Friday, December 7, 2012

Take Positive Action when you Get a Bad Review

Along with the holidays often comes the annual performance review. (Yay.)

Despite all your best efforts, some years the review isn't as positive as you'd like. It might even be downright negative.

Even though it's not a very enjoyable experience, a negative performance review isn’t the end of the world, or even the end of your job.

Your challenge is to rise above it and move forward even if you’d rather hide and mope. Here are some tips for overcoming a bad review and coming out on top:

Remain calm. You’re hearing news you don’t like, but arguing with your boss, losing your temper, or breaking down in tears won’t improve matters. Maintain a professional demeanor to show that you’re committed to learning and willing to take responsibility for your performance.

Pin down the facts. Ask for specific examples of mistakes and for practical descriptions of what’s expected. Keep the emphasis on performance, not personal issues. The more information you have about how your manager views your performance, the better position you’ll be in to show your commitment to improvement—or to explain your side of the situation (as long as you can do so without getting defensive or angry).

Consider all the factors. Your organization’s culture can make a difference in how you’re evaluated, If everyone works 12-hour days, for example, doing a good job in eight hours and then going home may be seen as slacking. Also, make sure you know what your manager expects from employees. Try to base your performance around his or her goals, not a bare-bones job description.

Don’t respond immediately. If possible, ask for some time to think through what you’ve heard. Schedule a follow-up meeting, and come in with some plans for improvement. You’ll be able to address the issues more calmly and thoroughly when you don’t feel on the spot.

Ask for more feedback. The yearly review shouldn’t be your sole source of information on how you’re doing. Ask your manager for more reviews and regular feedback so you can solve performance prob­lems before they worsen.

Accept the challenge. Once you’re clear on your manager’s expectations, commit yourself to improvement. Most leaders will give you a chance to do better as long as they see that you’re willing to do what’s necessary to succeed.

What About You?

How did you handle a negative review?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Avoid a Holiday Shopping "Hangover"

You know that sick feeling you get when you spend too much money? It might happen after you take your purchases home and start to think about them, or it might not happen until you see your credit card statement.

That feeling can be summed up as the I can't believe I spent this much on holiday gifts and how will I ever pay for this! feeling.

Some of us call it a shopping hangover. Sure...the shopping was fun. Music was playing in the stores. You might have been shopping with your friends. Everything was on you didn't spend that much...or did you?

Plan Ahead

This year, plan ahead. You can still be generous...but you'll also stay within your budget. These steps can help you:

1. Determine how much you can spend this holiday season. Think about any gifts that you want to buy for your family and friends, any cards you might buy, and the extras such as wrapping paper.

2. Using that total, draft a detailed budget before you start shopping. The budget should include a line item for each expense that you used to make up your total budgeted amount.

3. Get creative to reduce costs. If you’re creative, perhaps you can make gifts (and even some decorations) rather than buying them.

4. Resist temptation. As good as it feels to be generous, fight the impulse to overspend, even if it looks like the best deal ever.

5. Be flexible. Despite all your best intentions, you may end up spending more than you planned on an item. Rather than wallowing in guilt, find places in your budget to cut to offset the splurge. Check out our previous post for tips.

6. Use cash instead of plastic whenever possible. With cash, you can’t spend what you don’t have.

What About You?

Do you make a budget for your holiday spending? Let us know.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Have a "Green" Holiday!

This holiday season, you can be kind to your wallet and the environment by changing one thing. Instead of spending money on wrapping paper, try one of these alternatives:

Newspaper – Don't laugh! My cousins and I did this when we were in college and we barely had enough money to buy gifts. Use the Sunday comics section and your package will be covered in lots of colors. You can always add a ribbon or bow; both of those items can often be reused.

Reused gift bags or paper – If you receive a present in a gift bag, save the bag and use it for a gift that you're giving. And, if you open a present carefully, you might be able to reuse some larger sheets of wrapping paper.

Cloth – If someone in your family sews, you might be able to use some larger pieces of scrap material to wrap a gift. An alternative that costs a little bit of money is to purchase some remnants of material at a local fabric or craft store.

Festive towels – This choice costs a little bit of money, but it gives a the recipient an extra giftand the "wrapping" won't be tossed in the trash. You can often find festive holiday hand towels at discount stores. Or you can wait for the post-holiday sale and buy some to use next year.

Too Late?

Okay, maybe you planned ahead and bought your paper or gift bags on sale at one of those "after the holiday" sales last year. That's good; you saved some money. In that case, try these tips next year. Then you can give your wallet and the environment a break!

What About You?

What other ways can you save money and be kind to the environment this holiday season?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Credit Cards: What to Look for Before You Sign

Chances are, you’ve received “pre-approved” credit card offers in the mail. Examine the fine print carefully before you accept any offer for a credit or charge card. Look for:

The Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
– If the interest rate is variable, how is it determined, and when can it change?

The periodic rate – This is the interest rate used to figure the finance charge on your balance each billing period.

The annual fee – While some cards have no annual fee, others expect you to pay an amount each year for being a cardholder.

The grace period – This is the number of days you have to pay your bill before finance charges start. Without this period, you may have to pay interest from the date you use your card or the date the purchase is posted to your account.

The finance charges – Most lenders calculate finance charges using an average daily account balance, which is the average of what you owed each day in the billing cycle. Look for offers that use an adjusted balance, which subtracts your payment from your beginning balance. This method usually has the lowest finance charges. Check whether there is a minimum finance charge.

Other fees
– Ask about fees when you get a cash advance, make a late payment, or go over your credit limit. Some credit card companies also charge a monthly fee.

What About You?

What's your experience with applying for a credit card? Was the application easy to understand?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Does History Matter?

I received an industry publication today. The theme, in anticipation of International Credit Union Day (celebrated this year on Thursday, October 18), was: does the history of credit unions matter?

The short answer is a resounding yes. People who are thinking of joining a credit union today should know that credit unions, while offering services that banks offer, operate differently. Those principles make a difference in the decisions that are made within credit union walls on a daily basis. And that "people helping people" idea that credit unions like to mention? It's more than just a principle; it's an action taken every day by members of the credit union community.

So, yes, history mattersbut so does the future. And that's where you come in. This blog is, after all, sitting out here to provide some financial tips (or in the case of the ATM safety blog, tips related to things of a financial nature).

Your Financial History

Let's take that history lesson and apply it to you. Does your history matter? Again, the answer is YES.

How you did in high school is one of the pieces of your history that colleges and universities are interested in. How you performed at one job is considered when you're interviewing for a new job.

When it comes to your financial life, how well you manage your money has an impact on getting loans and credit cards. A strong credit history is something each person builds on his or her own. Each of usby how we spend and pay off debtearns a credit score. You want to make sure that your credit score is healthy.

Keeping a Healthy Credit Score

These tips from the Financial Planning Association can get you started in the right direction, so you can keep your credit score healthy. Do you need all of these tips now? Maybe not, but

Know your score. Request a free credit report from (1-877-322-8228). Review the report for inconsistencies and other issues that need addressing.

Know what it is and how it is calculated. Credit score is used by lenders to help determine whether a person qualifies for credit, based on an assessment of the individual’s ability to pay off their debts. The higher one’s credit score, the lower the credit risk they present to lenders. Credit scores are calculated from data in five categories. Payment history (on bills, loans, etc.) and amounts owed (credit balances) account for about two-thirds of the score; length of credit history, new credit and types of credit used comprise the rest. Credit scores range from 300 to 850. A score of 750 or higher is considered “excellent”; 720 to 749, “very good”; 660 to 719, “good”; 620 to 659, “fair”; and 619 or lower, “poor.”

Know why it matters. Credit score is not just a factor in determining whether you get a loan or a line of credit, it often determines how much you will pay for credit (the better your credit score, the lower your interest rate, for instance). So having a healthy score can save you money.

Pay bills on time. Nothing impacts a credit score more than your bill-paying history and habits. And no bill is too small to overlook. Even one skipped bill to the utility company can have a negative effect on your credit score.

Automate. If you struggle to pay bills on time, set up your online banking to make automatic bill payments or provide payment reminders.

Make a payment. Instead of skipping a payment altogether, make a late or short payment.

After a late or missed payment, get, and stay, current. Positive payment patterns going forward can overshadow a past payment problem.

Keep credit card balances low and avoid maxing out cards. Carrying a high level of debt likely will hurt your credit score. Maxing out your available credit surely will.

Pay down your debt over time.

Think twice before closing the accounts of credit cards you do not use. Closing credit accounts may actually lower your credit score. If you plan to close an account, start with one you opened recently, and for the sake of credit history, leave your oldest credit card account open.

What About You?

What steps are you taking to get and/or maintain a good credit history?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Financial Planning is for Everyone

Everyone can benefit from a financial plan.

Whether you're...

...making a modest income or just won the lottery
...single, engaged, married, living with someone, or divorced (did we cover all the options?)
...newly employed or close to retirement need a financial plan.

What's in a Plan?

A financial plan is a comprehensive, objective blueprint that details every aspect of your financial life, including:
  • Your income
  • What you own (such as a home, investments, retirement plan assets, insurance policies)
  • What you owe (debts, such as a mortgage, loans, etc.).

The plan also spells out your needs and goals for the short and long terms, from now through retirement, with steps and strategies for meeting those needs and fulfilling those goals. A financial plan isn't static; it's a living document that needs to be monitored and updated on regular basis to provide real benefits.

Who Can Help You Plan? 

You should work with a qualified financial planner, such as a professional who's earned the “Certified Financial Planner” designation from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. You want to work with someone who has the skills and experience to effectively coordinate the various aspects of your financial life, from investments to insurance to retirement planning and beyond. Look for a financial planner:
  • Who is objective
  • Whose agenda is to help clients, not sell a specific product or service
  • Who bases their recommendations and decisions on their clients’ best interests, not their own

Why Do You Need a Plan? 

If you have a true financial plan, you're more likely to stay on track financially than if you don't have a plan. Your plan will help you be better positioned to meet your needs and goals, even in the face of a personal financial crisis or difficult economic conditions.

What you need to consider is whether the choices that you're making about your financial life are steering you toward achieving your goals and fulfilling your dreams, or leading you down a dead-end road. If you want a say in shaping your future (or your family's future), then don't leave it to chance. Build a financial plan.

When Should You Put a Plan in Place?

The goal is to control your finances and your financial destiny, so the sooner you put a financial plan in place, the better equipped you (and your family) will be to gain that control. Once you have a plan in place, you should review it at least once a year and adjust it as changing circumstances dictate. (Getting married? Moving across the country for a new job? Getting ready to adopt or have a baby? Definitely review your plan!)

How Do You Get Started?

You can find a financial planner by searching the Financial Planning Association's site which includes a national database of financial experts. You can also ask friends, families, work colleagues and other contacts to recommend a financial planner they trust. Consider speaking with at least three financial planners before choosing one with whom to work. Make sure you're comfortable with the person; after all, you're going to be working closely with him or her.

Is There A Fee?

Financial planners typically charge a fee for their services, although free (pro bono) financial planning services may be available to people who lack the means to pay for them. Try searching Google using the keywords “pro bono financial planning” along with the name of your town or city.

Once you choose a financial planner, the process of assembling and implementing a financial plan begins. Your planner will develop a plan based on the information you provide in a meeting or series of meetings. For the far-reaching, lifelong benefits a financial plan can bring, it’s time (and money) well spent.

A Final Note

October 1 -7, 2012 is Financial Planning Week according to the Financial Planning Association. The goal of this week is to raise the public's awareness about the value of financial planning. We've done our part. Now you can do yours by getting your financial plan started.

What About You?

Do you have a financial plan?

Friday, September 28, 2012

ATM Safety Tips

You're out and need some cash. A quick stop at the ATM and you're on your way.

Not so fast!

Here are some precautions you should take when using an ATM:
  • Try not to use an ATM alone. Either take someone with you or only use an ATM when others are around.
  • Choose an ATM that is well lit and does not have tall bushes or other potential hiding places nearby. (Avoid using an ATM after dark if possible.)
  • Look around when you arrive at an ATM. If you see anything that makes you uncomfortable or anyone who looks suspicious, do not stop. Either use an ATM at a different location or come back later.
  • Have your card ready when you approach an ATM. You are easy prey for a thief if you are fumbling with a wallet or purse.
  • Avoid standing right behind another person who is using the ATM when you arrive. Give them enough space to conduct their transaction in privacy.
  • Stay alert to your surroundings while using the ATM. Look around every few seconds while making your transaction.
  • Protect your Personal Identification Number (PIN). Shield your PIN from onlookers by using your body.
  • Be sure you have your card and your receipt when your transaction is finished, and then leave immediately.
  • Avoid counting or otherwise displaying large amounts of cash.
  • Be alert for anyone who appears suspicious as you leave. If you think you are being followed, go to an area 
Sure...most of these seem like common sense. But when you're in a hurry (The movie starts in 20 minutes!) it's easy to make a mistake and be a little less cautious.

It's your money, though, and you worked hard to earn it. Take a little extra time to protect it.

What About You?

Do you have any other safety tips to share?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Basic Money Mistakes to Avoid

Most people worry about money—but you don’t have to let your worries ruin your life…not now and not when you’re older (and have more money). You can help your financial situation (and lessen your worries) if you avoid some basic money mistakes.

Mistake: Not tracking your spending.
What You Should Do: Pay attention to where your money goes. Remember to track all the incidentals you pay cash for. When you have a credit card, your credit card statement will help you track your spending. If you use a debit card, write the date, amount spent, and the name of the store.
Benefit to You: Tracking your spending will help make it easier to stick to your budget. You’ll see where your money is going—and you can make changes right away if you see that you’re wasting money.

Mistake: Not setting up a budget (and sticking to it). This advice may seem elementary, but many smart people don’t take it seriously.
What You Should Do: Determine how much money you realistically need to pay bills and buy needed supplies for a week or month, and don’t go over it.
Benefit to You: You will be in charge of your money—and with that accomplishment comes a good feeling—not that frantic, sick-to-your-stomach feeling that you get when you realize you don’t have enough money.

Mistake: Not setting up and maintaining an emergency fund.
What You Should Do: Set aside some money for emergencies, and don’t touch it for any other reason. You can get in this habit now by setting aside small amounts of money. Do this and you can start building your emergency fund before you move into your own place.
Benefit to You: Ten or 20 dollars a month can add up, especially if it’s drawing interest.

Mistake: Not shopping around.
What You Should Do: Take the time to look for the best prices, and avoid buying on impulse. Stock up on essentials on sale, and always look for opportunities to negotiate a better deal.
Benefit to You: You’ll get the best deal that’s available, so you’ll spend less money. That’s money you can save. (How about putting the saved money in your emergency fund?)

Why Bother Now?

But, you’re young! Why should you think about any of this now? Well, we’ve said it before (and we’ll probably say it again): the sooner you learn good money skills, the better off you’ll be! Learn these skills now while you’re still living at home. That way, if you make a mistake (think: I spent too much on clothes and now I can’t afford books), your parents can help you fix it—and it likely won’t be as serious as when you’re on your own (think: I don’t have enough money to pay the rent on my apartment).

What about you?

How well are you handling your money? Do you have a budget—and do you stick to it?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pay Yourself First—a Good Habit to Start Now

The savings advice “pay yourself first” is important—but what does it mean? It means that when you get any money (such as your pay or cash gifts), you should put some of it in your savings account before you pay your bills. There are many reasons to do this. You can:

  • Save money toward your goals
  • Learn to manage money better
  • Have money for emergencies
  • Improve your standard of living

Perhaps not all of these reasons matter to you today. Right now you might just be focused on learning to manage your money and saving for some of your goals. As you grow older and change, though, your responsibilities will change and increase. Soon enough you’ll need to save for emergencies and improve your standard of living.

Present and Future Savings Goals

What do you want to save money for? Your answer to that question will identify your savings goals. Right now you might be working part-time after school to save money for college expenses or for a car.

When you’re older, you’ll likely save money for some of these major expenses:
  • Unexpected events, such as job loss, car repair, or unexpected medical bills
  • Housing
  • Vacation 

Time is on Your Side

You’re young, so get in the habit of paying yourself first now. Time and compound interest will work for you and help your savings increase.

Another advantage to start paying yourself first now is that you have access to people who can give you free advice about saving. Your parents can get you started on the right path—and help you if you make a mistake.

What about You?

Do you pay yourself first? Do you have any other savings tips to share?

Welcome to Credit Unions Rock (Where Your Money Matters)!

Being an adult is a mixed bag of more independence and additional responsibility. Adulthood isn’t always easy; you have to deal with things that used to be in your parents' domain...things like salaries, budgets, savings accounts, and credit card debt.® offers you solid information on these issues and helps you plan for a successful future. In addition to the CreditUnionsRock website, the Your Money Matters blog is designed to help you make sense of the decisions that you have to make.

Whether you have college, a career, a home or wedding bells in your future, our goal is to provide financial tips that make sense. We'll cover:
  • Earning money
  • Budgeting (or making a spending plan, as some people like to call it)
  • Saving money
  • Spending money...and being smart about it
  • Borrowing money and paying it back
  • Planning for the future
We'll toss in some tips about preventing identity theft and the importance of reviewing your credit report. It should go without mentioning that we'll write about credit unions, but we'll mention that any way! After all, credit unions are our favorites!

What about You?

If you have a question, comment, or a financial tip to share, please take some time and post your thoughts.