‘Tis the Season… For Community Cleanup and Major Project Planning

By Mark Gruttadauria

After a long winter that included a 10-day period with three different Nor’Easters hitting the area, it looks like Spring has finally arrived. Lawns are started to become brighter shades of green, trees are starting to bud, and of course, temperatures are on the rise. The change in seasons also signifies the start of the outdoor activities, as youth sports teams are seen practicing across communities and parks and other communal areas once again become daily meeting sites.

For local communities, it means preparing for annual spring cleaning, repairs and maintenance. The to-do list can get quite long after a harsh winter, with many cleaning,  landscaping and gardening jobs taking priority to replenish and revitalize buildings, gardens, planters, water features, playgrounds, and walkways.  The good news is if your community or neighborhood association has done its job, you’ll see a large turnout of residents lending a hand to take care of their communities.

This is also the time to assess larger and longer term needs – especially anything that might require larger capital investment. Larger, higher cost projects require advance planning and a lengthier approval process for funding.  They could include office or garage renovation,  new construction, parking area paving, speed bumps, pool installation, tree removal or planting, or any other capital improvements to make the community more attractive to residents and businesses.

Smart associations understand that, just as regular maintenance (including spring cleanup) help to build a positive daily perception, these larger developments are a long-term these are long-term investments in the community’s future. It’s simple: a cleaner and more modern community is naturally going to have maximum curb appeal.

The catch, though, is that community organizations may not have a lump sum available to fund larger projects, which is why future planning is critical. When big-ticket items are approved, funding plans must also be in place, whether that means local fund raising, business sponsorships, city funding (less and less likely, unless residents are willing to endure tax hikes), or project loans (hopefully from local banks that are happy to work with community organizations).

Whatever the plan, it has to be put in place long before the project breaks ground. So, when your planting flowers, trimming hedges, or sowing grass this spring, take note of any larger community improvement opportunities and bring them to your community association board, so they can consider them early enough to make a real difference.

Many local financial institutions, like The Milford Bank, work closely with community associations and other similar organizations, understanding they, too, have a role to play in supporting these communities. If you are considering a major project that will require funding, be sure to talk to a representative from The Milford Bank representative to find out how we can help.

The Savings Spotlight Series, Part 2: Recent College Graduates

By Chaz Gaines

There is no one-size-fits-all savings strategy that will work for every individual. The truth is, we’re all at different stages in life and must adjust our planning accordingly. What works for a teenager saving for their first car isn’t going to work for a couple in their early sixties looking to retire in the next few years.

As such, it’s important for every individual to craft a savings strategy that will best support their needs and wants for the circumstances surrounding their lifestyle. In this series, we’re looking at some of the major milestones throughout life to help our customers hone in on where their heads should be at when it comes to their savings strategy.

In Part 2, we’ll be taking a closer look at the financial needs of recent college graduates—an ever-increasing demographic that today must contend with record amounts of student loan debt as they enter the workforce. If you’re a recent grad, or know someone who is, take a look at the following tips to help get started on the right track.

Start paying off student loans: In addition to receiving a diploma, you’ll now need to start paying off your student loans now that you’ve graduated. While every individual has different degrees of financial flexibility, many experts believe that contributing 10 to 20 percent of your monthly income to paying down student loan debt will keep you on even footing in the long run.

Take advantage of employer benefits: Another benefit of leaving the classroom is that you’ll now be able to get a full time job, and the benefits that come along with it. By starting to contribute early to a 401(k) or IRA through work, you’ll have the opportunity to add significant value compared to employees who pass up the opportunity. This is especially true in cases where employers will match your contributions.

Build a personal portfolio: Relying solely on employee benefits will hinder your earning potential, so it’s equally important to start diversifying your savings and building a personal portfolio. But you’ll need to evolve beyond the simple savings account that got you through college. Given the fiscal highs and lows that can come along with being a recent graduate, certificates of deposit are sometimes a good place to start. Smartphone-savvy grads can even find great finance apps that can give an introduction to investing without the mandatory minimum contributions required for some investment vehicles.

Establish your credit: A good credit score supports long term saving because it will eventually help you to get lower interest rates on mortgages, auto loans and a variety of other important purchases you’ll make in the coming years. One option is to obtain a small balance credit card, but the easiest way to build your credit is to simply pay all your bills, in full and on time. You won’t notice the savings now, but you’ll be rewarded down the road.

Live within your means: There’s a great sense of freedom that comes when you get your first apartment or see your first paycheck deposited into your bank account as a new graduate. But just because you don’t need to eat ramen three nights a week anymore, that doesn’t mean you should be going out to eat every night either. One way to ensure that you don’t get carried away is by sticking to your budget. But it’s also important to put yourself in places, and surround yourself with people that won’t encourage you to spend exorbitantly.

College graduates have their entire lives ahead of them, and by taking a careful approach to saving now they’ll have many more chances to enjoy themselves down the road. Of course, they’ve got to balance that so they can enjoy the benefits of truly entering adulthood, too. At The Milford Bank, we’ve been helping college graduates in Milford and Stratford navigate this new point in their lives for generations. To learn more, stop by an office location near you or check out our Online Learning Center here.

 

FDIC Reports 10 Scams Targeting Banking Customers- Part 1

By Dave Wall

The holiday season is upon us once more in Milford and Stratford, and we’d be willing to bet that you’re one of the millions of Americans that has already helped to make the 2017 holiday shopping season a record-setter. But in the flurry of transactions and the general chaos that is the holiday season, it can be difficult to stick to financial security best practices.

However, according to the FDIC, it’s now more important than ever.

In a recent report, the FDIC issued a list of 10 scams being perpetrated today by con-artists looking to empty bank accounts, steal financial data and ruin much more than your holiday.

In this series, we’ll take a deeper look at the list so that you can stay on alert through the holidays and throughout the rest of the year, too.

  1. Government Imposter Frauds: If you get a call, an email or letter from a government agency requesting that you make an immediate payment or provide personally identifiable information (PII) on the spot, you’re the target of a government imposter. Government agencies will never ask for PII or a payment in the moment.
  2. Debt Collection Scams: Criminals will often pose as debt collectors or law enforcement officers in an attempt to shake down unsuspecting individuals who may already be having a tough time dealing with debt. If the individual cannot produce records, or threatens violence or arrest, you will know that it is not a legitimate claim.
  3. Fraudulent Job Offers: Background checks are part of many legitimate job offers. But some con artists are now using online classified ads to draw in job seekers with cryptic promises of employment. They’ll request personal information to conduct what they claim is a background check, when in reality they’re using the information to steal your identity. You’ll have to do your due diligence when looking for employers, so be sure to gather all the facts about a company before you comply with a background check.
  4. Phishing Emails: Phishing emails use spoofing software to mimic the email address of your contacts. They will then disseminate an email—typically with malware embedded within a link in the body of the text—in the hopes that someone will click the attachment. This will then give the hacker remote access to your device, helping them to find your financial records and PII.
  5. Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue: There are plenty of homeowners out there having a hard time making ends meet. But if you’re approached by a loan broker or consultant with an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. They’ll promise you anything in exchange for a down payment or personal information, but in many cases victims end up getting foreclosed on anyway. In other cases, victims are even tricked into signing away ownership of their property to the scammer.

To learn more about how to follow financial security best practices, stop by a Milford Bank office location in Milford or Stratford, or check out our Online Learning Center here. And be sure to keep watch for Part 2 of this series, when we’ll be delving into the FDIC’s remaining 5 scams targeting banking customers today.

New Poll Reflects Americans’ Preferred Long-Term Investment Strategies

By Patty Gallagher

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to long-term investment planning. Every individual, and every family, has different needs and wants, expenses and assets. As such, it can be difficult to get the right context to help you make an informed decision that will suit your needs. And while you cannot make your financial decisions based on what works well for others, it certainly helps to understand how the rest of the community is choosing to plan for the long haul.

If you’re a Milford or Stratford resident thinking about where your assets would best serve your long-term savings strategy, consider the results from a recent Gallup poll which ranked Americans’ favored long-term investment vehicles.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers:

Real Estate: According to the Gallup poll, Americans seem to have regained their confidence in the real estate market following the Great Recession of 2008. In the past six years, the percentage of poll respondents choosing real estate as their preferred long-term investment has climbed from 19 to 34 percent—making it the most popular of all poll choices.

Stocks and Mutual Funds: Similarly, consumer confidence in the stock market appears to have recovered from the Great Recession as well. Today, 26 percent of survey respondents cited that their go-to method for long-term savings was the stock market, up from just 17 percent in 2011.

Gold: Oftentimes, people will invest in precious metals like gold or silver when the stock market is turbulent and unpredictable. Such was the case following the Great Recession—in 2011, gold was by far the most popular long-term investment vehicle for survey respondents, with 34 percent making it their go-to option. But as the economy has rebounded, that number is now down to just 18 percent.

Savings Accounts and CDs: While the return on your investment won’t always be as high as with other vehicles, savings accounts and CDs present a conservative and guaranteed rate of return. Interest rates, however, have remained flat in the subsequent years following the Great Recession, which has resulted in little change in the popularity of these types of investments. In 2011, 14 percent of Gallup poll respondents cited savings accounts and CDs as their preferred long-term savings option. Today, that number still sits at 13 percent, largely unchanged.

Bonds: While all the other survey options mentioned in the Gallup poll all gained in favorability (besides gold), the one investment vehicle which lost ground was bonds. Bonds were more popular at the height of the Great Recession during less certain times, but now that the economy has leveled off, bonds have become less of a priority for a majority of Americans.

If you’re still uncertain about where your long-term savings should go, you’re not alone. Clearly, Americans’ saving preferences are varied and subject to change as their lives do. But there’s no reason to go it alone: The Milford Bank has been helping families save for their futures for generations. If you’re a Milford or Stratford resident looking to grow your retirement account, stop by an office location in your area today. You can also learn more by checking out our Online Learning Center.

Is Generation Z About to Transform the Real Estate Market?

By Paul Mulligan

After spending years living in the shadow of the baby boomer generation, Millennials have now taken center stage. As a demographic, Millennials represent the largest percentage of the labor force, and recently reached a record high in spending power.

But Generation Z is hot on the heels of Millennials, and based on findings from a recent National Association of Realtors report, this unique group is poised to transform the real estate market. But what is so different about Generation Z? How will their characteristics shape real estate? And what will this mean for members of this maturing generation from Milford and Stratford that will be looking to become first time homebuyers in the next five to 10 years?

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key findings from this report:

Co-habitation is on the rise: David Reiss is a professor of law and research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. In the National Association of Realtors report, he wrote, “Since the financial crisis there has been an increase in multigenerational households, driven in large part by financial limitations and insecurity as well as by marital status and educational attainment. Young adults are more likely to live at their parent’s home in recent years than they have been for more than a century.”

What does this mean for the real estate market? You can expect to see greater interest in multi-unit dwellings as Generation Z reaches maturity. Similarly, it will not be uncommon for aging Baby Boomers to purchase larger homes with their children in mind, rather than downsize as has traditionally been the case.

Digital services inform architectural design: Generation Z, much like their Millennial predecessors, are all about technology. They can manage most of their lives directly from their phones, and this factor may disrupt the new construction market. For instance, food delivery services that can bring fresh groceries and ready-to-cook meals right to your door greatly minimize the need for a refrigerator. As these types of services become commonplace, it is likely that builders will have to make unique design decisions reflective of changing needs, wants and expectations.

Generation Z will flock to passive homes: 72 percent of respondents aged 15 to 20 stated that they’d be willing to pay more for products or services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. As it pertains to real estate, younger buyers are looking for environmentally-friendly properties. Passive homes, oriented around solar power, filtered fresh air and high-efficiency insulation, are expected to be in high demand.

Walkable neighborhoods: Pushed out of cities by high prices and disinterested in the calm of the suburbs, Generation Z is expected to flock to neighborhoods just outside of major urban centers. These emerging population centers are going to be developed into “walkable neighborhoods”, which have all the necessary conveniences within several blocks.

If you’re a Milford or Stratford resident getting ready to buy your first home, call, click, or stop by any office of The Milford Bank today. Our experienced personnel will guide you through the process, from pre-approval to closing, ensuring that you find the right home for your family. You can also get more great educational resources on our Online Learning Center here.

Survey Reveals Most Americans Have Financial Regrets

by Patty Gallagher

Hey, Milford and Stratford residents—have you ever done something you regret with your money? Maybe there’s an expensive pair of shoes collecting dust in the corner of your closet. Or maybe you had an investment go belly up. Whatever your example is, remember this: you’re not alone.

In a new survey from Bankrate, it was revealed that 4 in 5 Americans has some form of financial regret. What were the most commonly reported causes for regret?

  1. Retirement Savings: Not saving enough for retirement was the leading financial regret of the 1,000 Bankrate survey respondents. 22 percent of those individuals cited not saving enough for a comfortable retirement.
  2. Emergency Savings: Similarly, a large percentage of people claimed they regretted saving enough for emergencies. At 16 percent, this was the second most common financial regret.
  3. Credit card debt: 9 percent of survey respondents claimed that they had regrets about the balance of their credit card. These individuals report carrying more credit card debt than their budgets can bare.
  4. Student loan debt: Student loan debt continues to be a national issue, which is clearly reflected in this survey. 9 percent of respondents claimed that they regretted the amount of debt they had to take on in order to get their college degree.
  5. Children’s education: While graduates continue to grapple with student loan debt, many parents are feeling regret themselves. 8 percent of respondents had regrets about the amount that they had saved for their child’s education.
  6. Buying a home: 2 percent of survey respondents claimed that they had regrets about buying a house that was too expensive for their budget.
  7. Something else: This is where the expensive shoes and bad investments come into play. 7 percent of survey respondents had regrets about a wide variety of other financial decisions they’d made.
  8. No regrets: One out of five respondents claimed that they had no financial regrets whatsoever. And while it is noble to live without regrets, the previous examples clearly demonstrate that financial decisions cannot be taken so lightly. The choices you make today will impact you for a lifetime. If you have a family, your financial regrets can seep over across generations. Take the example of education savings, for instance. If more parents had done a better job saving for their child’s education, it is likely that fewer graduates would report regrets about student loan debt.

But if you have your own financial regret, it is important not to let it define you. Every difficult financial situation can be addressed and improved with the right strategy and network of support behind you. At The Milford Bank, we offer a diverse portfolio of financial services to help you make the smartest decisions with your money, as well as an experienced team ready to help you meet your financial challenges head on. You can also learn more on our Online Learning Center, or stop by a branch location in Milford or Stratford today!

New Gallup Poll Provides Key Lessons for College Students

By Patty Gallagher

With the school year almost over, many high school seniors in Milford and Stratford have already made the decision on if, and where, they’re going to attend college. While that decision itself can seem incredibly complex, it is really just the beginning of a long and challenging process that promises many more difficult decisions to come.

When it comes to making difficult decisions, one of the best things that an inexperienced person can do is look at the examples set by those before them. And based on findings from a recent Gallup poll, there are plenty of impediments that future students can avoid if they heed the advice of their predecessors.

The Gallup poll surveyed 90,000 Americans with college degrees. According to the results, 51 percent of respondents had regrets about one aspect of their educational experience. The most common response had to do with the field of study chosen by survey respondents. 36 percent stated that, if they could repeat their educational experience all over again, they would change their field of study.

28 percent, meanwhile, had second thoughts about the institution they selected to attend. 12 percent of graduates had regrets about the type of degree they completed, while over half of respondents said that at least one of the three choices applied to them.

There are many reasons to select a degree, a major and an institution. But students have to understand that they can’t think about this decision as just an 18-year old. They’ve also got to ask themselves whether or not their future self would make the same decision.

Clearly, a majority of American graduates can attest that the choices you make now will have a lasting impact longer after you’ve graduated. As such, it is critical that students take a comprehensive approach to making these selections. They need to strike a balance between what they hope to achieve, and what they can reasonably afford without succumbing to overwhelming student debts.

If you’re a Milford or Stratford parent with a student heading to college this fall, be sure to speak with your child about their vision for the next four years and beyond. It can also be helpful to leverage resources at your child’s school, including counselors and teachers.

You also stand to benefit from stopping by any office of The Milford Bank. Our friendly and experienced staff can provide a wealth of educational resources designed to help you and your child take the guesswork out of the college process. By putting in the work to educate yourself on the college process, you’ll be able to put your education to work for you without regrets.

Check back on our blog from time to time to catch the latest tips and tricks for getting the most out of your education, or learn more by checking out free resources on our Online Learning Center.

 

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!

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.

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

by Paul Mulligan

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

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

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

How much can I borrow?

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

What are the benefits of a home equity loan?

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

How long does the loan process take?

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

Is there a minimum equity requirement to qualify?

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

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