Five Higher Ed Facts All Milford, Stratford Parents Should Know

By Patty Gallagher

If you’re a Milford or Stratford resident with a child in high school, it is likely that your family has already started to have conversations about higher education. Deciding whether or not your child should go to college is a difficult one, with many factors that inform the choice. And if your child is going to college, you’ve got even more challenging decisions to make. How will you pay tuition? What kind of school is right for your child? What kind of courses will your child take?

As you discuss the topic of higher education with your family and your children, keep the following five facts in mind.

  1. The average 2016 graduate leaves school with an average student loan debt of $37,172.
    If you’re planning on using student loans to pay for your child’s tuition, it is important to understand the amount of debt that you, or your child, will need to start paying off once they graduate 
  2. Students with a bachelor’s degree earn 66 percent more over their lifetime than high school graduates.
    Though student loan debt can be discouraging in the short-term, studies show that the expense of a degree is a worthwhile investment in the long term.
  3. Only one-third of students attending a public college graduate on-time.
    Developing a strategy to keep your child on track to graduate on-time is essential. Whether they’re earning a two or four year degree, finishing within those terms will keep you from incurring expenses just to cover a few remaining course credits. In addition, it means your child will enter the job market, and eventually have more experience, than others their age who needed more time to graduate.
  4. The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for one semester at a four year public college in 2016 was $15,280.
    Attending college in another state can be an incredibly enriching experience. But you’ll certainly pay a premium. If your child has their heart set on an out-of-state school but you can’t figure out how to make ends meet financially, consider sending your child to a cost-effective community college in the same state for a year or two first. Your child will be able to take care of basic course requirements at less cost, while gaining the in-state eligibility they need to make their dream school a reality.
  5. Roughly $100 million in scholarship funding goes unused on a yearly basis.
    Many families think that college is too expensive. In some cases, they’re right. But in many others, they simply haven’t exhausted all their resources yet. There are millions of dollars awarded to students through scholarships and grants every year, and another $100 million goes unclaimed every year. 

 

If your family is starting to have the higher education conversation, be sure to gather all the facts to make the most informed decision. If you live in the Milford or Stratford area, stop by any office of The Milford Bank and we can help you move forward in a way that sets your family, and your loved ones, up for success. You can also learn more at our Online Learning Center here.

Five Helpful Hints for Managing Credit Card Debt

By Karuna Kasbawala

For most people, discussing their financial challenges is about as popular as receiving a root canal. As a result, individuals faced with difficult financial decisions often feel like they’re all alone. But the reality is that millions of Americans are facing similar difficulties.

In fact, researchers recently found that the median debt per American household is $2,300—with the average debt per individual reaching $5,700. Getting out of debt can be a long, difficult and stressful process.

But if you develop a clear strategy and stick to it, you won’t have to let your credit card debt rule your life for long. If you’re having a difficult time managing the balance on your credit card, consider applying some of the following hints to your strategy for getting caught up.

Set a budget: In many cases, financial problems aren’t caused by poor saving practices, but by poor spending decisions. By setting a budget, you will get an accurate guideline of what you need to do in order to get out of debt. This will help you put every purchase in its proper context and dissuade poor spending decisions.

Take interest in interest rates: Once you fall behind on credit card payments, it will be the interest rates that make it harder to catch up. If you have multiple credit cards with an outstanding balance, prioritize paying off the card with the highest interest rate. Otherwise, you may want to consider consolidating your debt to get a lower interest rate altogether.

Make multiple monthly payments: Chipping away at your debt may require making minimum payments for a little while. But when you can, make multiple minimum payments within a month. This can reduce your average daily balance, which can lower your interest charges. In addition, making multiple payments will look good for your credit history.

Stop using your credit card: The easiest way to stop racking up credit card debt is to stop using your credit card. This will help you learn how to purchase only the most essential items. But for consumers relying on that line of credit, this might mean having to find an alternative method for making ends meet. Fortunately, many banks are now offering debit cards with the same types of rewards traditionally granted only through credit cards—without any interest rates attached.

Speak with a debt management expert: As previously stated, talking about finances is one of the most difficult conversations you can have. But it is still one of the most important, too. Consulting with a debt management expert will help you learn how to avoid financial pitfalls and strategize your escape from debt in a comfortable and judgment-free setting.

If you’re suffering from credit card debt, you don’t have to go it alone. Stop by any office of The Milford Bank to speak with one of our financial experts, or learn more about managing debt at our Online Learning Center.

Milford, Stratford Business Leaders: Reserve a Spot at Upcoming Bite-Size Marketing Seminars

By Rebecca Tudor

Title: Milford, Stratford Business Leaders: Reserve a Spot at Upcoming Bite-Size Marketing Seminars

As a community bank, we believe that providing service to local businesses doesn’t end after we’ve helped to secure the financial services that set you on a path to success. It’s just as important to stay engaged with our customers and provide educational resources to the community.

That’s why we started the Bite-Sized Business Marketing Seminar series. The seminar series is led by local business owners, for local business owners, to help you reach your financial goals. We’re even providing lunch!

There are currently four seminars scheduled for the coming weeks:

Harness the Power of Social Media & Email with Constant Contact—March 2, 2017

In this seminar, Jocelyn Murray, the owner of Marketing and Event Resources LLC, will introduce attendees to Constant Contact, an all-in-one tool for increasing sales and donations through better marketing and online engagement.

Develop a Marketing Plan that Produces Awesome Results—March 16, 2017

Robert C. Kademian, the owner of ROI Business Coach, will break down his five step strategy for developing an impactful marketing strategy.

Increasing Your Website’s Google Presence—March 30, 2017

In today’s digital economy, there’s no better commercial real estate than the front page of a Google search. Steve Hozan, the co-founder and digital marketing consultant for The Web Studio, will take a look behind the curtain of Google’s search engine algorithms in this lecture, giving participants helpful SEO tips along the way.

Tips for Taking Better Head Shot Photographs—April 13, 2017

In the social media age, your head shot is a critical first impression for potential customers and business partners. Jesse Thompson, the store manager at Milford Photo, will lead this seminar to help you take professional head shots using a camera or a smartphone. You’ll get great tips on how to use lighting, composition and proper posing to make you look your best.

Each event in the Bite-Sized Business Marketing Seminar Series is completely free and open to the public, but be sure to register early because space is limited. You can register online here.

Beware of These Hidden Costs When Buying a Home

by JoAnn Sabas

Over the past few years, you’ve saved up enough money to make a down payment on a piece of real estate. You’ve prequalified for a mortgage and you’re confident that you can make your monthly payments without any problem—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to buy.

When purchasing a home, it is important to understand that your mortgage payment is only the first in a long list of new expenses. A failure to account for hidden costs may leave you in a difficult financial position down the road. So before you take the next step, take some time to assess the additional expenses for which you may soon become accountable.

Here are a few examples to help get you started.

Inspections: Before you purchase a piece of property, be sure to solicit the services of a home inspector. A qualified, experienced inspector will be able to diagnose a range of problematic conditions that will help you in several ways. You can use these findings to back out of a sale and renegotiate your offer. Inspections will generally cost around $500 or more, however, so while you might save in the long run, you must be prepared to absorb the immediate expense.

Appliances: Just because the sellers have a beautiful washer/dryer set, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll inherit it when you purchase the home. Be sure to have a checklist for all the household items you expect to have, and figure out which items the sellers intend to leave behind. Oftentimes, sellers are willing to negotiate and may include items with the purchase, helping you to avoid having to buy all new appliances in the process.

Association Fees: If you’re buying a condominium, townhouse or apartment, it is likely that the real estate will be less expensive than a single family house. As such, your monthly mortgage payments will probably be lower too. However, many of these properties are part of an association which will require additional monthly payments to cover maintenance and improvements for common items like paving, plowing or additional benefits. In some cases, association fees can be even higher than mortgage payments themselves.

Closing costs: Once you’ve received the title for your new piece of property, you’ll need to pay fees to your realtor and the lawyer responsible for handling your closing. Closing costs can be incurred by the buyer or seller, though, so they can be used during your negotiations. But you’d be well advised to play it safe and make sure you have the funds necessary to cover closing costs.

It is easy to let emotions get the best of you during the house hunting process. If you find a home you love and it’s within your price range, you may be tempted to act quickly. But some homes are hiding their true expense, so it is vital that you account for all possible costs before making a decision. To learn more about finding the right home for your lifestyle, call or stop by to speak with one of our Mortgage Specialists today!

Milford, Stratford Residents: Be Wary of Identity Theft this Tax Season

By Pam Reiss

There’s nothing easy about doing your taxes. Filling out all those forms and hunting for old receipts is enough to drive anybody crazy. As if you didn’t have enough to concern yourself with during this important time of the year, you can now add another potential peril to the list: tax return fraud.

Tax return fraud is a new form of identity theft that has skyrocketed in recent years. Essentially, the con is pulled off by individuals using your information to file a false return, hoping that the IRS will send them your hard-earned refund. While you’d think that the IRS would be savvy enough to catch these criminals in the act, the agency has been overwhelmed by the frequency of fraudulent returns in recent years.

As of March 5, 2016, the IRS had identified over 42,000 tax returns with roughly $227 million claimed in fraudulent refunds. The IRS has prevented the issuance of an additional $180 million as well. While the agency does have advanced fraud detection capabilities, the evidence clearly demonstrates that they can’t catch everyone. And while the IRS will work with victims to rectify cases of identity theft, it may not be quick enough for someone who was relying on a speedy refund.

So what can you do to reduce your risk? The IRS has provided four simple measures you can take to avoid being victimized:

  • For digital interactions use strong passwords and security software with firewalls and anti-virus protection
  • Learn how to recognize phishing emails and fraudulent messages from thieves posing as representatives from banks, credit card companies and the IRS
  • Do not click links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails
  • Keep your personal data and records, including your Social Security card, in a secure location

Many individuals don’t realize they’ve been victimized until it is too late. But there are some warning signs that you should keep watch for to catch cases of fraud more quickly.

  • More than one tax return filed using your Social Security number
  • You owe additional taxes, have refunds offset or have collection actions taken against you for a year you didn’t file a tax return
  • IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer for whom you did not work
  • The IRS sends you a letter saying it has identified a suspicious return using your social security number

Unfortunately, consumers today cannot sit back idly and enjoy the convenient features of modern banking. They must also be vigilant and fiscally responsible. It may not be fair, but falling victim to identity theft can be incredibly detrimental for the victims themselves. Learn more ways to protect yourself by checking out our Online Learning Center or stopping by The Milford Bank location near you.

Savings Strategies for Milford, Stratford Residents Nearing 30

by Cortney Meng

Milford and Stratford residents: do you have a 30th birthday coming up? If so, take a moment to reflect on where you were and what you were doing just 10 years ago. A lot has changed, no? In fact, your twenties can be one of the most transformative decades of your life. By the time you reach 30, you may be entrenched in a career, thinking about getting married, buying a home or even having children. Maybe you’ve already done all of the above!

As such, it is important that you reevaluate your savings strategy to reflect your changing lifestyle as you approach your 30th birthday.

If you’re looking to overhaul your savings strategy, here are a few good places to start.

Start a retirement account: If you haven’t started saving for retirement, you’re not alone. In fact, 57 percent of millennials have yet to start saving for retirement. But the fact remains that the sooner you start, the easier time you’ll have reaching your goals. If your company offers a 401(k), start taking advantage of the benefit if you are financially able to do so. You might also want to diversify by establishing an IRA or investing in a mutual fund too.

Buy life insurance: At 20, you might not have had anyone depending on you. But the game often changes at 30. You might be responsible for your business, your partner, a child, a mortgage or other loans. A big part of that responsibility is making sure your loved ones are taken care of if the worst should happen to you. At 30, you’re still likely young and healthy enough to qualify for an inexpensive life insurance policy. Some forms of insurance, like permanent life and annuities, double as investment vehicles, making them an important part of your savings strategy as you enter your 30’s.

Improve your credit score: A great credit score will open up many doors to you in your 30’s. You’ll be able to secure a larger line of credit with lower interest rates if you can demonstrate that you’ve been historically responsible with your spending. Speak with a credit agency or financial expert to see how you might be able to boost your score, so that you’ll be in a position of strength when you’re ready for the big financial decisions that many of us make in our 30’s.

Take a calculated risk: It is generally considered a best practice to be conservative with your savings when you’re young. Many years of safe, steady earnings can leave you poised to have a great retirement in a few decades. But another benefit of youth is that you have more time to bounce back if an investment doesn’t pan out. Consider taking a small, discretionary sum of money and check out a company or product that you’re passionate about. It might not pan out, but you never know—you might invest in the next Amazon or Apple, too.

If you’re ready to take a serious look at your savings strategy as you approach your 30’s, stop by any office of The Milford Bank branch near you to speak with an experienced financial advisor today. You can also learn more by checking out our Online Learning Center.

Survey Shows Millennials Prioritizing Coffee Over Retirement

By Matt Kelly

Hey Millennials, how do you take your coffee? Do you pick up a simple $1.00 cup from the gas station during your morning commute? Or are you all about splurging on a $5.00 specialty drink at Starbucks to give you an afternoon pick-me-up? Whether you’re adding cream, sugar or a shot of espresso, there is one trait that is shared by Millennial coffee drinkers: they’re more focused on what’s in their mugs than what’s in their retirement accounts.

According to a recent poll conducted by SurveyMonkey and investing app Acorns, 41 percent of Millennials currently spend more on their morning cup of coffee over the course of the year than they put into retirement savings.

The survey, which polled more than 1,900 18-35 year olds, also found that 41 percent of Millennials believe they will not be financially secure enough to retire until they’re older than 65. While you can’t lay the blame squarely on coffee consumption, these statistics do reveal a frightening pattern of financial neglect.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a cup of coffee to start your day. But if Millennials want to enjoy comfortable retirements, at some point they will have to look a little deeper about their spending and saving decisions.

Consider, for instance, that brewing your coffee at home can save you tons of money every day. If you buy a large container of inexpensive grounds, your home brew might run you less than 10 cents per cup. Even if you prefer K-cups, many brands offer deals that won’t add up to more than 50 cents per cup.

If Millennials were to get serious about cutting into their coffee budgets, they’d be able to start seeing a positive effect on their savings pretty quickly.

An individual switching from $5 per cup of coffee to 10 cents per cup will save $1,788.50 over the course of a year. Even after one month, you’d have an extra $150 in your pocket—enough to cover utilities and grocery bills!

But retirement accounts are long-term investments. So what would your coffee savings look like by the time you reach retirement age? Using the previous example, over the course of 30 years, would amount to $53,655—a figure that sounds like a competitive yearly salary for many. By changing how they think about their coffee drinking habits, Millennials could potentially save enough to retire a full year earlier than they believed possible!

When it comes to retirement planning, it is ideal to begin saving as early as you can. But circumstances aren’t always ideal. Fortunately, it is never too late to get on a path towards financial freedom. By making minor adjustments to your day-to-day spending, you can begin funding your retirement with the money you’ve already got in your pocket.

To maximize the value of your savings, stop by The Milford Bank and speak to one of our experienced financial advisors, or check out our Online Learning Center. We offer a variety of financial services and investment vehicles, ranging from traditional savings accounts, to certificates of deposit, IRAs, money markets and more. Start planning today so you’ll be able to enjoy your daily cup of coffee long into retirement.

What Milford, Stratford Homeowners Need To Know About Home Equity Loans

by Paul Mulligan

Even though it might not always feel like it, your home is likely one of the greatest financial assets at your disposal. Of course there is always going to be something to fix. Making your monthly mortgage payments might cause a little anxiety from time to time. But all the energy and money that you invest in your home is helping you build equity that can help you in a time of need.

Home equity loans are a type of loan which allows homeowners to leverage the equity they’ve built over the years as collateral. These loans can be used for a variety of reasons—repairs, home improvements, paying for school, buying a car, another property and even consolidating debt. In an ideal world, you’d be able to address these needs from your own savings when the time came. But this isn’t always the reality. If you’re a homeowner and you’ve got a large expense coming in the near future, a home equity loan may be a viable option.

But before you take action, it is important to learn as much as you can about home equity loans. Read on to see some of the most frequently asked questions that homeowners have regarding home equity loans.

How much can I borrow?

The amount that you can borrow for a home equity loan varies by location and bank. At The Milford Bank, we will provide loans up to $500,000. However, each loan is considered on a case by case basis. Lenders typically will consider your credit history, available equity in your home, your income, and your assets and liabilities.

What are the benefits of a home equity loan?

Home equity loans provide a number of benefits. There are no closing costs associated with procuring them. In addition, home equity loans offer competitive interest rates that can be beneficial for paying down debt you may currently owe at a higher rate. The interest that you pay may even be tax deductible, but you should consult a tax advisor to make that determination.

How long does the loan process take?

Every homeowner has a different set of circumstances. As such, there is no established timetable for how long the process may take. However, once your loan has been approved, many homeowners are able to utilize the funds within a week.

Is there a minimum equity requirement to qualify?

In order to qualify for a home equity loan, you will need to meet some basic requirements. The minimum loan at The Milford Bank is $10,000 for a five-year term. You can review the specific interest rates, terms and repayment tables by clicking here.

Whether you need to replace a furnace or send a child to school, you may be able to utilize the equity you’ve built in your home to meet the ever-changing needs of you and your family. Stop by any office of  The Milford Bank to speak with one of our representatives—and be sure to check out our Learning Center here for more information.

Can Your Business Save with Solar?

by Rebecca Tudor

By now, most Americans understand that making eco-conscious decisions in their day to day lives is an important step to ensure a healthy environment for future generations. Many are making the move into eco-friendly vehicles, installing high-efficiency LED light bulbs and grocery shopping in the organic food section.

But it isn’t consumers alone that can reap the benefits of going green—businesses also have much to gain! If you’re looking for a way to increase your profitability and drum up new sales, integrating green initiatives into your business may be the solution.

Here are three ways that going green can bolster your business.

Save on your utility bills. While every location differs, Solar Nation reports that individuals who install a 5 kilowatt solar system save between $44 and $187 per month on their electric bill. Better yet, that’s before loans, leases or government rebates kick in. Given the extreme heating costs that Connecticut residents face in the winter (not to mention expensive air conditioners during the summer!), installing a solar energy system can help take the stress out of your skyrocketing utilities costs.

Create new revenue streams. Solar energy doesn’t just save money—it can help businesses create entirely new revenue streams as well. While you’ll have to check with your specific electricity supplier, there are a number of ways that Connecticut business owners can leverage solar systems to earn extra money.

Net-metering is a program ideal for businesses that generate more electricity than they use. The surplus that you create from your solar system can be sold back to the electric grid. Similarly, demand response programs are offered by electricity suppliers looking to bolster the grid when they hit peak demand. If you sign up for this program, the utility company will contact you during peak demand and ask that you reduce your own consumption, so needs can then be met in areas lacking for service. If you participate in a demand response program, you will be eligible for compensation based on your provider’s specific policy.

Broaden your brand appeal. Today’s consumers are willing to spend more money to do business with organizations that understand the importance of standing up for a cause—including 70 percent of the up-and-coming millennial generation. Demonstrating your commitment to environmental sustainability will put your brand in the good graces of consumers, helping you broaden your appeal. Better yet, shoppers that come into your store will spend more time looking at your solar panels than your price tags.

Keep your eye on emerging solar technology. Every year, researchers find ways to make deploying a solar energy system more affordable and efficient. That means integrating a solar energy system has never been more financially achievable for local business leaders. Help the environment, and your business, by checking out solar today.

To learn more ways to save your business money, or to look into business loans you might be able to use to invest in solar, stop by any office of The Milford Bank today!

Five New Year’s Resolutions to Improve Your Finances in 2017

by Lynn Viesti Berube

New Year’s Eve is about much more than watching the ball drop in Times Square or popping open a bottle of champagne. It’s about reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future. This time of reflection leads millions of Americans every year to make resolutions about how they can improve themselves. If you’re looking for a way to improve yourself in 2017, why not take a look at your finances? Here are five resolutions you can make that will drastically improve your finances and quality of life in the year to come.

Focus on your physical health: Your physical health and your financial health are inextricably linked. The CDC reports that 86 percent of our nation’s healthcare costs are attributed to chronic diseases. Many, like diabetes, heart disease and obesity, can be prevented with a good diet and plenty of exercise.

Cut an unnecessary expense: The cup of coffee you pick up at Dunkin Donuts every morning during your ride to work might seem like an insignificant expense at the register. But spending $3 on a cup of coffee every day over the course of the year ends up costing you $1095. Even if you’re not a coffee drinker, there’s probably something comparable in your own life. If so, is there a way you can do it cheaper, or cut it out of your budget entirely?

Diversify your nest egg: Diversifying your savings helps you maximize growth and protect your nest egg at the same time. While not all investment vehicles may suit your needs, sit down with a financial strategist and figure out how to expand your portfolio effectively. Certificates of deposit, IRAs and money market funds are just a few options offered by Milford Bank. You don’t need to try everything all at once, but if you add one new dimension to your portfolio every year, you’ll set yourself up for a very comfortable retirement in no time.

Tackle a home improvement project: Have you been putting off a renovation for years? Make 2017 the year that you finally make it happen. Home improvements can increase your property value, making them great investments—especially if you’re thinking about selling your home in the near future. Speak to a Milford Bank representative about affordable and flexible home equity or home improvement loans to get started.

Procure life insurance to protect your family: There are many families in this country without adequate life insurance coverage. Many more have no life insurance at all. Dwelling on our mortality may not be a popular pastime, and that may be why many individuals are misinformed about the importance of life insurance. Make 2017 the year that you finally have the uncomfortable conversation so that you and your loved ones can have peace of mind for every New Year to come.

To learn more about how you can make the most out of your New Year’s resolutions, check out our online Learning Center here or come by a Milford Bank branch location and speak with one of our representatives today!