for free (although the IRS suggests only going this route if you have some prior experience filing taxes).
3. Set yourself up for success next year.
If this year’s tax return was a headache, learn from the process and start planning now for next year.
There’s no time like the present to clean up your record-keeping. If your taxes were more complicated than you expected this year, you may want to consider hiring a professional to handle your taxes next year.
By taking steps now to keep your tax information organized, you’ll be ready to dive into next year’s return with confidence.
You try to stick to a monthly budget, but it seems like money comes out of your account faster than you can earn it.
If that sounds like a familiar situation, one of these expenses might be causing a silent but serious drain on your bank account.
1. Bank fees
Overdraft fees, ATM fees, international transaction fees, minimum balance fees—all of these charges add up to a lot of wasted money. To avoid getting hit with bank fees, look closely at your account’s terms and conditions. By choosing an account that fits your lifestyle and minimizes fees—and by knowing your account’s overdraft policies and ATM fees—you can keep more money in your bank account. To view the great account options at WaterStone Bank, visit https://www.wsbonline.com/.
2. Unused subscription services
Subscription services that automatically renew can sneak up on your budget. Ask yourself if you’re getting your money’s worth out of every streaming service, gym membership or subscription service you pay for. Also keep an eye out for free trials that are no longer free: To avoid making payments after your trial ends, set a reminder to cancel the subscription before the trial’s expiration date.
3. Credit card interest payments
If you only make the minimum payment on your credit card bill, you’ll pay handsomely for it in interest. To avoid interest fees, pay off your full credit card balance every month. If you’re too tempted to spend beyond your means, try paying off your credit card balance each time you make a new charge to help you stay on track.
4. New technology
Do you replace your smartphone like clockwork every year and jump at the latest model when a new gadget drops? These habits can be costly over time. You could save hundreds of dollars just by waiting a while to upgrade your gadgets.
When you decide it’s time for something new, take advantage of savings by opting for a slightly older model—something that’s still an upgrade from your old device, but not the newest (or priciest) technology on the block.
5. Extended warranties
Many big-ticket purchases, like cars or expensive electronics, offer extended warranties. The warranty might sound like a good idea, but a Consumer Reports survey found that more than half of people who purchase extended warranties never use them, and the people who use them end up paying more for the warranty than they receive in benefits. If you’re concerned about costly repairs, skip the extended warranty and set money aside in a savings account.
As a homeowner, you know that your dwelling isn’t just a roof over your head—it’s a major investment. If you’re beginning to think about selling your home, now is the time to start tackling small home improvement projects that offer a big bang for the buck.
Whether you’re a renovation novice or the handiest homeowner on the block, here are a few projects anyone can tackle to help increase their home’s resale value.
- Put on a fresh coat of paint.
A fresh coat of paint is a low-budget way to revive your space, and you don’t need any special skills to do it. The supplies are inexpensive: All you need is paint, a few brushes, and tarps or plastic sheets to protect your flooring. For best results, be sure to prep the room and start with a coat of primer.
When resale is your objective, opt for neutral paint colors that will appeal to a variety of buyers. You may love that deep burgundy or bright neon green, but not everyone shares your taste. When in doubt, crisp white paint is a safe option.
- Update door and cabinet hardware.
Dated hardware on cabinets or vanities can look messy and unappealing to buyers. Luckily, swapping out your hardware is quick and easy—just be sure to measure your existing cabinet pulls before you head to the hardware store to buy replacements. You don’t want to end up with the wrong size. You may also want to update doorknobs if they look weathered or mismatched.
For a DIY hardware update that’s easy on the wallet, give your existing knobs and pulls a new look with a few coats of spray paint.
- Declutter your space.
When you’re ready to list your house for sale, spend some time decluttering. You’ll be amazed at the difference a little bit of tidying up can make. By clearing off kitchen counters, organizing closets and freeing up space throughout your house, you’ll help prospective buyers see the home’s potential, instead of getting distracted by the mess.
Stuck in a budget rut? We understand. It can be a challenge to grow your budget while paying fixed expenses like rent or mortgage, auto loans, groceries and other bills, especially if you aren’t due for a big raise or promotion soon. But with a little creativity, it’s possible to find some extra wiggle room in your budget.
Here are a few easy ways to cut back on expenses and expand your budget—no side hustle required.
- Cut back on subscriptions.
When is the last time you took a good look at your subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu? Are you paying for satellite radio that you barely listen to, or an expensive cable plan you hardly watch? What about all those free trials that stopped being free, and now you’re stuck paying fees each month?
Look through your bank statements to see if there are any services or subscriptions you can cut. The savings can add up quickly: By cutting just $20 per month in subscriptions, you’ll free up $240 per year to spend however you like.
- Take advantage of credit card rewards.
If you aren’t being rewarded for your purchases, you’re leaving money on the table. Consider opening a rewards credit card to accrue points and cashback for your everyday purchases.
WaterStone Bank offers three different types of rewards cards, with up to 3 percent cash back on eligible purchases. The more you use your rewards card, the more cashback you accrue, which is money in your pocket—and a serious boost to your budget.
Choose the card that best fits your lifestyle, from the Cash Rewards American Express® Card that offers tiered rewards with extra cashback on gas and groceries, to the Premier Rewards American Express Card that offers additional rewards for restaurant and airline purchases.
- Commit to one no-spend weekend every month.
How much do you spend on the average weekend? If your Saturday and Sunday plans usually include dinner, a movie and brunch, the bill can add up quickly, especially if you’re out with the whole family.
America’s Debt Help Organization suggests challenging yourself to a weekend of no spending. Enjoy a home-cooked meal, plan a picnic at the park, go for a hike or watch a movie on the couch. You’ll free up money in your budget while remembering that happiness doesn’t need to cost a thing.
When it comes to investing, sometimes it’s good to find a middle ground. Perhaps you’re looking for a way to earn interest on your savings, but you don’t want to take on the risk of investing in volatile stocks.
A certificate of deposit—called a CD for short—might be the perfect Goldilocks solution you’ve been searching for.
What is a CD?
A CD is a type of savings account that lets you steadily earn interest on your money. By agreeing to keep your money in the account for a set period of time—anywhere from one month to five years—your investment earns a favorable interest rate.
How much will I earn on money in a CD?
CD interest rates are much better than the rates for general savings accounts.
For context, a traditional savings account offers an average interest rate of .09 percent, according to FDIC data from December 2019. A CD, on the other hand, can offer rates up to .97 percent. That means you could earn nearly eleven times more interest by opening a CD, rather than keeping your money in a general savings account.
CDs are also considered one of the safest savings options, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Your money earns interest without being exposed to the risk of the stock market.
What kind of CD is right for me?
Each CD comes with its own terms and interest rates. Check with your bank to see which products they offer and which CD best fits your lifestyle. Keep in mind, many CDs also require a minimum deposit—at WaterStone Bank, you can open a CD with as little as $100.
How can I maximize my return on a CD?
Shop around for CDs and select one that fits your goals. If you can set aside a large sum of money for a long period of time, you’ll be able to take advantage of higher interest rates, which means that over time, you’ll earn more money.
However, if you need access to your money soon, don’t open a five-year CD just because of a tempting interest rate. It’s better to earn a modest return on a CD with a short commitment than to spread yourself too thin.
Whether you’re working towards a short-term financial goal or growing your long-term savings, a CD can be a safe, reliable way to make your money work for you.
For years, our smart phones have been more than just phones. We rely on them to take photos, check email and track our fitness. Now, you can use your smart phone as a payment tool with the power of mobile wallet technology.
Mobile wallets store your payment information on an app in your phone. When it comes time to make a payment, just wave your mobile device at a scanner and your phone will securely send your payment information to the merchant.
Many people are drawn to mobile wallet technology for the convenience: By simply swiping your device to make a purchase, there’s no need to dig through a wallet overflowing with plastic cards to find the right form of payment. All you need to do is download an app, enter your payment information and go.
Getting started with a mobile wallet
Common mobile wallet apps include Apple Pay and Google Android Pay. These apps come standard on iPhone and Android smartphones, but you can also use a third-party mobile wallet app, like Venmo or eWallet, which may offer additional features like payments between friends or the capability to store other personal information, including passport numbers and drivers licenses.
Keep in mind, not all types of mobile wallets are accepted by all retailers. Before deciding on a mobile wallet app, see which retailers and vendors will accept payments and make sure your favorite merchants are included.
Mobile vs. digital wallets: What’s the difference?
A mobile wallet is a type of digital wallet. A digital wallet (or e-wallet) is any encrypted system for storing payments online, whether that’s on your desktop, laptop or mobile device. A mobile wallet is an app that was created specifically for mobile devices, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Staying safe with mobile payments
Mobile wallet apps keep your information secure through encryption. But to be safe, Credit Karma suggests setting up two-factor authentication on your mobile device in case your phone ever ends up in the wrong hands; you may also want to install an app that can locate and remotely delete your personal data if your phone is ever lost or stolen.
Hosting has its perks: When the party comes to you, you never have to leave the comfort of your own home.
But as your guest list increases, so do your expenses. The cost of food, drinks and décor adds up quickly when you’re hosting. If you’re entertaining on a budget, here are a few tips to keep costs in check so you can be the host with the most—without breaking the bank.
1. Make a grocery list and stick to it.
Before you step foot in the grocery store, make a shopping list and settle on your budget. If you head to the store without a list or a budget, it’s easy to get carried away and find yourself with a cart full of items you don’t really need.
Spend time putting together a menu using ingredients that offer the most bang for their buck so you can feed a crowd, even on a budget.
2. Think beyond sit-down meals.
Hosting your sister’s wedding shower but can’t afford to buy lunch for 20 people? Luckily, not all events need to revolve around meals. Host a mid-afternoon shower with tea and sweet snacks. By planning your party at a time when people don’t expect a full meal, you’ll save on food costs.
You can also host a potluck where everyone brings a dish to share. This frees you up to focus on the main course and leave the sides, appetizers and desserts to your guests.
3. Decorate on a dime.
Yes, it’s possible to create a picture-perfect party on a tight budget! Borrow décor from friends or whip up your own DIY projects to spruce up the space. Head to Pinterest to find decorating ideas, or start with this list full of low-cost décor inspiration for your next soiree.
Spend where it counts.
Will your guests remember your elaborate centerpiece for years to come? Probably not. There’s a better chance they’ll remember your delicious artichoke dip, or that awkward moment when the wine ran out. Better to put your money toward creating an amazing experience for guests than curating a beautiful space that’s more fashionable than functional.
At the end of the day, remember that your party is an opportunity to bring people together. Whether you host a picnic potluck or a five-course dinner, the lively conversation and memories you make don’t cost a thing.
Between gift-giving, traveling and hosting, the most wonderful time of the year is also one of the most expensive.
During the holidays, it’s also dangerously easy to throw caution to the wind when it comes to your budget. After all, what’s another $50 on a treat for yourself when you’ve already spent $500 on everyone else…?
An occasional indulgence won’t break the bank, but if you succumb to too much spending temptation, your holiday budget could go off the rails. Here are a few tips to help keep spending in check this holiday season.
1. Build a budget with wiggle room.
Expect the unexpected and create a holiday budget that leaves room for surprise costs. You never know when you’ll need to buy a last-minute gift for an unexpected guest at family dinner.
If you’re traveling, remember to plan for expenses like gas, cabs or ride shares, and food at the airport. Decide in advance what you’ll spend on gifts; pick a dollar amount for each person on your list. If you shop with a plan to spend a maximum of $40 per person, for example, it’s easier to stick to your budget and avoid going overboard.
2. Use rewards to offset costs (or to treat yourself).
All year long, you earn points on bank cards and credit cards. Now, it’s time to put those points to work!
Check each of your cards to see if you’ve earned cashback or rewards that you can redeem for gift cards and retail goods. If you have a WaterStone Bank Debit Card, you can redeem your ScoreCard® Rewards Card points for branded merchandise and travel, which can make a serious dent in holiday expenses.
3. Find joy in the season without spending.
You don’t need to spend money to make the most of the holidays. Take a tip from Real Simple and resist the urge to stock up on seasonal décor that you don’t really need, or trendy toys that will only entertain the kids for a few hours. Instead, embrace the season’s joyful moments that don’t cost a dime, whether that means sledding with the family, sharing stories among friends or watching the snow fall from your window.
Ah, the holidays. It can be the most joyful—and sometimes the most stressful—time of the year.
For many of us, the holiday season means a busy social calendar, long shopping lists, and extra travel to be close to loved ones for every occasion. You may already have a budget for gift-giving, but travel expenses can also stack up quickly, especially when you’re traversing the country to attend each celebration.
But holiday travel doesn’t have to be a drain on your bank account. Follow these tips, and you could save money as you move from one holiday event to the next.
Make it a road trip.
In general, driving is cheaper than flying. If your destination is close enough that you can get there by car, you could easily save hundreds of dollars on airline tickets. Find additional savings by carpooling with friends and family and splitting up the cost of gas (and the rental car, if you use one).
Book flights strategically.
If you choose to fly, don’t procrastinate when it comes to booking your flight. Experts agree that it’s wise to start keeping an eye on flight prices sooner rather than later. If you wait to book until a few weeks before Thanksgiving or Christmas, you could get stuck paying exorbitant prices. On the other hand, you could get lucky and score a last-minute deal—but it’s a gamble. If you know your holiday plans a few months in advance, booking early is generally a safer bet.
To save even more on flights, AAA suggests avoiding peak travel days. If you don’t mind spending time in the airport on a holiday, you could find cheaper flights on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve.
Flying on Dec. 26, on the other hand, comes at a cost—it’s the most expensive day to fly during the week of Christmas, according to AAA.
Cash in on points and loyalty programs.
Being loyal to your favorite brands can pay off, especially when that loyalty earns you a free hotel stay or flight. Check your hotel and airline accounts to see if you have enough unused rewards to qualify for any freebies. Even small wins, like one free night of a four-night hotel stay, can add up to serious savings over time.
If your car keeps making that rattling noise that just won’t quit, you might be wondering: Should you pony up and pay for the repairs? Or are you better off buying a new car?
The answer depends on your situation. After all, you don’t want to waste money fixing a car that will need to be replaced soon, but you also don’t want to splurge on a new ride if your car has a few good years left on the road.
To help make your decision, ask yourself these questions:
1. How frequently are you going in for repairs?
The cost of auto repairs can add up quickly. If your car’s list of problems is constantly growing, it may be time to consider buying something new.
On the other hand, if you’re facing a one-off maintenance issue, or an expense associated with normal wear and tear—for example, purchasing new tires—this comes with the territory of owning a car. If your car is only a few years old, you probably don’t need to buy a new vehicle yet. But you may want to set money aside in a rainy day fund so that you’re prepared to pay for the occasional repair.
2. Would repairs cost more than the value of your car?
Check the Kelley Blue Book to find the approximate value of your car. Then, consider the cost of repairs against the value of your vehicle. If you’d spend more money replacing the breaks than your car is worth, you’re probably better off buying something new. But if you have a newer car, it may be a better deal to pay for repairs than to start browsing the latest models on the lot.
To determine how long you can expect your car to be roadworthy, ask a trusted mechanic to examine it for problems. This appointment is a small price to pay for peace of mind, or for confirmation that it’s time to consider a new car.
3. Have car troubles endangered you or your family?
If frequent car trouble has left you stranded, late to work, or stalled in the middle of the road, it’s time for a new vehicle, according to Edmunds. Ultimately, your safety is worth more than trying to save a few bucks.
4. Does a new car fit into your budget and your lifestyle?
Whether you’re looking at buying new or pre-owned, consider if you’re ready for everything that comes with a new car: Can you afford the monthly payment? Would your insurance premium increase? What kind of loans and interest rates are available?
Do your research before you kick your old car to the curb and make sure that a new vehicle fits within your budget and in your lifestyle.
Your credit score is one of the most important parts of your overall financial picture. A high FICO credit score can open doors: It makes it easier to attain loans, credit cards, and to secure lower interest rates.
If your credit history has a few blemishes, you might have a low credit score, which can make it harder to attain credit, loans or favorable interest rates. A high credit score is around 700 to 850, and a low score is around 300, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A good rule of thumb is that a score above 670 is good.
Luckily, there are ways you can improve your score. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with persistence and patience, you can recuperate your credit score by following these tips.
- Always pay bills on time. Payment history is the single largest factor in determining your credit score. Stay up to date on all your credit card bills, mortgage payments, and other bills to bolster your score.
- Avoid opening new lines of credit. It can damage your credit if you open too many new credit card accounts in a short period, according to Debt.org.
- But don’t be too quick to close old credit cards. Even if you hardly use your first credit card, leave the account open. Your length of credit history impacts your credit score; FICO awards a higher score to people with longer credit histories. It’s wise to keep your oldest account open, even if it sits unused.
- Be mindful of your credit utilization. The more of your credit you use, the more likely your credit score is to suffer. That’s because your credit utilization rate—the amount of credit you use divided by the amount of credit you have available, according to Experian—also plays a role in calculating your credit score. Aim to use no more than 30 percent of your total available credit. You can accomplish this by simply using less credit, or by asking for higher credit limits on your existing accounts.
- Correct errors in your credit report. Request your free credit report—you’re entitled to one every 12 months. Then, check for errors, and follow FICO’s guidelines for identifying and disputing mistakes. Common issues include clerical errors and missing account information, which can negatively impact your credit score. If you find errors, contact the credit bureau. These corrections can ultimately help increase your score.
If you have a taste for the finer foods in life, you already know: Managing the cost of groceries can be tough.
But food expenses don’t have to eat through your monthly budget. With a little bit of planning and thriftiness, you can keep food costs in check while still satisfying your cravings and your nutritional needs.
- Buy seasonal produce.
Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs are more affordable when you buy them in season. Check the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Seasonal Produce Guide for guidelines, or use SeasonalFoodGuide.org to see which items are growing now in your area.
- Stock up on affordable pantry staples.
Shelf-stable pantry staples aren’t just convenient—they’re often even cheaper than their fresh counterparts. Canned vegetables, beans, and proteins like chicken and fish provide both ease and affordability. To save even more money, and to cut back on sodium, use dry beans instead of canned beans.
- Make friends with the freezer aisle.
If you struggle to finish all your fresh fruit and veggies before they go bad, the freezer aisle offers a budget-friendly solution. Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables so that your favorites are always within reach. You’ll save money and avoid the guilt of throwing spoiled produce in the trash.
- Buy in bulk.
If your family goes through pounds of rice, pasta or other dry staples every week, think beyond pre-packaged foods and walk back to the bulk section. It’s generally a better deal to buy in bulk than it is to purchase in smaller quantities, especially for items you use often, from grains, nuts and cereal to paper goods, like toilet paper and paper towels.
- Be savvy with coupons.
Gather coupons from newspaper ads, store mailers and email promotions. Some grocery stores have their own shopping apps where you can gather digital coupons. While you’re at the store, the USDA recommends watching for deals right in front of you, like peel-off coupons on packages and coupons set up along the aisles.
- Compare your options.
Don’t just reach for the first package you see. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests checking unit prices or prices per serving—these numbers can help you determine which item is really the best deal. In general, generic items are cheaper than name brands.
Your grocery trips may take a little longer as you start comparing your options and gathering coupons, but by following these tips, you’ll create smart shopping habits that can save you money in the long run.
When your teen leaves the nest and heads to college, they are embarking on an exciting, independent next chapter in life. But are they ready to face a new financial reality after unpacking the dorm room and exploring campus?
As your child prepares for college, consider the financial lessons you want to impart before they strike out on their own. By stating important conversations about money now, you can be confident your child is equipped to make sound financial decisions that lead to a lifetime of success and prosperity.
Consider talking through these topics with your teen before they head to campus:
- Budgeting basics. Hopefully, your teen has watched as you’ve modeled good financial behaviors over the years, including keeping a budget to track expenses. A basic spreadsheet can go a long way in helping teens keep track of fixed costs, like rent, and variable costs, like food and shopping.
- Saving for a rainy day and other big-ticket expenses. If your teen is working while in school, it may be tempting to pocket extra cash for a dinner out or a shopping trip. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional treat, remind your child about the importance of establishing an emergency savings fund for big-ticket items like a new laptop or a spring break trip that won’t be paid for by mom and dad.
- What credit can (and can’t) do. Encourage your child to start building good credit early. Talk about the dos and don’ts of credit cards, including the importance of always paying bills on time and avoiding carrying a balance. For teenagers who can’t get approved for their own credit card, NerdWallet offers a few tips on other ways to start building credit early.
- The long-term impact of student loans. Sit down with your teen and walk through the different options available for financing their education. Include them in the FAFSA process; fill out the forms together, and calculate what their loan payments could be after graduation. A school that requires a six-figure loan to cover tuition could translate into mortgage-size monthly loan repayments after your child graduates. Help your teen decide on a school that fits both their educational and financial goals.
Every parent wants their child to grow up into a financially savvy adult. But for young kids, money can seem abstract and a little boring—especially when they’re used to toys and treats that seem to magically materialize without understanding what it takes to earn a dollar.
If you’re stumped on how to start teaching your kids about personal finance, consider assigning chores around the house and rewarding kids with an allowance. It’s a hands-on way to illustrate money lessons, even for the youngest members of your household.
But before you start doling out cash each week, think ahead about how you plan to approach chores and money with your kids:
- Decide which chores you’ll pay for—and which you won’t. Some chores, like making the bed, occur daily. Others might be sporadic, like shoveling snow or dusting picture frames. Chances are, you won’t pay for every chore. Decide which chores will be rewarded with an allowance, and use a chore chart to make it easy for you and your kids to keep track of progress.
- Help kids decide how they’ll use their earnings. Instead of handing over cash without any limitations, work with your kids to come up with a savings and spending plan for their allowance that you can both agree on. Maybe half of their earnings go toward saving and the other half can be spent as your child pleases. The American Bankers Association also suggests the “three jars” method: One jar for spending, one for saving, and one for making contributions to your child’s favorite charity, to start instilling a philanthropic attitude early in life.
- Be a model of good spending and saving habits. Young kids are sponges and they learn by example, so it’s important for you to model good habits like paying bills on time and sticking to a budget. The ABA also recommends opening a savings account in your child’s name and making regular visits to the branch together to make deposits. At WaterStone Bank, our Moola Moola Kids Club teaches kids to master the art of saving and establish good financial habits while they earn rewards. Even something as simple as giving your child a wallet or piggy bank can make personal finance more interactive, fun and memorable for children.
Your relationship with your bank isn’t so different from the other relationships in your life—and despite our best efforts, some relationships must ultimately come to an end.
A break-up with your bank doesn’t usually happen out of the blue. It might start with a small frustration—why aren’t there any ATMs nearby? Why is it so hard to get ahold of customer service?—and then escalate as your frustrations continue to mount. But you don’t have to stick with a bank that doesn’t meet your needs; you should feel empowered to switch banks if your current bank isn’t giving you everything you need.
Wondering whether it’s time to call it quits with your bank? If you’re facing any of these issues, it may be time to move on:
- High fees. If you’re paying an arm and a leg in annual fees, it never hurts to shop around for a better deal.
- A lack of products that fit your lifestyle. Sometimes, a simple checking and savings account don’t cut it. If you’re an entrepreneur and your bank doesn’t offer products for small business owners, for example, search for a bank that can provide all the products and services you need under one roof.
- Poor service. It’s simple: You deserve attentive customer service with a personal touch. If the customer service is lacking at your current bank, it’s time to call it quits.
Luckily, switching banks doesn’t have to be a painful process. Follow three simple steps for a seamless transition:
- Open your new bank account.
- Transfer your money and update your automatic payments and deposits. Many banks go the extra mile to make this step painless for customers. At WaterStone bank, our QuickSwitch forms help you cover all your bases, so you won’t miss a single paycheck or utility payment after you finalize the switch.
- Close your old account. Just make sure any outstanding checks or transactions have cleared before you take the final plunge.
Thinking of switching to WaterStone Bank? Give us a call at 414.761.1000 (toll-free at 888.686.7272) or visit your nearest branch to meet with a representative who can help you create a personalized banking solution to achieve all your financial goals.
Many people practice strong IT security habits – they hover over a link and verify the web address before clicking, they do not open emails from unknown senders, and they create strong passwords. It appears this person is doing a great job protecting their computer and personal information, but what about the other users of the computer?
In many homes, a computer is shared between multiple family members. Often there is a primary account with additional accounts for other users. In this scenario, it is crucial to address security awareness at a larger, “family level.” One bad click can seriously impact or compromise the data on the machine.
Kids are known for “speed clicking” and accepting most prompts that emerge on the computer screen. As a parent and user of the computer, it is essential that strong security habits are continuously taught and instilled in all users. Take the time to explain how to hover, handle unknown emails and attachments, and react if your computer displays a message or alert.
Patching your operating system and updating your virus software is also critical! Humans tend to be the weakest link for IT security. With repetitive education you can properly safeguard your data. New threats emerge frequently and only require the end user to let their guard down once.
There are countless banks and financial institutions vying for your business every day. But how do you determine which type of bank is the best fit for your needs and goals?
To make the process of choosing a bank a little easier, we’ll walk through the differences between three of the most common players: Large banks, community banks and credit unions.
Large banks are national banks with a vast presence around the country (and sometimes around the world). Large banks usually offer a variety of products and services, which can be ideal for the customer who knows exactly what they need. Frequent travelers may also find that large banks have a larger ATM network than smaller banks. On the other hand, large banks offer less personalized customer service than smaller banks that are rooted in the community.
Community banks are locally owned and operated banks. These institutions are quite literally invested in the local community by providing loans to neighborhood businesses and bolstering the local economy. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, community banks like WaterStone Bank rank highest in customer satisfaction compared to large banks and online lenders. For individuals, community banks offer a more personal and relationship-focused approach to banking than larger institutions.
Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives. MyCreditUnion.gov points out a few key differences between credit unions and banks, including the member-owned and cooperative structure of credit unions, which means members vote to elect a board of directors and can take out loans against each other members’ deposits. Credit unions provide many of the same services as banks but sometimes offer better interest rates on loans and lower fees.
Ultimately, each bank and credit union is a little bit different. It’s important to ask questions, compare your options and shop around before deciding which bank or credit union is right for you.
Want to learn more about personal or business banking with WaterStone Bank? Give us a call at 414.761.1000 (toll-free at 888.686.7272) or visit your nearest branch to learn more about how WaterStone Bank is committed to providing banking solutions to individuals and entrepreneurs while also supporting southeastern Wisconsin community.
Have you ever wondered whether a spending plan is right for you? By answering a few simple questions, you may have a better sense of the control you could gain in your financial life.
- Would you like to know whether you will have enough money to pay your bills come their due date?
- Are you looking for a better sense of management of your money?
- Do you hope to build assets that will improve your quality of life?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, keep reading!
Financial goals are specific to how you want your money to work, within a desired time period. To begin, you must clearly identify your financial goals, continually educate yourself on additional ways to achieve your goals, and routinely evaluate your progress.
Once you have made the commitment, it is time to begin!
- Create a 30-day spending diary and keep track of where you spend your money each day.
- Determine your monthly income and expenses.
- Identify ways to decrease spending.
- Find ways to increase income.
It is important to note that income may come to you from a variety of sources including wages, public assistance, alimony, interest and dividends, and social security.
It is also important to differentiate the two categories of expenses: fixed and variable. Fixed expenses do not change from month to month. This would include your rent or mortgage payment. However, you are in the driver’s seat with variable expenses! For instance, you may choose to lower your thermostat during the winter to save on heating costs, or to carpool or walk to your destinations to decrease fuel expenses.
There are a multitude of ways to save money by decreasing your spending. You may eliminate or control your credit card use to avoid interest expense, use coupons to save money on items you already purchase, take your lunch to work instead of eating out, or pay your bills on time to avoid late fees.
One of the most obvious ways to increase your income is to get a second job. However, there are also tax credits that you may consider:
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Child tax credit
- Credit for child and dependent care expenses
- Education credits
- Tax credits for retirement savings contributions
Whatever your goal, take the first step today in creating your spending plan. You won’t regret it!
It’s not an easy process and may include outcomes that evolve over time, but defining your goals early can help you achieve sustained financial success. Below are some common inputs to a desirable financial life that may help you get started!
- Owning a home
- Traveling without going into debt
- Saving for a financially secure retirement
- Paying less in income tax
- Earning more on investments
- Being able to afford college education for self or family
- Having assets to pass on to heirs
These are relatively concrete concepts with costs that can be calculated. However, there is more to a good financial life than just long-term goals. Short-term and intermediate-term goals can help ensure you are on the right path and making smart decisions.
- Living in a safe, comfortable home (whether owned or rented)
- Having reliable transportation
- Affording gifts for loved ones
- Taking nice vacations
- Accumulating net worth
- Reducing or eliminating debt
- Saving for retirement and college education for family
There are also intangibles that should be considered on your journey:
- Feeling in control of your finances
- Handling financial decisions without too much stress
- Making progress toward your long-term goals
All of these things are within your reach, but each takes time and effort. The key is to start early, learn as you go, make fully informed decisions, avoid major mistakes, and balance your goals.
Learning to manage your finances intelligently can be challenging and different than mastering most skills. There are many variables, and those variables change over time. You have different jobs and income levels, your expenses change, unexpected expenses arise, investment markets fluctuate, tax rules change, and your goals change.
In addition, our minds may not be naturally accustomed to thinking about finances the way we should. We all tend to want immediate gratification and believe we are in control of all aspects of our lives. Achieving financial goals, whether long-term, short-term, or intangible requires that we make decisions that balance our priorities.
The good news is that all of the tools and information you need to improve your financial literacy are readily available, and you have access to all the products and services you need. If you ever feel you need some assistance along the way, we’re here for you! Stop into a branch today and meet with our friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Teaching kids about money is something that can begin as early as pre-school. After all, money habits form in children by the time they are 7 years old, mostly by observing you. Those little eyes are always watching!
A budget is a great place to start. Create a game by taking your child to the grocery store with $100 to spend and a food list for the week. Let them help you add the cost of the groceries and determine how to cut back where appropriate. This will teach them that money doesn’t always cover every want. It can also demonstrate ways to save such as purchasing generic brands and using coupons when available.
Another strategy is to encourage your children to start saving money on a regular basis. When they receive money as a present or weekly allowance, they may immediately think of ways they can spend it. Introduce the “Save, Share, and Spend” model by labeling three jars. To start, you may instruct them to put 10% in the “Share” jar, and split the remaining 90% between the “Save” and “Spend” jars based on their goals. Help them create their own budget by determining what they would like to save for with the money in the “Save” jar. Each week you can review together how much they have saved to date and how much they need to accomplish their goal.
Teach your children about the stock market and ways they can invest money. Is there a particular brand, store, or restaurant they enjoy? Start by purchasing a share or two and show them the daily fluctuations in the stock price. Let them see that while you may lose money at times, eventually most stocks increase in value.
Helping your kids learn the basics of finances at a younger age will instill financial values so they make smarter money decisions as adults.
FDIC Consumer News - January 2019
Changes in banking technology make managing your refund safer and easier than ever
Here are a few tips to ensure that your refund arrives as quickly and safely as possible as well as some ideas on how to get the most out of your money when it does.
The Refund Process
Once you have submitted your federal taxes and know you have a refund coming to you, the fastest way to get your tax refund is to have it electronically deposited into your financial account through the IRS’s Direct Deposit Program. It’s free to consumers, and it allows you to deposit your refund into as many as three separate accounts.
While you can still receive your refund in the form of a paper check, there are several advantages to direct deposit. Not only is it faster, direct deposit is also more secure. Refund checks sent through the mail can be lost, stolen, or returned to the IRS, if undeliverable. If you don’t already have a bank account, this might be the perfect time to open one.
Another option is to have your refund deposited onto a prepaid card. If you use a prepaid card, read the fine print and make sure you know how to deposit money onto the card and any fees involved. Cards differ in the types of deposits allowed, the process for receiving government deposits, and the fees charged for certain transactions. If you set up a new prepaid card account for your refund, you may be required to provide information to validate your identity, such as your Social Security number and date of birth.
Whichever method you choose, you can track the status of your federal tax return from the time the IRS received it by visiting https://www.irs.gov/ and filling out the appropriate information, or by downloading the mobile app IRS2GO at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs2goapp.
For more information on tax refunds, visit https://www.irs.gov/refunds.
Protect Your Money from Tax Scams
If your personally identifiable information (PII), such as your name, address, and Social Security number, has been stolen, the information can be used to open credit cards and loans or file a fraudulent tax return in your name, allowing the thief to claim your refund. If you suspect that your information was stolen, contact the IRS by calling 800-908-4490 or visiting the IRS website for identity protection at https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams.
Be wary of phone calls and emails from anyone claiming to be from the IRS. Identity thieves have been known to pose as IRS agents, providing a fake name and IRS badge number and even creating a fake phone number that appears on caller ID as coming from the IRS. These thieves often threaten people with audits, deportation, and other legal action or promise checks for unclaimed funds.
The IRS typically does not initiate emails to individuals asking for personal information. Before acting on any phone call or email purportedly from the IRS, call the agency at 800-829-1040. An agent will be able to verify whether the IRS is in fact trying to get in touch with you. If you are certain the contact was part of a scam, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration by calling 800-366-4484. You can also report unsolicited emails by forwarding it to mailto:phishing@IRS.gov.
Some people use tax preparers to assist them with preparing their tax return. While most tax preparers are recognized professionals who can be very helpful, some preparers are scammers. Be wary of tax preparers who advertise with fliers or posters promising large refunds or special inside knowledge of little known tax credits and rebates or those volunteering to come to your home to prepare your taxes. These scammers make money stealing your personal information for later use and collecting fees. If you aren’t sure, ask for the tax preparer’s PTIN, which is the IRS tax preparer identification number that all legitimate preparers must have. Also, ask the preparer for references.
For more information on protecting your tax refund, visit: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts and https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/assistance/protection/idtheft.html.
What to Do With Your Refund
Once you have received your refund, you need to decide what to do with it. Many people use tax refunds to make large purchases they might not have the cash for at other times of the year. It can also provide a great opportunity to start a new savings option, contribute to your emergency fund, or reduce outstanding debt.
The IRS allows you to divide your federal tax refund into two or three additional financial accounts. By splitting your refund, you have a convenient option for managing your money – sending some of your refund to an account for immediate use and setting some aside for savings. For example, you could have part of your refund deposited to your checking account and the remainder sent to your Individual Retirement Account, or you might use some of your refund to purchase U.S. Series I Savings Bonds. (For more information on purchasing Savings Bonds with your tax refund, visit https://www.treasurydirect.gov)
You may also want to consider using your refund to start or augment emergency savings. Having emergency savings provides peace of mind when something unexpected occurs, such as a major car or home repair. The amount to set aside for your emergency fund will depend on factors such as your monthly expenses and the number of people in your household, but the general rule of thumb is to save at least three to six months’ worth of expenses.
If you are carrying a credit card balance, think about using your tax refund to pay it down or even pay it off. To get the most from your money, it may make sense to pay off a credit card with a high interest rate, compounding against you month after month. Going this route allows you to have more money every month once that credit card payment vanishes from your list of bills, and it can help build your credit as you reduce that debt.
Making extra payments on your mortgage may be another way to use your refund, saving you money over the long term. Since so much of your mortgage payment goes toward paying interest, using your tax refund to make an extra payment or two against the principal will go a long way to reducing the debt and overall cost of the loan.
If you are getting a tax refund this year, remember to take steps to keep your refund safe, know the refund options available to you, and consider different ways to make your money work harder for you.
Given today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, it’s no wonder that banking activity has shifted to electronic and paperless, especially when convenience is a factor! We’re all strapped for time and looking for any way to gain a few extra minutes in our days.
For many of us, we fall into a habit because it’s easy. We don’t take the steps to change without some type of incentive. When you consider the incentives below, you should understand why you need to change to mobile, paperless banking (if you haven’t already)!
Around-the-clock access to banking information, allowing you the freedom to view account balances, check on the status of a transaction, pay bills, and more from any mobile device. You may even deposit checks without ever having to step foot into a bank! Talk about a huge time savings!
View up to 90 days of account activity anytime, anywhere without waiting for your monthly account statement.
Quickly identify potentially fraudulent activity on your account, and address the situation before it escalates.
Pay your bills online. Never order another box of checks again (not to mention stamps to mail those checks)!
Eliminate your paper trail and the need to shred confidential materials. Save the trees!
Still on the fence? Give us a call at 414.761.1000 (toll-free at 888.686.7272). Our Customer Service Team would be happy to discuss how mobile banking can work for you!
Do you have a worn U.S. flag? Customers are invited to bring their flags to their local branch to receive a free flag retirement ceremony and proper disposal (no limit).
Thank you for helping assure that the U.S. flag receives deference and respect during its display and at the time of its retirement.
Special thanks to American Legion for performing the retirement ceremonies.
If you are a veteran, we invite you to take advantage of the many benefits of our Military Valor Program, including a complimentary U.S. Flag.
For more information, please call Customer Service at 414.761.1000, or toll-free at 888.686.7272.