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 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.

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!

 

Savings Strategies for Milford and Stratford Young Adults

by Cortney Meng

If you just recently turned 18, a world of new possibilities has just opened up to you as a legal adult. You can vote, get a full-time job, rent an apartment, purchase motor vehicles and even real estate. Many of you will soon be paying your way through college as well. The next few years will be a formative time during which you develop many of the habits—good and bad—that will inform your decision-making and long-term financial outcome. To get started on the right foot, here are some useful tips to consider as a young adult.

Research potential career paths: Whether you’re headed to college or entering the job market, you’re likely spending a lot of your time thinking about what kind of work you want to do. Check out the 25 top paying jobs in 2016 here. Many fields offer lucrative positions for individuals with and without college degrees. But the job market is always changing, so it’s important to do your research and find a career you’ll enjoy that also has a bright future.

Set periodic financial benchmarks: Your needs and wants will change rapidly over the next few years. It’s important to set benchmarks so that your savings strategy can be tailored to hit them all. Whether you’re saving to buy a pair of skis, pay for college, buy a car or put a down payment on a home, you have to start somewhere. Pinpoint how much you’ll need every week, month and year to hit your targets and stay committed.

Start a retirement fund: The sooner you open a retirement account, the more lucrative it will be in the long run. While your return on investment will vary depending on how your savings are invested, it is a general rule that the longer your investments have to mature, the more valuable they will be. Many people don’t start thinking about retirement until it’s too late. Get a jump now and save yourself lots of stress down the road.

Establish a credit history: You’ll need a good credit score to enjoy many of the benefits of becoming a legal adult. Getting a credit card with a small balance may be one possibility, but you’ll have to make sure to make all your payments each month and keep your balance below 50 percent. You can also start building credit by making timely monthly payments on other loans or bills you may have.

Purchase whole life insurance: Age and health are two of the most significant factors when determining what your insurance premiums will cost. If you purchase a whole life insurance policy now while you’re young and healthy, that rate will be locked in permanently. In addition, whole life insurance policies have a savings element that will build equity as you make payments. While it is not intended as an investment vehicle, it is an added bonus that is particularly valuable if you start a policy when you’re young.

To learn more about saving as a young adult, check out our online Learning Center here or speak with a Milford Bank representative at a location near you!

Three Ways to Stop Oil Prices From Burning Your Savings

by Patty Gallagher

Just a few weeks ago, unseasonably warm weather and atypically low oil prices had homeowners thinking they might get off the hook with more affordable heating bills this winter. But oil prices are climbing again—just as an Arctic cold front made its way across the country to remind us what a real New England winter feels like.

If you get anxious every time you crank up the thermostat because you’re worried about the cost of heating your home, you’re not alone. Nearly 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts—making the prospect of overspending on heating their home a very real struggle.

But there are ways to curb the costs of heating your home. Follow these helpful tips so you can burn oil without burning up your savings at the same time!

Prepay off peak season: Homeowners generally burn significantly less fuel during the summer months. Because of the decreased demand, many oil companies will offer lower rates in order to generate revenue. In many cases, you might be able to prepay and lock in your oil prices for a fraction of what you’re likely to spend if you fill up during the winter. While it may be too late to take advantage this year, speak with your provider during the summer and you may be able to save yourself hundreds of dollars at this time next year.

Invest in a smart thermostat: Once your oil tank is filled, it’s now up to you to heat your home in the most responsible and efficient manner possible. If you forget to turn down the thermostat on an unseasonably warm day, you’re throwing your money away. Investing in a smart thermostat can help you offset the potential for waste. You’ll be able to remotely manage your thermostat settings and control temperatures in different areas of your home. Many of the popular models today can be purchased for less than $200 and may help you save thousands over the years, making smart thermostats one of the easiest and best investments you can make in your home.

Service your furnace: Conducting routine maintenance on your furnace is essential to make sure that it operates at peak efficiency. Some tasks you will likely be able to handle yourself—cleaning your filter and ducts and wrapping your furnace with insulation, for example. Others may require the care of a specialist—checking for leaks and cleaning the furnace itself. It is recommended that you should service your furnace on a yearly basis, so make sure to schedule it as soon as possible to get the most out of your heating system this winter.

To learn about more ways to save your family money, be sure to check out our blog regularly or visit our Online Learning Center here.

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

by Pam Reiss

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 can 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 professional and figure out how to expand your portfolio effectively. Certificates of deposit, IRAs and money market funds are just a few options offered by The 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 can 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. For larger project, 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 stop by any location of The Milford Bank and speak with one of our representatives today!

The Milford Bank is an Equal Housing Lender. 

Savings Tips to Keep Guitar Players from Singing the Blues

by Pete Deleo

In the United States, the birthplace of rock’n’roll, there are nearly 2.5 million guitars sold every year.  And while the average price per instrument is higher than a typical holiday present—$433—guitars can actually be one of the most fiscally responsible gifts that you can give.

Once you’ve made the initial purchase, the musician in your life can enjoy a guitar nonstop with few additional expenses. Unlike more physical pastimes, they’ll be able to continue playing their guitar at any age. Guitar players can provide free entertainment, or even turn their hobby into a side job and make a little extra money too!

But purchasing a guitar should still be considered an investment. And just like any other investment, you’ve got to do your research and learn how to get the most bang for your buck. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to help keep the guitar player in your family from becoming another starving artist singing the blues!

Shopping for a first-time guitar player: If your 16-year old just got their driver’s license you wouldn’t purchase them a Rolls Royce. So why would you spend lots of money on a guitar? There are so many different types of guitars on the market today that finding the one that feels right can take some time. Check your favorite music store for guitars for sale on consignment, look online, or even look for guitars available for rent. That way, you can let your budding musician explore their newfound passion without breaking the bank.

Maintaining your instrument: Once you purchase your guitar you won’t rack up expenses as long as you maintain your instrument properly. A properly maintained guitar can last decades without anything other than the occasional new pair of strings. But if you don’t maintain your instrument, it can fall into disrepair, requiring work that can be more expensive than the guitar cost in the first place! Keep your guitar away from extreme hot or cold weather to avoid warping or cracking. When not in use, loosen the strings so that they put less pressure on the neck of the guitar, which will also help to curtail warping.

Consolidate gear for electric guitarists: Acoustic guitars require nothing more than a few fingers to strum their strings. Electric guitars, on the other hand, will be a little more expensive. You’ll need to purchase amplifiers, PA systems and cords—at the least. If you’re shopping for an electric aficionado, you can help save some extra money by purchasing all-in-one gear. For instance, some acoustic guitars come with electric pick-ups so it’s as if you have two guitars in one. There are also amplifiers that come equipped with PA systems so that you won’t have to purchase both separately.

Follow these tips and by this time next year, you may even have someone to play you some of your favorite holiday tunes! To see more great ways to save money in your daily life, check out Milford Bank’s blog here, our online Learning Center, or stop by a office location near you!