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.

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.

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. 

Financial Independence is the New Retirement

When thinking about the path to retirement, we tend to assume a typical trajectory: go to school, get a job and then work tirelessly for the next 40 years. But in reality, there are many different paths to the same destination. Today, many people are opting to find alternate ways to retirement, opting out of the traditional decades-long grind.

Putting an early end to the punching of time cards used to be considered the luxury of Powerball winners. But these days, there are many options for people with the desire to cash out early.

For instance, many people are opting to change the language of work altogether. Instead of going into retirement, many are seeking instead to achieve financial independence—being in a position of having sufficient personal wealth to live without having to actively work for basic necessities.

So how can you achieve financial independence? Here are a few ways to get started.

Financial Independence is the New Retirement

By Mark Attanasio

When thinking about the path to retirement, we tend to assume a typical trajectory: go to school, get a job and then work tirelessly for the next 40 years. But in reality, there are many different paths to the same destination. Today, many people are opting to find alternate ways to retirement, opting out of the traditional decades-long grind.

Putting an early end to the punching of time cards used to be considered the luxury of Powerball winners. But these days, there are many options for people with the desire to cash out early.

For instance, many people are opting to change the language of work altogether. Instead of going into retirement, many are seeking instead to achieve financial independence—being in a position of having sufficient personal wealth to live without having to actively work for basic necessities.

So how can you achieve financial independence? Here are a few ways to get started.

Put your money to work for you: You may need to work tirelessly early on to amass enough money to start investing. But once you do, make investments that will provide you with supplemental income. For instance, if you opt to invest in stocks, aim for companies that pay shareholder dividends. If you’re going to invest in real-estate, consider a multi-family unit or in-law apartment that you can rent to cover your own mortgage.

If you’re interested in owning your own home but aren’t interested in making it part of your investment strategy, consider joining the tiny house movement. Ranging from 100-400 square feet, tiny houses provide many of the creature comforts of a home—but on a much smaller scale. Ideal for those who simply need a place to hang their hat at the end of a busy day, tiny houses are optimal for anyone willing to go to unusual lengths to achieve financial independence.

Transform passion projects into side jobs: How would you spend your time if you didn’t have to work? If you love to create art, there’s likely a market for your work. If you like to travel, consider becoming a contributor for a travel blog. No matter what your passion project happens to be, there’s likely a way you can capitalize on the hobbies you’re already enjoying.

Live below your means: This is ultimately the lynchpin of financial independence. No matter how much income you have coming in, you’ve got to be willing to keep growing your savings. You never know when an unexpected expense might arise. If you remain disciplined about your spending, you won’t have to start filling out job applications every time you need to bring your car into the mechanic or buy a new hot water heater.

To set out on your own path to financial independence, stop in to a Milford Bank branch location and speak with one of our team members about setting up a strategy that will work for you.

Is a Community Bank Right for Your Family?

By Jorge Santiago

While there are countless banks you can choose to protect and grow your wealth, the simple truth is that there are many differences between the global megabanks you might be more familiar with and locally-focused community banks.

The question you’ve got to ask yourself is this: which type of bank will meet the needs of you and your family?

You already know all about the megabanks. They’ve got stadiums named after them. They’ve got expensive commercials featuring famous actors and actresses. The odds are, you know all about what the megabanks can offer.

So here’s a closer look at what a community bank can provide:

  • The same services as bigger banks. A smaller bank doesn’t equate to smaller financial service offerings. Community banks can provide everything you’ve come to expect: investment vehicles, insurance, business loans, mortgages, financial consultation, retirement accounts and more.
  • You can get to know every employee.
  • Your success is their success. The deposits made at community banks are redistributed in the form of business loans and mortgages to other members of the local economy. That means community bankers have a vested interest in your financial well-being.
  • Greater investment in community events. We’re also renowned for spurring greater attention to local community events. Raising money for local causes helps bring the community together and draws on the spirit of what community banking is all about.
  • You aren’t just another number.  Community bankers can take the time to get the whole picture about who you are as an individual, and take that into account when working with you.
  • Streamlined financial processes. You won’t have to jump through hoops when you do your banking locally. You’ll be able to work with just a handful of individuals and take the time to build a relationship.

 

 

 

You already knew about what the megabanks were all about. Now you know what community banks can do for your family. If banking local sounds like the right choice for you and your family stop by the nearest Milford Bank branch location to you. Click here to find out more.

 

Homebuyers: How to Prepare for a Major Household Repair

By JoAnn Sabas

After the purchase of your new home, you’ll likely experience an adjustment period during which you learn how to alter your budget and lifestyle to accommodate the new expenses in your life, such as mortgage payments and property taxes. One thing you’re probably not counting on, however, is a major household repair.

But even if you purchased a move-in ready house that doesn’t need any immediate repairs, the truth is that a major unexpected expense could surprise you at any time. For instance, a brand new furnace can malfunction just after the warrantee expires. A storm can do structural damage that your insurance company will only partially cover. In truth, there are many expenses waiting for you when you purchase a new home. If you prepare, you’ll be ready when they happen.

Here are three ways your family can be ready for a major household repair when it happens to you.

  • Add repairs into your monthly budget proactively. There are two popular schools of thought for budgeting for home repairs. Some say that you should sock away 1 percent of the cost of your home each year to prepare for maintenance (if your home cost $200,000, put aside $2,000 each year). Others say you should save $1 per square foot each year (so if your home is 1,500 square feet, you should save $1,500). You may not always use the full amount, but that just means you’ll be better prepared the following year.
  • Get at least three quotes on any work you contract. ’re handy around the house, doing your own repairs can come back to haunt you down the road. If you plan to resell your home soon, there’s a good chance you’ll need to verify the work was done to code by a licensed professional. When you do reach out to have work done, be sure to get at least three quotes. This will help you get a truer sense of how much your repairs actually cost, and give you leverage to negotiate the cost of the job.
  • Purchase your own parts. If you let a contractor do the shopping for you, you might end up with a more expensive furnace than your house really needs. When possible, purchase your own parts so your expenses end up going primarily to labor. You can often find better deals for used goods online, wholesale supply stores, or even outlets, where a brand new, fully functioning appliance may be marked down drastically simply because it was returned.

While there are many benefits to owning your own home, the responsibility of maintenance is certainly not one of them. But as long as you prepare for the inevitable, and respond responsibly when something goes wrong, you won’t put yourself, or your family, at risk of having to sacrifice your quality of life.

Three Ways You Can Improve Your Credit Score

By Paul Mulligan

The importance of having good credit cannot be overstated. Having a good credit score—at least 700 on a scale from 300 to 850—can open up a world of possibilities that might otherwise have been unavailable to you. Good credit can help you get approved for a car loan or mortgage. In some cases, employers and landlords will even use credit scores as part of their background checks. A good credit score may also help you qualify for financing and credit cards with lower interest rates.

In general, you’ll find managing your finances and improving your quality of life easier with a first-rate credit score. On the other hand, the lower your credit score drops, the harder time you’ll have qualifying for low interest rates that will help you cut into your debt.

Fortunately, you can establish a good credit score early on and keep it headed in the right direction by following these three steps.

  • Apply for a secured credit card. Building credit is difficult to do without an existing payment history. One of the quickest ways to establish your ability and willingness to pay off debts in a timely manner is by using a credit card. Yet, first you have to qualify for the card, which is also contingent upon a solid history of loan repayment. In this case, a good solution is to procure a secured credit card. The lender assumes no risk with this alternative, as a sum of money equivalent to the total available balance on the card is held in an account and only released after you’ve established a track record for making regular payments.
  • Pay more than the minimum on your credit card(s). Another way to prove that you’re a low-risk customer is to pay down more than the monthly minimum on any of your existing balances. You don’t need to go overboard; paying 10 extra dollars a month can have an impact.
  • Leave repaid debts on your credit history. There is a difference between good and bad debt. If you’ve paid off a loan, don’t make the mistake of trying to erase the evidence that you had debt from your credit score. The fact that you incurred debt and handled it responsibly will help your score.

To learn more about the importance of credit and what you can do to improve your standing, stop by Milford Bank to speak with one of our financial advisors, or check out our Online Learning Center by clicking here.