by Lynn Viesti Berube
Filing your tax forms can bring financial relief in the form of a refund or financial devastation in the form of an audit. Planning ahead is a great way to make sure you maximize your refund and ensure your financial health. Make the best of tax season and lower your chances of getting audited with these tips:
File as early as possible. You’ll beat the rush as April 15 nears, and you’ll have time to catch and fix mistakes before the tax deadline. If you are due a refund, you’ll get it sooner. If you owe, preparing your taxes early will give you time to plan for making your payment. Also, you may be less at risk for identity fraud if you file early because it makes it less likely someone can file in your name over the coming months. One caveat: Be careful about using tax preparation companies that advertise giving you your refund immediately, before your return is filed. This may actually be a loan, and you may be required to pay it back with high interest. Read the fine print.
Keep receipts to take advantage of deductions. Most taxpayers take the standard deduction, but if you have deductible expenses above and beyond the standard amount, it may benefit you to itemize. Be sure you have receipts from throughout the year for the expenses you plan to deduct, and that they match the amounts you are claiming on your return. Be careful, however. Itemized deductions could trigger an audit. Be sure to do your research concerning deductions for business use of your vehicle, meals, home office, charitable donations, and home buying.
Keep track of possible tax credits for life changes. Life changes such as becoming a parent, purchasing a home for the first time, or pursuing higher education can qualify you for tax credits. Credits are different from deductions as they directly reduce tax liability, so they reduce taxes dollar for dollar. If you had a major life change in 2015, it may qualify you for a credit.
Avoid audit triggers. First, don’t rush your return. Take your time with it, and get professional help from a qualified tax preparer, if needed. Mistakes—even simple ones like misreporting your filing status or your income—can trigger an IRS audit. If you do itemize deductions, stay within the rules and don’t try to inflate them or claim them twice. For example, deducting mileage for the vehicle you use to deliver products for your home-based sales business is fine, but claiming a vehicle you only use for business purposes once in a while isn’t. Likewise, if you own a business and claim a loss year after year, the IRS may want to investigate.
Do you have questions about specific deductions? The IRS has help available by telephone or you can speak to someone in person at select locations. Find more information here.
By Lynn Viesti Berube
Are you overdue for a vacation? You know the signs: little problems may easily morph into big ones, you’re making more mistakes than usual, and perhaps your co-workers keep asking if you feel alright.
Taking a vacation might be a great way to reduce stress and freshen your outlook, while experiencing the wonders of the world! But the price tag that comes along with a dream getaway can be enough to scare you back to reality. To keep the cost down, try getting creative about how you allocate your vacation budget.
Here are some tips on how to save money on your next trip.
Catch a red-eye flight during offseason: Timing is everything with travel discounts. If you’re willing to go against the grain, you could be rewarded for your flexibility. Flights at odd hours may be discounted by airlines to make sure their seats fill up. Likewise, hotels may offer lower rates during off-peak season to keep their rooms occupied. Considering that airfare and lodging are two of a traveler’s largest expenses, flexibility can greatly reduce the cost of your vacation.
Visit a grocery store: While stopping for groceries may not be your idea of a fun getaway, it is one of the first things you could do when you arrive at your destination to save money. Enjoying local cuisine is a pleasurable part of the travel experience, but doing so could be costly. Instead, consider dining at the few restaurants you’re most excited about, and preparing the rest of your meals at a fraction of the cost using grocery items. Also, visiting local markets can be a culturally enriching experience in itself!
Get out of the driver’s seat: Depending on your particular destination, you may never need a car to see the sites. So, before booking a rental, consider the proximity of all the stops you’d like to make, and check the alternative modes of transportation available to get you there. Whether by foot, bicycle or bus, you could also experience a broader swath of your locale than you would by car, while saving money. For jaunts that require a car trip, check up on taxi prices and availability before you arrive. If you do need to rent your own vehicle, however, be sure to consider booking it at the same time as your flights and lodgings to get a discount.
If you’re looking to get out of town for a little while, but you’re worried about coming home broke, these suggestions might help to mitigate the biggest expenses to your travel budget. That way, you’ll be able to focus on what really matters: a fun experience that won’t leave you with buyer’s remorse. For more advice on managing your assets, stop by The Milford Bank or visit us here.
by Celeste Lohrenz
Credit and debit cards have become the norm for Americans as fewer shoppers opt to carry cash for day-to-day purchases. Swiping for gas, groceries and even train tickets has become second nature. However, the public’s reliance on this payment method has made card systems a rewarding target for hackers and has led to major data breaches at some of the nation’s largest retailers. Furthermore, hackers and cyberthieves have found ways of directly targeting the magnetic strips on the back of credit/debit cards, through use of scanner devices that allow the theft of card information without the physical card ever having left your pocket.
For those who have recently experienced a card theft or loss, you may have noticed something different about the new card your bank sent as a replacement. Now, new credit and debit cards will no longer transfer personal information through magnetic strips but through an embedded computer chip, called a Europay Master Visa (EMV) chip, on the face of the card, which is expected to be the nationwide standard by 2016.
So what is that little chip doing there anyway? Here’s what you need to know:
• What it is: The EMV chip you’re seeing (or soon will see) on the face of your credit/debit acts as a security vault for your card’s information. Over the years, the technology that card thieves use to tap into magnetic strips became so advanced that end users and merchants alike were at risk of having their private data stolen. To address this problem, major credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa found an alternative in EMV chips, which are not vulnerable to hackers’ current toolsets.
• How it works: As of now, and likely until all merchants have begun to accept EMV chips, cards work both through the magnetic strip and the EMV chip. Rather than swiping your credit card through a card terminal at the end of a transaction, you will insert your chip card into a machine that reads the specially made computer chip throughout the transaction. This new method allows your bank to monitor your card’s “security vault” during the entire transaction, affording it more data resource points for augmenting security.
If you currently have a card with an EMV chip, be sure to use it with merchants that accept this new technology to guarantee the safest transactions. Card holders who have yet to receive a new card with an EMV chip should contact their local card providers to upgrade their security features.
by Lynn Viesti Berube
Do you realize that the bank you rely on for financial services is also tops when it comes to supporting the community? That’s right: Milford Bank is right here, offering a lending hand in a variety of ways, from fundraising for causes close to your heart to providing free financial seminars, to hosting an educational fair with a “green” theme. In case you missed any of the bank’s proudest moments of 2015, we provide the following recap.
Free Small Business Seminars: The Milford Bank partnered with Stratford’s Economic Development Office back in February to sponsor free seminars for small business owners. Over the course of two months, the bank helped lead lectures on starting a business, developing a business plan, obtaining financing and working with the state. The seminars were designed to help grow small businesses in the community.
“Milford Moves” Pirate Day 5K: This event was held on June 14th in conjunction with the town of Milford’s annual Cap’n Kidd Treasure Hunt Pirates Day. That sunny morning, some 200 participants ran The Milford Bank’s first annual 5K. The event was part of the bank’s “Milford Moves” healthy living initiative. The race was the culmination of a 12-week training course that taught participants everything from proper training and equipment to the right diet. The Milford Bank knows that prosperity starts with healthy bodies and, apparently, so did 200 running pirates!
Painting With a Purpose: Also in June, the bank hosted a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Milford’s summer program. Bank employees volunteered their time to paint their own interpretations of the bank’s sailboat logo, which were then raffled off at each of the bank’s office locations. Donations were also collected by employees at each branch. At the end of the fundraiser, more than a dozen Milford Bank employees were able to raise $1,100 for the cause, demonstrating not only their generous spirits but a commitment to their employer’s proud heritage of community service.
Green Fair: On November 14th, The Milford Bank hosted its first annual Green Fair at its main office in Milford. The event was free to the public and featured free electronics recycling and document shredding for bank customers (non-customers were asked to make a small donation). Additionally, booths were set up to provide information and entertainment on such topics as saving energy, bottle and can collection, upcycling crafts for kids, and do-it-yourself household cleaners and beauty supplies. All proceeds will benefit a green initiative for the community to be determined in early 2016.
2015 Business of the Year Award: On October 20th, The Milford Bank was honored by the West Haven Chamber of Commerce as the recipient of its 2015 Business of the Year Award. The accolade acknowledges the hard work The Milford Bank puts in each year helping families and businesses with their banking needs while maintaining a strong community presence.
Be sure to join us in the many events we have planned for next year. We can’t wait to see you!
by Paul Mulligan
Back in December of 2008, the Federal Reserve instituted a zero interest rate policy in an effort to curtail the effects of what is now commonly called the Great Recession. For the past seven years, borrowers have been able to take advantage of these lower interest rates. But with the economy now improving, the Fed is beginning to raise interest rates once again. This policy change can have a very real impact on American families, including your own.
Here are some of the primary ways that a higher interest rate may affect your family, along with ways to offset the negative and accentuate the positive:
More expensive mortgages: If your family is looking at either purchasing or refinancing a home, now is the time to act. A fixed-rate mortgage will enable you to lock in today’s comparatively low interest for the term of your mortgage. A variable-rate mortgage, on the other hand, is tied to the Fed’s raising and lowering of interest rates, so it will become more expensive if rates go up. New buyers should, therefore, consider taking advantage of a fixed-rate loan. If you own a home, you should consider refinancing for one of two reasons: either you currently have a variable-rate mortgage or your fixed-rate mortgage was set at a high interest rate prior to the zero interest rate policy being enacted. This may be the last chance to capitalize on the Fed’s policies before rates increase. Speak with your banking institution to see if you can benefit.
Higher annual percentage rate (APR) on credit cards: When the Federal Reserve cut interest rates in 2008, fixed-rate credit cards basically disappeared from the market. If your card was issued and your rate fixed prior to 2008, you will not be affected if rates go up. But a large number of credit card owners whose lending rates are variable—and tied to interest rates—may experience an immediate rate increase, including on any existing balances. For credit card holders, the best thing you can do is plan ahead. When working up your monthly budget, be sure to set aside an extra amount relative to the outstanding balance on your credit card. If you’re using a new credit card, try not to overextend yourself before you know what a rate hike will mean for your finances.
Higher returns for savings accounts: There is some good news for consumers when it comes to higher interest rates. Those with money stashed away in savings accounts will see increased returns. In the age of the zero interest rate policy, savings accounts accrued minimal interest. With a rate hike, savings accounts will become more viable savings vehicles again. If you have been able to put money aside in a savings account, keep it there. If you don’t have a savings account, now might be a good time to open one.
While even the brightest financial minds can’t always predict what the Fed will do with interest rates, you can prepare for the ups and downs by reviewing your finances in these three areas. To learn more about how to safeguard your financial interests with a Fed hike looming, call or stop by any office of The Milford Bank.
by Jorge Santiago
A recent Gallop poll on the banking tendencies of the millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 1996) reveals that this demographic is just as financially astute as preceding generations, despite perceptions to the contrary. In fact, nearly a quarter of them have more than $50,000 in investable, liquid assets. What’s more, millennials are actually more loyal than their elders, keeping the highest share of their total assets—69 percent—with their primary banking institutions. Yet, despite the solid investment that millennials represent, only 23 percent of these young adults report feeling fully engaged with their primary bank. Some 31 percent report being actively disengaged.
That’s why we at The Milford Bank have taken great strides to differentiate our services to address millennial concerns, which just so happens to benefit all of our customers—young and old.
Here are three reasons millennials choose Milford Bank for their banking services:
1. Multi-channel engagement: According to the aforementioned Gallop poll, 55 percent of millennials are fully engaged with their bank when satisfied with all communication channels (in person, social media, and online and mobile banking). This is where Milford Bank shines, leveraging our local small-business charm without missing the boat on online and mobile banking technology. Furthermore, The Milford Bank is active with our customers on social media, providing our community with financial advice and customer care across all the channels, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
2. A customer-first mentality: As many as 84 percent of millennials polled reported being fully engaged with their bank when they believed that their bank was looking out for their financial well-being. One factor that engenders such trust is a company’s social mindset. In fact, according to a 2013 Cone Communications study, millennials have 91 percent more trust in businesses that support social causes. Milford Bank has been an active participant in the local community since 1872, and was even awarded the 2015 Business of the Year award by West Haven’s Chamber of Commerce. In the past year alone, Milford Bank has sponsored events from free small-business seminars to health awareness programs.
3. Comprehensive set of banking products: Millennials are more inclined to consolidate their banking products with a primary bank than previous generations, according to the Gallop poll. What’s more, they are choosing to utilize additional services with their primary bank at an even higher rate. From home equity loans to advisory services, millennials are loyal to financial institutions that enable them to manage their finances in all arenas. Fortunately, Milford Bank handles it all, including personal bank accounts, offerings for businesses, loans, investments, mortgages and insurance. We even have programs for children, to ensure that every member of the community can benefit from our services.
For millennials looking for a place to do their banking, Milford Bank is clearly a great choice. Furthermore, when you become a Milford Bank customer, you do your part to support the community we serve. For more information about The Milford Bank, check out our website here.
by Lynn Viesti Berube
In an analysis from American Research Group, shoppers across America are planning to spend on average $882 on holiday shopping this year. Yet, in a survey from GoBankingRates, it was found that 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts. The picture being painted here is that many consumers will spend beyond their means this December. But finding gifts for family and friends in celebration of the season shouldn’t have to break the bank.
Here are three ideas to help ensure you’ll still have a jingle in your pocket once you’ve finished your holiday shopping.
1. Check daily deal sites for whole-family experiences. Instead of wrapping up another sweater or tool this season, why not up your game and thrill your loved ones with the gift of a unique experience? Daily deal sites like Groupon or Living Social offer group discount rates on activities ranging from glass-blowing classes to helicopter tours of New York City. By getting your whole family—or those distant relatives—on board, you can qualify for great deals and share in a truly original gift that will create memories that will long outlive the latest electronic gadget or pair of slippers.
2. Do your holiday shopping year-round. One big reason that financial stress weighs so heavily on our shoulders during the holidays is that most of our annual shopping takes place during just six to eight weeks, straining monthly budgets. So, why not keep an eye out for holiday gifts throughout the course of the year instead? This can enable you to make purchases at more manageable increments, avoiding a huge cash outlay in a short time frame that may constitute use of your credit card and the potential for additional costs in the way of interest. Take the year, too, to take advantage of retail sales as they occur.
3. Do it yourself. Do you sew or paint? Are you a carpenter? Whatever your craft, you may be able to think of someone on your shopping list who would love what you can produce by hand. Many recipients will appreciate the personal touch that such gifts deliver. At the same time, you save your hard-earned money, as purchasing the materials required to create your handiwork typically costs less than purchasing the same item in a store. Then, you can use the money saved to offset other purchases, like one of the group activities mentioned above. In other words, pay the DIY method forward.
If you’re one of the many Americans who are letting holiday shopping adversely affect your savings, keep these tips in mind to ease some of the stress it is causing you and your wallet. For more advice on managing your finances, come to any office of The Milford Bank or visit our website here.
by Lynn Viesti Berube
The Milford Bank will host a Green Fair at its Main Office Campus on the Milford Green located at 33 Broad Street in Milford. The event will be held on Saturday, November 14th from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm.
Two trucks will be on hand that day. One will accept unwanted office supplies such as outdated computer equipment and office furniture. AFA Electronic Recyclers of Branford, CT will responsibly dispose of all items they collect.
The other truck will securely shred unwanted documents on site. The vendor providing this service is Infoshred of East Windsor, CT. (There is a limit of three medium sized moving boxes.)
These services will be provided at no charge to customers of The Milford Bank. Others are asked to make a donation of $5 per box. Funds collected will be donated to a local charity to fund a green initiative in 2016.
The Literacy Center of Milford will be collecting children’s books at the event and the First United Church Youth Group will collect deposit bottles and cans.
There will also be children’s crafts, information about home energy efficiency, tips for reducing paper consumption, arts and crafts vendors and more! Admission will be free.
Susan Shields, Milford Bank President & CEO says of the event, “The Milford Bank continues to support the residents of Milford and Stratford through community involvement, donations to many local charitable organizations, special events and financial education. The Bank is proud to partner with this year’s vendors. The goal of providing these services to members of our community is to assist with the responsible disposal of unneeded documentation and outdated electronics while educating the public on easy energy conservation.”
A list of accepted items can be obtained on the AFA Recycling website: www.afaelectronicrecyclers.com. Have a piece of electronics to recycle that is not on the list? Please contact AFA Recycling directly at (203) 421-4187.
The Milford Bank is Member FDIC.
by Celeste Lohrenz
By nature, personal finances are those monetary concerns that keep us, individually, up at night. We all adopt our own tactics and tricks to keep on top of our bills, rent/mortgage payments and other expenses, but some of us have more complicated assets than others and may need professional guidance from time to time. If you’re at the point where your personal wealth management has not led to the rewards you were anticipating, consider collaborating with our in-house financial advisors, John Kuehnle.
Regardless of the condition of your personal finances, John Kuehnle can help you get them in shape. After all, you never know when a situation may arise that requires someone besides yourself to sort through your personal finances on your behalf.
To avoid a worst-case scenario—where your assets are inaccessible due to outdated paperwork or ineffective management—follow these quick tips:
• Consolidate and back up: There is nothing wrong with keeping paper records as many of us do, but if you decide to go this route it is a good idea to keep them all in one organized, central and secure location. By doing so, you can easily share the information with trusted family, In Case of Emergency (ICE) contacts and financial advisors/attorneys. You may also want to make duplicate digital copies as a backup. Given how easy it is to back up your files up to a cloud server these days, taking this extra precaution may be wise. Files can be encrypted for security purposes and the cloud will keep them safe in case of a fire or destruction of your hard copies.
• Make a plan: It’s never fun to think about worst-case scenarios, but doing so ahead of time may save you many headaches down the road. It is a good idea to create a financial plan for common emergencies like serious illness, property destruction, natural disasters and any other scenario that could leave you unable to handle your own personal finances. Then, share that plan with the appropriate parties, make sure they understand how you would want your finances handled and, again, store these plans in a secure and central location for easy access.
• Continue to update: Having a budget is a smart financial decision, but many people create that budget for a designated time frame, file it away and never look at it again. It is a good idea to continually updating your budget, whether that means once a month or every six months. Having a sound financial plan that outlines when bills are due, for example, can aid others who are helping to keep you on top of your finances when you can’t do so yourself.
• Create an emergency savings account: While your personal finances should be accessible in case of an emergency, as discussed above, it is also helpful to start an emergency savings account. One that you can add to on a regular basis and has a low or no minimum balance requirement is preferred so it can be deeply tapped in case of emergency without penalty.
Personal finances can be complicated, but once you’ve gotten on top of them, they can be a piece of cake to manage. If you need help getting to a good place with your assets, reach out to us at 203-783-5700.
by Lynn Viesti Berube
With Labor Day in the rear view mirror, we’re now into fall and, with it, colder weather. After the winter Connecticut experienced in 2014, it’s safe to say that we’re all holding tightly to these last few days of warm weather. While you may not have turned on the furnace just yet, you might want to plan for the colder months sooner rather than later when it comes to financing your warm home.
To help you cut heating costs this fall and winter, here are three ways to conserve energy:
• Eliminate the cracks: You may not pay them much attention, but those tiny cracks below your door and around your windows are sucking the money right out of your home. These cracks allow conditioned air within your home to escape and cold air to seep in. By investing in inexpensive draft stoppers and by shrink-wrapping your windows, you can keep the warm air in, the cold air out and save big on your monthly energy bill.
• Optimize your heating system: One major way we waste energy and run up electric bills during the colder months is by overworking inefficient heating systems. Instead, optimize your heating system with a few at-home solutions that shouldn’t break the bank. First, consider placing area rugs in high-occupancy rooms (such as your family room) where you may otherwise have bare floors. Doing so will help retain heat and keep your feet feeling cozy. Second, change the filters in your heating system on a monthly basis to ensure you’re not forcing your system to work harder than it needs to. Finally, make sure heating vents aren’t being blocked by furniture—it may keep the couch nice and warm, but the furniture will draw the heat out of the air and keep the temperature in the room down.
• Opt for electronics with batteries: It’s no secret that during the colder months many of us prefer to wrap ourselves in a warm blanket and watch Netflix, rather than bundle up and brave the elements. However, the extra time we spend in our homes can have a major effect on our electric bills, based on our increased use of electronics alone. Instead of turning on the TV, or heading to your desktop computer this season, opt for electronics with batteries, such as laptops, tablets and other mobile devices. These devices often cost less to charge and, as long as you unplug the charger after you’re all juiced up, will save you big bucks over the course of the next few months.
As the holidays approach, don’t let good tidings be overcome by high electricity bills! These three steps will help you save on your monthly bill while staying warm. And, if you ever have a question of what to do with your new-found savings, consider a Milford Bank savings account!
Want more tips on energy efficiency and saving money on your power bills? Visit our Green Fair on November 14th!