When Should You Open a Savings Account for Your Child?

By Celeste Lohrenz

You’ve had your baby shower, the nursery is set up, the closet is full of onesies, and you’ve got what seems like a year’s supply of diapers and formula, which will actually only last you a month, and your baby is due any day.  The only thing you haven’t thought about is your baby’s long-term financial future.  But, maybe you should.  After all, it’s never too early to start planning by opening a baby savings account.

If you’re wondering when it’s a good idea to open an account for your child, the answer is it’s never too early.  Why?  There are several great reasons to start early, and as soon as your baby is born, you’ll have all the information you need to open an account.

Start small

There’s no question a baby will have a significant impact on your budget for more than two decades, so you may not have much to save.  You don’t have to put away a lot.  Compound interest works best the longer an account is open, so starting early is the key.  Even if you put away only $10 each week, the account will grow consistently.  By the time your child reaches legal adulthood, the account you started at birth could have $10,000 or more, depending on the actual rate of return.

Financial literacy

As your child grows, the savings account can become a teaching moment.  By teaching your child to save early – like setting aside a portion of allowances or birthday money – you’ll be providing invaluable financial education around saving, budgeting, interest, and balancing.  From an early age, your child will see the long-term benefit of regular contributions.  It will not only help them understand how and why to save, but also benefit them once they enter the workforce, when they can start contributing to their own retirement accounts. Financial literacy is important, and more than half of young adults say the most valuable course they wish they had been able to take in high school is money management.  So why not put your kid on the right track?

Automatic deposits

Since your child won’t be accessing the account for years to come, you have a long runway for building a great financial base.  At the same time, since you’re not withdrawing funds, it can be easy to forget to contribute to it regularly.  Consider setting up small automatic deposits into the account to ensure it grows consistently and, if you find you can spare more, you can always increase the deposits or add additional funds on a one-off basis.

Choosing the right account

There are many types of accounts with different interest rates and minimum balances.  Check with your local bank to see what options they offer.  Some have special programs for children savings accounts that are affordable for parents and geared towards building children’s financial literacy as they grow.

529 Plans

An alternative to a savings account that is specifically earmarked for education expenses, including college tuition, is a 592 plan.  At a time when student loans are at an all-time high, starting a college fund early can be a great way to at least partially fund your child’s education.  These plans come with the additional benefit of tax-free interest, as long as the funds are used to pay for education-related expenses.

Your child will most likely have a piggy bank at some point, and that’s a great way for them to save some spending money to buy a special toy or video game.  But for the longer term, and to really teach them about banking and the value of saving, a savings account it the smarter option.  In fact, as they accumulate cash in their piggy bank, you can even encourage them to deposit a portion into the savings account.

As parents, your goal is to set your children up for success.  Making sure they have a solid understanding of banking will benefit them for their entire lives, and starting a savings account early comes with a bonus of a potentially large savings account to help them get started on their own or to help pay for college tuition.

While it’s never too early, it’s also never too late to open an account for your child.  For more information on what your best options are, contact your local bank’s financial experts.

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.

Why Mutual Banks Make Sense

By Jorge Santiago

Mutual banks have been around since the early 1800s.  There are currently about 470 in business across the country and nearly all of them are also classified by the FDIC as community banks.  They were initially created to provide savings opportunities to the working class, something they couldn’t easily get from commercial banks that focused on business customers.  Mutual banks offered individuals a safe place to deposit funds and earn interest, with a tradition of providing quality service to their customers.  Those values remain core to mutual banks today, which lead to several benefits that are passed on to customers.

Corporate Structure

The basic idea behind mutual banks is they are not controlled by stockholders or other direct owners.  Rather, their customers – the depositors that bank with them – are considered mutual owners.  As a result, mutual banks don’t make decisions based on shareholder interests, but focus on how they can deliver maximum value to their customers and support the communities they serve.

Customer Security

Nearly all mutual banks – like The Milford Bank – are insured by the FDIC, and on average, mutual banks have a Tier 1 capital ratio (an indicator of capital security) well above the minimum level and are considered “well capitalized” by the FDIC.  In addition, mutual banks are traditionally conservative when it comes to investments and spending, looking for safe opportunities and avoiding high-risk investments.  It’s one of the reasons mutual banks were almost the only banks that successfully navigated the Great Depression and why they continue to provide a safe banking option today.

Customer Service

Mutual banks have a longstanding reputation for quality service that stems from their focus on depositor value rather than corporate ownership.  Because customers are viewed as owners, serving their needs and delivering a high level of personalized service is their top priority – including a broad service portfolio, convenience, local access, and banking expertise.

Product Breadth

Today, mutual banks offer most of the same services private customers can get from larger commercial banks.  They are investing in digital banking technologies to make banking easier and more convenient, including tools to encourage saving.  They have knowledgeable local staff ready to provide valuable banking information and advice to help customers make responsible financial decisions.

Commitment to Community

Mutual banks are localized, which means they have a vested interest in their local communities.  Not only do their employees live and work in those communities, but so do their customers.  As a result, mutual banks tend to be very active in their communities.  Many offer special events in their towns – like The Milford Bank’s annual Shred & Recycle Days and the Milford Moves 5k – and regularly support local organizations and businesses through a number of initiatives.  Mutual banks espouse community values that reflect their dedication to their customers.  The Milford Bank, for instance, supports more than 100 local organizations throughout the year with not only financial support, but also time dedicated by its team to help these community groups.

When deciding where to put your money for safekeeping, you have options.  By nature, mutual banks can offer benefits that many larger corporate financial institutions cannot.  If you want to know exactly how you local mutual bank can support your banking needs, give them a call or go visit one of their offices for some firsthand detail.  Ultimately, the most important factor is that your money is safe and you have access to the services and expertise you need, when you need it.  As a client, that’s the commitment you’ll get from mutual banks.

Are You Prepared to Retire Early?

Early retirement has always been a dream for many Americans, yet most have not been able to achieve that goal.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 46% of retirees said they ended up retiring earlier than expected due primarily to four factors:  health conditions, emotional status, financial readiness, or job loss.  That means, while many were hoping to retire early, others were forced into it due to unforeseen circumstances.

Likewise, 43% of today’s largest segment of the workforce – the Millennial generation – is expecting to retire early.  But, more recent data suggests that, due to the pandemic, that number has grown even higher, with 20% of the total workforce, including 15% of Millennials, saying current conditions have accelerated their retirement plans.

The question is, can they afford to retire early?  Some people will have a very hard time if they are pushed into early retirement, while others may have been able to plan ahead and, even if they weren’t planning on retiring early, will be able to live comfortably.  Here are some things to consider as you plan for retirement, regardless of your current age.

Invest – Despite the fact that the stock market has been extremely volatile this year, consider investing.  Whether you are just entering the workforce or nearing standard retirement age, maximizing your retirement investments may help you when you do retire.  That includes your 401k or IRA contributions.  But, you should do it wisely and adjust your allocations based on your current and expected circumstances to maximize your retirement funds.  Be sure to speak with a financial expert who can help you make choices that are best for you.

Social Security – The amount of social security benefits you receive is dependent upon when you claim benefits.   The longer you wait, the more you’ll receive.  Waiting until full retirement age (65-67 years, depending on birth year) will mean your benefits can be almost a third higher than if you take them at an earlier age.  Similarly, if you retire late (or at least wait to start claiming your SSA benefits), you stand to get almost a third more than at standard retirement age.  If you can afford to live comfortably without it, waiting to claim your benefits may be an advantage later in life.

Understand retirement – Perhaps the most important part of planning for retirement is knowing what you’ll need to live comfortably.  That includes what you plan to do once you retire, what your other sources of income may be, what your expenses will be, and other factors.  Retirement planning can also impact where you retire:  A significant portion of Americans today are looking to retire in other countries with lower costs of living. Remember, if you plan on early retirement, you’ll need more savings because you’ll be living off your retirement income for longer, and don’t forget to factor in healthcare costs, inflation, and changes to expenses as you age.

Pay off debt – If you have existing debt, try to pay it down before you decide to retire.  Massive debt can impact your retirement lifestyle.

Build your emergency fund – It’s always good to have an emergency fund that can cover several three to six months worth of expenses should an emergency arise.  This is particularly important when you retire, so you won’t have to dip into your retirement savings to cover unexpected costs.

Evaluate your current spending – If you are looking to put more into your retirement savings, the easiest way is to reduce your current spending.  If you need help saving, there are some great digital tools that can help you put away extra income, which you can put towards retirement.

It can be hard to plan far into the future, especially when it involves a dramatic change like no longer working.  But, by taking the steps today and being aware of some of the factors that can impact your retirement income, you can set yourself up more comfortably.  If you need advice on saving, retirement plans, or other ways to make sure you have enough saved, your bank’s financial experts are ready to help.

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.

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.