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!

Don’t Forget Bulk Pickup to Help Get Rid of Clutter around Your Home

By Pam Reiss

Every year, we all collect all kinds of junk in our homes, including broken items, things we no longer need or use, older items that have been replaced, and more.  They are all taking up space, creating clutter, and keeping our homes from being as neat as we might like them to be.  You probably have things you have forgotten about and haven’t even seen in years.

Whether it’s your living space, basement, attic, garage, shed – or all of them – you’ll be surprised at how much space junk takes up.  This is a great time of year to work on getting rid of some of the clutter around your home to make it all more manageable.

That’s particularly true if your city does bulk waste pickup, as many do this time of year – Milford is starting its bulk pickup on June 1 (see start dates below).  It makes it much easier to get rid of some of your larger junk, instead of having to lug it to the dump or letting it continue to take up space around your home.

The first step is to create a plan.  Take a look at where you want to clean up and take inventory of any larger items you want to get rid of.  Once you remove larger things, you have a lot more space to work with as you clean.  Then, it’s a good idea to work on one space at a time, but if you’re up against a bulk pickup deadline, though, you may want to start by going through each space to take out those items and then go back for the smaller items and organization.

It’s a good idea to create four staging areas for the rest:

  • Garbage/recycling – Anything you are getting rid of goes in this pile. Keep a pile for bulk pickup, and put regular garbage directly into a large garbage bag.
  • Donate/sell – You may have clothes, books, toys, household items that you’ve outgrown or simply don’t use anymore. If they’re in good condition, consider donating them – there are plenty of people in need, and you may be able to take a tax deduction on your donations (consult your tax advisor for specifics).  You can also sell them online through local social media tag sale pages or, if you have a lot, and have the motivation, you can hold a yard sale.  Check with your neighbors to see if they want to have a combined sale.  You may be able to de-clutter your home and make a few dollars in the process to add to your emergency fund.
  • Keepers – Inevitably, you’re not going to want to get rid of everything you haven’t used in a while. There may be things with sentimental value, things you’re saving for your grandkids, and some items with specific uses that you want to keep.  Put those in s separate area and make a logical plan for storing them, including labeling storage bins and boxes to make them easy to find when you need them.
  • Out of place – One of the biggest signs of clutter is things being out of place. Sometimes, it’s out of pure laziness, but often, it’s because putting things back where they belong is difficult, because of the clutter.  Put these things into their own pile, so you can put them in their proper places – or even better, put them away immediately.  In the future, make a point of putting things back where they belong when you’re done using them.

You should check your local bulk waste guidelines for any additional requirements and prohibited items.  Things like old paint, propane tanks, grass clippings and many other items have other disposal specifications.  If you have larger items, you may need to cut them into smaller pieces, or take them to the dump yourself.

Milford’s bulk waste pickup start dates are based on your normal garbage pickup day:

  • Monday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 1
  • Tuesday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 8
  • Thursday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 15
  • Friday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 22

Once you’ve gotten rid of some of the clutter around your home, you’ll be in a better place to make use of the things you own.  It’s also very easy to re-clutter areas you have cleaned.  Keep in mind how much nicer things look when they aren’t cluttered – and how much effort it took to clean and re-organize.  Hopefully, that will help you keep things neater.   Keeping things tidy and in good order is also helpful for managing your budgets.  Now that you know what you have and where you’ve stored them, you will be less likely to buy duplicate items.

Tips for Financial Spring Cleaning

By Celeste Lohrenz

Now that the weather is finally getting nicer, there are countless projects around the house you may want to tackle.  Maybe you’ve already gotten your lawn into better shape, or planted your garden, or even done some annual spring cleaning.  Have you given the same attention to your finances?  Just as you go through spring maintenance in and around your home, your finances may be in need of some polishing to make sure you’re getting the most out of your money.

Here are some tips to help get you started on getting your finances in shape.

Reduce clutter – If you’ve changed jobs several times during your career, you may have old retirement accounts that you aren’t managing anymore.  Looking into closing or moving them into your more active accounts will help you track you overall financial health, and will reduce your security risk by eliminating those accounts you don’t monitor.

Organize your documents – Take some time to make sure all your financial documents are organized in one place.  That way, you always know where they are when you need them, and it gives you a chance to do an inventory and locate items you may have misplaced or lost over the years.  You can do the same with your digital records – create folders in your computer storage and email specifically for financial records.  Be sure to password protecting those files and emails for added security.  Physically or digitally shred any old documents you no longer need.

Clean your home – In addition to your financial clutter, you may have acquired a host of items over the years you no longer use.  Go through your home and collect those items and sort them into three groups: sell, donate, throw out.  You may be able to claim your donations as a tax deduction if you itemize your returns, or you can sell them using local social media sites.

Retirement planning – If you don’t regularly re-assess your retirement finances, take a look at your IRAs and 401k accounts to make sure your contributions and savings are on track for a comfortable retirement.

Look over your budget – Take a close look at your monthly budget.  See where you may be overspending or paying for things you don’t need of use, like redundant digital services.  It may take several modifications to get to a budget you’re comfortable with.  If you haven’t created a budget, this could be a great time to do it.  Tracking you spending is the easiest way to start saving more.  In addition to a monthly budget, you can set an annual goal for savings.

Create a bill schedule – Most of your bills can probably be set to pay automatically.  This will help keep your payments on time and reduce the risk of late fees and credit damage.  You can also create a spreadsheet with every monthly bill (mortgage/rent, loans, credit cards, utilities, phone, etc.), so you can more easily track your payments and keep them on time.  If you’re living with roommates, this can be a great way to manage combined bills.

Emergency fund – If you’ve had to dip into your emergency fund during the coronavirus pandemic, you should consider making a plan for replenishing it as things start to return to normal.  If you don’t have an emergency fund, the current situation is a great example of why you should.

Automate saving – There are many tools that can help you automate saving, like Plinqit, a free tool that lets you set your personal savings targets and schedules based on your budgeting needs.  You can even earn additional money in several ways, like reaching your goals, referring others, and using financial education resources.

Cyber security – Make sure all your digital devices have good security software installed, including your smartphones, to reduce the risk of your accounts and finances being compromised.  Be sure to use very secure passwords and multiple layers of authentication.

It’s a good idea to regularly monitor all your financial accounts and credit reports to make sure everything is in order and you haven’t been compromised.  Going through this financial spring cleaning list can make it easier to manage your financial health.  If you need advice or information on any of your accounts, services, or tools, your we are ready to help.

Are You Getting the Most From Your Digital Banking Tools?

For the past two months, most of us have been working from home as our businesses have closed physical workspaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  It’s been a challenge for many, and we are hopeful that we can all start to get back to our offices and ease back into more normal environments soon.

Throughout this crisis, even though our lobbies have been closed, The Milford Bank has continued to provide the banking services you need through our drive-thru tellers, ATMs, and phones.  We also hope you’ve discovered the many digital banking services we offer.  They are not only helpful now, but offer a convenient way to manage your finances going forward – so you can spend more time doing the things you enjoy.

Through mobile apps for phones and tablets, as well as online banking via your browser, digital banking gives you access to most of the services you need on a regular basis.  One very important thing to always keep in mind is to only use your digital banking tools on secure networks – and never use public WiFi to access your accounts.

Online and mobile banking apps ­– With our online tools and mobile app, you have a powerful set of tools to make managing your finances easier than ever.  With them, most of your banking needs can be handled from anywhere and from most digital devices, including:

  • Access your accounts
  • Check balances and transactions
  • Get copies of checks
  • Review loan/mortgage information
  • Transfer funds between accounts
  • Make deposits
  • Pay bills, set up/stop automatic payments
  • Make P2P payments
  • Find the closest ATMs or offices

You can access online services from any browser, and the mobile app is available for iPhones, Android phones, iPads, Android tablets, and Amazon tablets.

Plinqit– Saving money is never easy, and today, it may be even harder for many.  Savings apps like Plinqit can help you set aside even small amounts of money regularly for emergencies, college tuitions, weddings, mortgages, new cars, or anything else you may need extra money for.  All you have to do is set up your account, connect it to your savings account, and set your savings goals and a savings schedule.  Automating your saving – even if it’s only a small amount each week or month – will help you work towards those larger purchases.

ZelleZelle is a convenient way to send money to or receive money from friends and family, without having to make trips to the ATM or branch offices for withdrawals, and then mailing checks.  The funds are exchanged directly between bank accounts, so transfers typically happen within minutes.  You can access the Zelle service directly from our mobile app or online portal.

Notifi – One of the keys to effectively managing your finances is keeping track of transactions, not only to make sure they are legitimate, but to monitor your weekly or monthly spending.  Notifi allows you to set up text or email alerts for transactions across your accounts.  You can get alerts for all transactions, or certain types, or even those that exceed specified amounts.  Notifi is available through our mobile banking app.

Card Valet – Similar to Notifi, Card Valet keeps you updated on transactions made with your cards.  In addition to simply notifying you of transactions, which can immediately alert you to fraudulent activity – you can set geofencing parameters to help protect your cards, and even set limits on why kinds of transactions they may be used for.  These are also great features if you’re giving your kids access to cards for gas, meals, or other specific needs.  Card Valet is also available through our mobile banking app.

While we’re looking forward to welcoming you back inside our lobbies, we know many of you will prefer these digital tools for a while – and maybe permanently when you see how useful they are.  Of course, if you have questions, need help, or have other banking needs, our staff is always ready to help you, either by phone, or by emailing us at customerservice@milfordbank.com.

Staying Financially Healthy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Pam Reiss

As the world continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, life as we know it has come to a grinding halt. Millions of us are working from home, our children are getting their schooling through videoconferencing, and our normal social and sports activities are in limbo.

Unfortunately, the situation can create some uncertainty around how to manage financially. Whether you’re currently working or not, it’s very likely you’ve been thinking about how to manage your finances during this time. The good news is at least some typical spending has naturally been cut because we’re all staying at home. But, there are many ways you may be able to keep your financial situation as stable as possible and stretch your budgets a bit.

Takeout vs. cooking – Ordering takeout or delivery is a great way to support local businesses during the crisis, but if you need to cut your spending, since you’re at home anyway, try limiting how often you order out. Instead, enjoy more home-cooked meals. There are many resources online for inexpensive, healthy meals. You can plan your entire week’s meals, make a complete shopping list, and make just one trip to the grocery store. You can even have one night of the week reserved for leftovers. If you want to continue to support a few local restaurants, set aside one or two days of the week for that.

Buy what you need – We’re still able to go to the grocery store, despite having to follow public safety guidelines. If you initially stocked up on non-perishables or frozen items, start using those instead of constantly buying more. Also, when you’re at the grocery store, there are still many items on sale each week. You can check out your grocery store’s flyer online to see what’s on sale, and plan your meals for the week accordingly.

Other ways to save – Take a look at some of the other things you’re spending on each week and see where you can cut a little out of your budget. Things to look at include video services. If you’re a cable subscriber, you might think about switching to a lower service tier, at least temporarily, or if you have multiple streaming services, consider cutting one of more of them. The monthly savings can add up quickly, and you can certainly find other ways to entertain your family.

Low interest rates – With interest rates dropping, this may be a good time to look into refinancing your mortgage or student loan, or even consolidating multiple loans. While there will be paperwork involved, lower interest rates can provide significant savings each month.

Emergency fund – If you’ve been following good financial habits and have built up an emergency fund, don’t automatically fall back on it. First take a look at ways you can reasonably adjust your spending. Then, if you find you need to dip into it, you can hopefully use just a little of it. If you’re fortunate enough to be working, this is a good time to add to or start your emergency fund. Since at least some of your normal extracurricular spending has been put on hold, consider putting that toward your emergency fund. You never know when you’ll need it.

Investment funds – It can be difficult watching retirement accounts and other investments lose money with the current market instability. The good news is they have historically bounced back reasonably quickly. Before you move or sell your investments, talk to your financial advisor, who can give you advice on whether it’s a smart move or not. Making a rash decision could actually end up hurting your investment funds.

Protect your credit – If at all possible, continue to pay your bills on time. If you’ve been using your credit cards, at the very least, pay the minimum on those to avoid hurting your credit score. If you are in a situation where you can’t pay some of your bills, contact your lenders. some lenders are allowing extra flexibility with payment terms or interest rates to help during the pandemic. You should also check your credit reports regularly. Fraudulent activity often increases during crises, and consumers and businesses are under a constant barrage from cyber criminals. Be extra cautious with emails, websites, and phone calls. There are thousands of malicious COVID-19 websites out there, and many phishing emails and phone calls looking to exploit uncertainty and fear.

The good news is most of the financial resources you normally have at your disposal are still available, though not in an in-person capacity. But, you can still contact us if you need advice.  Even though we’re all dealing with this pandemic, you can do things to help keep your finances in order and limit any long-term impact.

What Does the New FICO Scoring System Mean?

by Paul Mulligan, SVP, Retail Lending

When you apply for a loan, lenders have access to a variety of information they use to decide whether to give you a loan and at what terms.  The most popular of those resources is your FICO score, a three-digit rating based on information in your credit reports, which helps lenders decide how likely to repay a loan, how much you can borrow, the length of you loan repayment period, and your interest rate.

While FICO scores give lenders a quick and consistent way to determine borrower worthiness, they also make sure you, the borrower, get a fair credit assessment and access to the funds you need.  FICO has become the de facto industry standard for lenders.

This month, FICO has updated its scoring system for the first time since 2014, which could impact your scores.  The new scoring places more emphasis on trend data in your credit report, looking at your credit utilization and payments over the past two years, as opposed to only current balances.  For instance, new data might include whether you tend to pay off balances quickly, carry extended debt, or consolidate loans, as well as your credit management predictability.

The other major change reflects changes in credit reports.  Tax liens, insurance-paid medical collections, and judgments are no longer part of credit reports, and healthcare defaults won’t appear on credit reports for at least six months.

At the end of the day, though, the real question is, how will the new scoring impact you?

The new scores will be less forgiving of risky credit behavior.  That means, if you regularly run up your credit, don’t pay off balances consistently, carry too many credit cards, or consolidate debt into personal loans in order to free up your credit cards, you may see your score go down.

On the other hand, some spending habits that may have previously been viewed negatively may no longer hurt you.  For instance, if you run up seasonal balances – such as during the holidays or summer vacations – and then pay them off, your score may not be negatively impacted because those are predictable one-time spikes, not regular habits.

Ultimately, what you need to keep in mind is the basics of good credit haven’t changed.  Payment history (35%) and credit usage (30%) are still the two biggest components of your FICO score.  If you follow good credit practices – pay your bills on time, keep balances below your credit limits, and don’t apply for too many new lines of credit (or too often) – you should have nothing to worry about.  In fact, if you manage your credit well, the new scoring could actually improve your score.

If you’re concerned about your credit rating and want to work to improve your score, the sooner you start following good financial habits and budgeting, the faster you can see positive change.  Of course, it’s not always easy, so if you need help or want advice on how to become more responsible with your spending, talk to our specialists.  They can provide information on financial best practices, budgeting and saving tips, and improving your credit.  On the other hand, if you have managed your credit responsibly, you probably don’t have anything to worry about.  Just continue to follow smart banking habits.

Don’t Let Emergencies Sink You into Debt

By Celeste Lohrenz

Emergencies are, by definition, unexpected and unpredictable.  They can also have significant financial ramifications – either due to high costs or loss of revenue or both.  By nature, emergencies aren’t easy to deal with and most can’t be avoided, but there are ways to make them more manageable, starting with making sure you have an emergency fund.  The question you should ask yourself is, “If I lose my job, if my roof starts leaking, or if my car needs a new transmission, am I financially prepared am I to deal with it?”

Why start an emergency fund?

An emergency savings fund or account could be the difference between being able to manage unexpected expenses and falling into deep debt.  If a significant expense comes up, knowing you have the funds to support at least some of it can keep you from having to worry about your monthly fixed expenses without taking out loans or maxing out credit cards.

How much do you need?

How much to save is really a question of several variables, including income, monthly fixed costs, lifestyle and other variable expenses, size of family, and certainly how much can you actually afford to save each month.  A common goal is to have 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund, but even as little as $500 can cover many unexpected expenses, like a leaky bathroom pipe or bad brakes on your car.

Start by setting an attainable goal and, once you’ve reached that target, you may find you want to increase the size of your emergency fund, so you can set a second target.  When your emergency fund has reached a point with which you’re comfortable, you may have found it easy to live with the reduction in spending.  In that case, you can use the same philosophy to start a new account to start saving for a larger planned expense, such as a vacation, wedding, mortgage down payment, college  tuition, etc.

How to grow the fund?

There are many ways to find money to add to your savings, from cutting expenses to finding supplemental income sources.  One place to start is the change you get when paying with cash.  The coins, $1 and even $5 bills can add up quickly if you put it into a jar at home every day, then deposit it each week or month.  But, you have to have the willpower to avoid dipping into it for an iced latte or other items.

One of the most effective ways to save, though, is using automatic deposits.  We can help you set up automatic monthly transfers into your emergency fund, so you don’t even have to think about it.  Saving apps are another very useful tool that help automate your emergency fund growth.  The Milford Bank has partnered with Plinqit to help customers not only save, but earn money in the process as they reach their goals.

Where to put the money

The key is to make sure you have access to your emergency fund should you need it, but you don’t want it to be so convenient that it becomes a daily temptation.  Interest-earning savings accounts are a good option, because they can be accessed at any time without penalty, but you should keep your emergency fund in a separate account from your regular savings to avoid using it.  Your bank’s specialists can help you determine exactly what kind of account is most suitable for your individual needs.

When should you access this account?

The point of an emergency fund is to have it available if unexpected expenses come up that you can’t handle with your monthly budget.  if you’re faced with an expense you weren’t expecting, consider whether it’s actually an emergency – something you absolutely can’t avoid doing – and whether you may be able to cover the costs with your monthly budget, even if you have to adjust it slightly.  By using automated tools to fund the account, you will be less likely to spend it until an emergency arises – out of sight, out of mind, as they say.  But remember, emergencies can happen at any time, so if you do need to dip into your fund to cover an expense, you should start saving again right away to build it up again.  You never know when the next emergency is going to happen.