By Paul Mulligan
Buying a home is one of the biggest milestones in your life – right up there with marriage and starting a family. Being a homeowner has several benefits, including possibly lowering your monthly payments compared to renting and earning equity as your home value rises and you pay down your principal. The immediate benefit, of course, is the happiness and security of owning instead of being beholden to a landlord. As a homeowner, you have the ability to do what you like with pets, landscaping, renovations, and anything else that will make your house a home.
But, buying a home is also probably the biggest financial commitment you’ll make. There are many things to think about as you begin the process that can help make the process as enjoyable as it should be.
Here are several tips that can help make your first home purchase a positive experience.
Buy within your means – Many people tend to look at houses they can’t afford or that are too large. Do the math to determine how much you can realistically spend while still allowing you to meet your monthly budget needs, as well as continuing to save for retirement and other future needs – including home maintenance and repairs.
Understand all your costs – In addition to the basic monthly mortgage payments, be aware of all the other costs that may impact your budgeting. That includes property taxes and homeowners insurance, as well as mortgage and hazard insurances, depending on your financing need and location of the home. You should also expect an increase in your utility bills, including heating and HVAC maintenance contracts – especially if they were previously included in your rent payments.
Plan ahead – Don’t rush into a home purchase. Make sure you have all the information, have the financial resources to comfortably support the purchase, and are buying a home you will be happy in for many years. Try to avoid draining all your savings and make sure you still have an emergency fund to fall back on should the need arise. That’s particularly important as a homeowner so you don’t risk losing your house if you’re suddenly unable to make payments for a short period. In fact, it’s even better if you can continue to grow your savings, so you have the resources to make improvements.
Manage your credit – It’s always important to follow good spending and credit habits, but especially when you’re looking to buy your first home. Lenders will pull your credit reports, possibly several times, to make sure you are credit worthy and nothing has changed during the buying process. Make sure you pay your bills on time, and be cautious opening up any new lines of credit before your loan is approved.
The perfect home vs. the right home – It’s rare that you’ll find the absolute perfect home for all your current and future needs. Have a reasonable list of must-have features, and a second list of nice-to-haves. Look for a home that checks off the first set, and maybe some of the second (you can always make improvements to check off more items later). But don’t forget location. Your neighborhood can be as big a factor in your long-term happiness as the house itself. Do your homework and learn about the school system, commuting options and time, crime rates, tax rates, and other geographically dependent variables that may influence your decision.
Start the loan process early – As you start thinking about buying a house, don’t think you have to find the house first. In fact, you may be better off starting the loan process while you’re looking, or even before you start. Good houses can sell quickly, and once you find the house you love, you want to be able to move quickly. Being pre-qualified for a home loan may give you an advantage over other potential buyers, especially if the seller wants to move quickly.
Seek advice – Especially as a first-time buyer, you will have many questions of your own, and many more you don’t even think to ask. Contact one of our mortgage specialists, who can give help you find all of the information you need and help you throughout the process. Also ask about our first-time home buyer program, which offers:
- Refund of $475 application fee upon closing
- Discounted Interest Rates
- Pre-Qualification certificates to help you shop for your home
- Low Down Payment options
Keeping these tips in mind will help you have an enjoyable home buying experience and avoid complications that could arise.
*The Milford Bank is an Equal Housing Lender
By Paul Mulligan,
Senior Vice President, Consumer Lending
Now that the holidays are a distant memory, everyone has settled back into their “normal” routines, which inevitably includes paying the bills. Hopefully, you didn’t max out all your credit cards, but if you did, that may create strain on your budget, especially if you also have other debts you’re paying off as well, like college loans.
The reality is this situation can happen to anyone, at any time. You may run into some unexpected expenses or you simply aren’t budgeting wisely, or you haven’t figured out how to save enough and the next thing you know, you have multiple debtors hitting you with high interest rates every month. It can make it hard to make a dent in your balances and become financially secure.
If you own a home and have built up equity, there is an option that could help get you out of debt faster than paying off all your credit cards each month. You could look into a home equity loan. Especially if you’ve been paying of your mortgage for several years, or your home value has increased significantly, you may actually have an easy time securing a home equity loan.
Using a home equity loan to pay consolidate multiple debts has some advantages. For instance, home equity loans often come with lower interest rates than credit cards, making the interest you’re accruing each month lower. With a home equity loan, you are also only paying a single creditor, making your monthly budgeting a little easier to manage, and a longer repayment period may help you reduce your monthly payment, giving you a little breathing room in your budget. In addition, if you are also using the home equity loan to fund a major home improvement project, the interest may also be tax deductible.
But, you should be aware there are risks with consolidating debt into a home equity loan. Perhaps the biggest is that, if you default on the loan, your home can go into foreclosure. Unlike credit card debt, it’s almost impossible to discharge a home equity loan. In addition, if your home’s value drops, you could end up paying more than it is actually worth at that point.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is loan consolidation doesn’t address the spending habits that got you into a debt problem to begin with. In addition to paying off your loans, you should also get into better spending habits to make the most of your paycheck and avoid getting into even more debt. It’s very easy to start running up credit card balances if you aren’t careful. So, if you are having a hard time putting money into savings, there are several ways you can help yourself become more financially responsible, including using a savings app like Plinqit.
But, if you think a home equity loan could be the right option for you, come speak with one of our financial specialists, who can help you make a smart decision and get your finances back on track.
By Dave Wall
As the school year comes to a close, families will be preparing for their annual summer vacations. Whether they’re heading off to a golf resort, a Caribbean island, a tour of Europe, an amusement park, or anywhere else, they’re all looking forward to some down time away from work and school to spend with their families. Regardless of their destinations, one thing is certain – they’ll want to stay in touch with friends and family members, and many will even spend a few hours each day working.
That means they will be looking for ways to connect to the Internet, which also means there’s a good chance they’ll cross paths with hackers targeting unsuspecting vacationers. As mobile device use continues to grow, and as an increasing number of tasks can be accomplished on them, users are constantly looking for ways to connect, whether it’s to post the latest vacation photos to Facebook, pay a credit card bill, make dinner reservations, or play online games.
Cyber criminal recognize the need to stay connected and look for ways to target unsuspecting users. Vacationers can be an easy target. They are often looking for easy access and depend on public WiFi access points to get online and, despite constant education from media and government organizations and service providers, many people aren’t careful enough when signing onto WiFi hotspots, ignoring the risks of connecting to unknown or unsecured networks, which make it very easy for hackers to intercept communications and steal sensitive data.
Often, they’ll set up open networks (access points with no password encryption) with SSIDs that appear to be legitimate networks – they might include a hotel or restaurant or some other name that sounds official – hoping to lure users onto their networks. Hackers then need only be within range of the hotspot to intercept data, or they may send users to a false landing page with a link to “register,” which actually installs malware on their devices, allowing the thieves to access any stored data, including bank account and other financial information.
Here are a few tips to help you keep your devices and sensitive data secure when you travel anywhere outside your trusted home network.
- Never use open WiFi (those without password protected access).
- Make sure lock screens and security are active on any devices.
- Avoid any online shopping or other financial activity.
- Use cash, travelers checks, or gift cards in lieu of credit cards to avoid account information being stolen, especially internationally.
- Don’t use, accept or click on links, websites, attachments, or flash drives that could give hackers access to your devices.
- Consider connecting through a VPN, even if you are using a secure WiFi connection. Most public access points aren’t yet using the latest encryption technology. A VPN will help protect your information even if it is intercepted.
While these guidelines may require a few extra steps when you’re getting online, they will help protect you falling victim to identity theft and subsequent fraud, which can take years to overcome. Staying informed of the latest fraud schemes and security threats can also help. Sign up for our security eNewsletter to keep yourself up to date on everything you can do to help keep you and your family safe on vacation, at home, or anywhere else you find yourself.
By Dave Wall
Scammers are constantly looking for new angles to exploit in their efforts to swindle unsuspecting victims. The Better Business Bureau says scams are a $50 billion burden on the American economy, a number that is very likely to grow as we continue to shift to a digital economy and online activity continues to grow, along with tools to perpetuate fraud. In fact, scams reportedly already have an impact on one-quarter of U.S. households. Surprisingly, while the elderly continue to be a major target, recent reports show millennials are actually more susceptible to scams than senior citizens.
Among the reasons scammers are so successful is they are able to convince their victims their intentions are legitimate. Often, they pretend to represent well-known, reputable brands and target people’s emotions. But, there are several ways to avoid falling into these carefully laid traps, including knowing what information is typically requested by phone or email, and verifying requests for information separately with the organization before providing any personal details. It also helps to be aware of what the latest active scams are. Here are a few that are at the top of the list currently.
Publisher’s Clearing House imposters
This is one of the many prize scams and one that seems to never go away. “You’ve won!” is always an easy way to get someone’s attention. The financial part of the scam can some in one of two ways. The first is a requirement to pay taxes and fees up front in order to collect winnings, which is typically requested via Western Union or some other wire service because they are virtually untraceable. The second is by sending “winners” a fake check and request for fees to be sent back. When the fake check bounces, victims have already paid the fake fees. A simple rule to follow is if you are asked to pay fees for winning a prize, it’s probably a scam.
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund
This is a situation where scammers are trying to collect valuable personal information that can lead to identity theft and fraud. Callers identify themselves as being from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and tell people they may be entitled to compensation. They ask for personal information, like social security numbers, bank accounts, medical histories, employment verification, and other details, claiming it will allow them to verify their eligibility. Organizations like this will never ask for sensitive information like this over the phone.
Scammers are increasingly using the growth of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to cheat people. Basically, they are promising huge returns on a cryptocurrency invesment when victims also help recruit additional people into the scheme. It’s a crptyo version of the old chain letter. Others simply promote a cryptocurrency project, looking for investors with the promise of doubling or tripling the investment, but shut down the operations after collecting large sums of money. Because people are required to send funds in cryptocurrency, the transactions become nearly impossible to track or recover. Scammers often try to lure targets into investing in the latest tech trends. In the first two months of the year, more than $1.3 billion had been stolen in cryptocurrency scams.
Chinese Consulate Impersonators
Another recent scam targets people with Chinese last names, pretending to be a representative from the Chinese Consulate and asking for personal information or even payments in order to avoid some form of trouble with the Consulate. While the current scam centers around the Chinese Consulate, scammers modify their schemes regularly and could very easily adapt this same scam to just about any population group. Regardless of the form of payment or information requested, realize the consulate it not going to request sensitive information or payment over the phone or email.
FTC Computer Access
This one involves scammers identifying themselves as FTC representatives claiming targets are owed a refund that can only be done through remote access to their computers. Specifically, many of these calls specifically reference the FTC’s Advanced Tech Support refund program. These and other requests to provide access to computers or install software are scams intended to allow access to computers and networks in order to steal personal (or corporate) information.
There are only a few of the latest scams that are being used to target unsuspecting targets. While it may be difficult to keep up with all of them, there are some keys to avoiding falling victim to them.
- Do not provide sensitive or identifying information over the phone, email, or social media.
- Never send money to someone you don’t know or haven’t met. Organizations won’t ask you to provide banking information over the phone in cases like these.
- Any time you send money for purchased good or services, use secure, traceable payment options.
- Avoid clicking unknown links or visiting unfamiliar websites, especially in emails you weren’t expecting or from senders you don’t know. Also be aware that email and caller ID spoofing is easy and intended to fool you into thinking the call or email is legitimate.
- Make sure any online transactions are done on a secure site (the URL should begin with “HTTPS”).
Follow the old theory: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Follow these simple steps to reduce the risk of falling victim to these or any other scams. The bottom line is this: if you aren’t sure, independently verify with the organization that’s contacting you. You can always check the FTC’s list of latest scams to help protect yourself. If you suspect you are dealing with a scam, report it to the proper authorities immediately.
By Chaz Gaines
In the Savings Spotlight Series, we’ve made the case that there are numerous stepping stones throughout our lives that lead us down the path to financial well being. At every point, you’ll need to take a different approach. A teenager, for instance, might be saving for their first car. An individual nearing retirement is going to have a drastically different goal, and method, for reaching their savings objective.
Already in this series, we’ve provided useful savings tips for both first-time banking customers and recent college graduates. In Part 3 we’re going to fast forward a decade or two along our path to retirement, focusing in on the savings needs of individuals in the middle of their careers.
Maximize employer benefits: Most of the businesses that offer retirement benefits will no longer contribute after you’ve left the company. Now, nearing the height of your earning power, you should be doing all you can with the remainder of your working years to take advantage—especially if your employer will match your contributions.
Balance retirement and college funds: Many individuals at this stage in their lives must reconcile the need to have a forward-thinking retirement-oriented saving strategy while simultaneously helping their children get started on their own path. It can be challenging, but your focus when crafting a budget and savings strategy should balance both.
Bolster your emergency account: Many individuals at this stage in their working life have been at their jobs for twenty years or more—making them feel quite secure. But sometimes, business decisions are out of our control, and many families get blindsided by that false sense of security. Even if you expect success, a failure to keep an emergency cash account funded could put your family at risk. Many experts believe you should have at least six to nine months salary readily available in case of emergency.
Expect the unexpected: Just like it’s important to plan for emergencies throughout your life, it’s important to plan for the end of your life too. If you were to pass away today, your grieving family would still have to keep paying the mortgage, fund college accounts and plan for retirement—all without your income. While this is a sensitive matter in which thinking about money should be secondary, it’s nonetheless a reality that your family will have to cope with. Securing life insurance will provide the coverage your family will need in the event that the worst comes to pass. Some policies, like whole life insurance, even have features to assist with your savings goals.
Shift investments to meet changing goals: Every investment vehicle offers a unique benefit. So if your financial goals are shifting, shouldn’t your savings strategy? When we’re young, we have more ability to rebound from a risky investment. We also have more time to let a certain, conservative investment grow. Now, in the middle of your working life, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on whether the vehicle that got you this far is going to be the vehicle that gets you all the way to the finish line, or if it’s time to trade in.
To learn more about crafting the best saving strategy for you and the needs of your family, check out our Online Learning Center or stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Stratford or Milford today.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
By Susan L. Shields, President & CEO
What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? At The Milford Bank, we’re thankful for you—our customers. All year long, we get the privilege of seeing you stop in our office locations, take part in community events with your families, and watch as you build your businesses up from the ground floor with pride. So, in the spirit of the holiday, we wanted to take a brief moment to tell you why we’re so grateful to share the Milford and Stratford communities with you.
You’re community minded: You’ve always got the option to do your banking with one of the big corporations, but you, like us, understand the importance of doing your business locally. By supporting us, we’ve been able to continue supporting your businesses and families for nearly two centuries. For that, we are grateful.
Not only that, but you believe in supporting local charities and events, too. Whether you’re stopping by one for a guest lecture on a lunch break or participating in our annual 5K, our customers love to stay active.
Always striving to learn more: Not only are our customers always staying active in the community, but they’re also voracious to learn more. That’s why we provide a wealth of resources online, and always relish the questions we’re asked when you stop in a branch location. By continually seeking out financial education, you’re taking the necessary steps to provide for your family for years to come. And for that, we are thankful.
Innovation oriented: Though our customers love supporting a community bank, we’re thankful that our customers still love all the innovation and new technology available in the financial sector today. Your innovative spirit has emboldened us to continually seek out new ways to provide a superior customer service, whether through our mobile banking app, our website, or in our branches.
Everyone has something to be thankful for this holiday season, and for The Milford Bank team, we know that it’s our customers. So thanks to all of you in the Milford and Stratford areas, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
By Celeste Lohrenz
When sitting around the table looking over piles of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and pies this Thanksgiving, it can be easy to forget that there are some in this world who aren’t so fortunate. In fact, child hunger is still a considerable issue in communities like Milford and Stratford today, as well as in most other communities all around the world.
But did you know that for only $7.00, you can help feed a child suffering from hunger in your community for a weekend? For just $280, you can provide weekend meals for a child for an entire school year. Weekends are particularly difficult for these children, as they don’t have access to their school’s cafeteria.
With this in mind, The Milford Bank has teamed up with Milford Food 2 Kids, a local organization dedicated to ending child hunger. Through the end of November, we will be raising donations at all of our office locations in Milford, with all contributions going to shore up the food gap for our community’s food insecure kids.
Donations collected will fund bags of kid-friendly food—enough to last six meals—and will be handed out to children identified by partnering schools’ teachers and counselors as being the most in need.
At The Milford Bank, we’re dedicated to improving the lives of all members of our community, and strive to partner with others that cherish the spirit of giving. To learn more about ways that you can get involved with us in your community, click here.
By Pat White
There are few things in life more uncomfortable than talking about finances. In fact, people are even seven times more likely to discuss their love life with a total stranger than they are their salary. Despite the difficulties we have with communicating about our money, it is nonetheless important to do so.
If you have children, it is imperative that they learn early how to respect and recognize the value of a dollar. Whether they just opened their first checking account or are saving up to buy a car, it’s up to you to guide them. The lessons you impart onto your children now will forge an indelible mark on their financial decision making processes for years to come.
Couples might find this topic a little more difficult. Each partner comes in with habits and strategies of their own already in place. In these cases, it isn’t necessarily a matter of educating the other partner, as with children. Instead, it’s a matter of having open and honest communications about where you stand now, where you want to end up, and how you’ll get there as a couple. This is as true for a middle-aged couple planning for retirement as it is for a couple that has just started dating.
Of course, when having these conversations, you should be mindful of the fact that it can be a touchy subject. In order to make sure the conversation is a productive one, consider the following tips on how you should, and shouldn’t talk about money.
Point the finger at yourself: In a partnership, both parties need to agree to a strategy—and stick to it. But what do you do when your partner strays from the plan? You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to call their attention to it. But we’ve all made mistakes, and they might remind you of that fact. Such conversations can quickly escalate into finger-pointing, justification and hurt feelings. Instead, turn the attention onto yourself. Mention to them how you intend to curb your own overspending, or give an example of how you overcame a similar obstacle in the past. They’ll likely get the point without the feeling of being under attack.
Make it about the math: Numbers don’t lie. They’re objective, rational and provable. So why do difficult conversations about money quickly get overtaken by emotion? It’s when we stray from the numbers that our passion can get the better of us. When talking about money be sure to set aside any other grievances you may harbor and simply stick to the facts at hand.
Finding the middle ground: Currency only works because we all accept the value of money as a society. But that doesn’t exactly mean that everyone values money in the same way either. Some are happy to watch their savings account grow, while others would rather spend their paycheck right away. As such, you can’t assume to have all the answers when talking finances with others. Appreciate their perspective as you’d hope they would do for you, and always be ready to find a compromise that meets the needs of you and your partner, family or business.
Talk in percentages: Calling attention to your finances can make those in different economic circumstances uncomfortable. In some social circles, it’s even considered a faux pas. In order to have an honest conversation without calling attention to your actual worth, speak in percentages. Rather than saying you’ll invest $20,000 into a Mutual Fund, say that you’re investing 20 percent of your assets instead. It keeps the conversation vague enough to be respectful, while open enough to be engaging and honest.
Of course, at The Milford Bank it’s our job to talk finances. We’ve heard it all before and are always ready to listen. If you’re ready to talk finances, stop by an office location in Milford or Stratford today. You can also find more valuable resources at our Online Learning Center.