Setting Your High School Senior Up for Financial Success

By Tina Mason

Now that we’re in the second semester of the school year, the college applications have been submitted and high school seniors are waiting anxiously to receive a response.  Soon, they’ll take another step on the the path to their future and before you know it, parents will be be packing up cars to take them to college.

During the past four years, seniors have focused on school work and probably some extracurricular activities – sports, music, drama, or others – to prepare for the next stage of their life journeys.  Most likely, worrying about money hasn’t been a huge priority, which means you probably need to make it one now.  You don’t want to send your soon-to-be college freshman off to school without a solid financial understanding because, much like the college decision itself, understanding financial basics will have a long-term impact.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that you may want to talk about or do with your senior. (If you don’t have a senior, starting when they’re younger certainly doesn’t hurt.  If they’re old enough to have money, they’re old enough to understand banking.)

Savings and Checking Accounts

If you haven’t already opened savings or checking accounts in your child’s name, this is a good time to do it.  Your child will want access to funds and you want them to build financial awareness.  You can always add yourself to the account so you can stay involved with finances to whatever degree makes you comfortable.  Check with your local bank about rates, fees, and other benefits to determine which accounts are best for you.  That includes finding out about ATM fees.  Some banks charge high fees for using other ATMs, while others don’t.

Credit Cards

If you haven’t already, it’s also not a bad idea to open a credit card for your child to start building a credit history.  Make sure you explain how and when credit cards are to be used – and set very specific guidelines if you are paying the bills for now.  Regardless of who is managing payments, be sure to talk about how late and missed payments, balances, and other variables impact credit scores.  You may also want to warn them that college students tend to be heavily targeted with credit card offers claiming to offer unique or exclusive benefits.  Make sure they understand that, while credit cards can be valuable financial tools, they also carry risk if not managed properly, leading to debt.

Emergency Funds

While your child may not be financially independent, going off to college and living away from home does mean unexpected situations can arise.  This is a great time to help young adults understand the value of an emergency fund and you might even want to start one for them.  If they are working during school, adding just a few dollars from each paycheck, or they could dedicate a portion of birthday or holiday gifts to their funds.  It will help them learn at an early age that saving doesn’t have to be difficult, and they’ll have an emergency fund to fall back on if needed.

Budgeting

Budgeting and saving go hand in hand, so this is also a great time to make sure your children – even if they’re not yet heading off to college – about budgeting.  Most students have very limited sources of income.  The good thing is they also don’t have the same level of expenses they will have when they graduate and head off into the working world.  Teaching them to budget appropriately today will build a foundation for their financial stability in the future.

Privacy and Security

Your children have grown up in a digital world and cyber security is probably not a new topic for them.  As they enter the world of banking, it’s a good idea to highlight the need to keep all financial information secure and private.  They should never share their PINs or credit card numbers with anyone, for instance, even if they are doing it with the best of intentions, such as trying to help a friend in need.  There are many digital banking tools that make managing money convenient, but make sure you talk about appropriate password usage, two-factor authentication, which P2P apps are safe to use.

It’s never too early to start teaching children about banking and finances.  But, as you get ready to send yours off to college for the first time, they will be exposed to a new level of freedom.  Making sure they have a solid financial understanding is important and can help keep them from getting into risky financial situations and high debt.

If you have questions about which accounts are best suited for your children, contact your local bank’s staff for advice and information.

10 Tips for Safe Online Banking

It’s not surprising to see digital banking continue to grow, considering nearly everything else we do is accessible online.  Over the past several years, online and mobile banking has grown as the primary banking method by almost 25%, according to the FDIC.  It’s not hard to imagine that growth continuing this year, especially as the pandemic closed many branches temporarily and people generally trying to avoid risk.  That’s not to say people aren’t visiting branches – they are.  In fact, 80% of households that used digital banking as their primary banking resource still visit branches.  But, the growth is a clear indicator that the convenience of online banking is real, and with banks providing many of their services online and through mobile apps, customers are taking advantage.

Of course, as with other online activities, online banking comes with risks if you’re not careful.  Banks take security seriously and ensure they have the best security measures in place to protect your accounts.  But, there are two sides to every transaction and, if you’re not practicing safe online banking habits, you could be exposing your information to hackers.

Here are a few tips to help you keep you digital banking information secure.

No sharing – Your personal and banking information is yours; keep it that way.  If you get a call or email from someone asking for sensitive information, it’s very likely a scam.  Even if you think there’s a chance it’s a legitimate request, hang up (or don’t respond to the email).  Look up the company’s phone number and call them to confirm.  Remember that your bank will never call asking you for your card numbers, security codes, PIN numbers, or other sensitive information.

WiFi security – Make sure you have followed best practices for home WiFi, including using a strong, unique password.  It’s a good idea to leave that network for you immediate family’s use.  Most modern WiFi routers allow you to easily set up a separate guest network for others to use (make sure to use a different password for the guest network).

Public WiFi – Quite simply, don’t do it.  There’s too much risk and limited security on most public networks.  They are meant to enable access to the internet, but they are typically not safe for financial transactions.  If you have access to a VPN, use that or your mobile network if you have to make banking transactions before your get home.

Passwords – Just as you do for your WiFi, use strong, unique passwords for your online and mobile banking apps.  Not all sites use the same high levels of security as banks.  Using unique passwords means that, even if one password is stolen from a site with weaker security, your banking information will not be exposed.  Check our post on creating strong passwords to help.

Sign out – Remember to sign out of your online banking accounts when done to avoid exposing your accounts in the event your devices are compromised.

P2P payments – There are many great tools for easily sending and receiving money from friends or family members.  It’s a smart habit to limit your P2P activity to people you know and trust explicitly.  If someone asks you to pay for a purchase using a P2P product, you should think twice about it.  These options are great for quickly sending money to someone, such as when splitting a bill, but they don’t offer you recourse for recovering lost funds.  On the other hand, other payment options, like credit cards and digital payment platforms like PayPal, Google Pay, and others, offer fraud protection (check before you use them to make sure you understand what is covered and what isn’t).

Mobile security – Even if you’ve secured your home devices, don’t forget your smartphones.  Treat your mobile devices just as you would a laptop or desktop with good security software.  Many security solutions available for consumer use package mobile security apps in their solutions.  If you subscribe to security software, check to see if it comes with a mobile solution.  As with your home devices, always make sure your security software is current.  Consider allowing your security software to update automatically to make sure you always have the latest protection.

Firewalls – Make sure you have an active firewall for your broadband connection to reduce risk.  Your operating system or security software should include a firewall option that you can enable.

Contact info – Make sure you update your bank and your mobile accounts if you get new contact information.  It will help your bank communicate with you and will make sure you continue receiving important information, including your account activity alerts.

Monitor your accounts – Banks have good fraud detection in place to protect your accounts, but cyber criminals are also good at what they do.  Checking your accounts regularly can double down on your bank’s efforts and spot any questionable transactions.  It’s easy to do with your online portal or mobile app and won’t take you much more time than checking email.  You can also set up automated alerts via text or email to let you know each time a transaction is made.  Alerts It will help not only help you manage your spending, but will alert you immediately of any suspicious account activity so you can contact your bank and take appropriate steps.

Online banking has become extremely convenient.  With all the digital tools available for many of your banking needs, you will rarely have to physically visit a branch if you don’t want to or are just not able to.   But, you need to make sure you’re taking precautions and following best practices for online activity to avoid putting your financial information at risk.

7 Things You Think You Know About Credit Scores, But Don’t

By William LoCasto

When was the last time you checked you credit report?  If you’re like many people, it’s probably not frequently enough.  The good news is you can do it at least three times a year at no cost, because the three major credit reporting agencies are required to provide one free credit report a year.  In addition, your bank may offer additional services for checking you credit.

You credit scores and report will be a factor for so many decisions you make in life.  With many major financial commitments, you credit report is likely to be checked.  When you’re buying a home, your mortgage lender will look closely at your credit report.  The same goes for car loans.  Credit card companies check to determine not only whether they are willing to offer you credit, but also your card limit and interest rate.  Utility and phone companies may also want to check to determine how likely you are to pay your bills, or whether they should require a prepaid plan.  Even prospective employers often check credit reports.

The bottom line is that your credit report will play a role in most major events in your life.  This means it’s in your best interest to check you scores regularly for any anomalies, and so you know if you need to take steps to improve your score.  Checking your score is a great start, but only if you know how they actually work, which isn’t always easy.  For one thing, about a year ago, FICO (the most widely used credit scoring resource used by lenders), updated its scoring system, which could impact your score.

Aside from that, there are a number of common misconceptions about credit scores that could prevent you from improving your credit ratings.

Checking your credit report impacts your score

This is not true.  You can check your own credit score as often as you want without any impact.  However, if you are applying for credit from multiple sources, such as a car dealer, a mortgage lender, and a retail store, those credit checks could slightly dip you score.

Accessing lines of credit doesn’t impact your score

Again, this is not true.  The amount of credit you have used, compared to your available credit, is one of the biggest factors in your credit score.  A lower utilization rate is better for your overall credit.

Income changes your credit score

Yet again, this isn’t true.  Your job and income history has no impact on your credit score.  It is, however, used by lenders to determine how much they are willing to lend you.

Closing credit cards can improve your score

This is also not true.  In fact, if you close a credit card at the wrong time, you might actually lower your score because you’re reducing your available credit, which will increase the percentage of credit you’ve used.  That’s not to say you should never close credit accounts – there are often very good reasons to do so, but be aware it could impact your score.

Marriage changes your credit score

You guessed it, not true.  Credit scores aren’t like taxes; they aren’t combined into households.  Your credit score is yours alone.  Lenders, though, may ask for information about your spouse to determine your loan amount and interest rate.

You need to have a perfect score

Also false.  While it’s possible to have a perfect credit score, there’s isn’t a benefit.  Once you have reached high credit worthiness, making it perfect won’t create any noticeable benefits, other than knowing you have a perfect score.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive for perfection, but you also shouldn’t worry about not reaching it with your credit score – it won’t hurt you.

Poor credit is forever

This may be the best misconception of all.  Unless you have perfect credit, you can always improve your score over time.  The key is to not only understand what goes into your credit score, but to start following smart financial habits, including creating and sticking to budgets, paying off existing debt, and cutting out unnecessary spending.

There are many other questions that don’t have simple yes or no answers when it comes to credit scores.  For up-to-date information on what impacts your credit score and what doesn’t, or for advice on how you can start rebuilding your credit, talk to your bank’s experts.  Remember, you credit score will impact you for your entire life, but just because you don’t have a high score today doesn’t mean you can’t improve it.

Making New Year’s Resolutions That Will Actually Be Helpful

By Celeste Lohrenz

As we reach the end of what has been nothing short of a challenging year – and hope 2021 will bring good news – it’s time for the age-old tradition of making New Year’s resolutions.  Most people, though, don’t follow through on them.  But, the key to making them stick is to make resolutions that are specific enough and achievable and, importantly, beneficial.  If you have a vested interest in keeping your resolutions, you’ll be more likely to do so.

Taking stock of your financial situation is a great place to start.  Then, you can look at where you may need or want to make changes in your spending or saving habits to improve one or more areas of your personal finances.  You can certainly do these things at any time, but if you need a little additional motivation, try making a financial New Year’s resolution and see how it changes your financial outlook by this time next year.  It’s something you have control over, and improving your finances will have short and long term benefits.  Here are a few suggestions.

Stick to your budget

One of the most important tools for financial responsibility is your budget.  Without one, it can be difficult to manage your spending and increase savings.  If you haven’t created a budget, start with understanding your monthly spending, then you can start to build a budget and see how that relates to how much you want to save.  If you already have a budget, review it to see if you can cut any spending to help save more.  But, make sure you create a reasonable budget.  If you set one that’s not realistic, you will not only fail to stick to it, but once you go over budget once, your spending can snowball quickly.

Check your credit report

Your credit score is a key factor in how banks decide whether to lend you money or not, and also what interest rates borrowers will get, which can all impact your ability to finance major investments, like homes or cars, or to get credit cards.  You can see your credit score every time to log into your online account here at The Milford Bank.  If there’s nothing suspicious and your credit score is strong, you won’t spend much time on it.  But, if you need to improve your score or notice something wrong, make it a priority to fix it.

It’s easy to say you’ll eliminate all your debt, but it’s a lot harder to do it if you have significant credit card balances, auto loans, student loans, or other debt.  Reducing it is much easier.  Try setting incremental, more achievable goals, like paying off one loan at a time, or paying an extra $50 or $100 a month on your credit card.  Even if you don’t pay it all off by the end of the year, you’ll have made significant progress that you can carry over into the following year.

Automate saving

Saving isn’t always easy, but using automated tools, like Plinqit, can help you reach your small and large saving goals by automating your savings deposits.  Regardless of what you’re saving for – college tuition, a wedding, the down payment on a new home, or anything else – you no longer have to remember to put money away.  Instead, set your goals and watch your savings grow each month.

Build an emergency fund

The thing about emergencies is you never know when they may happen.  Your roof may start leaking, dishwasher may stop working, your car may need a new engine, or any number of other things may come up that require access to funds.  That’s where having an emergency fund is can be a major benefit.  Instead of dipping into your savings or accumulating debt, an emergency fund provides security for any unexpected situations that come up, including loss of income.

Save for retirement

It’s never too early to start building your retirement nest egg.  It’s simple logic – the earlier you start, the more you are likely to have when you retire.  Whether you have a 401k plan or IRA, try maximizing how much you put into it each month, while still maintaining a reasonable budget (especially if your company matches your contribution).  You may also want to pay more attention to how your contributions are being invested.  Talk to your financial advisor if you’re not sure how to effectively manage your investments.

Start banking digitally

Just about everything we do these days can be done online.  If you haven’t yet tried online or mobile banking, you haven’t experienced the freedom and flexibility it provides.  Most of your everyday baking transactions can be done through your bank’s website or mobile app, reducing the number of trips you have to make to the branch and giving you more time to enjoy doing other things.  If you need help setting up your online account or mobile app, our bank’s specialists are ready to help.

Review your will

Nobody wants to think about it, but creating a will and making sure it’s updated as your financial circumstances change can be a huge help to your loved ones when the time comes.  Take the time to meet with a professional to document how you want your assets allocated, and enjoy the peace of mind that you’ve made things a little easier for your family in the future.

These are just a few ideas for kicking off the new year with a positive financial outlook.  Once you have assessed your current situation, you may find other ways you can improve your financial wellness.  The key is finding something that makes sense while setting a goal that is achievable yet meaningful enough to make you want to follow through.  Whether you’re looking at short-term benefit or long-term opportunities, you can’t achieve them if you don’t set objectives and create a path to financial success.

Safe Shopping Tips for the Holidays

The holiday shopping season is upon us.  Starting with Black Friday and running through Christmas, the next month will be the busiest shopping period of the year – as it always is.  Each year, online shopping has increased, due to convenience, availability, free shipping from many retailers.  This year, the trend will be even more significant, considering the unprecedented circumstances that continue to surround us with the global pandemic, driving more people to do much of their shopping online.  It also means cyber criminals will be even more dangerous than ever, trying to take advantage of people looking for great deals.

Be aware though, that not all deals are good ones – some are likely to be scams targeting unsuspecting shoppers during peak periods where many people lower their guard in an effort to save or get popular items.  As you do your online shopping, keep a few simple rules in mind to help protect you and your personal information.

Check out sellers – It’s worth doing some research on online retailers, especially ones you don’t know and haven’t used previously, to make sure they are legitimate.  Online and social media reviews can be a good source of information, since customers are typically very quick to post about poor experiences and fraudulent site.   You can also look up companies at the Better Business Bureau.  The BBB also has a scam tracker site where you can look up (or report) scams.  It’s currently showing more than 200,000 scams.  If you’re buying through P2P services, like eBay, make sure you look at the seller’s history, ratings, and feedback.

Hard to find items – Be aware of offers promoting hard to find items.  Scammers often target buyers by offering deals on hard to find items.  Be aware of this and be sure to do your research on retailers.  Though it’s not always the case, if items are sold out at popular retailers – including the brands own e-commerce site – it’s not very likely they are available from other sources.  Your best bet is to shop early to avoid missing out on these items and setting yourself up to fall for a scam.

Be cautious with links – You’re likely to get countless emails from retailers promoting sales and gift ideas.  Many will be legitimate retailers you’ve purchased from in the past but, it’s almost a certainty there will also be fake ones looking to steal your personal information and money.  Some of the emails or texts you receive about amazing offers may contain links to fake websites.  Follow safe practices by carefully inspecting or searching any URLs before clicking on them, looking for typos or poorly written emails, and keeping an eye out for fake sites with URLs that are close to legitimate brands.  Instead of clicking on email links, you may want to search for brands and get to their sites that way.  Sales and specials are usually available directly from the websites as well.  If not, it may be a scam.

Use credit cards – Whenever possible, pay with a credit card.  Most major credit card issuers provide online purchase protection, so your liability will be limited, if any.  Some banks are also extending the same protections to their debit cards, so you should check with your bank to understand your liability.  Using a credit card instead of a debit care also means your primary bank account won’t be compromised if your card information is stolen.

Online payment platforms – Online payment platforms, like PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and others are another alternative available at many retailers.  The benefit is you are still using your credit card, but because you’re authorizing payment through the third-party platforms, your payment information is never seen by sellers.

Use only secure sites – Always make sure you are shopping on secure sites, indicated by the small closed padlock icon next to the URL in your browser.  While the icon doesn’t guarantee the legitimacy of the seller or the security of their payment system or website, it does mean you have a secure connection to the site, reducing risk of your data being intercepted.

Protect your accounts – Most retailers will allows you to make purchases as guests.  If you don’t have to, don’t sign up for an account with every seller, especially those you aren’t likely to use repeatedly.  For those you do have accounts with, follow your normal best practices, including strong passwords and two-factor authentication to protect accounts.  2FA typically works by sending a confirmation code to your mobile device to confirm your identity.

Security software – Hopefully, you already have a good security solution installed on your home and mobile devices.  They can help protect you against cyber criminals by alerting you when you are trying to access an unsecure or potentially fraudulent site, in addition to all the other security features that help keep your information safe.  As a regular course of action, you should make sure your software is always up to date.

Following these guidelines can certainly help protect you as you do your holiday shopping, but they are good steps to follow all year long.  But, even if you are careful, there’s always a chance your information may be exposed or you may make a mistake.  If you think something has gone wrong and you may have been a victim or fraud or exposed your information, contact your bank immediately to alert them and block your accounts.

9 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Not surprisingly, online shopping has increased significantly over the past four months, with restaurants and retail stores being closed and even those that were open using curbside pickup or delivery.  That trend continues, and even when the pandemic subsides, almost half of consumers say they will continue to use online shopping for home delivery or curbside pickup.

Many have found that online shopping is simply a more convenient option.  In many cases, it offered an opportunity to get items that were otherwise unavailable because stores were closed or items were out of stock due to high demand.  That’s all true, as long as the items arrive as scheduled.

But, many people have also reported not receiving their purchases.  In fact, the FTC says it has received more reports of problems with online shopping, with more than half saying they never received their items.

In some cases, there have been delays, or items have simply gotten lost in transit.  Companies like Amazon typically do a good job letting customers know when their items are delayed.  In many cases, if the item is lost somewhere in transit, Amazon will offer customers the opportunity to request a refund, even though the item may eventually still arrive.  It’s good customer service.

Over the past several months, thousands of unverified, fraudulent sites have popped up claiming to have many high-demand products available.  Once they receive payment, they simply don’t ship the items and, when customers call to inquire, they claim delays due to the pandemic to avoid being detected as fake for as long as possible.  It was a concern even before the pandemic, which only created another opportunity for fake sites.  Some of these sites even mimic legitimate retailers, making it even harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.

The good news is there are ways to limit your exposure to these scams.  Here are a few tips for smart online shopping to help you steer clear of any issues and make sure you get the products you order.

  • Try recognized brands first. They may not always have what you’re looking for, but it’s a good place to start.
  • Be wary of sites selling products that are in short supply, or name brand products at much lower prices than you would normally pay.
  • Make sure the website is and HTTPS site (not just HTTP), indicating a higher level of security. This is important any time you make online purchases.  Also click on the padlock next to the web address, which will give you even more information about the site’s security.
  • Also check the URL itself. Some fake sites use addresses very similar to legitimate sites to fool people.  If you typed in the address manually, double check it to make sure you didn’t make a mistake.
  • Keep your browser updated. Most browsers will warn you if you’re about to go to an unsafe site.
  • Also keep you security software updated. This is another tool to help avoid malware from suspicious sites.
  • Examine the reviews. Many sites pay for fake 5-star reviews that all sound about the same.  Look for a variety or reviews and ratings.  You can also use sites like Fakespot, which analyzes and rates the validity of reviews on sites.
  • Other resources are available to help check website reputation, like URLVoid or Google Transparency Report. You can also check the Better Business Bureau for its ratings.
  • Pay with a credit card. This may be the best way to protect your money when buying online, regardless of the site.  If something happens and you don’t receive your purchases, or if they aren’t as advertised, you can contact your credit card issuer to dispute the charges if.

Online shopping is often very convenient, and it can be a way to get items that aren’t readily available locally.  But, there’s no question scam sites are a growing issue.  But, scammers are successful because they rely on unsuspecting victims.  Arming yourself with the information and tools to avoid scams or low-quality product knock-offs will help keep you from being disappointed or losing money.

Saving Money Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

By Cortney Meng

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a financial mess for many people.  Some were laid off, others were furloughed or had shifts reduced, and college students had a hard time finding sources of summer income.  Nearly 70% of American household incomes have been impacted.

The disruption has caused millions of people to dip into their savings accounts, emergency funds, and even retirement savings to manage during the pandemic.  Others have built up credit card debt or have taken out personal loans.  The situation has caused people to rethink their finances, with three-quarters of Americans saying they plan to either save more money in general or put more towards their emergency funds.

That’s not always easy, but personal savings apps like Plinqit – by HTMA Mobile Apps – can help.  With Plinqit, you simply set up your account, define your savings goals and a schedule for making deposits to the account.  Because the Plinqit account is linked to your checking account, there’s not additional effort needed, and Plinqit accounts are FDIC insured, so there is no risk.

The idea is that Plinqit will help eliminate the challenges with saving, including simply remembering to add to your emergency or other savings accounts.  Depending on your goals and means, you can select to add to your Plinqit savings on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, and you can define the amount that is deposited.

You can check on you progress through the app at any time to see how you’re progressing towards your goals.  You can even set up to five separate saving goals at once.

Plinqit is free to use, though  you may want to add a “break the safe” penalty for withdrawing funds before you reach your goals to help discourage dipping into the account.  But, maybe best of all, when you achieve your goals, you will be rewarded with an additional amount.  You may also earn additional savings by referring others to Plinqit, or by using the Plinqit tool-builder that will help you learn even more about saving money.

There’s never a bad time to start saving, but now may be just a little better.  The Milford Bank is currently offering a $25 savings bonus for singing up an achieving a savings goal through Plinqit.  The thing with saving is that every little bit helps, and small amounts add up to significant savings quickly.  And it works – Plinqit users have saved more than $1 million since the service was launched last year.

Whether you’re replenishing your emergency fund or just starting one, trying to pay back a loan, or have a wedding or other expense in the future,start saving now so you won’t have to worry when you need the extra money.

Sign up at milfordbank.plinqit.com by August 15th and get a $25 bonus upon completion of your primary goal!

Buying a Home Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

By Paul Mulligan, Senior Vice President, Consumer Lending

Buying a home can be a stressful experience.  Even if you’ve done it before and are looking to move, upgrade, or downside, it takes some work.  If you’re a first-time buyer, it’s likely to be an even more nerve-wracking experience because you don’t know what to expect.  Whether you’re ready to start shopping for a home now, or if it’s part of your future plans, here are a few things to consider that can help make the process a little smoother for you.  Especially in the current environment, with fewer houses on the market, being prepared can make it easier to act quickly on the house you want.

Down payment – Look at how much you have saved for a down payment.  If you haven’t started, that may be the first place to start.  Putting more down on your home initially will reduce your monthly mortgage payments, but you want to make sure you don’t drain your bank account completely, because there are always things that seem to come up when buying a home, whether it’s repairs, additional furniture, or other things.  Also look into how different down payment amounts might change your interest rates, mortgage insurance, and other variables.

Know your costs – There are any number of additional expenses that can come up during the home buying process.  In addition to your regular monthly expenses, make sure you know what to expect in terms of insurance, inspections, legal fees, and other costs you might incur during the process.  Some are small, but others can be larger expenses that could impact your down payment or savings.  Don’t forget moving expenses.

Assistance programs – The local bank in the area you’re looking to buy a home may have first-time home buyer programs that might provide a number of benefits.  The Milford Bank, for instance, offers an application fee refund, discounted interest rates, prequalification certificates, and low down payment options.  Milford, Stratford, West Haven, and Orange and eligible for the first time homebuyer program.

Check your credit report – One of the first things your lender is going to do is check your credit report.  Make sure your report isn’t showing any inaccurate or fraudulent activity.  If there is something suspicious, you will want to give yourself enough time to address it.  You may also want to avoid opening new lines of credit before applying for a home loan, since that could impact your credit score.  The truth is, you should check your credit report regularly.  Since each of the three major credit agencies is required to give you one free credit report each year, you can easily do it three times a year without incurring any cost.

Compare lenders – There are plenty of lenders out there.  Do your homework, don’t overlook your local bank, and consider more than rates. Local institutions, such as The Milford Bank, often offer more personalized service and are certainly much more easily accessible if you have questions or if problems come up.  They can also provide easy access to additional financial services, including future home equity loans when you’re looking to make larger improvements or renovations.

Plan ahead – As you start thinking about and looking for homes, think about your future plans.  For instance, if you’re also thinking about starting a family, you may want to make sure you have enough space without having to immediately move again.  That could mean giving up a few nice-to-have features in exchange for a little more space, in order to stick to your budget.  On the other hand, if you’re serious about relocating when you start a family, or for any other reasons, you may want to consider a slightly smaller home that will allow you to save a little more

The fact is, if you’re currently renting, you may find you can get into a home of your own for something very close to what you’re paying in rent – or less – especially if you’ve prepared well and planned ahead.  You’ll also have the added benefit of being able to deduct mortgage interest from your federal income tax.  But, don’t go into it without having all the information you need.  Talk to your bank’s mortgage specialists professionals and your tax planner.  They can help answer any questions you have, including how much you can reasonably afford to spend on a home.