News for YOU!
News for YOU! is a free, monthly newsletter provided by KS StateBank that offers tips and other information to help you make wise financial choices. Please feel free to sign up now to receive new editions of our newsletters each month, as well as other updates. You can also subscribe to our business newsletter, News for YOU! Business Edition.
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Smart Things to Do with Your Tax Return
What's not to love about receiving money? It's why millions and millions of people play the lottery each year. And while most won't be lucky enough to win the jackpot, they may very well receive money in a far more common way — getting a tax refund.
For some Americans, tax time is a time of excitement as they wait for a check in the mail or an electronic bank account deposit from Uncle Sam due to overpayment of their taxes. Because this money is often considered extra money, many people will use the funds to splurge — maybe take a vacation or install a big screen TV. But while those may be considered fun purchases, the excitement of having them often wears off pretty quickly.
If, however, you use your refund wisely, you can take advantage of long-lasting benefits. Here are some great suggestions for putting your tax refund to work for you all year long:
- Build an emergency fund. In these challenging economic times, many people live paycheck to paycheck. That makes managing unexpected expenses, such as car or home repairs difficult to manage. One way to protect yourself from unexpected expenses or losses in income is to have an emergency fund in a liquid savings account.
- Reduce debt. Do you have higher-interest credit card, auto loan, or other debt? Consider using your tax return to pay down your debt. It's always wise to pay off the highest-interest debt first.
- Make home improvements. Does your home need new windows or a new roof? Consider using your tax return money to finance these important home improvements, which can add value to your home.
- Make an energy-efficient purchase. Use your refund to purchase energy-efficient appliances, such as a dishwasher, dryer, or refrigerator, which can save you money all year long.
- Start a college savings plan. If you have children, consider using the funds to open an Education IRA or 529 college savings plan. Once you open the plan, arrange to invest in the fund on an ongoing a basis. Even a small amount of money each month will add up over time.
- Save for retirement. If you don't have a retirement plan through your employer, consider opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) with your refund check. Be sure to check with your tax advisor first.
- Pre-pay your mortgage. If you want to reduce the term of your loan and the amount of interest you will pay over the life of the loan, consider putting the funds from your tax return down on the principal of your mortgage.
The decision on how to best use your tax return depends on your unique financial situation. However, if you choose any of the options above, you're sure to win.
What’s your next job search move?
Say you’re looking for a job. You’ve found some you’re qualified for on a well-known employment website and you apply to a bunch of them. If you get a message saying “You’re hired! We just want some more info from you,” what’s your next move?
If you said, “Check out the company and the job by doing my own research before giving them any personal information,” that’s a great answer and a good first step.
It’s easier than ever to apply to lots of jobs with just a few clicks. It’s also incredibly easy for scammers to pose as legitimate employers. While there’s no sure-fire way to detect a job scam, there are important steps to take before giving anyone your money or personal information.
- Do your own research. Search the company and job name with the words “scam,” “complaint,” or “fraud.” You might find they’ve scammed other people. Scammers pretend to be both well-known and smaller companies, posting jobs on employment websites. So, reach out to the company directly using contact information you know is legit.
- Don’t pay to get a job. If someone says you’ve got the job, but you have to pay them for something — or if they say you have to deposit a check and send money back, those are scams. Period. No legitimate job will make you pay for expenses or fees to get the job.
- Never give personal info up front. Some scammers will try to get your bank account, routing, or Social Security number as soon as you’re in contact. They might say, “to set up your direct deposit.” Stop. That’s a scam.
- Talk to someone you trust before you take a job offer or business opportunity. Ask them what they think. Then listen to what they say.
If you think you’ve spotted a job scam, or if you’ve lost money to one, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Information for this article was provided by the Federal Trade Commission.
Find Love for Your Money This Valentine's Day
Your valentine isn't the only one who should be receiving love this February. Your finances deserve some tender love and care as well. Here are four ways to show your money it matters.
Be money aware
One of the best things you can do for your finances is to know where your money is actually going. Reviewing your bank and credit card statements regularly will allow you to not only know your spending each month, but also see where you're prioritizing your spending. For example, you may not realize you're spending $600 per month on dining out or that you're paying for subscriptions you no longer use. Awareness is key to saving money and making sure you're spending the way you'd like. Our free online financial management tool, My Money, makes it easy to keep track of your money maintain your finances. Look for the My Money tab in your KS StateBank Online Banking account.
Review your credit score
Credit scores have a significant impact on your finances, affecting whether you are approved for loans, credit cards, and even housing. Your score is a reflection of how reliable you are when it comes to paying back your bills. It also affects how much you pay for services. To improve your credit score, always pay your bills on time, fix past due balances, and keep your balances on your credit cards low in comparison to your limit.
Pay your bills on time
Bills are an inevitable part of life. Avoid late fees, damage to your credit score, disruptions in your service, evictions, and a whole host of other issues by paying your bills on time. If you've had trouble paying your bills in a timely manner before, getting organized can help ensure you don't miss another payment. Write down what bills you have and when they're due, and set reminders so you don't forget. You can also set up automatic payments to ensure you pay on time, every time.
Pay more than the minimum
If possible, pay more than the minimum payments on credit cards and loans to reduce the overall amount of money you owe. For example, if your minimum student loan payment is $300 per month and you are able to pay $350 per month instead, you're paying $600 more per year, the equivalent of two additional payments. This will reduce the number of payments and the amount you pay in interest over the course of your loan.
Though Valentine's Day only comes once a year, you can show love to your money all year long by making it a priority. Check your progress and stay the course. You and your money are worth it!
Romance Scams: It's Not True Love if They Ask for Money
Lots of us have profiles on online dating sites, apps or social media to find “the one.” But that interesting person who just messaged you could be a sweet-talking romance scammer trying to trick you into sending money.
Reports of romance scams continue to grow, and costing people a lot of money. According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data, reported lost money losses increased from $87 million in 2017 to $547 million in 2021.
In a sea of online profiles, romance scammers can be hard to detect. But, there are signs you can look out for. Scammers start by using someone else’s identity to create fake profiles. They’ll send you flattering messages to make a special connection, say all the right things, and gain your trust. They might claim to be a doctor, a servicemember, or an oil rig worker living overseas. They want to make future plans with you. But then, something comes up and they ask you for money to help them out. Which nearly always means asking you to buy gift cards (and give them the PIN, so they get the cash), or wiring them money.
Here’s the thing: Never send money or gifts to a love interest you haven’t actually met. It’s a romance scam.
- Stop communicating with the person immediately.
- Search online for the type of job the person says they have. See if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer.”
- Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. If it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up, it’s a scam.
- Never wire money to a stranger, or pay anyone with gift cards. If someone asks you to wire money or pay with gift cards, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Information for this article was provided by the Federal Trade Commission.
All KS StateBank locations will be closed on Monday, February 20 in observance of Presidents Day. We will reopen during regular hours on Tuesday, February 21.
5 Steps to Dig Out of Holiday Debt
It's a holiday leftover many of us carry around for months. It's not Aunt Edna's fruitcake or even those few extra pounds amassed from all the holiday treats. It's the excess credit card debt that comes from spending more than you can afford during the holiday season. Unfortunately, for many Americans, a few festive days of the year can result in mounds of depressing debt that can take months to shed.
If you find yourself with leftover holiday debt, here are some steps you can take:
- Stop the credit storm. If you can't purchase something with cash or your debit card, don't buy it. While it's important to have credit cards for emergencies, it's a good idea to put them on ice until you pay down your debt.
- Start digging out. On your credit card statement is the minimum payment amount you must make each month to cover finance charges. Always pay more than that amount. The more you pay, the faster you will pay down your balance. If you have multiple credit card accounts, focus on paying off the ones with the highest interest rates first.
- Consolidate higher-interest debt. Many credit card companies offer attractive balance transfer offers that come with low teaser rates, allowing you to transfer higher-interest balances to save on interest. Be sure to read the fine print so you know when the introductory rate expires and what the prevailing rate will be. It's also critical to close the accounts from which you transferred the debt. Many people make the mistake of keeping those cards and running up new balances, creating even more debt.
- Minimize your other spending. Take a close look at your monthly budget and see if you can cut your spending in other areas in order to pay more on your credit card debt. If you have the opportunity to make more money, either by picking up more hours at work or getting a second job, consider putting excess funds on your credit card debt.
- Stay the course. While it can be overwhelming to look at the debt you owe, the most important thing you can do is keep making payments. If you keep digging, you're sure to see a clear path toward credit card debt freedom.
Tips for Avoiding Scholarship and Student Loan Scams
The cost of going to college is on the rise and many students are in search of scholarships and federal student loans to help them pay for their education. 84% of first-year students receive financial aid and 66% apply using Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
Unfortunately, the high volume of scholarship and student loan applications also creates an opportunity for scam artists. More than $100 million is lost in scholarship scams every year and more than half of all students who applied for a private loan reported receiving a fraudulent loan, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
It’s important to stay vigilant and informed so you can avoid these scams. Here are a few thing you can do to protect yourself:
- Be wary of the information you share and where. Never share your FAFSA information
- Only solicit federal student loans from companies identified by the Department of Education
- Never pay to apply for college scholarships
If you or your family encounter suspected scholarship scams, report them immediately to the following government agencies:
- Federal Trade Commission
- U.S. Department of Education
- Federal Student Aid Information Center (FAFSA)
Information for this article was provided by the American Bankers Association.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Our offices will be closed on Monday, January 16 in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We will reopen during regular hours on Tuesday, January 17.
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