Blog

blog dictionary page
 

Waukesha State Bank Blog

This commentary was written and prepared by Waukesha State Bank. Content in this blog is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Please visit with one of our bankers to discuss your individual needs.


What You Need to Know About the New Tax Bill

tax reform calculator It was supposed to be a tax bill that would substantially simplify tax returns and provide tax relief across the board, benefiting in some way all taxpayers. While it didn’t quite get there as far as tax simplification, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act that was just passed by Congress does cut taxes for the vast majority of Americans. Just how much any particular tax payer benefits depends on a number of factors, including the amount of taxable earnings and itemized deductions, marital status, family status and the state of residency. For many Americans, the tax bill gives and takes through various provisions that, on a net-basis, results in less taxes owed. Here are some of the key provisions and the way they help or hurt taxpayers.

Lower Tax Brackets

Original versions of the bill sought to simplify taxes by reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three or four. That was lost along the way to producing the final tax bill which keeps the number at seven, but many of the marginal tax rates have been adjusted downward. The top rate dropped from 39.6 percent to 37 percent and most income levels will be taxed at lower rates. The downside is that the tax brackets are now linked to an inflation index, which will push many taxpayers into higher brackets over time.

Double the Standard Deduction

Perhaps the bigger news is the doubling of the standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000 for married couples ($6,000 to $12,000 for single filers). That is significant for taxpayers who don’t itemize or whose itemized deductions don’t exceed the lower threshold. These taxpayers are the most likely to realize a tax reduction.

For those who do itemize, the tax reduction could be much less and some could end up owing more in taxes.

Lower Mortgage Interest Deduction Cap

Under current tax law, the mortgage deduction is capped at $1 million of mortgage indebtedness. The new tax bill lowers the cap to $750,000 so, although it will affect more homeowners, it won’t impact most. Homes purchased before December 15, 2017 will be grandfathered for the $1 million cap. In addition, the tax deduction for interest on home equity loans has been eliminated except in cases where the proceeds have been used for significant home improvements.

SALT Deduction Remains with a Cap

The provision that caused most of the controversy was the elimination of the tax deduction for state and local taxes. Originally, the provision was to be eliminated altogether, but the final bill keeps it with a cap of $10,000 of state and local income, sales and property taxes.

Personal Exemption Gone

Everyone loves the personal exemption – the amount each individual is able to use to reduce their taxable income. Families especially loved it because the exemption was available for each dependent. The new tax bill eliminates the personal exemption. With the doubling of the standard deduction and the larger child tax credit, most taxpayers will still come out on top.

Child Tax Credit Doubles and Access Expands

The child tax credit has been increased from $1,000 to $2,000. More families will qualify for the credit because the phase out has also been increased for married couples from $110,000 to $400,000. The first $1,400 is refundable for people who owe zero taxes.

Alternative Minimum Tax Still Here

One way the original tax bill was supposed to simplify taxes was by eliminating the alternative minimum tax. The final version keeps AMT, but it increases the threshold from $86,200 to $109,400 so AMT will impact fewer taxpayers.

No More Marriage Penalty

Under the new law, married taxpayers will pay taxes at the same tax rate as individual filers. For example, if two individuals each earned $150,000 under the old law they would be in the 28 percent bracket. If they got married, their $300,000 combined income would boost them into the 33 percent bracket. Under the new law, the couple would be in the 24 percent bracket – same as an individual earning $150,000.

Larger Medical Deduction

For taxpayers who do itemize, more medical expenses will be deductible. The new tax bill lowers the adjusted gross income (AGI) floor for medical deductions to 7.5 percent from 10 percent and it will be retroactive to the 2017 tax year. For example, a married couple with $100,000 AGI can start deducting medical expenses above $7,500 instead of $10,000.

You Lose Some Deductions

The tax bill eliminates several deductions, including just about everything that was categorized as “miscellaneous deductions,” which included items such as unreimbursed employee expenses and tax preparation fees. You’ll still be able to deduct charitable contributions and student loan interest.

Larger Estate Tax Exemption

The bill’s authors originally wanted to eliminate the estate tax altogether, but the final bill only included an increase in the amount that would be exempt from estate taxes. The new exemption is doubled to $22.4 million for married couples ($11.2 million for individuals).

There is a lot to absorb from the new tax bill. Be sure to meet with a tax professional to ensure you understand how the new tax law will impact your specific tax situation.



It’s Still a Good Time to Become Financially Fit

piggy bank with bar bell New Year, New Me, right? We’re two months into the new year, and you may have dropped your New Year’s Resolution to become financially fit. Don’t despair. It’s still early in the new year and a great time to clean up your financials, adopt better spending habits, and start saving more. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Make a budget and stick with it

This almost cliché financial advice is repeated so often for one important reason: it works. Start by tracking your spending, once you’ve tracked how much money you spend over the course of a few weeks, you can look for trends in what you’re spending. These trends help you start planning on how much income goes towards necessities (like rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries), and see areas where you can cut back (rarely-used subscription services, eating out less) and start putting away a portion of your income towards a savings goal. The most important part of a budget is sticking with it, once you start tracking your spending you should make sure to take time every day or every few days to log your spending and compare that to your planned spending.

Deal with any debt

Debt is an extremely stressful thing to deal with but the new year is a time to get a handle on any debt that may have piled up around the holidays. Debt should be something factored into your budget like your electric bill and tracked. Although it may be daunting, contact your creditors to discuss your situation, they may be willing to work with you to put together a repayment plan. If you're carrying debt on multiple credit cards, talk to your local bank about the possibility of consolidating that debt into a single payment so you can close the extra card accounts. No matter what you do, addressing debt instead of ignoring it will help you get a handle on it and make positive progress.

Shop around

Many times people will stick with whatever they find first, be it their internet provider, car insurance, or brand of soup, but that may not be the best deal, especially a few years down the line. There’s nothing wrong with being loyal to a company but just because they’ve been your cable provider for a few years isn’t necessarily a good reason to stay with them and doesn’t ensure that you are getting the best value for what you are paying. Look around to see what other companies are charging for similar services, you may find that your current company is priced competitively or you may find that you can get a better deal elsewhere. One thing to beware of is a cheaper product or service that is cheaper for a reason, make sure you are still getting a similar quality or ask yourself if you are ok with a downgrade.

Making a commitment to financial health and wellness can be a great way to start the New Year on good footing that can last throughout the year and your life.


Home Equity Loans and Lines Explained

kitchen remodel In simple terms, a home equity line of credit works a little like a credit card - a credit card secured by your home. Lenders approve you for a specific amount of credit, but you are not required to borrow up to the limit of your credit line.

How a Line of Credit Works

Here's an example. Say you are approved for a home equity line secured by the equity in your home. Most lenders will limit how much you can borrow, using a percentage of your home's value as a guideline.

In this example, we will assume you have been approved for a $30,000 credit line.

You can draw funds at your discretion in any frequency or amount during the term of your loan up to the $30,000 limit. In addition, your account may automatically renew from year to year after the initial term. You are charged interest only on the amount you have drawn and payments may be calculated using an “interest only” method or figured using a percentage of your outstanding balance. As you pay down your balance, those funds become available to borrow again and again.

With a home equity loan you receive the entire loan amount up front. If you borrow $30,000, you receive a check for $30,000, and you start making payments on that $30,000 loan immediately based on a predetermined repayment period.

Here is a quick breakdown of the differences between home equity loans and home equity lines of credit:

Home Equity Loan
Home Equity Line of Credit
Receipt of Funds   Received up front in one lump
sum, typically by check or direct deposit to an account.
Funds can be accessed at any time by check, by debit card, or by an in-person withdrawal or online transfer.
Interest Rate   Typically fixed and applied to
entire loan amount.
Usually variable; applied only to the outstanding principal balance
Repayment Usually installments over a
defined repayment term.
Can vary depending on repayment method and interest rates.

Interest Rates

Home equity lines of credit generally use variable interest rates instead of fixed interest rates. The rate will vary based on a common index like the prime rate. Typically the interest rate is calculated by adding a percentage, called the margin, to the index; for example, your interest may be calculated using "prime rate plus 1%." In that example, if the prime rate is 5%, your interest rate will be 6%. The rate will change based on changes in the index and will impact your payment amount and/or repayment period.

A home equity loan usually has an interest rate that is fixed for a defined term which may be all or part of the repayment period. You have confidence in knowing your interest rate and payment amount will not change for a predetermined period of time.


Which is Right for You: Loan or Line?

Home Equity Loan

  • Home equity loans are often used for one-time expenses (home improvements, major purchases, etc).
  • Home equity loans often come with fixed interest rates and fixed monthly payments, making budgeting simple.
  • Home equity loans will generally require higher monthly payments.
  • Payments include interest and principal (using a standard amortization schedule).
  • No additional funds are available; to access more cash, you will need to refinance or take out another loan.

Home Equity Line of Credit

  • Home equity lines are often used for recurring and unexpected cash needs.
  • Home equity lines often come with variable interest rates; your rate can rise or fall based on changes to the prime rate.
  • Payment amounts will also vary based on how much money has been borrowed at any given time.
  • Payments are often interest-only, but can include principal. During the term of the loan, you will make lower monthly payments but will owe the entire principal balance when the loan term ends.
  • Funds can be accessed at any time, and if you pay down the balance, you can draw against that money again and again during the term of the loan.

Need a simple way to decide between a home equity loan and a home equity line of credit?

If you need a lump sum at one time, and want the stability of a fixed interest rate and fixed monthly payments, choose a home equity loan.

If you want greater flexibility and the ability to choose when and how much you will borrow, and are willing to accept the potential for changing interest rates and payment amounts, choose a home equity line of credit.

To speak to a lender about whether a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit is the best choice for your individual needs and goals, simply call our Customer Service Center at (262) 549-8500, click here to schedule an appointment or stop into any of our convenient locations .


Traveling with Your Cards tourist couple with map

Credit cards provide a lot of convenience when you’re traveling. They can be used across the globe, and you can use online tools to track spending and more while you’re away. There are a few considerations for traveling with your credit cards though, especially if you’re traveling abroad. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Traveling Anywhere

  • Bring copies of the front and back of your cards and keep the copies in a separate place from the cards themselves.  A hotel safe can be a good place to store them. If your cards are stolen, you’ll have all of the information you need to contact the company.
  • Always carry a back-up card. If something happens to your primary card, you’ll be glad you have a secondary one.
  • Carry some cash. Cards don’t always work, especially abroad where card readers are increasingly incompatible with U.S.-issued cards.
  • Save your receipts. It can be hard to track your expenditures during a whirlwind trip, so use receipts during vacation and then again to verify the transactions on your statement.
  • Check your card’s travel discounts. Many cards, even some that aren’t specifically travel-related, offer benefits on particular airlines, hotel chains, and more.
  • Check your card's benefits relative to travel discounts, travel assistance services and other travel benefits.

Traveling Internationally

  • If you’re traveling outside of the country, be sure to notify your credit card company in advance. If the company doesn’t know that you’ll be traveling, they may block your transactions. Then you’ll have to call them, which can prove difficult depending where you are.
  • Likewise, investigate potential card fees for foreign transactions before your trip. Some companies charge for specific types of transactions, so you’ll want to know what you’ll actually be spending.
  • Ask if your transaction will be processed in U.S. dollars or the local currency. If the merchant plans to charge you in U.S. dollars,  they may be providing you with currency conversion for a fee. While it may be nice to know your exact purchase amount in U.S. dollars, you may end up paying more than you have to. Ask what the currency conversion fee is and know that you can decline that service.

By planning ahead, you can make your trip as hassle free as possible.



Savings at Home for Summer woman sitting by fan

Nearly half of the energy costs in a typical home come from heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, so when the temperature goes up, so do your cooling costs. Here are a few tips on how to stretch your household budget this summer and still keep your chill.

Consider upgrading your old air conditioner. If you have an old window unit air conditioner with an EER energy efficiency of 5, you can cut costs in half by replacing it with a new one with an EER of 10. So do a simple calculation: If your average annual bill is $260, your bill would become $130. Depending on the size of the unit and room (window units range from $100 to $500), your annual savings will pay for the unit in just a few years. Air conditioners also function more efficiently and cheaply (and last longer) when you replace or clean their filters on a regular basis. Read your owner’s manual to find out how often you should replace or clean filters.

Use ceiling fans. Overhead fans get air circulating, which means you might be able to delay turning on the air conditioning-especially if you can also leave windows open on cool summer evenings. Make sure you have the blades spinning in the right direction, though! In the summer, the preferred direction for a ceiling fan to spin in is counterclockwise as you look up at the fan blades. You will feel a cool downward airflow as you stand directly under the fan. In the winter, the preferred direction for a ceiling fan to spin in is a clockwise direction. Check your owner's manual for how to switch the direction on your fans.

Take time to unplug. Even when they're not in use, electronics such as television sets, DVD players, computers and phone chargers can suck power out of outlets. Either unplug them when you're done using them or use a Smart Strip (which cuts power when it's not needed). One exception to this tip: overhead fans, especially at night, will cool air more cheaply than turning down the thermostat.

Invest in a programmable thermostat. Programming your thermostat is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways you can cut your energy bills this summer. Installing a programmable thermostat prevents your home from going through large temperature swings and can save you up to 10 percent on your cooling bills. A homeowner can save as much as $150 on air conditioning bills by setting a thermostat.



Simple Ways to Estimate Home Value house with stacks of coins

What is your home worth? Ultimately, your home is worth what someone else is willing to pay you for it.

The problem is you won't know that amount until you sell. So, what if you need to estimate the value of your home to determine what you will list it for or to get a sense of how much you can borrow with a home equity loan or home equity line of credit? Here are a few ways you can develop a fairly accurate ballpark figure.

Use Online Tools

One of the most popular sites for estimating home values is Zillow.com . Others include propertyshark.com , and realtor.com . Many real estate agents also offer online tools, including remax.com .

Just keep in mind that some sites use results provided by other sites. If the information you receive from several online value sites seems uncannily similar, it could be due to the fact those sites all pull information from the same database.

You can also see what homes are listing for by checking your real estate agent's site. Some will also show prices for homes recently sold, and in many areas your local government website may list recent transactions including price, square footage, number of bathrooms, the age of the home - everything you need to make apples to apples comparisons. Similarity is important, because comparing similar homes is the best way to accurately estimate your home's value.

Just keep in mind that online tools may only be directionally-accurate, especially in rural areas or in areas where few homes sell on a regular basis. If you live in metropolitan Milwaukee, sites like zillow.com are likely to be fairly accurate; if you live in a smaller rural town, online tools may provide limited value.

Ask an Agent

Experienced real estate agents can quickly ballpark a home's value; they do it every day. A local real estate agent would be more than happy to give you an estimate of the value of your home even if you don't plan to sell right away. If you can, get two or three agents to provide a ballpark figure; compare the results you get to determine an average amount.

And while you're at it, ask the agent(s) to provide comparables. Using comparables is a great way to estimate the value of homes as well as other items. A comparable is a home that recently sold that is very similar to your home: Square footage, age, number of rooms/bathrooms, size of lot, etc. If you provide the agent with the specs for your home, he or she can quickly "pull comparables" for recently sold homes.

Go to Open Houses

Asking others for help is great, but sometimes doing your own Sherlock Holmes impression is useful, too. Open Houses are a great source of information: You can check out comparable homes to your heart's content and get a great sense of how your house compares to others currently for sale.

And while you're there, talk to the agents showing the homes. Agents hold Open Houses for two main purposes: To show the home being listed but also to meet other potential clients. As mentioned, a good agent will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you.

Get a Formal Appraisal

Another option is to pay for a professional appraisal of your home. A home appraisal is the expert determination of value by a certified and licensed professional. Keep in mind that an appraisal is still just an estimate. The appraiser, using a variety of tools and approaches, estimates what the home is worth. An appraisal value is not a guarantee of what the home will sell for.

But it is a widely used and relied upon tool. Mortgage and home equity lenders use appraisals to protect themselves from lending too much on a particular property. After all, you may agree to pay too much for a home; while the home is worth that much to you, it may not be worth that much to other buyers. Lenders will typically only lend up to a certain percentage of the appraisal value even if the home is being purchased for significantly more.

A formal, professional appraisal is the most accurate estimate of home value you can receive. The appraiser will evaluate the specifications and condition of your home, compare your home to comparables, and assess local market trends and conditions. The result is his or her best estimate of the value of your home.

Quick note: Keep in mind, a home appraisal is not the same as a home inspection. A home inspector looks for maintenance, mechanical, and other problems in the home. Appraisers may note obvious problems, but they do not test plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, and other systems. An appraiser estimates value; an inspector evaluates the condition of a property.


Q&A: The Fed and How It Impacts You U.S. Fed Building

If you've been keeping up with news stories about the economy lately, you may have heard that "the Fed" has been raising rates, and is likely to do so more often in the future. What does this mean, and how will it impact you? Do you know what the Fed is and how it influences your money? Learning a bit more about how the central bank of the United States works and how it can impact your finances can help you make long-term plans for big financial decisions.


What is "the Fed"?

The Federal Reserve is the central bank of the United States. It is owned by private banks and operates independently of the U.S. government; it is not a government agency, though its Board of Governors are appointed by the President. The Fed has three mandates: maximize employment, stabilize prices and moderate long-term interest rates.

What does it do?

The main way the Fed accomplishes its three mandates is by raising or lowering the Federal Funds Interest Rate (the basis for most other interest rates). In general, when the Fed lowers interest rates, the goal is to stimulate the economy. Conversely, they usually raise rates when they want to slow down the economy and/or control inflation.

Does the Fed Funds rate impact me?

Yes. Even though consumers do not directly borrow money from the Fed, the banks that provide their car loans and mortgages do. Since the Fed Funds rate is the basis for other rates (by being the cost of what your bank must pay in order to get money) raising and lowering it affects the rates you, the consumer, can get from your bank. So, if you're in the market to buy a house and you hear that the Fed may be raising interest rates soon, you know to act quickly so you can secure a lower interest rate for your mortgage.

So are high rates bad?

No. While low interest rates on large purchases like homes are good for consumers, extended low interest rates (like we've seen over the past 10 years) means that the economy isn't growing very fast and consumers aren't earning much on their savings. When the Fed Funds rate goes up, depositors see increased interest rates on their savings accounts and CDs, so higher rates are a bonus for savers. It's also important to note the Fed raises rates a little at a time (usually only 0.25%) and the higher rates only affect new loans and loans with adjustable rate terms. Higher rates also mean the FOMC sees signs that the economy is getting stronger, which is good for everyone.

By keeping these basic concepts in mind, consumers can create a better financial plan for themselves. Be sure to speak with your friendly Waukesha State Bank banker if you want to learn more about the Fed. They'll be able to offer specific advice according to your accounts and circumstances.


Prevent Elder Abuse: Recognize the Signs and Common Scamselderly woman needing help

No matter how careful you are, anyone can become a victim of financial fraud. However, older adults are particularly at risk. Those who commit elder fraud range from loved ones—family members, friends, or caregivers—to complete strangers. In its financial form, elder abuse is the exploitation of senior citizens to gain access to their property, investments, cash, or real estate. 

Learn about common elder abuse scams and red flags below. You could prevent a loved one from becoming a victim. 


Common Scams

Grandma Scams – "Hi Grandma! It's your favorite grandkid calling, and I need your help." Many seniors find it difficult to resist pleas like this and are more than willing to immediately wire money to their "grandchild" in need. The most important thing to do in this scenario is to verify the caller. Most scammers will plead with their "grandparent" not to tell anyone, but if you receive a call like this the fastest way to determine if the request is real is to contact another family member. Do not wire money or provide a credit card number until you've verified the identity of the caller.

"Free" Prize or Cruise Calls – Scammers call to inform an elderly consumer that they've won a sweepstakes prize or free cruise-they just need to send a "processing fee" or "cover shipping costs" to collect their winnings or tickets. Sometimes, these callers go straight to asking for credit card or bank account numbers. The best way to avoid this scam is to simply hang up. It is illegal to charge a fee to enter a sweepstakes. If the caller says you've won a cruise, ask what cruise line is involved and then verify the contest.

Fake Charities – This type of scam is especially popular after a well-publicized natural disaster. The scammer solicits "donations" and sometimes provides official-looking documents to prove the charity exists. When donating money, it's best to go through a well-known company and verify the organization or charity through the Better Business Bureau.

Red Flags for Abuse

Isolation – The number one tactic used by perpetrators is to separate the victim from family and/or friends who would stop the abuse. Watch for victims to stop attending social events or even disconnect their phone line.

Changes in spending habits – Drastic changes in account balances or unusually flamboyant purchases like cars and real estate are a sign that the senior citizen is not the person in charge of their finances. Keep a close eye on lavish "gifts" to new friends or acquaintances.

Unfamiliar names on joint accounts – Sometimes perpetrators convince their victims that they will help them organize their finances by creating a joint account. In reality, this gives the perpetrator unlimited access to the victim's funds. If a senior citizen wants another person to manage their finances, they should use a Power of Attorney (POA) account instead, which puts a legal obligation on the co-signer to protect the elderly person's interests.

If you notice these warning signs, what should you do about it? Visit ReportElderAbuseWI.org for more information about elder abuse and how to report it. You can also visit our Security Resources page to learn more about other scams and ways to protect yourself.


What Your College Student Needs to Know
about Managing Personal FinancesCollege student

In preparing your child for college, you’ve taught them everything you know about life. But, if they can’t manage their finances while in college, your troubles are just beginning.

Sending a child off to college has to be one of the most momentous occasions a parent can experience. However, getting a monthly call from your college student asking for more money can get old really fast. We hope that we’ve instilled our children with good values and common sense by the time they leave for college, but that doesn’t always translate to sound money habits which are often formed over years of trial and error. Although managing finances through college life is not rocket science, it can present a challenge for young students who have never had to balance a checkbook. Parents can shorten the learning curve and equip their students to better navigate college life by teaching them some fundamental principles of personal finances.


Create a Spending Plan

It’s difficult to imagine any parent sending their child off to college without a budget. Money is always tight when it comes to paying for college, so there is little margin for error. Your goal as a parent is to stave off the monthly call and instill in your student the virtues of living under his or her means. It’s a tall order, but, it‘s achievable when all parties can adhere to a strict spending plan. College expenses are fairly straightforward. Tuition and rent are locked in. So, the variables are food, personal needs, transportation and fun.

Food: If food expenses are covered under a boarding arrangement, such as dorm dining, you still have to account for any off-board dining, such as fast food meals and late night munchies. Regardless, you will need to establish a fixed food budget that allows your student to eat more than Top Ramen every day. The food budget should be broken down into a weekly, if not daily, allowance. If he is budgeted for $10 per day and spends $15, he will need to get creative to spend only $10 the next day. Perhaps the budget should allow for one or two fast food purchases a week when the schedule gets too busy for cooking dinner or preparing a lunch.

Personal needs: Should absolutely be fixed. You can be sure that students know how to stretch their personal hygiene supplies, so they should never run low.

Transportation: If your student has a car for transportation, you will need to budget for fuel and maintenance. Hopefully he is driving a well-maintained car that won’t be in need of constant repair. If no car, then public transportation costs need to be included. This should be a fixed expense with very little wiggle room.

Fun: This is the big X-factor for college students. Many parents don’t budget for this; either because they assume their students are at school to work, and they should find free fun; or they put the burden of funding fun on the student through earnings from a summer job. It’s important to note, however, that any budget shortfalls are likely to occur as a result of overindulgence in fun. Parents and their students should agree on how much money should be spent on fun, regardless of who pays for it.

Personal Finances

Many students have experience managing a checkbook before they leave for college. Of course, today a checkbook is really an online account that doesn’t require all the balancing and reconciling of the old days. Online accounts make it a lot easier for students to watch their cash flow and keeps things balanced; however, cash flow still needs to be managed to ensure there’s enough on hand to cover every expense.

The challenge for students is that there are sometimes multiple sources of income that need to be directed to multiple categories of expenses. For instance, they might receive a portion from their parents that are to be used for room and board. They also might receive a portion from financial aid or student loans that should be directed at tuition and books. They also might have their own source of income that they use for fun and extras.

To prevent comingling funds, which could lead to confusion and the inadvertent misdirection of funds, you should consider having your student use the bucket approach to cash flow management. For a college student, this might consist of managing funds from three separate accounts - one for tuition, books and school fees; one for room and board; and one for personal expenses. Each account has a fixed budget or spending target that can be easily tracked through separate online accounts. If one of the accounts has a surplus over the spending target, the funds can be transferred to another account to cover expenses, or transferred to a savings account.

Managing Credit Cards

Parents should be aware that, at some point, their students will be approached by a credit card issuer with an offer for a student credit card. They’re usually seen on campus during school events handing out applications. Parents who have experienced this will tell you that students and credit generally don’t mix. Although it’s probably a good idea for a college student to have a credit card that can be used in emergencies, you may want to consider setting up an authorized user account under your credit card account. That way you can keep track of the account and establish strict rules for its use. Some credit card issuers will report payments made on the account to the credit bureau, so your student can start building a credit history.

Preparing your children for launch is an 18-year endeavor which ultimately comes down to equipping them with the right tools and values to begin managing their own affairs. Teaching your college-bound student how to effectively manage his or her personal finances may be one of the last important life lessons they learn from you. And, whether they tell you or not, your student is concerned about his or her ability to get it right. It’s probably one of the most teachable moments you’ll ever have as a parent, so be sure to take full advantage of the opportunity.


10 Ways to Keep Your Credit Score Healthy and Avoid Shopper's Remorse During the Holidays

happy woman holiday shopping

During the holiday season, it seems that no matter how early those store decorations go up, we feel as though we’re suddenly caught off guard. Our holiday shopping turns into a sprint, and then quickly deteriorates into a spending frenzy. “The heck with the budget – full speed ahead! Cha-a-a-r-r-r-ge it!” But then the monthly statements start pouring in, and we are reminded of our credit card misdeeds. And, then we groan, “I’ll never do that again.” Okay, this is your chance to avoid the holiday shopping aftermath and keep your credit score from taking a January dip.

  1. Start with a clean slate: Hopefully you have managed to pay off your balances so that when you’re ready to hit the malls your limits are intact. It’s important to avoid hitting or going over your credit card limits.
  2. Fix your budget: Of course, this should have been done well in advance of the holidays so that you have been able to meet your living needs while setting aside savings. For many of us, holiday shopping requires that we tighten our belt for a few months. Look for non-essential budget items and cut them out until after January.
  3. Set a spending limit: How many times have you set a holiday spending limit only to blow through it? Do it for real this time. Set it and follow it. Don’t forget to include all of the holiday trimmings in your limit, such as drinks, meals, holiday travel, service tips (hair salon, paper boy, etc), and last minute gifts.
  4. Make a list: Don’t make your gift list until you have set your spending limit. It will help you prioritize your gift giving and allocate amounts to be spent. It’s supposed to also keep you from impulse shopping. If it’s not on your list, just say no.
  5. Spurn new offers: 'Tis the season for credit card offers. Good ones can lower your costs, but be careful about adding new credit cards just to increase your spending power (remember your spending limit). And, retail credit card offers should be avoided at all costs – they do little to increase your spending power and they can wreak havoc on your credit score.
  6. Spread it around: If you have more than one credit card, it would be important to spread your spending among them so as to avoid hitting the credit limit thresholds. If possible, you want to keep your balances below 30% of the credit limit on each card. Even if you intend the pay the balances in full, a maxed-out card can cause a temporary hit to your credit score.
  7. Reward yourself: This is the time to optimize your rewards and cash back strategy. Focus on opportunities to earn maximum cash back. Use your rewards points to purchase gifts when you can (they’re great for gift cards). And, check out your credit card’s online shopping mall for additional discounts.
  8. Be on fraud alert: Identity thieves and credit card fraudsters are out in full force this season, and it can’t be stressed enough to be on alert. Limit your online purchases to familiar shopping sites and never lose sight of your card at stores or restaurants.
  9. Be of good cheer: Studies show that people spend more and shop more impulsively when they are feeling in the dumps. Avoid using shopping as a means to lift your spirits. Get in good spirits before you go shopping.
  10. Pay it all off: This is the biggie. After you have run up your balances, you need to pay them off. For most people, the debt they run up during the holidays sets the tone for the next year. At the very, very least, make sure you pay down your balances to below 25% of the credit limit for each card.

 


Bad Money Habits Kids Learn from their Parentslittle girl wondering about money

What habits will your children learn about money? It starts with your own values, beliefs and habits. No matter what you tell them, your kids will always do as you do, not what you say.

Somewhere between the cradle and the college dorm, our children have been instilled with the values about money that they will carry with them well into adulthood. That can be a good thing, or it can be a really bad thing depending on what values were learned and how they were communicated by their parents. Undoubtedly, the issue of kids and money can be perplexing for parents who have all of the best intentions, but often find themselves on the defensive in issues about money. That may be because money is often discussed as the means to an end, or even an end, without an understanding of the underlying values of money and it works. Unlike the birds-and-the-bees discussion, the concept of money has to be demonstrated and reinforced through daily interaction.

Starting from the moment your toddler points to a toy and says, “I want!” money concepts should be taught throughout the course of your children’s young lives. More importantly, parents need to be mindful of their own money habits and how they will be emulated by their kids. More than any other aspect of life, money habits are transferred, inadvertently, when parents operate by the “do as I say, not as I do” form of parenting. Children, even at a young age, are extremely observant and impressionable when it comes to the actions of parents; and they’re more likely to emulate their parents than they are to heed their words of wisdom. Parents should be the first to know that “actions speak louder than words” and guard against transferring these bad habits to their children:

Money does Grow on Trees

No matter how many times they are told otherwise, kids do get the impression that money grows on trees when they see their parents whipping it out every time they ask for it. And, many times, kids don’t even have to ask for it. Money is often dispensed as a way to stop a tantrum in a store or as consolation to a disappointed teen. Each time parents go for the wallet, it perpetuates the money tree myth. Refraining from giving your children money is not about “tough love”; it’s all about letting them know that money is earned.

Money as a Reward for Good Behavior

When parents offer money as a reward for good behavior, kids might think they are “earning” it, and the parents might think it will lead to better behavior. Both the kids and the parents would be wrong. Rewarding good or even expected behavior with money can lead to a warped sense of entitlement for doing what is expected, which can get very expensive. If it will cost parents money to get better behavior from their children, who’s really in control? If, by good behavior you mean completing assigned chores on time or when asked, then that should be rewarded.

Money as a Substitute for Love

Due to the demands of life, it’s sometimes difficult for parents to give their time and attention to their children when they need it. It’s not unusual for parents to offer money as a way to placate their children or buy their happiness. However, when this “act of love” becomes routine, it could lead to resentment when the money stops. Children, who become accustomed to money as a replacement for love, may carry those expectations into adulthood, which could lead to similar habits when they become parents.

Money can Buy Happiness

We’ve all experienced that momentary sensation of pleasure when we get a nice bonus or when we splurge on something we’ve always wanted. But, if you’re honest about it, you’ll admit that the sensation was just momentary and nothing that would make us feel much differently about where we are in life. Even if you were able to string together a hundred of those moments, it wouldn’t necessarily make us any happier, because we would need more moments to keeps that feeling. When kids see their parents trying to buy happiness, it becomes a pattern that is easily mimicked, starting at a very young age. If parents can’t learn to appreciate the lifestyle they have by pursuing more, their kids are likely to follow course with no guarantee of increased happiness.

Not having Serious Goals

As young tots, children probably don’t have any sense of whether their parents have financial goals. Yet, at some point, we would like our children to understand the concept of setting goals and working to achieve them. Parents who do set financial goals, and back them up with actions, find it easier to transfer the concept to their children, largely because they actually believe in it. If we ask our child to set a goal and save his or her money to obtain it, they are much more likely to be successful when their parents talk about their own financial goals, and the importance of achieving them. When kids can see that their parents are serious about goals, planning and saving, they will find it a lot easier to emulate them than if they simply told the kids what they should do. It’s called “walking the talk.”

Watch Me and Learn

It’s scary to some parents just how smart and observant their children are – literal sponges that will soak up even the slightest detail in how we live our lives. Teaching children about money and imparting healthy habits about it starts with the parents own values, beliefs and habits. When raising children to meet the expectations we have for them, we first must be able to meet our own expectations for ourselves, because that is how our children will see us.

 

39,880 Reasons to Make Your 2018 IRA ContributionIRA money jar

Putting off, or not making a contribution to an IRA can be easy. There may be other uses for the funds that seem more urgent - a vacation, a down payment on a new car, new furniture or maybe just leaving the funds in a regular account to build some liquidity.

However, making that $5,500 contribution, and even making it now instead of next April, can make a large difference when you retire. Many of the benefits of IRAs are obvious - tax deferred earnings, potentially a tax deduction with a regular IRA and the permanent tax-free nature of a Roth IRA.

Two of the not-so-obvious benefits should not be overlooked:

  • Making IRA contributions forces you to save. Saving more automatically increases the amount you accumulate. Once this saving becomes a habit, you may not even notice you are doing it.
  • By contributing early and often, your IRA balance has the opportunity to grow even more.

The cost of missing one IRA contribution

The tax deferred compounding within an IRA allows your money to grow faster since you do not have to pay any taxes while the funds are in the IRA. Roth IRAs provide an even better result since distributions are not subject to tax - ever. Consider what missing just one $5,500 contribution can mean. Of course, what you earn on your IRA is unknown and if it is a regular IRA your tax bracket when you take funds out is unknown, but the cost of delaying just one year can be significant.

Listed below are various starting ages and their corresponding accumulated values at either 6% or 8%.
Starting Age Accumulated Value At Age 65
and Earning 6%
Accumulated Value At Age 65
and Earning 8%
30 (35 contributions) $612,891 $947,742
31 (34 contributions) $573,011 $872,447
35 (30 contributions) $434,820 $623,058
36 (29 contributions) $405,019 $571,813
40 (25 contributions) $301,755 $402,083
41 (24 contributions) $279,486 $367,206
45 (20 contributions) $202,321 $251,691
46 (19 contributions) $185,680 $227,326

Everyone's situation is different, there are no guarantees on what you can earn on funds within an IRA and your tax situation may suggest that consulting a qualified tax professional is advisable. However, just looking at this chart should demonstrate that consistently making IRA contributions makes sense. Furthermore, these numbers assume you only make contributions of $5,500 each year. The current tax laws provide for ability to make additional contributions beginning at age 50.

The cost of delaying to start contributing to your IRA can be significant. If you are age 30 and start contribution in 2018 instead of 2019 (and you earn 6% on your funds), you will have $39,880 more ($612,891 instead of $573,011) at age 65. Take advantage of the tax deferred compounding within the IRA and the higher limits to prepare for a financially secure retirement.

 


Searching for a Business Banking Relationship?

The Seven Questions a Business Banker is Never Asked…business meeting

The last time you ordered a meal through a drive-through window, did you peek in the bag to see if the order was correct? If something as basic as ordering a drive-through dinner frequently results in mixed outcomes, how much more likely are you to have significant frustrations from something much more complicated like establishing a business banking relationship?

One method to help avoid future complications is to understand a prospective bank’s service model through a series of focused questions. These questions can help you uncover what you and your management team can expect from a bank—and your banker—before selecting a new financial institution.

The business bankers at Waukesha State Bank have noted, through hundreds of customer interactions, that prospective clients tend to focus on three elements: interest rate, loan structure and loan covenants.
The implicit assumption is that every facet of banking is the same beyond that. However, banking models vary greatly from institution to institution. For example, almost universally, the regional and national banks have sought internal efficiency by centralizing key processes such as loan underwriting, approval, servicing, and documentation. This efficiency generally comes at the expense of less customization, less personal attention, and generally slower response times after the initial closing. However, these perceived “costs” don’t make that model wrong for companies that want the lowest possible interest rate and the fewest bank interactions. It really just depends on your situation and your expectations.

At Waukesha State Bank, our goal is to build a long-standing relationship with our customers. If you value the same, below are a few questions you should consider when interviewing a prospective bank:

  1. “Tell me about your decision making process. Where exactly, and by whom, are the decisions in the approval chain made? Who will structure my loan request, where will this occur, and how long will this process take? Can I customize my request?”
    Usually, it’s better if your business is physically near wherever the loan decisions are made. In today’s banking climate, for loans of less than $1 million, your loan proposal may be a one-size-fits-all approach drafted by a processing center in a distant city. This means there is little chance you can customize the loan to your specific circumstances. For loans larger than $1 million, the approval process is likely to be multi-tiered and require a chain of approvals from people in many different states. So, while perhaps the first decision maker on that chain is local the rest are not. If your business encounters a rough patch or needs a rapid answer, this approval model may not work well.

  2. “Tell me about the strengths and weaknesses of my loan request? In terms of the weaknesses, tell me why you find those weaknesses acceptable and how will you will address these soft spots when my loan request is presented to your decision makers.”
    It’s rare to get a loan request that doesn’t have any weaknesses. This probing question will help you determine how well this banker knows your business, your industry, and you. Also, any knowledgeable banker will know what proposed terms are likely to be changed during the underwriting and approval process. As such, the loan officer should articulately discuss where this might occur and why. This can help guard against over-promising.

  3. “Beyond providing credit and an attractive interest rate, tell me why I should bank with you?”
    For most small businesses, a tenured business banker should be able to provide fresh insight into their business and act as a sounding board. This question is useful to determine if your service expectations and communication style match those of the bank. Again, service models vary. Some banks employ a pure sales model in which your loan officer will move on after loan closing leaving you with a rotating series of new college graduates to look after you. Other banks employ a hunter/skinner model in which the banker will be with you for the life of the relationship and know your business intimately. Again, it boils down to your expectations: Which do you prefer?

  4. “I keep hearing banks are moving upstream to larger customers or even shedding whole lines of business and customers. Tell me why you want me as a customer.”
    This question can demonstrate how well you and your company fits with the bank. You should be able to determine whether you’re going to be a small fish in a big pond (or vice versa), as well as gain additional insight into the bank’s management metrics. Also, banks jump in and out of markets. You don’t want to find out in five years that your bank abandoned a market it was aggressively pursuing when you first met them.

  5. “In my business, like yours, customer service is important. Please tell me where my loan will be serviced, who will service it, who I will contact regarding servicing issues, and then the process of addressing servicing issues.”
    If you don’t enjoy hanging out on the phone for 30 minutes when there are even minor servicing issues, you may want to dig into the loan servicing process. Listen for the names of people to contact rather than 1-800 numbers, centers, or other cities.

  6. “Unfortunately, business is fraught with peril: recessions, slow spells, etc. In the unfortunate case where my business has a loss, breaks a covenant, or needs to discuss its obligations, who will I discuss this with and describe the general process?”
    Remember the Great Recession? This is probably the toughest question, but it’s worth asking. You’re trying to determine if this is a bank that will want to exit your business at the first sign of trouble, or if they will stick with you—and for how long: one quarter, two quarters, a year or two? You’re going to need to drill deep with this question, as your banker may avoid a direct answer if he or she is not comfortable with the bank’s service model. 

  7. “Tell me, what is your personal value-proposition as a banker?”
    This is a question that will help you determine how deeply committed your prospective banker is to you and your business. You’d hope that no matter what career we are in that we would all have a ready-answer to this question! Also, consider the longevity of your banker (ask them or look them up on LinkedIn). Do they move every three years, have they been in this line of work for some period of time, do they have a specialty, etc.?

 

Top 5 Financial Mistakes People Makewoman stressed with a computer

The financial events of the last decade brought hardship to people of all incomes and financial status. But, the ones hardest hit were those who weren’t prepared. Some may never recover. Yes, you may have your whole life ahead of you, but if you could avoid the mistakes others have made, you could be assured of making it a good life.

Living without a Budget: The number one reason why so many people of all ages are in financial trouble today is the failure to live within their means. Budgeting is nothing more than a habit, so the earlier you can start, the easier it will be to maintain as life grows more complex. Setting a strict budget and accounting for each dollar of cash flow will ensure that you not only have the means to live, but also to have the surplus to spend frivolously.

Not having a rainy day fund: Life happens, and the unexpected can be costly. Whether it’s a car repair, a medical expense, a family emergency, or the loss of a job, something is bound to happen. Your budget should allow for setting aside a fixed amount - $10 to $100 - each month into an emergency fund that is only to be used for, guess what? Emergencies!

Mismanaging credit: Spending more than you have budgeted for and then making minimum payments on your credit card is the path to insolvency. Building good credit is one of the most important things you do financially. Without it you can’t buy a car or a house, at least on reasonable terms, and you will have difficulty getting certain jobs.

Not having financial goals: It is never too early to start planning for retirement, but your financial future will also be muddled with plans to buy a house, to start a family, to send kids to college, etc. Setting targeted goals early will actually simplify your life because you can shoot for one at a time.

Not saving early or often: If, at the age of 25, you start setting aside $100 per week earning an average of 5% until you are age 65, you will have nearly $700,000. If you wait until you are 40 to start saving, it would require $1,100 a month to accumulate the same amount. Time is a wasting asset – you’ll never get it back. The sooner you can set goals and begin saving towards them, the less it will cost you to achieve them.

 

The Many Benefits of Online Bill Payman using a computer mouse

Online Bill Pay is a service provided by many banks as a part of Online Banking. Online Bill Pay can be used to pay nearly any bill, and the bank sends payments either electronically or by check using funds from your account. If you're not using the Online Bill Pay service you're missing out on many benefits, including saving time, saving money, decreasing clutter, and improving your financial management.

 
Saving Time

Setting up a payment through Online Bill Pay is quick and easy. You can usually search for a biller and simply add a payment for them. Many people visit numerous websites with separate logins to pay all of their bills, but with Online Bill Pay you can save that time by paying all of your bills from one website. If you're in the habit of paying bills by mail, you can also eliminate the time it takes to prepare and mail checks.

Saving Money

You can also save money with Online Bill Pay by eliminating the checks and stamps associated with traditional bill payments. Plus, Online Bill Pay is free^ for Advantage Plus and Value Club Checking customers. For other checking account customers there are no monthly fees or per transaction fees if the account is set up for Paperless Statements. (If the account is not set up for Paperless Statements, there is a monthly fee of $5.95).

Decreasing Clutter

Many companies offer electronic bills through Online Bill Pay. These bills can replace traditional paper ones. You can decrease the amount of mail you receive and paper that you have to handle by switching to electronic billing. You'll receive a notification when your electronic bill arrives so that you can review it and take action if needed.

Improving Your Financial Management

Online Bill Pay also puts you in control of your finances. You decide when your money leaves your account and you can set up recurring payments giving you the peace of mind that your bills will be paid on time. Payment amounts can be changed and payments can be cancelled before they are sent. Furthermore, because Online Bill Pay is integrated with Online Banking, you can get a clearer picture of your finances when you pay your bills through Online Bill Pay. All of these features translate into better management of your finances.

Sign up for Online Bill Pay today to save time and money, decrease clutter, and improve your financial management. 

For current VaultLink Online Banking users, Online Bill Pay sign up is easy! Simply log into your VaultLink Online account, select Bill Payment and follow the instructions. You will be instantly enrolled in Online Bill Pay. If you aren’t already using VaultLink Online Banking, click here to enroll

 

^For Advantage Plus, Value Club and other accounts with Paperless statements, there is an inactivity fee of $3.00 per month after 60 days with no Bill Pay transactions.

 

Establishing Good Financial Habitsgirl holding smiling piggy bank

We all tend to develop habits that provide a rhythm or structure to our daily lives. Once these habits are developed, they can be hard to break. Building good financial habits can provide a rhythm, or sense of control, for your financial life. Here are ten good financial habits that can help you build a sound financial foundation and help you reach all your financial goals:

Good Financial Habits
  1. Make sure your financial information and records are organized. Knowing where important financial information is located and having a system for paying your monthly bills will save time and aggravation.
  2. Use direct deposit for your paycheck. This saves time and gets you money working for you faster. It is also safer.
  3. Use automated savings plans to save for near term purchases and long term financial goals. This involves having the bank or your employer transfer a set amount each month into your savings account to be available for a vacation or a major purchase. It also includes participating in your employer's retirement plan to save for your retirement.
  4. Prepare a household spending worksheet. The process of preparing your first one will help you identify potential areas for reducing expenses. Analyzing your spending on a regular basis (perhaps annually) will help you monitor your spending and develop savings habits.
  5. Prepare a personal balance sheet periodically. Having a current, or relatively current, personal balance sheet can be handy when you are considering applying for a loan. Over time, you will be able to monitor your progress toward your long term financial goals.
  6. Reconcile your checking account monthly. This avoids bouncing checks and fees that may be charged if your balance is too low. It is much easier to do this every month than to skip a month or two and then have to deal with multiple statements.
  7. Review all your bills and statements as soon as you receive them. Even if you are not going to pay the bills immediately when you receive them, by reviewing your bills and statements you can identify and correct any errors.
  8. Make credit card payments promptly and pay more than the minimum. Avoid late payment fees and reduce the amount of interest you may owe on unpaid balances by making sure your payments arrive before the due date. Paying only the minimum will cost you more interest and it will take much longer to pay off the balance.
  9. Be sensitive to fees. Some fees cannot be avoided, but choosing to walk an extra block to use an ATM that does not charge a fee instead of using an ATM outside your network can be worth the effort. Also, be sure to understand any fees that may be charged on your checking or savings accounts based on minimum balances or excess transactions. There is no sense in paying fees if you do not have to.
  10. Learn more about handling your finances. The more you know, the easier handling your finances will seem. Try to read the personal finance columns in newspapers or perhaps even subscribe to a personal finance magazine.

Your habit of a morning coffee may be a good start to your day. A few good financial habits can be the start of a good financial life.

 

How Your Bank Works for Your Communitypiggy bank surrounded by community

Across the country, banks play a critical role in growing the economy by lending money to businesses and consumers. But what about in our local communities? Banks have a direct impact there, too. Here are four ways Waukesha State Bank is helping our communities grow and prosper.

One: We support the local economy. When you deposit money with Waukesha State Bank, we then use those deposits to make loans to local businesses and/or your neighbors. Whether it's funding a new or expanding business in your city or helping someone nearby buy a new house or vehicle, you know your money is going right back into your local economy.

Two: We create jobs. It takes a village of people to run a bank. Most consumers only see a few tellers, a lender or two, and a bank manager when they visit one of our offices, but there are many more people working behind the scenes. Loan processors and underwriters, IT and security staff, marketing experts, human resources professionals… The list goes on and on! And that's just the people employed by the bank itself. When you add to the tally all of the individuals who get work because of the loans banks make (think of all the engineers, construction workers, landscapers, and interior designers who are involved in creating a new office building, for example), the number employed because of your local bank gets even bigger!

Three: We're involved in the community. Waukesha State Bank is built on the mission of serving the community. In fact, our mission statement has been the same since our founding in 1944:

  • First, serve the community;
  • Second, provide for the employees; and
  • Third, reward the stockholders.

Officers and employees alike voluntarily participate in a wide variety of community activities and strive to do an outstanding job of improving and investing in the communities in which we do business. Waukesha State Bank is a community bank not only in words, but also in actions. And because of this, our communities remain strong.

Each year we provide numerous non-profits, schools, churches, civic groups and other community-based organizations with support in a variety of ways—from sponsorships and silent auction donations, to free ticket printing, community notes ads in local newspapers, employee volunteers and more. In the last five years alone, we sponsored, donated and/or contributed over $1.25 million to nearly 400 different non-profit organizations, and in 2018 our employees volunteered 4,684 hours to Wisconsin-based charitable organizations and sat on 44 non-profit boards. It is with great pride that Waukesha State Bank and our employees serve our community-based groups through our daily work, volunteer time and financial resources.

Four: We're relationship-based. Unlike getting a loan through an online lender where all you interact with is a computer program, when you walk into Waukesha State Bank you'll be greeted by a familiar face, or even by name. Because we're based right here in the community and employ people you know (and who know you), we excel at building relationships with our customers. Those deep connections lead to collaboration between customers and bankers.

Banking with a local institution has many other benefits for both you and your community. If you have any questions about how Waukesha State Bank in contributing to our local communities, feel free to reach out.

 

Homebuying Tips for First-Timerscouple buying their first house

Interest rates are still historically low, but rising. The housing market is strong. The economy is on the upswing… You've decided now's the time: you're going to buy your first house. It can be an intimidating process, so here are a few tips to help your transition from renter to owner go smoothly:

1: Do Your Research

The first—and most crucial—step in home buying is to determine how much you're able to spend. That includes knowing how much of your savings you're willing to apply to the down payment and how much you can afford each month for your mortgage payment. In general, housing costs (including property taxes, utilities, maintenance, and insurance) should not be more than 28 percent of your pretax income. Another good baseline is to make sure your mortgage is less than five times your annual income. So, if you make $45,000/year, shoot for a mortgage less than $225,000.

2: Build a Great Team

Purchasing a house isn't a one-person job; it takes a team. Assemble a group of experts you trust to work with your best interests in mind. Find a real estate agent and a mortgage lender you get along with and trust to give you good advice. Often, if you find one, they'll recommend the other, since professionals in these fields work with one another frequently.

3: Get Pre-Approved

Loan pre-approval is a free service at most banks and will boost your credibility with real estate agents and sellers because it shows you're able to get financing and are serious about buying a house. It will also make the process of applying for your mortgage faster, especially if you obtain the loan from the same bank that pre-approved you for credit. First, review your credit score and clear up any errors you find. Then, go to your bank (or online) and get pre-approved for the largest mortgage loan you can; keep in mind you probably won't end up signing a mortgage for this "stretch" amount, but it will give you wiggle room while you're house hunting.

4: Ask Questions

Buying a house is the most significant financial commitment most consumers ever make, and it can also be an emotional, stress-inducing process. Asking questions—no matter how silly you think they are—is a simple way to reduce some of that stress. Not sure what the difference is between a fixed-rate loan and an ARM? Ask! Don't know how long it will take to close? Ask! Especially when it comes time to sign the final documents, be sure to read everything and ask for clarification on anything you find confusing. That awesome team you assembled will help you understand what you're committing to.

 

Saving on Auto Finance Costsdad with teen son buying a car

With most car purchases, the biggest contributor to the total cost of ownership is the financing, especially if you consider the fact that a car is a depreciating asset and has a finite useful life. So, if you want to keep your total cost of ownership to a minimum, you need to find the least expensive way to pay for your car. Cash would be best, of course, but if you have to finance - and most people do - it's important to thoroughly understand the ins-and-outs of auto financing, what to look for, and what to avoid.

 

Go Big on Your Down Payment

The biggest mistake people make when buying a car is to try to finance it with as small of a down payment as possible. First, if you don't have the money for a sizable down payment, then you're probably not financially prepared to buy a car. Second, with a minimal down payment and the speed at which new cars depreciate, you are very likely to be upside down in your car the minute you drive it off the lot. It's far less expensive to save for a few extra months to accumulate a bigger down payment than it is to finance the difference over the period of five years. What's a sizable down payment? As big as you can possibly muster; but, it should be no less than 20 percent.

Avoid Auto Dealer Financing

If there was just one key piece of advice car buyers need to heed it would be don't succumb to dealer financing. Car dealers have crunched the numbers in such a way that, whether you are offered zero percent financing, or a cash rebate, they will always come out way ahead. Nothing puts you into a better bargaining position than cash. Before walking onto the car lot, be sure to have your cash already lined up.

Go to the bank

Banks are still the best source of auto financing, offering competitive loan rates and terms. As with any type of financing, the better your credit standing is, then the better your terms will be. In many cases, you can secure an auto loan the same day you apply.

Tap your equity

Some financial planners will question the wisdom of borrowing from your home's equity for purchasing a depreciating asset such as a car. But if you simply consider the dollars and cents, a home equity line of credit will usually provide much cheaper access to money for a car purchase. Presently, HELOC rates are generally lower than auto financing rates. Plus, the interest expense of a HELOC may be tax deductible (always seek the guidance of a tax professional on such issues). The downside of a HELOC is that it's a variable rate and the possibility exists that it could increase.
Additionally, because HELOCs usually only require interest payments, there is the temptation to simply pay the minimum interest instead of paying down the portion of debt attributable to the car. A HELOC really only makes sense if you have the discipline to pay down the auto debt within a three-year period. Otherwise it could end up costing you as much or more than any other financing method.

Never Charge Your Down Payment to Your Credit Card

Unless you absolutely, positively plan on paying it off immediately, putting a car down payment or even a mortgage down payment on a credit card completely goes against the purpose of the down payment, which is to increase the equity of your asset. With a car, it's a depreciating asset, so you are likely to be upside-down in your equity the minute you drive off the lot. And, if you don't have the down payment available in cash, it's just foolish to charge it. The car will wind up costing you much more than you anticipated which could put you in a deep hole for a long-time to come.

Watch Out for Car Financing Scams

�If you are unable to qualify for an auto loan through regular channels, you definitely should avoid any type of financing schemes that smells like the following:

  • Loan/Lease Payoff Offer: This is a very common offer made by dealers of all types. They will pay off your loan or lease "no matter how much you owe." At first blush it seems like a very generous offer; however, it is nothing more than a manipulation of the numbers that makes it appear that your current loan disappears. In reality they have simply rolled your loan balance into a new loan. Because the new loan is amortized over five or six years, it's hard to notice; however, in most cases, buyers drive off the lot already upside down in their new car loan.
  • Yo-Yo Loans: You can be victimized by this scam even with a "legitimate" car dealer. It generally targets people with poor to fair credit who are most likely to accept whatever terms a dealer is willing to give them. When a deal has been made on a car purchase, the finance person sees that your credit is questionable; yet, you are still allowed to drive off the lot with the car. Why? Because he knows that the final terms of the purchase are not final until the loan is approved, and he has your down payment and/or trade-in. A couple of days later you receive a call from the dealer telling you that your loan application was declined and you are asked to either return the car or sign a new loan document with less favorable terms, i.e. higher interest rate. If you choose to return the car, chances are you won't get back your down payment or your trade-in.
  • Buy Here, Pay Here Dealers: These dealers know that their buyer prospects can't otherwise qualify for a car loan, so, they entice them with easy financing. In doing so, they also mark up their prices significantly. In most cases, the dealer requires that the payments be delivered to the lot each month, and, because nearly a third of these buyers can't maintain the stiff payments, the dealer profits even further by repossessing the car and reselling it.

For most people, buying a car is the second biggest purchase they will make in their lives, which is why it is so important to keep the cost of ownership down as much as possible. If you have to finance your purchase, every effort should be made to understand how auto financing works as well as the pitfalls that can turn your car buying experience into a financial nightmare.

 

The Best Time to Buy a Car for the Biggest Savings New car

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the best time to buy a new car – the best day of the month, the best month of the year, even the best hour of the day. The consensus seems to be that buying a car near the end of the month is the best time because the sales people are anxious to meet their sales quotas. While that is true, there’s more to it than that, and understanding what really motivates the car dealers can help strengthen your negotiating position. Sales quotas are important to the sales people, but bonuses are crucial to the car dealers.

Bonuses, such as cash and paid vacations are offered by the car manufacturer when the dealer exceeds a certain sales volume each month. It could mean the difference of tens of thousands of dollars to the dealer. A dealer could be right at the bonus threshold near the end of the month and then be willing to move cars off the lot at most any cost because they will make up their lost margin through the bonus. Bonuses are not offered every month, but the months that they are sure to be offered are in the fall when the manufacturers are anxious to get their new models into inventory. The month of October seems to be the sweet spot for bonus and inventory clearing activity. And, you thought you were too old for “trick or treat.”

 

Savings Strategies savings jar with coins

This biggest misconception about saving money is that many people think it's something you do at the end of the month with what you have left over after all of your expenses. The truth is, nobody ever has leftover money. There's always something to spend it on. The better way to think about saving is as something you do first, before you spend anything. This is often called the "pay yourself first" method. Here are a couple of strategies for paying yourself first to build up your savings.

Create a budget. Perhaps the most important "save first" technique is to figure out how much you can afford to put away each month. Add up all of your essential expenses for the month (bills, loan payments, etc.) and then subtract that amount from your total income. The bottom number tells you how much money you don't need to spend each month. Use that number to decide on the amount you want to "pay yourself" at the beginning of each month. Remember: Don't try to save every penny available. Leave yourself some wiggle room by only committing to saving half or a third of that bottom number.

Make it automatic. Many Americans with a savings account also have a checking account, and vice versa. Link your accounts together and set up an automatic transfer from checking to savings on the day of or the day after your payday. That way, the money you want to save will never appear in your checking account, making it easier to avoid the temptation to spend. Start small, with amounts in the $25 - $50 range, then gradually build it to $100 - $150 as you find ways to cut your spending each month.

Use direct deposit. If you're not already taking advantage of paycheck deductions through your employer, start as soon as possible. Many employers offer direct deposit to their employees, and one option is to earmark a portion of each paycheck for a savings account, CD, or IRA. Even if you only save $25 each paycheck this way, that money will go directly into your savings fund.

Consider a CD. No, not the thing "old people" used to play music on back in the days before iPods and smartphones… Certificate of Deposit accounts are federally insured (so you cannot lose the money, even if the financial institution is sold or fails) and mature after a specific period of time (usually one month to five years). Not only is it more difficult to withdraw funds from these accounts, most CDs earn much higher interest rates than savings accounts. They can be a great tool if you find yourself dipping into your savings account on a regular basis for unnecessary expenses.

To find the best way for you to save, talk to your local banker. They'll be able to set you up with the right combination of financial products to help you reach your savings goal, whether it's early retirement or next year's vacation.

 

Understanding Phishing digital security shield

Put simply, phishing refers to the act of trying to get personal information under false pretenses. Phishers who initiate these attacks may try to get user names, passwords, bank account information, credit card details, and more from their victims ultimately resulting in identity theft.

Phishing attacks usually occur through an e-mail that looks like it’s from a legitimate source. The e-mail (or website or phone call) will appear to be coming from a place the victim recognizes, like their bank, credit card company, or even a social network site. Thinking the source is legitimate, the victim will then answer questions or enter information that gives the phishers their personal details.

The crude, poorly formatted phishing emails of a few years ago have largely been replaced with professionally designed phishing attacks that are hard to distinguish from legitimate messages without careful examination.
In a new variation known as “spear-phishing,” hackers will research a target — usually a business executive or someone with a high net worth — to learn personal details or the names of connections to help legitimize their attack messages. Several financial executives, for instance, have been fooled by spear-phishing attacks that purported to be urgent requests from those executives’ bosses.

Understanding that these types of attacks occur allows you to be on the lookout for them. Here are a few specific tips for recognizing a phishing attempt:

  • Legitimate businesses or financial institutions will rarely ask you for your personal information by e-mail.
  • Phishers often use scare tactics and emotional language to intimidate their victims into responding. For example, “you need to respond now or we will put your account on hold.”
  • Phishing e-mails often have spelling and grammar mistakes. While reputable organizations proofread carefully, phishers do not.
  • Links in phishing e-mails may be not quite right. For example, an O being replaced with a zero or additional text at the beginning or end. Before you click on a link, hover over the text to see where it is pointing.

If you think you’ve received an e-mail that’s an attempt to get your information, you could just delete it.
However, if you’re concerned that it could be legitimate, your best option is to contact the company directly through other means. For example, if you receive an e-mail that looks like it’s from your bank, but you’re not sure, call the number on your statement. That way you’ll be sure the person on the other end is who they say they are. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your security.

 

Cybersecuritycybersecurity

The number of consumers and companies affected by cybercrimes continues to increase every year. October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month and is the perfect time to learn how to better protect yourself. The number one protection against cybercrime is an informed consumer.

#1: Use More Than One Password

Many people use the same password for multiple accounts, which means that if your credentials are stolen for one account all your accounts are in jeopardy. Do you really want to give criminals access to your bank account because you used the same credentials for your free online music account?

#2: Use Stronger Passwords

No matter how secure a financial institution or shopping website may be, if your password is easy to guess you are still at risk of fraud. Do not use your name, birthday or pet's name, as this information is readily available to many people, especially if you post it on social media. The best passwords are often derived from an entire phrase, rather than a single word, and incorporate letters, numbers and special characters. For example, the song lyric "Don't worry; be happy" can be transformed into this password: d0ntwry_Bhpy.

#3: Beware of phishing scams

The dangerous thing about phishing scams is they don't rely on weak website or network security. Instead, they attempt to crack the human firewall: you. Phishing scams attempt to obtain personal information or plant a virus or malware on your device by sending a fake email requesting that information, or instructing the recipient to click a link in order to reset their account.

Never give out your personal information over the Internet, phone, or via text message unless you know exactly who you are dealing with. If you receive a suspicious email from a business or charity and you're not sure if it's legitimate, close the email, open a new browser, visit their official website and contact them through their customer service. There is often an increase in phishing scam attempts after heavily publicized security breaches (pretending to offer account security) or natural disasters (fake charities), so be especially on guard in those situations.

#4: Avoid using public Wi-Fi to Buy

If you frequently shop online, keep in mind that any purchases made via the web require transmitting your credit card and/or bank account information over the Internet. Using a public Wi-Fi connection to do so puts that sensitive information at risk. Hackers can tap into unsecured Wi-Fi connections at hotspots like coffee shops and airport terminals to capture that information. If you're using a wireless connection to shop, be sure that it requires a password or WEP key. Websites that have additional security protections have https:// instead of http:// on all pages of the site.

#5: Monitor Your Credit Report

Your credit score affects many aspects of your life, including interest rates on large purchases, obtaining loans, and even renting an apartment. Make sure you check your credit report three times per year (one for each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). You can do so for free by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. Watch for unauthorized accounts, loans or purchases because they will damage your credit and signal that your identity may have been stolen. If you find inaccuracies in your report, you can dispute those errors online, by mail or over the phone by contacting the credit bureau where you found the inaccurate report (contact information will be on the report itself).

#6: Be careful what you throw away

Dumpster diving doesn't just apply to paper statements and discarded credit cards anymore. Before you recycle or donate old cellphones or computers, be sure to remove any personal and financial information. For computers, the best way to do this is to use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. For mobile devices, check the owner's manual, service provider website, or device manufacturer's website for information on how to permanently delete information. In addition, remove the SIM card from the device.

#7: Take Action

If you hear about a data breach or other fraud that might possibly affect your account, be proactive and change any related passwords. This is especially critical if you use the same password on multiple accounts (which you should avoid doing anyway). If you notice suspicious charges on your credit card or transfers from your banking account, contact your bank right away to notify them of the issue. They may put a freeze on the account to prevent further fraud, but this will keep the criminals from emptying your account.

 

Preparing for Major Financial Eventsstreet sign

Many life events are directly related to (or cause) financial events that are faced at the same time. Preparing for the financial aspects of these events can help to reduce the stress that often accompanies major changes.

 

Remodeling your home or making major repairs. Home equity loans have become a major source of funds used when making improvements to homes. The application process is usually easy and inexpensive with funds available when needed. This avoids paying interest on funds you don't need. Home equity loans usually have attractive interest rates and the interest may be tax-deductible.* If you are considering a major home improvement, you may want to investigate this source of funds.

Buying a home. Buying a first or new home can be one of the largest financial transactions of your life. Investigating the mortgage options before you start looking at homes can help you focus on a home you can afford and help keep you focused on the home selection and purchase negotiation parts of the process. You should also talk to a mortgage lender to get pre-approved, which can make your offer more attractive to the seller.

Changing jobs. It is seldom easy to change employers. New responsibilities, new co-workers and a new environment can be stressful. In addition, you will probably get a distribution from your old employer's retirement plan. Once you get that distribution, you have important decisions to make. You must move the funds into another qualified plan or IRA within 60 days to avoid paying taxes on the distribution. You must also make investment decisions. Retirement plan distributions are often the largest single sum an individual ever has to invest at one time. Sometimes, a new employer's plan can accept transfers as well. If changing jobs is in your near-term future, investigate your options early to make the transition less stressful.

Retirement. After a career, venturing into retirement brings many changes. Along with Social Security benefits, your existing assets must pay for a major portion of your living expenses. Generally speaking, your living expenses will probably fall somewhat, perhaps by 20% to 30%. You will probably want to modify your investment strategies to be more conservative. While you are young and still accumulating assets, it can be easier to absorb a fall in the value of your portfolio because you have time to recoup your losses. During retirement, a significant fall in your portfolio can be troubling. You may want to consider a more conservative asset allocation with more of your funds in cash and shorter-term fixed income investments. It's best to speak with a financial advisor to determine how retiring will affect your unique financial situation.

Funding a child's college education. The cost of a four-year college education is expensive. Annual college costs at private out-of-state institutions can run over $30,000. Even state sponsored schools can be at least half that amount. Paying those college bills can be tough if you do not start saving early. Make time your ally by establishing a regular savings program and taking advantage of some of the new tax-advantaged programs like Education IRAs and Section 529 Plans. 

 

*Consult your tax advisor to see how this may apply to your situation.

 

Building an Emergency Fundpiggy bank sheltered by umbrella

Building an emergency fund is an important step in reducing financial stress for many households. In general, experts recommend having at least three months of living expenses saved in your emergency fund. Be sure to include all bills (such as mortgage, utilities, and loans) and expenses such as groceries, gas, and childcare in your calculation. Now that you have a number to target, how do you reach that savings goal?

 

This biggest misconception about saving money is that many people think it’s something you do at the end of the month with what you have left over after all of your expenses. The truth is, nobody ever has leftover money. There’s always something to spend it on. The better way to think about saving is as something you do first, before you spend anything. This is often called the “pay yourself first” method. Here are a couple of strategies to successfully build your emergency fund.

Create a budget. Perhaps the most important “save first” technique is to figure out how much you can afford to put away each month. Add up all of your essential expenses for the month (bills, loan payments, etc.) and then subtract that amount from your total income. The bottom number tells you how much money you don’t need to spend each month. Use that number to decide on the amount you want to “pay yourself” at the beginning of each month. Remember: Don’t try to save every penny available. Leave yourself some wiggle room by only committing to saving half or a third of that bottom number.

Make it automatic. Many Americans with a savings account also have a checking account, and vice versa. Link your accounts together and set up an automatic transfer from checking to savings on the day of or the day after your payday. That way, the money you want to save will never appear in your checking account, making it easier to avoid the temptation to spend. Start small, with amounts in the $25 - $50 range, then gradually build it to $100 - $150 as you find ways to cut your spending each month.

Use direct deposit. If you’re not already taking advantage of paycheck deductions through your employer, start as soon as possible. Many employers offer direct deposit to their employees, and one option is to earmark a portion of each paycheck for a savings account. Even if you only save $25 each paycheck this way, that money will go directly into your savings fund.

To find the best way for you to save, talk to your local banker. They’ll be able to set you up with the right combination of financial products to help you reach your savings goal, whether it’s an emergency fund or next year’s vacation.

 

 

Should You Refinance Your Home Mortgage?refinance

Housing costs are one of the largest components of most household budgets. With interest rates changing so frequently, you should periodically determine whether refinancing at current interest rates would save you money.

 

To determine whether you should consider refinancing, you need to compare the costs of obtaining a new mortgage with the savings you could enjoy with a reduced interest rate. You may also want to consider refinancing to a different type of mortgage, such as switching from a 5-year balloon to a 15-year fixed rate mortgage.

For example, if refinancing your mortgage will save you $200 a month but cost $2,000 in fees, it would take you 10 months to recuperate those costs. That's great for certain situations, like if still have a few years left on your loan, but may not make sense in others. A mortgage lender can help you figure out what is best for you.

Other considerations

When reviewing the feasibility of refinancing, you may also wish to consider refinancing a larger or smaller amount than the current balance of your mortgage. If you have excess funds available and believe you will have a hard time earning a return greater than the mortgage rate, you may want to pay down your mortgage and get a new mortgage that is smaller. If you have other liquidity needs, you may want to refinance a larger amount to free up some of the equity in your home.

Under the new tax law, mortgage interest is tax deductible up to a $750,000 balance if you itemize your deductions on your tax return. Consult your tax advisor to see how this may apply to your situation.

Final thoughts

No interest rate environment lasts forever. Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball that will tell you when rates have reached their lowest level. Acting now to evaluate whether refinancing now makes economic sense and evaluating the type of mortgage you want can help you be in control of one of your largest household expenses.

 

 

How to Avoid Tax-Related Identity Theftidentity theft

You know that being a consumer in the 21st century puts you at a greater risk of having your identity stolen by hackers. But what you may not know is that you could also have your identity stolen and used against you at tax time. Though the Internal Revenue Service noted in March 2019 that there has been a decline in tax-related identity theft in recent years, it remains among the agency’s Dirty Dozen list of tax scams and more than warrants your caution and awareness.

 

What is tax-related identity theft?
According to the IRS, tax-related identity theft is what takes place when your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is stolen for the purposes of filing a fraudulent tax return. In essence, the criminal will file your tax return for you for the purposes of taking your tax refund. This somewhat less common form of identity theft is difficult to track until it’s too late. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you likely won’t know that you’re a victim until you’ve received a letter from the IRS or have your tax return rejected.

What can you do to prevent it?
According to the IRS, there are a few steps that you can take to make sure that you are not a victim of tax-related identity fraud. Because hackers can learn your Social Security number when you e-file your taxes or fill out other sensitive documents online, its imperative that you have up-to-date anti-virus software and a functioning firewall on your personal computer and mobile devices. It’s also important that you maintain strong passwords — follow the password phrase methodology while using a mix of lowercase and capital letters, numbers and special characters — and encrypt important documents.

Key to ensuring that your sensitive information is not stolen is the ability to recognize and avoid scams. This, the IRS notes, includes phishing emails with suspicious links and attachments and threatening calls from people claiming to represent financial institutions or government agencies. You should never give out your Social Security information to an unknown party even if they claim to be calling on behalf of the IRS or the bank.

It’s just as important to make sure that you are protecting yourself physically from becoming a victim of tax-related identity theft. This includes not walking around with your Social Security card on a regular basis and making sure that any documents with your Social Security number are either safely stored or properly disposed of.

What to do if you become a victim
If you are the victim of any kind of identity theft, contact our Customer Service Center at (262) 549-8500 immediately to notify us of fraudulent activity so we can take the appropriate precautions with your bank accounts. In addition, the IRS also recommends that you file a complaint with the FTC at https://identitytheft.gov and place a fraud alert on your credit records through one of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. You should also contact your financial institution to notify them of fraudulent activity.

If your Social Security number is stolen and you are the victim of tax-related identity theft, contact the IRS as instructed and complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. You can also contact the IRS for special assistance at 1-800-908-4490.

Identity theft of any kind is an unfortunate reality for all of us, but being forewarned and forearmed can help make the difference when it comes to effectively responding and recovering if you become a victim. Take care to protect your information and you will minimize your risk of becoming part of a growing statistic.

 

 

New House vs. Home Improvementscontractor with couple and blueprints

Sometimes it’s hard not to be tempted by the greener grass of a new home, especially if your home isn’t exactly how you want it to look or function. But the idea of putting your house on the market and leaving your beloved neighborhood behind breaks your heart. You’re at a real estate crossroads — something has to change, but is it better to buy a new house or renovate your current address?

 

New house benefits
A new house can be the answer to your current home’s woes. Perhaps you need more space for your growing family or less square footage now that the kids have flown the nest. Or, the location of your home isn’t the retreat you’ve dreamed of, and a house in a quieter neighborhood or with incredible views will better fulfill your wish list.

New house negatives
The cost of buying a home goes well beyond the listing price. Realtor and title fees, closing and moving costs and money you’ll have to shell out for repairs and renovations to your current home before you list it on the market can add up quickly, obliterating your budget.

“The cost of moving even a short distance can climb quickly — north of $10,000 — if you’re hiring full-service movers, and it can still reach above $1,000 for just a moving van rental. Especially if you’re expecting a modest net profit on your house, the additional cost to relocate may not be worth it,” according to U.S. News & World Report Real Estate editor Devon Thorsby.

Is the market favorable? Whether it’s a seller’s market versus a buyer’s market could impact how long it takes your home to sell.

Home improvement pros
Whether you’ve been in your house for a year or 20, you’ve made memories and attachments to your current home. If you remodel, you won’t have to leave your emotional connections behind or disrupt your day-to-day routine. A new house might not seem that great after all if it adds significant time to your daily commute or means your kids have to switch schools. A home improvement project you control means the results will be exactly what you want. Yes, you might like the master suite in a new house, but you can love the one you design yourself in your current home.

“You may want an open floor plan between the kitchen and family room to make it easier for the family to hang out, for example. Or, if you’re retired, your renovations may focus on updates that help you age in place so you can stay in your home longer,” writes Thorsby.

Home improvement cons
Over-improving your home can backfire if you price yourself out of your neighborhood. Although you might have the best house on the block, buyers down the road may not be willing to pay for the improvements, and you won’t see a return on your investment. Home improvement projects, whether big or small, can disrupt your daily life — you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to live in a construction zone.

Both buying and renovating will cost you time, money and emotional energy. Take a good look around at what you have and be honest about what you need to determine if you should stay or go.

If you ever have any questions about which option is best for you financially, give our friendly mortgage lenders a call at (262) 549-8563, or stop in and visit with them at any of our offices throughout Waukesha County. They can take a look at your unique situation and give you a better idea of which option best suits your needs.

 

 

How to Give Back to Your Community in the New Yearworld surrounded by joined hands

The excitement of the New Year has come and gone, and while some New Year's resolutions have already been set to the side like old magazines, there is still plenty of time to look ahead and decide what you hope to accomplish this year. Why not take this time, while we're still in the beginning of the year, and do something to help make your community a better place?

 

Donate your time
There are countless ways to use your free time to help others. Most cities operate homeless shelters and soup kitchens, both of which are almost definitely in need of volunteers. Similarly, even if the holidays are past, the beginning of a new year can be a very lonely time for people whose families are away. Consider spending some time visiting with senior citizens in a senior center or hospice. Interacting with someone other than a doctor for even a few hours a week can raise spirits and give the elderly something to look forward to. Additionally, you might get to hear some incredible stories from their lives.

It’s not just people that could benefit from a little bit of help in 2020. Animal shelters are always looking for volunteers to help care for abandoned pets, run adoption events, and assist any visitors. You can also sign up to be a part of a local wildlife preservation group, parks and recreation board, or environmental conservation organization. If you’re looking for something a bit less structured, you can always take it upon yourself to pick up garbage on the side of the road or in public spaces.

Or, perhaps your workplace offers volunteer opportunities. At Waukesha State Bank, our employee volunteer group, Helping Hearts, coordinates these types of activities for bank employees.

Donate your money
Between work, family, and other obligations, you may not have the time to volunteer at a shelter or clean up your city. Thankfully, there are countless nonprofit organizations and national causes that accept charitable donations so they can fund work on the issues you care about. You can donate money to a museum, local arts group, women’s shelter, or virtually anything else. The other major benefit to contributing money rather than time is that the cause you support doesn’t have to be local. You can contribute to cancer research, humanitarian efforts overseas, and disaster relief anywhere in the world. The result may not be as immediately noticeable, but you’re still helping to make the global community better for everyone.

Spread the word
If you find yourself strapped for both time and money, you may feel like you have nothing to offer, but you do. Spreading information to the far reaches of the globe has never been as easy as it is today, and you can use that enormous network to raise awareness of a cause you feel passionate about. People can’t support a movement or charity if they haven’t heard of it, so by telling the world about a way they can help to make a difference, you are making a difference too.

Volunteering time, donating money, and raising awareness can have a real, tangible effect on your community and the world itself. Regardless of how you do it, make 2020 the year about giving back to your community and making the world a better place.

 

Financial Skills for Young Adultsgirl with fan of cash

The real world is expensive, and if young adults lack financial aptitude, they will struggle not only fiscally, but emotionally as well. That’s why you need to acquire financial skills as you make your way through college, navigate your first job and learn to save for the years to come.

 

College-bound
College is often the first time you will experience a real sense of freedom. Gone are the days of a traditional school schedule with parents and teachers standing over your shoulder to make sure you study, eat and complete your assignments. College may also be the first time you are faced with managing your own money to cover bills, school expenses and inevitable loan payments. To help keep you from failing Personal Finance 101, Shelley Elmblad, writing for The Balance, recommends establishing a budget. Record income from sources such as part-time job, student loans, money from parents, grants, savings accounts and scholarships. Then record expenses: things such as books, tuition, rent, clothes, entertainment, college fees, supplies, personal care items and transportation costs. By tracking the first two months of spending, you will earn an accurate baseline of necessary and unnecessary spending and where’s there’s room in the budget for saving.

On the job
The thought of saving for retirement after securing the first job out of college may seem ludicrous. After all, you still need to pay off college loans, not to mention rent, car payments and insurance fees. However, saving for the future as soon as possible and investing in employer-matching retirement programs with the max amount possible are smart financial moves, according to The Balance writer Miriam Caldwell.

Remember the budget you used in college? Now is the time to update if for the real world. Tracking your income, expenses and spending is the only way to gain control of your finances and create a financial nest egg, notes Caldwell. As you progress in your career, your financial health should become more robust. Be sure to consistently evaluate and re-evaluate your budget, plans for the future and investment options.

Credit cards are convenient, and sometimes the only resource you have to get through stressful financial times. But, they come at a high price. Sinking into credit card debt happens quickly and before you know it, you’re over your head in fees and balances you can’t clear.

To help you stay afloat, Caldwell suggests foregoing any dependence on plastic. “Other than buying a car or buying a home, you should try to pay cash for everything else that you need,” she writes. If you’re already saddled with debt, she recommends tackling it with a thoughtful plan so you can be debt-free as soon as possible.

In case of emergency
Life will throw you expensive curveballs, and without an emergency fund, your financial health will take on serious damage. According to Investopedia writer Amy Fontinelle, any amount you can save each month will do wonders in establishing your financial safety net.

By adopting smart money habits, like budgeting, saving for retirement and building an emergency fund as a young adult, you’ll create a lucrative and secure future.

If you would like to discuss savings options, feel free to contact a Waukesha State Bank personal banker today!

SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT

 

 

Last-Minute Tax Time ChecklistTax time cock

For many, filling out an income tax form can be a headache. When you’re doing so close to the deadline, that headache can turn into a stress-induced migraine. Here are seven strategies to ace your taxes when you’re running short on time.

 

Give yourself a deadline
For 2020, the IRS has set April 15 as the final deadline for submitting tax forms. However, it’s wise to set an earlier deadline for yourself. Aim to finish and file your tax return at least one to two days before the actual deadline, per CNBC contributor Jessica Dickler. This will help ensure that you have sufficient time for accurately completing the form a bit before the IRS deadline.

Gather the right forms
Filing taxes is a bit like cooking a recipe. You’ll want to gather the ingredients you’ll need beforehand, so the actual cooking process goes smoothly. Before starting to fill out the tax form, CNBC advises that you gather the following documents: W-2s, 1099-Rs, your social security number, bank routing information, any receipts that you might need, and student loan interest.

Familiarize yourself with tax credits
Help maximize your tax return by adequately researching available tax credits, per The Motley Fool contributor Maurie Backman. There are a variety of credits you might qualify for, based on individual circumstances. For instance, if you fall into the low to moderate income level bracket, you can earn up to $2K back, if you make regular contributions to a 401(k) or eligible retirement plan.

Consider e-filing
Help save the trees while saving yourself time and stress by filing your taxes electronically. To this end, the IRS offers an e-file option. An added bonus of filing electronically is that your tax return will be more accurate. The IRS claims that an individual is 20 times less likely to make a mistake on an electronic tax form than a paper one. The e-filing program’s software will notify you of any credits and deductions you might have overlooked. It will also catch errors so you can correct them before submission.

Use last year’s application as a reference
Save even more time on this year’s return by using last year’s form as a model, as Dickler recommends. Unless you’re a professional tax-return preparer, it’s easy to forget what deductions you claimed in the past year. As long as your financial and personal circumstances haven’t undergone any major changes, it’s likely that this year’s application will look a lot like last year’s.

Review the application thoroughly before submitting
When you’re short on time, you might be tempted to submit your tax form before double- and triple-checking it. Any errors on the form however can result in a rejected return or an audit. Avoid these two scenarios by thoroughly reviewing the form before turning it in. Some of the most common errors are simple ones, such as misspelled words, incorrect social security numbers and math errors, as Backman articulates.

Ask for a deadline extension
If you still need a bit more time to complete your tax form, you can request a six-month extension. Per the IRS, you can do this electronically through tax software by using Form 4868. Please note that although the extension does provide a bit more time to file your taxes, the actual tax payments are still due by the IRS’s tax form deadline (which is April 15, for 2020).

By implementing these practical tips, you’re well on your way to beating the clock and filing an accurate tax return by the IRS’s deadline.

 
 

Dining Out on a Budgetfood bill with money

Being smart with your money doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice the luxury of eating out. Here are seven strategies to dining out on the cheap, so you can enjoy having someone else cook without taking a bite out of your budget.

 

Opt for self-service
Money Crashers contributor Amy Livingston recommends choosing a more self-service type of restaurant. This can take the form of a buffet chain, quick-serve joints like Starbucks and fast-casual places like Panera or Chipotle. Entrée prices tend to be a bit lower at these styles of establishments because the restaurants don’t have to pay for servers.

Choose lunch
Lunch entrées are typically significantly cheaper than dinner ones, according to Livingston. Some restaurants also offer extended lunch hours. So, if you don’t mind eating dinner a bit early, you could enjoy a late afternoon supper at a discounted price.

Make take-out your friend
One of the key benefits of eating out is to take in a new environment and new flavors outside of your home. A more frugal way to accomplish this is to do a take-out picnic, as The Penny Hoarder’s Steve Gillman shares. Take-out boxes can hold more food than you’d normally get in a sit-down restaurant setting. You can also bring along your own wine and/or beer - beverages for which you’d have to pay extra had you chosen to dine in the restaurant.

Find a BYOW place
Speaking of wine… many restaurants let customers bring their own bottle to the restaurant. A little research in advance can help you avoid paying an exorbitant amount for a glass of wine off the restaurant’s list, as Gillman states.

Share an entree
How many times have you gone out to a restaurant and been unable to finish your entire plate? Ditch this scenario by splitting an entree with a spouse or friend when you dine out. This will halve the total cost of the meal for both of you, as Livingston articulates. A similar idea is to order half-sized portions rather than full-sized portions of menu items.

Go with appetizers and sides
Take a cue from the vegetarians and skip the entrées. Though these diners might do so to avoid meat-based main dishes, you can apply this same principle to enjoy meat-based or vegetable-based smaller dishes. Per Gillman, you’ll save a ton on the final bill, while savoring some of the restaurant’s yummiest offerings.

Find gift cards and coupons
Many restaurants offer gift cards to consumers at a discounted price, either online or in-person. Carpool and Raise are two reputable sources for obtaining these gift cards, according to Gillman. Groupon and LivingSocial are two other great sources for deals from local dining venues. Livingston also recommends mobile apps like Valpak, which display the coupon on your phone so you don’t have to print out a hard copy of the coupon.

By implementing these practical tips, you’ll drastically reduce the amount of money you spend on dining out. That way, you can focus more on savoring new styles of cuisine rather than on how much the bill will be.

 

 

 

Tune Into These 4 Motivational Podcastsguy with headphones

The start of spring brings with it a slew of opportunities, including the chance to improve your overall mood and change your mindset for the better. Rather than zoning out to a local classic rock station on your way to school or work, consider tuning in to one of these four motivational podcasts to focus your mind on what really matters in your life and expand your thoughts.

 

TED Talks Daily
The first TED Talk conference was held in 1984, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the first talks were posted online for anyone to view. Now, people around the globe can watch TED Talks from the comfort of their homes on YouTube and other video streaming platforms. These inspirational discussions cover a variety of topics, including technology, entertainment and design, hence the acronym TED. The “TED Talks Daily” podcast provides new thought-provoking topics every weekday and gives you the chance to listen without the distraction of watching. Other insightful podcasts created by the company include The TED Interview, WorkLife with Adam Grant, TED en Español, TED Radio Hour and Sincerely, X.

Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations
Oprah Winfrey’s personal story of rags to riches is incredibly inspiring and her desire to help people throughout her illustrious career has been part of the reason she has won multiple awards for philanthropy. In her first “Super Soul Conversations” podcast, uploaded in 2017, the talk show host spoke to research professor and well-known author Brené Brown. Since then, Winfrey has interviewed dozens more intriguing people like Michelle Obama, Glennon Doyle, Beto O’Rourke and Alanis Morissette. She also does readings from books by health, spirituality and wellness experts, providing a scintillating discussion about each topic.

Happier
Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” and other self-help books, created the “Happier” podcast in hopes to help others find happiness. In each episode, Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft discuss good habits and ways to increase your own happiness by focusing on certain aspects of your life. Among the hundreds of episodes, Rubin and Craft start conversations about how friendships, pop culture, medication and so much more can have lasting effects on your overall mood. If you’ve got some extra time for reading, be sure to check out Rubin’s book “The Four Tendencies,” which covers different personality types and how you can harness your own to improve your life.

20 Minutes with Bronwyn
For a more business-like approach to motivational speaking, listen to some episodes of “20 Minutes with Bronwyn.” The host, Bronwyn Saglimbeni, is a communications expert who has worked with clients for over 15 years to improve their public speaking and media relations skills. In her podcast, Saglimbeni is incredibly candid, yet still humorous, with her advice for people in all areas of business. While some might think she’s a bit harsh at times, it’s exactly what some need in a motivational podcast. Some of the topics in recent episodes include how to communicate in a crisis, crying at work, adult friendship and taking risks.

Whether you just want to feel warm and fuzzy inside or you’re looking for hard facts on how to improve your life, these motivation podcasts should do the trick. Hunker down, turn the volume up and listen to what these inspirational people have to say.

 
 

Beyond Coupons: Apps to Save You Moneyman using phone apps

In the 21st century, digital technology offers many new ways to save money that extend beyond the usual store sales and coupon-clipping. Numerous apps now let you pinch pennies on your terms from the convenience of your palm. Tap into these deal-filled apps to get the best price when shopping.

 

Shopkick

Claiming to be “the best shopping rewards app,” Shopkick rewards you for doing business with online and local stores — as well as simply walking in and looking at the products. By downloading the app and creating a free account, you can earn Kicks (i.e., rewards points) for a number of activities: walking into stores, scanning barcodes of in-store products, purchasing products, linking a credit card and watching videos. As you quickly accumulate Kicks, you can redeem them for gift cards to major retailers like Amazon and Target.

Groupon

The internet offers many websites that connect people with group discount offers from local and national businesses, with Groupon being the most popular. Businesses post exclusive deals to Groupon, which you have a limited time to buy and redeem. Groupon originally hosted only local merchants like restaurants and gyms but has expanded its offers to travel opportunities and online goods. Groupon also owns Living Social, which is a similar group discount model. Download either app to start finding deals near you.

Honey

Save money when you shop at websites you already frequent when you install the Honey plug-in for your phone’s internet browser. This money-saving extension tracks promo codes its users apply when shopping online and applies those same promo codes when you shop at the same site, potentially connecting you with a discount you wouldn’t know about. You can also browse the Honey website for current sales at major retailers.
Even if you don’t find a discount that works, Honey still tracks your purchases so you can accumulate Honey Gold from qualifying retailers, which can be redeemed for gift cards.

Military Cost Cutters

If you’re a military member, veteran or member of a military family, many local and online businesses offer you discounts for shopping with them. But, it’s not always easy for you to know what stores offer discounts without calling around or walking up to the cashier — unless you use Military Cost Cutters.

This app was created by a veteran-owned company that has compiled a searchable database of military-friendly businesses so you can find places in your own neighborhood. The app is free and offers a Loyalty Rewards Program that connects you with even more offers to save money.

Gas Buddy

You don’t have to drive around town to find the best price for gas anymore, nor will you spend more money filling up because you didn’t anticipate gas prices jumping suddenly. With the Gas Buddy app, you can monitor gas prices and identify the stations in your neighborhood with the lowest per-gallon price. This information is populated by tens of millions of app users like you, so you can help your neighbors save money, too. If you enroll in the free GasBack program, you can save an additional five cents per gallon when you fill up.

With the many reputable money-saving apps available today, keeping more of your hard-earned money only takes a couple of easy taps.

 

 

How Do Mobile Check Deposits Work?person making a mobile deposit

With all of the changes in the past few weeks due to COVID-19, we’ve all been relying more and more on online and mobile tools for everything from attending virtual work meetings or social gatherings, to teaching our students and ordering groceries. One tool that has been especially helpful during these uncertain times for contactless banking is Mobile Deposit.

 

Your smartphone is a powerful tool, and it can do wonders to streamline the way you handle your finances. While over 75 million people use mobile banking apps on their smartphones, a survey by the Federal Reserve shows that only about 38 percent have tried making a mobile check deposit. If you’re looking to join that 38 percent, here are five points to help you get the most out of this technology.

The basics

To make a mobile deposit, you’ll need to photograph both sides of your endorsed check. This will be read by Waukesha State Bank’s automated software through our Mobile Banking app. Before you submit the check for processing, you’ll have to fill out a few details, such as the check’s amount and where you’d like the check deposited. After that, submit your check and wait for it to post.

Brush up on photography

To deposit your money, the bank’s software needs a clear, clean image of the check. Instead of holding the check, place it on a plain, dark background. Make sure the check is flat, well lit, and crisply in focus. You should be able to read all of the information on the check from the picture you submit. According to Marek Helcl, an industry expert in the mobile banking field, it’s important to remove anything attached to the check, such as a pay stub. Furthermore, your photo should capture the entire check, not a zoomed-in portion of it. While it may take a few extra minutes to set up the shot, it’ll prevent you from having to deal with check rejections and unnecessary delays in fund availability.

Keep a record of your transactions

After making a mobile deposit, it’s a good idea to keep the original paper check for two to three weeks, just in case an issue arises. It can be extremely difficult to resolve any problem without the check in hand, so keep it in a secure location. You should also note the date and mark the check as a mobile deposit to prevent your significant other from accidentally double depositing it, since this mistake can result in a fee. Once the check has been successfully deposited you should shred it so criminals can’t use its information for nefarious purposes.

Delayed availability

While you can send and receive pictures, texts and emails almost instantaneously, your mobile check deposits must follow the same procedures as checks deposited in person. That means, the deposited funds are normally available the next business day, as long as the mobile deposit is accepted before 6:00 PM (CST).

Be aware of fees

Some financial institutions may charge a nominal fee every time you use the service — typically around $0.50 per check. Rest assured, with Waukesha State Bank, Mobile Deposit is FREE!

Deposit limits

Waukesha State Bank’s maximum deposit amount per day is $4,000. While some institutions may not place limits, this is aimed at preventing fraud and keeping you, and your money, safe.

So, how do you get started? For current VaultLink Online Banking users, simply search for "Waukesha State Bank" in the app store to get started. If you aren’t already using VaultLink Online Banking, click here to enroll.

If you have any questions, call our Customer Service Center at (262) 549-8531, or chat with them online.

 

Money Safety Tips$100 bill with lock

An estimated 1.92 billion people are digital buyers. That means around 25% of everyone on the planet shops online. With that many consumers on the web, it’s no surprise that criminals are flocking to the digital space, too. You can fight back against the hackers and frauds who may try to steal from you with a few precautions and common sense. Protect your wallet when shopping online by paying attention to the tips below:

 

Monitor Your Accounts

Proactively monitoring your financial accounts (such as bank and credit card statements) can help you catch errors and spot potential fraud at the first sign. To simplify this process, consider using a single credit card for all your online purchases. That way you will only have one statement to check instead of several. This practice has the added benefit of reminding you to stay on track with your budget, too.

Always Think Before You Click

To avoid infecting your computer or mobile device with malicious software, never click on a link to a deal or special savings on a social networking site or in an unsolicited email. Scammers will often disguise a social media post or email to make it seem as if it’s coming from a known retailer, but the link will take you to a fake site and infect your device. If you see a link that supposedly leads to a sale you want to take advantage of, visit the retailer’s website directly rather than clicking the link. From there you can verify if the sale is legitimate.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi

Online purchases require transmitting your credit card, bank account information, or other financial information over the internet. Using a public Wi-Fi connection to do so puts that sensitive information at risk. Hackers can tap into unsecured Wi-Fi connections at hotspots like coffee shops and airport terminals to capture it without you knowing. The new, more secure EMV chip cards do not protect against this kind of fraud. If you’re using a wireless connection to shop, be sure that it requires a password or WEP key. Also look for “https:” in the website address (rather than just “http:”) to be sure the website itself has security protections in place.

Be Proactive

Finally, take action if you hear about a data breach or other fraud that could affect your accounts by changing your passwords. This is especially critical if you use the same password on multiple accounts. If you notice suspicious charges on your credit card or transfers from your banking account, contact your bank right away to notify them of the issue. They may put a freeze on the account to prevent further fraud, but this will keep the criminals from emptying your account.

 

How to Find That Perfect Summer Jobteen girl with "JOB" letters

Many students and young adults consider summer to be a time for rest and relaxation. However, numerous young professionals in high school, college and beyond recognize the opportunities available during the summer months. If you’re looking for a seasonal career opportunity this year, consider the following tips to help you find that perfect summer job.

 

Know your skills

According to Rebecca Kern of U.S. News, the most important step of any job hunt is recognizing your own skill set. If you can’t convey the benefits you would bring to an employer, chances are slim said employee will consider you for a position. Examine your line of study and your past employment to determine what you have learned over the course of your career. This will help you narrow down your skills so you can create a concise, yet complete list of your expertise.

Create a resume

Once you’ve determined your skills, you’ll need to figure out how to display them on your resume. Employers will receive hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes during the summer hiring season, so you’ll have to find a way to make yours stand out. For inspiration, Kern suggests checking out professional job sites like LinkedIn for examples of outstanding resumes.

Find jobs that match your skill

With a completed resume, you’ll want to determine what kinds of jobs are looking for potential employees with your particular set of skills. Finding a place of employment that best utilizes your skills will help you hone those skills even further while employed. That, in turn, will give you even more experience for any future job searches.

Start looking for jobs early

Many young adults make the mistake of waiting until summer has begun to start looking for a job. Farnoosh Torabi of CBS MoneyWatch warns that doing so might cause you to lose out on opportunities. Some of the best summer jobs are already filled by the time the season officially starts. Start sending out your resume early to take advantage of your ideal job prospects before other potential employees seize them.

Utilize networking

The job hunting process can be fraught with uncertainty. Because of this, Alison Doyle of The Balance suggests young professionals turn to networking to get in touch with potential employers. Universities and high schools typically have rather extensive networks of alumni that students can reach out to. It also might be prudent to reach out to friends and family to help with your networking efforts.

Consider online jobs

Many young adults and teens looking for summer jobs don’t live in areas with a lot of opportunities. Online employment is a viable alternative for these job seekers. Kern says more jobs than ever are moving to the online sector. Furthermore, online employment often allows students and young professionals to use their skills and reach out to customers that they normally wouldn’t be able to reach in the cities and towns where they live.

Ace your interview

While obtaining an interview is often regarded as the most difficult part of securing a job, the interview itself can sometimes be just as difficult, and certainly more than a little nerve-wracking. Fortunately there are some strategies that will help you ace your interview. Kern states that many interviewers will decide whether they want to hire someone or not during the first few moments of a job interview, so it’s important to make a good first impression. You should be both confident and enthusiastic about the job while still maintaining an authentic demeanor throughout the interview.

Waukesha State Bank has a long history of hiring high school and college students during the summer months and beyond. Check out what positions we’re currently looking for by visiting our Employment Opportunities page.

 
  

Identifying Your Wants Vs. Your Needsboy with dollars in wallet

The foundation of successfully managing your finances is budgeting, and a pillar of budgeting is learning to distinguish your needs from your wants. If you can’t differentiate those, you could wind up overspending on luxuries that you can’t afford.

Give your budgeting skills a refresher by improving your ability to distinguish your wants from your needs.

 

Why should you budget for your wants?

If something makes you happy, why should you deny yourself that pleasure? Haven’t you earned that indulgence for working hard every day?

The problem with this mentality is that it can quickly develop into a habit that’s hard to break when you should be saving money for long-term expenses like a down payment on a house or repaying debt.

Immediate, fleeting indulgences can rapidly consume your bank account and dictate your spending habits. Plus, many of these momentary desires can be discarded and forgotten quickly after you buy them.

If you want to successfully plan and achieve your long-term lifestyle goals, you need to identify and control your inessential expenditures.

Ways to discern wants from needs

Courtney Jespersen of NerdWallet has a great technique to identify your essential needs: if removing a particular expenditure would directly impact your ability to live or work, that expense is probably a need. She identifies the most common needs to be housing, transportation, insurance (automotive, home and medical), home utilities and food.

Wants, on the other hand, are “expenses that help you live more comfortably,” according to Jespersen. You could cut these expenditures and still live and work as you currently do, just not as indulgently or gratifyingly as you used to.

The grey area between wants and needs

Separating wants from needs isn’t necessarily a black-and-white matter. Oftentimes, expenses are on a sliding scale that make distinguishing them challenging.

For instance, a car is an important need for many people so they can commute to work and buy groceries, but the actual vehicle they choose and its amenities can become a want if a more extravagant model is desired. The same goes for other expenses, such as food. Sustenance is a need, but that prime rib isn’t.

Drawing a line

As Paula Pant of The Balance points out, it’s hard for a person to see their own wants as anything other than a need, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to having that luxury on a daily basis. For instance, your streaming video subscription, morning coffee, makeup, internet service or even your smartphone (some companies do still offer pre-paid basic phones). It’s hard to think of your life without these amenities, but unless their removal directly hinders your ability to do your job or remain alive, you should budget for these expenses as non-essential.

If you’re struggling to figure out what expenses are non-essential, consult a friend whom you trust and consider prudent. Additionally, an outsider can bring an unbiased perspective to your spending habits that you can’t on your own.

A good budgeting technique for wants

Pant suggests following a 50/30/20 budget: 50 percent of post-tax monthly income goes to needs, 30 percent to wants and 20 percent to savings/debt reduction. She concedes that you shouldn’t cut every single want you desire, but limiting how much of them you buy every month forces you to prioritize which are more worthwhile to you. You’re prioritizing based on satisfaction, not just desire.

Being able to distinguish and prioritize your desires is essential to achieving your financial goals and reaching a lifestyle down the road in which you’ll have more disposable income to spend on your wants.

 
 

Great Summer Readsgirl reading on dock

Summer is a great time to catch up on reading. Whether you’re flipping pages while sitting in the sun or absorbing the audiobook version on a bike ride, these five titles will keep you enthralled.

 

“The City in the Middle of the Night” by Charlie Jane Anders

Set in a future far from Earth, “The City in the Middle of the Night” takes place on a planet split in half: dark and frozen on one side, broiling hot and sunny on the other — and inhabited by a seemingly monstrous yet intelligent species. What’s left of humanity has settled here as well, living divided and dangerous lives in a pair of cities on the edge of day and night. In this imaginative science-fiction page-turner, Charlie Jane Anders combines thoughtful social and political commentary with a gripping journey through a world that’s both radically different and strangely familiar.

“American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson

In “American Spy,” international intrigue, romantic drama and a trio of timelines combine to create a fast-paced thriller with a fresh perspective. The main character of Lauren Wilkinson’s novel is a black woman and FBI intelligence officer assigned to infiltrate the government of a charismatic African politician during the Cold War. As she descends deeper into her secret mission, she faces down external dangers — and more significantly, internal conflicts about her overlapping identities.

“Golden State” by Ben H. Winters

What would life be like in a society where lying was against the law? “Golden State” is Ben H. Winters’ fascinating attempt to answer that question in the form of a dystopian thriller. In the near-future Golden State, the Speculative Service, a police force tasked with punishing falsehoods, establishing facts and keeping every citizen under surveillance, zealously guards the truth. However, all is not as it seems — as one officer finds out when his investigation conflicts with the “official” version of reality.

“Madame Fourcade’s Secret War” by Lynne Olson

Although few people know the name of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, she ran France’s biggest espionage ring during World War II, making an immeasurable contribution to the Allies’ eventual victory over the Germans. In “Madame Fourcade’s Secret War,” Lynne Olson tells the story of this courageous young woman and her perilous life — filled with constant threats and narrow escapes — as a spy in the French Resistance. This stranger-than-fiction tale is a deeply researched work of history, but it’s also a suspenseful narrative that’s just as riveting as any thriller.

“The Trial of Lizzie Borden” by Cara Robertson

Most people know the story of Lizzie Borden and her ax — or think they do. In “The Trial of Lizzie Borden,” Cara Robertson provides a fresh look at this 1890s murder case, detailing the crime itself, making sense of how events unfolded in the courtroom and offering insights into why the trial had such a strong cultural impact. This carefully documented true-crime read doesn’t solve the case once and for all, but it’s a compelling look at a story that still resonates to this day.

 
  

Summer Volunteering Ideasgroup of young volunteers

Summer offers an abundance of opportunities for you to volunteer. It not only can give you something to do during your summer break, but it can also boost your resume with instances of community engagement. Spend some of your summertime giving back to your community and making memories through these volunteering options.

 

Clean up a park

Summer is the best time of the year to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. Unfortunately, that beauty is all too often tarnished by improperly disposed litter. You can help restore the beauty and health of your community’s park by picking up any litter and properly disposing of it — and that’s something you can do any time of the year.

Plant a tree or start a garden

Speaking of nature’s beauty, make your city greener by volunteering to maintain a garden or plant trees throughout the neighborhood. You can either join a group of fellow plant-lovers, like the Nature Conservancy, or create a garden in your own backyard. The abundance of flora will also benefit wildlife in the area, such as pollinating bees and butterflies.

Offer a tutoring service

Just because kids are on break from school doesn’t mean opportunities for education are absent during summer. You can offer your services to younger students as a tutor to help them receive the continued education that they need to thrive. Tutoring can extend beyond grade school students; you can volunteer to offer instruction on specific skills you may have to anyone interested in learning them.

Provide assistance at a food bank

During the school year, many low-income families can count on schools to provide their children with nutritious meals. Once summer break begins, it’s a lot more difficult for these families to receive the meals they need. According to PublicHealth, one way that you can provide assistance to these families is by volunteering at a food bank. Even if you cannot donate any of your time, you can always drop off non-perishable goods for the food bank to distribute.

Volunteer at a nonprofit

If you’re looking for a summer job that provides relevant skills, try volunteering at a nonprofit organization. Many nonprofits offer unpaid internships over the summer. While your friends may be working seasonal jobs for money, the experiences that nonprofit work offers can ultimately open new doors for your career path.

However you decide to volunteer this summer, your actions will benefit your community and the people that live in it.

 

 

Budgeting for a 2021 Big Vacation?suitcase with piggy bank on beach

Want to take a big trip once it's safe to travel but don’t think your bank account can support it? Effective budgeting can help you plan and save the money for a vacation even when finances are tight. Regardless of where you want to go, here are some tips for budgeting for a fun escape.

 

Be flexible with your expectations

When you’re deciding where you want to go for your adventure and what you can do there, have a practical plan for what you can afford. Pick somewhere you would enjoy visiting, but don’t pick a destination too lofty for your budget.

“If you’re struggling to reach your finance goals, being flexible with your trip itinerary can help get you on that flight a lot faster,” recommends George Dunford of Money Planet. Don’t automatically pick the most popular or exotic destination for your travels; choose a place you know you’ll enjoy visiting and can afford. That will make budgeting much easier.

Add it all up

Properly budgeting for your trip starts with a complete idea of all the expenses you’ll need to pay. Create a comprehensive list of costs, including travel, accommodations, meals, transportation, gas, souvenirs, activities, admissions, tolls and tips. Don’t omit any possible expenditures. This will help you determine how many days you can afford to be on vacation and how much money you need to save.

Compare this amount to your monthly income and regular expenses to see how much you can start setting aside every month. “By looking over your current personal budget and taking your savings, fixed expenses, and variable costs into consideration, you can see where you have a little wiggle room (if any) for a vacation,” explains Jacqueline Curtis of Money Crashers.

Keep yourself motivated

It can be hard to motivate yourself to cut current expenses and save money for a vacation when the trip isn’t on the forefront of your mind. Keeping your mission within view every day compels you to cut frivolous daily splurges like high-end lattes, full-price movie tickets and eating dinner out.

“Once you've worked out how much you need, you've then got a figure you can save towards,” says Dunford. Some people make this number their screensaver or put it on their fridge, using this saving goal as motivation to go to work everyday.”

Pay for some expenses now

Instead of putting off the entire bill until the trip, begin paying for some expenses ahead of time. This will spread the expenses out over the upcoming months instead of hitting your wallet all at once.

Many hotels give discounts on hotel rooms if you pay now when you book them. Buy gift cards for the restaurants you want to eat at and gas stations you’ll fill up at. Purchase excursion or admission tickets online, and sign up for email notifications to hear when they’re running sales. Look at merchant discount sites like Groupon to save on the places you want to go. If you’re able to pay with a travel rewards credit card, you can earn money back via cash rewards.

Other ways of lowering expenses

The best way to help you achieve your target travel budget is to lower that amount. Curtis recommends a handful of other ways you can curb vacation expenses, like staying with acquaintances, traveling with friends to share expenses, visiting during off-season periods and booking a bed in a hostel. Depending on what areas you’re willing to cut costs in, you’ll have more money to spend splurging on your higher-priority indulgences.

Travelling isn’t impossible if you plan ahead and anticipate your expenses. Basic budgeting will allow you to take a much-needed vacation after COVID-19 settles. If you need help, our bankers are just a phone call away at (262) 549-8500 or chat with us online at www.waukeshabank.com.

 

 

Elder Financial Abuse Scams to Look Out Forelderly woman with credit card

Financial scams against the elderly are on the rise — and getting more sophisticated. Whether you’re looking to protect yourself or others, it’s important to stay informed about the methods that scammers use to swindle people out of their money.

 

Romance scams

Romance scams are one of the most common ways for fraudsters to target elderly people, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Romance scammers make a fake social media or dating site profile to build trust with their unsuspecting (and perhaps lonely) victims. Then, they strike by requesting money for a made-up emergency or travel expense. The Federal Trade Commission notes that these scammers typically ask their victims to wire money or send it via gift card because these types of transactions are difficult to trace or reverse.

Person-in-need scams

Per FinCEN, person-in-need scams are a widespread method for defrauding seniors. For this scam, someone will call or send a message to the target, pose as his or her relative (usually a grandchild) and pretend to need money for a personal emergency or a sudden financial issue. The National Council on Aging points out that the scammer will usually request payment via wire service and ask the senior not to tell anyone else about the fake emergency. This scam is especially effective because it plays on the victim’s natural desire to help a loved one facing an urgent crisis.

Prize or lottery scams

Many seniors are parted from their money via prize or lottery scams, according to FinCEN. In these scams, targets are informed that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes. They might even receive a fraudulent check in the mail. The catch: in order to redeem the prize, the “winner” needs to send in some sort of fee or tax. By the time he or she realizes the prize is fake, the scammer has already grabbed the fees and vanished.

Other scams

The NCOA lists a variety of other scams frequently aimed at the elderly. Medicare and health insurance scams collect a person’s personal information and use it for fraudulent medical billing. Counterfeit prescription drug scams peddle fake or even dangerous products online. Telemarketing scams use an array of strategies to cheat seniors through misleading sales calls. Internet scams trick victims into downloading a virus or steal their personal information via email “phishing.” Some scams feature phony investment opportunities or even con the victim into borrowing against his or her home equity.

Tips for preventing scams

If you’re part of the senior demographic, it’s important to stay on your guard against these scams. The NCOA recommends signing up for the Do Not Call list, carefully researching all unsolicited offers and reaching out to trusted friends or relatives if you need assistance. You should also avoid giving out personal information (like credit card, Medicare or Social Security numbers) over the phone unless it’s a call you initiated yourself.

If you’re looking to protect the seniors in your life from scams, Consumer Reports suggests several ways to help. Calling or visiting regularly will allow you to keep tabs on their safety. You can also take steps to stop or limit unsolicited mail and phone calls. You may even be able to arrange protection or oversight for important financial accounts.

Financial scams represent a significant threat for seniors. However, by taking the proper precautions and cultivating awareness, you can shield yourself or your loved ones from those who seek to victimize them.

At Waukesha State Bank, our bankers have been trained to recognize the red flags of elder financial abuse for the safety and wellbeing of our customers. In the past, we’ve helped navigate a confused customer suffering from dementia and caught in an internet scam, as well as another distressed customer simply adjusting to life after the death of a loved one. Whatever the situation, if you find yourself confused over your account or are concerned about an elderly relative, we’re here to help.

 

 

Do Bathroom Remodels Increase Home Value?couple in bathtub remodel

Deciding what home improvement projects to invest in can be tricky. You don’t want to pour money into a renovation or remodel that won’t pay off when you go to sell. If you’re eager to increase your home’s value, consider starting in a small, but essential part of your home — your bathroom.

 

“On average, homeowners spend just over $20,000 on a midrange bathroom renovation project, and nearly $65,000 on an upscale bathroom renovation project. At resale, midrange renovations recoup 67.2 percent of their costs, while upscale renovations recoup 60.2 percent,” according to Moving.com writer Laura Mueller.

Small upgrades for big impact

Adding value to your home with a bathroom remodel doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch. Minor improvements can make a big difference to potential buyers.

“Think of your bathroom remodel as a work in progress rather than an all-or-nothing project. Replace broken or inefficient elements first, and move on to others as money becomes available,” advises NerdWallet writer Beth Buczynski.

An old, leaky faucet or basic shower head will deter buyers. Swap out these dated fixtures with modern fixtures, advises Mueller. Bold finishes and spa-like amenities will transform your bathroom quickly and inexpensively. Don’t forget about lighting. A new light fixture will brighten the look of your bathroom and is a perfect opportunity for your design aesthetic to shine.

A fresh coat of a paint is a game-changer in any room, especially the bathroom. Typically, bathrooms are small, so you won’t need to spend a lot of time or energy painting the walls for maximum impact. Mueller suggests appealing to the masses with your color choice by opting for a neutral hue.

Big projects to increase value

Buyers always value storage. Upgrade your old vanity with a new one to offer more storage and style. High-end materials such as granite and marble for the vanity countertops will impress buyers, according to Mueller. If there is enough space, consider adding dual sinks, a feature buyers appreciate in a master bathroom or a bathroom shared by multiple family members.

Even if you love the retro tile in your bathroom, buyers may not. There are a variety of high-quality flooring options to fit most budgets. Whether you choose ceramic tile, vinyl plank, linoleum or engineered hardwood flooring, your bathroom will look dramatically different with a flooring update, she adds.

“If you really want to take the floors to the next level, you could install radiant heat mats under the tile, which warm the floors for a cozy feel post shower or bath,” Mueller suggests.

Focus on energy efficiency

Buyers are not only looking for current value, they are also looking for improvements that will continue to save them money. Simple tweaks such as optimizing your shower, sink and toilet to be low flow will save water and money, according to Mueller. Plus, improvements designed to be energy efficient are good for the environment.

Most buyers are looking for homes that are turn-key. An updated bathroom, whether it boasts small improvements or complete overhauls, will be more attractive to buyers than bathrooms stuck in the past. Determine your budget, be a savvy shopper and complete what you can yourself to save money on your bathroom updates.

And, if you need help financing your home improvements, Waukesha State Bank is here to help! With today’s low interest rates, a Home Equity Line of Credit is a great financial tool to assist you in any remodeling project. With a Waukesha State Bank HELOC, there are no teaser rates, gimmicks or limited time offers you see at other financial institutions Plus, there are no closing fees, and we offer multiple repayment options.

To learn more, contact a banker today at (262) 549-8500 or visit www.waukeshabank.com to apply online.

 

 

Give Your Patio Furniture a New Lease on Life With These Tipsblue adirondack chairs

It’s a sad truth of life that even the most beloved furniture will eventually begin to show its age. This is doubly true for patio furniture, which, even under the best of circumstances, is exposed to the elements far more than a living room couch. Thankfully, there are a few easy ways to give your patio furniture a makeover, saving you money and the hassle of finding somewhere to dispose of a heavy table.

 

 

Refinishing wood

If you’ve got wooden outdoor furniture that could use some attention, there are plenty of methods. The most labor-intensive is to sand down the surface and apply a water-resistant stain or lacquer. This will get rid of uneven or splintering s

urfaces and protect it against the elements in the future.

If you want to try something with materials you probably have around the house, though, you’re in luck. For instance, you may be able to correct small gouges in the varnish with clear nail polish, restore its original color and shine with coconut oil, olive oil and vinegar, and maybe even fade water rings with mayonnaise. If you choose any of the more fragrant options, it may be a good idea to clean the surface thoroughly afterward to avoid attracting insects.

Removing rust

Not only is rust unsightly, it’s highly abrasive and can even cause tetanus. So, it stands to reason that you’d want to remove it from your patio furniture post haste. If you managed to catch it early on, it’s pretty easy to use a household cleaner and a cloth to scrub it off. If things are a little further along, you can use some slightly more caustic — but still extremely commonplace — substances like baking soda mixed with hydrogen peroxide, vinegar mixed with salt or just some dark brown cola. With these methods, make sure you leave the mixture on the surface for a while before cleaning it off.

Refreshing plastic

Plastic lawn chairs may not be the most elegant of all outdoor furniture, but their affordability and nearly infinite lifespan make them wildly appealing. However, just because your plastic patio seats look a little bit dirty is no reason to toss them to the curb and buy another set. For everyday dirt, you can take a hose to them. For more intense discoloration, you can opt for a quick power wash, or use a rough, wet sponge sprinkled with baking soda to scrub away the embedded dirt. If you want to restore that fresh-from-the-store shine, you can apply an inexpensive wax similar to what you’d use on your car. If you prefer the nuclear option, there’s always a bleach mixture that will wash away even the toughest stain.

Replacing the small parts

Many pieces of patio furniture come with weather-resistant cloth components to make them more comfortable and visually appealing, but they tend to take the brunt of use and weather wear. If you’ve got a chair or loveseat that you tend to avoid because of its dirty, stained or otherwise damaged cushion, you can simply replace the slipcover to completely refresh its look. Similarly, if the umbrella attached to your patio table is ripped or bent, replacing the material or the whole umbrella is almost certainly more affordable than getting an entirely new set.

There are few things more enjoyable than relaxing on your patio on a warm summer evening, and you should be able to do that in complete comfort. If you utilize these tips, your outdoor haven will look and feel as good as new in no time.

 

 

 

The Importance of Separating Spending and Savings Accountsbalancing checkbook

Whether you’re great at managing your money or bad at it, chances are you have room for improvement. You can accelerate your savings goals while staying on top of routine expenses when you establish two different accounts for your spending and saving.

Unique benefits of each type of account

Both accounts have distinct characteristics. According to Nerdwallet’s Margarette Burnette, the main difference is the accessibility of your funds. Checking accounts come with checks and a debit card, so you can easily withdraw money at ATMs, pay for purchases at the store and pay bills. However, they typically earn no or little interest, so you only want to keep the money you need to pay for your immediate needs. If you have money left over, you should move that to a savings account.

Savings accounts often yield higher interest, however they have a limit on the number of withdrawals you can make during a month. This gives you an incentive to keep your hands off of your funds and let your balance grow so you have the money when you need it.

Advantages of keeping separate accounts

The main benefit of keeping the two accounts separate is to avoid the temptation of dipping into your savings for non-emergency items. It’s a way to “protect yourself from yourself,” as The Balance’s Justin Pritchard puts it.

Another key advantage is that having a designated savings account can make it easier to budget for major expenses during the year such as car repairs or future vacation. Pritchard recommends setting aside money each month to grow the savings account so that when these events happen, you’ll have enough funds to cover the costs.

Ways to get the most out of your checking and savings accounts

While establishing two different accounts for spending and saving is a good place to start, there are other strategies you can implement to cultivate healthy finances.

Certified financial planner Sophia Bera suggests opening separate savings accounts for each of your savings goals. For instance, all her clients have travel savings and emergency savings accounts. This lets them withdraw funds from that one account instead of dipping into their emergency savings.

Another way to take advantage of your accounts is to set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking to your savings account. It’s a simple way to grow your balance and prioritize savings goals, especially if you’re forgetful or busy and could use this convenient tool to help keep you on track.

By implementing these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to using your checking account wisely and being more disciplined with saving so you can achieve your financial goals.

 

 

Financial Aid Resourcesgraduation cap with money

A college education can help you secure a sounder financial future. Yet securing that education often comes at a very high cost. Financial aid can help alleviate some of that cost, and it can come from a variety of different sources, depending on what works best for your needs.

FAFSA

The most common means to acquire financial aid is through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA is the federal financial aid initiative by which students receive funding from government-issued loans and work-study programs.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, most incoming college students are eligible to receive financial aid through the federal government, regardless of their age, race or field of study. However, income is taken into consideration, with lower-income students generally receiving more funding than higher-income students. Other qualifications for federal funding include enrollment as a regular student, possession of a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate and registration with Selective Service for male students.

Federal funding acquired via the FAFSA application must be used for educational purposes. Experts suggest that you submit a FAFSA application as soon as possible, as the amount of aid that the program can offer is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Private student loans

The federal government isn’t the only entity to issue student loans. Teddy Nykiel of NerdWallet explains that private lenders can also offer loans to college students. A benefit of private student loans is that they are far less restrictive than government-issued loans. You may not have to match the same requirements as those put in place by the federal government, and you can use them for finances outside of the educational realm, such as room and board.

Scholarships

Before applying for student loans, you should consider applying for scholarships. Unlike student loans, scholarships do not need to be repaid. Katie Lobosco of CNN says they are awarded by private entities like nonprofit organizations, community groups, companies, private citizens, and even the university itself. Scholarships are also harder to obtain than loans or financial funding, according to Robert Farrington of Forbes. Most scholarships are merit-based, and many who apply for them do not end up receiving them.

As with the FAFSA program, the sooner you apply for scholarships, the better. Even though you can still receive scholarship funding during your college years, most students are awarded scholarships while they are still in high school. Money Magazine recommends you apply for various local scholarships prior to graduation.

Every year, Waukesha State Bank offers twenty $1,000 scholarships to Waukesha County high school students attending Carroll University. For details and to apply, visit https://www.carrollu.edu/financial-aid/undergraduate-scholarships/waukesha-state-bank.

Grants

Another common financial option is to apply for grants. In a similar vein to scholarships, grants do not have to be paid back. While scholarships are generally merit-based, grants are generally based on financial need. Farran Powell of U.S. News states that most federal grants are applied for via your FAFSA application. Grants can also be awarded by the state or county government. According to Lobosco, private colleges tend to provide you with more money through grants than their public counterparts, as tuition is generally higher there than at public universities.

Whether you receive the financial aid you need through federal programs, loans, grants or scholarships, these sources of funding can help you invest in your career.

 

 

Tips for Getting Better Gas Mileagefuel gauge

It seems like only yesterday you filled your car’s gas tank up, and already you’re back at the pump filling it up again. Where did all that gasoline go? Your car is burning through gas much faster than it needs to be, and you probably don’t realize it. To reduce your vehicle’s fuel consumption and travel more on a single tank, follow some of these expert tips.

Coast more often

Constant acceleration and braking burn through gasoline quickly, so Kira Botkin of Money Crashers recommends coasting and gliding when possible. Instead of applying your brakes hard to slow momentum at an intersection, take your foot off the gas and let the car gradually slow to a crawl — and then apply the brakes. You can also let your car glide down hills, when exiting a highway and when you’re nearing a right-hand turn. This lets the car utilize its natural momentum to propel it, rather than force the engine and brakes to work extra. Similarly, when you’re on a long stretch of flat road — like a highway or the countryside — activate the cruise control. That way, you’re not tempted to accelerate and decelerate more than necessary. Smooth accelerating and braking and a consistent speed can also put less wear on the tires, brakes and powertrain.

Manage the weight

If your car is carrying extra items that increase its total weight, the engine will need more power (and therefore more gas) to get the vehicle up to speed. Thus, Botkin advises reducing any unnecessary weight — especially if you pilot a front-wheel drive car and carry a lot of junk in the trunk. Carrying items on the car’s roof isn’t necessarily better for fuel economy, though. Consumer Reports found that carrying items like bicycles on the roof can reduce fuel economy by as much as one-third, due to extra weight and wind resistance. Remove any car racks or storage boxes when they’re not being used.

Inflate the tires

It’s true that under-inflated tires negatively impact your car’s fuel efficiency. Dan Collins of Car Bibles explains that flat, flabby tires suffer from increased rolling resistance against the ground. To avoid this, make sure the tires are inflated to their recommended level by inspecting them frequently. A basic non-digital tire gauge only costs a couple bucks and is an effective way to evaluate tire inflation. Collins also recommends researching the types of tires and tread patterns to find the set that offer the best balance of function and efficiency. Different kinds (such as winter vs. all-season) and designs have different rolling resistances, so don’t ride on tires that give more grip than necessary.

Refill with the right fuel at the right time

The gasoline you inject into your car’s reservoir has as much influence on the mileage you get out of it as your driving habits and vehicle condition do. Collins warns to not stray from the octane rating prescribed by the manufacturer in the model’s manual. Otherwise, you could be paying more money for a type of gasoline that’s less effective. Collins also shares a secret for getting the most gas at the pump: Fill up in the morning, not in the evening. He explains that because the liquid is cooler from lower ground temperatures overnight, it’s denser, so you’ll get more gas pumping at the crack of dawn than you would filling when the molecules have warmed and expanded.

There are dozens of other factors that could negatively impact your car’s fuel economy, so research the best driving practices and maintenance techniques to get the most out of every gallon.

Ready to buy a car? Visit with a Personal Banker at any of our offices to find the right car loan for you and your needs.

 

 

Top-Rated Apps to Help You Sleep Bettersmartphone on pillow

As you head back to school, sleep is more important than ever. Thanks to an endless stream of social media and entertainment, our phones, tablets and computers can tempt us to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are five apps that can help you get high-quality, restful sleep.

Sleep Genius

If you want an app designed by neuroscientists and sleep experts, choose Sleep Genius. Currently the world’s top sleep app, this program includes soothing soundscapes to help you fall asleep, a power napping mode and an alarm that gradually wakes you up, so you can feel refreshed instead of frazzled. Dr. Kamran Fallahpour, a Clinical Psychologist and Neuroscientist at the Brain Resource Center in New York, hails Sleep Genius as an easy-to-use, scientifically sound sleep aid with no negative side effects. You can purchase Sleep Genius on both Android and iOS.

Pzizz

This beautifully designed app gives you a selection of soothing, orchestral soundtracks that are designed to help you wind down. Each song is set to fade out after an hour, just in case you fall asleep. Pzizz also features calming neuro-linguistic programming that leads you on a guided relaxation routine. You can even choose between male and female narrators. Better yet, millions of users love Pzizz, including author J. K. Rowling and NBA star Roy Hibbert. If you’re interested, you can download this app on Android and iOS.

Sleep Cycle

Instead of using soothing music or calm voices to lull you to sleep, this app is all about the biometric data of a good night’s sleep. It even generates graphs that chart your sleep phases. Using your device’s microphone, Sleep Cycle analyzes your breathing patterns to track your sleep cycle. When morning comes, the app will wake you up during the lightest part of your sleep cycle, allowing you to awake feeling refreshed and energized. You buy Sleep Cycle for iOS and Android devices.

Pillow

If you’re looking for data on your sleeping habits, Pillow can provide the insight you’re looking for. This app for your Apple Watch monitors your sleeping patterns based on your movements, heart rate, sleep apnea, snoring and sleep talking. When it’s time to wake up, Pillow uses an advanced algorithm to wake you up at your lightest possible sleep stage. It can even work with the built-in Health app on your iPhone or iPad, so it can offer personalized recommendations based on factors like your blood pressure and caffeine intake. Pillow is only available on iOS devices.

These apps are a quick, easy, and affordable way to establish healthier sleep habits. If you’re still having trouble falling asleep, consider consulting a healthcare professional.

 

 

Reign in Your Holiday Shopping With a BudgetChristmas shopping budget

‘Tis the season for holiday shopping. Black Friday deals are starting this month, not to mention the gifts, family meals and decorations that all put a strain on your wallet. Creating a holiday budget and sticking to it can help keep you on track. Here are some budgeting tips for the busiest shopping season of the year.


Make a List, Check It Twice

Creating an effective holiday budget means including everything you plan to spend. Budget for decorating, new outfits you plan to buy, food estimates, and travel costs alongside the gifts on your expense list. Be sure to include any money you plan to receive, too. Does grandma give you $50 every year like clockwork? Include that in your calculations. Will you be buying a joint gift and then receiving cash from the others going in on it? Include that, too. The best budgets encompass all of the spending and saving you do throughout the holidays, not just how much you spend on gifts. If you’re not sure where to start, look up what you spent last year as a good jumping-off point.

Keep Track

The most important key to remember with your budget is to not forget about it after you create it. Keep track of all the purchases you make, especially ones made with cash, and adjust your budget if need be. It is a good idea to hold a weekly “reckoning” meeting, especially if you’re not the only one making the purchases for the year. Sit down and check your real spending against your planned spending (the budget). If you’ve gone over in one area, these meetings give you the chance to adjust by lowering the amount set aside for another area to make up the difference. That way you’ll keep your overall spending on track.

Avoid Impulse Buys

Holiday sales can be especially tempting (Black Friday and Cyber Monday for example), but the fantastic deals on these days can also lead to impulse buys. If an item isn’t on your list of planned purchases, wait at least 24 hours. After you’ve slept on it, if you still want the unplanned item, see if you can work it into the budget without straining your other financial obligations.

Save your Budget

After the holidays, don’t throw away this year’s holiday budget. Save it and use it as a model for next year’s shopping. Make notes of where you deviated from the original budget, so that next year’s is more accurate. You can also use the gift lists from year to year. If you know well in advance what items you want to buy, you can shop for them during the season when they’re cheapest, rather than during the holidays.

Christmas Club Savings

Last, another way to budget for holiday spending is to open a Waukesha State Bank Christmas Club savings account. You can deposit funds throughout the year, or even set up a direct deposit from your employer. Then in early November, those funds automatically get deposited into your checking account or mailed to you as a check so you’re ready to start shopping. That way you don’t have to come up with all of the money you budgeted for at once, or charge it all on your credit card.

Setting and sticking with a holiday budget will help you enter the New Year without any added financial stress, making the holidays that much more enjoyable!

 


Are Tap-and-Pay Cards Secure?Contactless debit cards

Tap-and-pay technology, also known as contactless payment, allows you to complete transactions without physically swiping or inserting your credit or debit card at a payment terminal. It may seem strange at first, but you can use tap-and-pay with confidence — it’s a safe and reliable method for making purchases.

 

How does tap-and-pay technology work?

Tap-and-pay cards use RFID or near-field communication (NFC) technology to communicate with the payment terminal. Inside your card, a chip and an antenna send out radio waves containing a random, one-time encrypted number. According to U.S. News & World Report contributor Ben Luthi, these waves travel only a few centimeters — long enough to let you pay by tapping the terminal with your card or by simply holding it very close. When the terminal receives the card’s code via the radio waves, it can quickly and securely process your transaction. This same technology powers mobile wallet systems like Apple Pay and Android Pay. It’s also used for EMV chip technology, which requires you to insert your payment card into a terminal.

What are the advantages of using a tap-and-pay card?

Using a tap-and-pay card can reduce the time and hassle of making a transaction. Luthi notes that this technology works significantly faster than EMV chip technology. EMV chip transactions take 30 seconds to complete, but tap-and-pay only takes 13-15 seconds. Tap-and-pay is especially convenient if you live in a big city and frequently commute via mass transit. CNET reporter Ben Fox Rubin writes that several transit systems around the United States, such as New York City, Portland, and Chicago, have installed tap-and-pay terminals so travelers can spend less time on transactions at the turnstile. Tap-and-pay is also handy for international travel, as many other countries have adopted the technology to a much greater extent than the U.S.

Are tap-and-pay cards safe to use?

Tap-and-pay credit or debit cards are quite secure to use. Luthi writes that EMV chip cards represented a major security upgrade over the old swipe cards — and tap-and-pay cards utilize the same technology. Theoretically, a criminal could get close to you and use an NFC skimming device to steal the information transmitted by your card. However, even if crooks were able to pull this off, experts say the data they’d glean wouldn’t be enough to enable a fraudulent transaction in your name.

How can you protect yourself from tap-and-pay fraud?

The risk of fraud occurring during a tap-and-pay transaction is minimal. Some people purchase RFID-blocking wallets to protect their cards, but the Identity Theft Resource Center states that this is an unnecessary — and often expensive — precaution. You’re much more likely to be the victim of online fraud or data breaches. To keep your information safe, guard your online accounts with strong passwords, sign up for alerts from your credit card company, review your credit report for suspicious activity and, if you use a mobile wallet, protect your electronic device with the appropriate locks and codes.

You should certainly take the normal precautions against fraud, but tap-and-pay is a highly secure payment method that shouldn’t cause you any additional worries.

Waukesha State Bank is currently working to offer contactless cards, which should be available soon! Plus, our cards are instantly issued, so when you open a new account or want to upgrade your current debit card, you can get your new contactless card the same day! Watch for more information about our contactless cards coming soon.

 

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?calculating debt

Between credit cards, student loans, car loans and mortgages, you’re probably carrying some debt. On the surface, managing your debt can seem relatively easy — just make minimum payments. However, if you’d like to pay down your debts, you have some choices to make. Namely, which debt should you prioritize? Here’s a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

 

Pay off the highest interest first

If you want to make your money go the furthest, personal finance website The Motley Fool recommends paying off the highest interest debt first. With this strategy, you’ll get rid of the costliest debt first, so you’ll save money in the long run. However, there are potential downsides to this strategy. Your highest-interest debt may be your largest debt — such as a mortgage or a student loan. Bankrate contributor Nicole Dieker explains that it can be extremely discouraging to spend years putting your money towards paying down a large debt to end up only covering the interest.

Pay off the lowest debt first

If you enjoy the feeling of quick accomplishments, consider paying off your lowest debts first. This gives you a feeling of momentum that can be encouraging. Although you’ll ultimately pay more in interest over the life of the loan, The Balance contributor Miriam Caldwell advises you to knock out your lowest debts. In addition to giving you a feel-good rush of emotions, this can help eliminate troublesome calls from collection agencies.

Pay off high-credit-utilization debt

If you’re one of the many borrowers who’d like a higher credit score, consider paying down your debt with the goal of improving your credit utilization ratio. You’ll have a higher credit score if your credit cards aren’t maxed out. And once you have a higher credit score, you’ll be able to secure a better interest rate on your future loans. If you’re interested in taking this route, The Motley Fool recommends that you prioritize paying down credit cards that utilize more than 30 percent of their credit limit.

Account for tax breaks

While paying interest can feel like bleeding money, it can come with tax breaks depending on the type of loan. For instance, paying your student loan interest provides a tax break. Although this doesn’t mean you should neglect paying down your student loans by only paying for interest, Caldwell explains that you may see more financial advantages to tackling your credit cards first.

When you consider your unique goals and financial situation, you may find that a hybrid approach suits your needs. For instance, you could pay down a few small debts, then switch gears and chip away at your high-interest loans.

For guidance on paying down your debts, you can search online for a debt repayment calculator, which can give you a clearer idea of how much interest you’ll be paying, how large your monthly payments should be and how long it will take to pay off your debts. You can also consult with one of Waukesha State Bank’s personal bankers, who can look at your unique situation and help you decide which options are best for you. Contact us today at (262) 549-8500 or click here to schedule an appointment.

 

Tips for Reducing Stress and Increasing Positivitywoman relaxing

The stress of everyday life can be tough to deal with even under normal circumstances — and in these uncertain and difficult times, the pressure feels even more intense. Whether you’re struggling to make it through the day or just feeling a bit of extra tension, untreated stress can be harmful to your long-term health. Putting these tips into practice can help lighten your mental burdens and put you back on the path to peace.

 

Prioritize sleep

Getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to reduce stress in your life, allowing your mind and your body to recharge and refresh overnight. However, stress can often keep you from the sleep you need. If you’re not sleeping well, the Mayo Clinic recommends following a soothing, consistent bedtime routine every evening so you’re physically and mentally ready to fall asleep.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise will help your mind shed stress and anxiety, and it can help you experience more positive feelings, too. Per Healthline, exercise releases mood-lifting endorphins and lowers stress hormones. It’s also an effective way to boost the quality of your nightly sleep. Over time, improving your physical fitness or mastering an exercise can even help you feel better about yourself and your abilities.

Maintain social connections

Whether or not you can see your friends and loved ones in person, maintaining and nurturing those social connections is essential for combating stress. Meetups, texts, phone calls and video chats with the most important people in your life can help you feel a sense of belonging and connection — and so can volunteering or helping others. Friends and family can also be a strong source of support when you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of sorts.

Pursue gratitude

Can you find anything in your life to be grateful for? Focusing on gratitude, whether it’s for big or small things, can help you deal with stress and cultivate a more positive outlook. To build a habit of gratitude, Psychology Today suggests making a list of everything and everyone you’re grateful for. Examine your life at the beginning or end of each day so you can add new things to this list, and be sure to communicate your gratitude to others, too.

Find a creative outlet

Banish stress from your life by exercising your creativity in both new and familiar ways. For starters, make time for your existing hobbies, interests and creative pursuits. Whether you enjoy making music, painting, working in the garden or cooking, you’ll have an outlet for maintaining focus, building a sense of accomplishment and taking your mind off your troubles. If your current leisure-time endeavors aren’t helping, consider challenging your mind by learning a new skill or trying a new hobby instead.

Try mindfulness, meditation and yoga

A wide variety of techniques and practices are available to help you manage and lower stress. Yoga is an especially popular example, and you can try it through in-person classes or online instruction. Meditation and mindfulness practices are another common way to keep stress at bay. You may also want to look into relaxation techniques like deep breathing, muscle relaxation and massage.

Get the help you need

Dealing with stress isn’t something you have to do on your own. If the techniques you try aren’t working or if your stress feels out of control, don’t hesitate to reach out to friends and family for help. You may also benefit from the assistance of a medical professional.

Don’t let stress affect your health or steal your joy. Start with these tips to find relief and regain control over the stressors that are making your life more difficult.

 

Budgeting Apps to Help Stabilize Your Finances

If there’s one thing we all want and need more of, it’s money. However, many of us struggle to take control of our finances, whether that’s because we spend too much on non-essentials, have a less-than-ideal credit score or any number of other factors. Thankfully, there are numerous smartphone apps that can help you keep track of your money and stabilize your financial situation.

 

Mint

Many people — including members of the NerdWallet editorial staff — consider Mint to be one of the best budgeting apps around, and it’s easy to see why. Its main purpose is to track how much you spend and separate your purchases into categories like entertainment, bills, food and more. If you set a cap for each group, Mint will automatically alert you if you spend too much, giving you immediate input on where you should cut back. The best part? It’s all free, and even provides complimentary credit scores and monitoring for active users.

YNAB

If you want to take a more active role in your finances, YNAB may be for you. The most important thing to know is that it’s built around the zero-based budgeting philosophy, which encourages you to divide your total income into categories like food, rent and savings, with the goal being that every dollar is accounted for at the end of the month. It’s certainly a committed approach that requires you to consider every dollar in your pocket, but it could save you a bundle. You can try YNAB for free for 34 days — with an additional year for students — but it will cost $84 per year after that period.

Clarity Money

Setting up a long-term spending plan can feel stressful, but Clarity Money makes it far easier. You can sync the app to all of the accounts you use on a regular basis, track your overall spending, set up categories and keep an eye on your credit scores. What sets it apart is that you can even monitor how much your monthly subscriptions cost and cancel them right from the app. Just like Mint, Clarity Money doesn’t put any features behind a paywall.

PocketGuard

For simplicity, PocketGuard cannot be beaten. It takes a complex matrix of figures — your monthly expenses, everyday spending, savings goals, charitable donations, account balances and more — and condenses it into one number: how much you have to spend. As a first step on the road to financial security, knowing if you can afford that online impulse purchase or if it’ll put you into the red seems like a great idea.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital combines the convenience of a free smartphone app with the expertise of a certified professional, especially if you’re interested in growing your investment portfolio. The program provides you with multiple tools you can use to stay aware of how much you’re spending from day to day, get a holistic view of your financial accounts and keep an eye on any outstanding loans. Personal Capital also has a staff of real-life advisors, just in case you have any questions.

Waukesha State Bank E-Alerts

You can also categorize your expenses and set up E-Alerts through Waukesha State Bank’s VaultLink Online Banking.

To set up E-Alerts, follow the instructions below:

  1. Log into VaultLink Online Banking, located at the top right of this screen.
  2. Click “Alerts” on the top right of the page.
  3. Click your account type (ex: Checking, Savings, etc.)
  4. Click “Set up New Alert”
  5. In the “Category” drop down box, choose your account type.
  6. In the “Type” drop down box, select the type of alert you’d like to set up.
    - For example: To set up an alert if your checking account balance falls below a certain dollar amount, select “Checking - Low Balance.”
  7. Click “Next”
  8. Select the specific account you’d like the alert on and enter the remaining information.
    - Depending on the alert, you may be asked to enter a dollar amount, a date, etc.
  9. Select how you’d like to be notified of the alert and enter your contact information.
  10. Click “Finish”

You will get your alert no later than 8:00 a.m. on the following business day (except the Checking Daily Balance alert, which you can choose to get every 2-24 hours). If you ever have any questions, please Chat with our Customer Service Center online, or call them at (262) 549-8531.

 

 

Volunteer Ideas for the Holidays

The holidays can be a whirlwind of activities, but one way to appreciate the season of giving is to give back. Donating your time and sharing your talents with organizations, local causes or your community will make the holidays even more special this year.

 

Look around your neighborhood

You don’t have to look far for volunteer opportunities. You can look out your window or step out your front door to find someone in need. Start with your neighbors, especially the elderly ones, and inquire if they need assistance with outdoor maintenance, landscaping projects or decorating the outside of their homes. If they have a hard time getting around, you could also ask them what groceries or other items they need from the store.

Shop for a good cause

Receiving a special gift during the holiday season is a dream of every child. Unfortunately, not every child will have something to unwrap. If you want to make the holidays a bit brighter for a child, help organize a toy drive or show off your shopping skills by donating toys to local organizations that support children. If there is an already established toy drive in your community, ask how you can help.

Gather sustenance

Although your local food pantry is in need of donations and volunteer hours year-round, the holidays pose a special need. Check in with your community organization to see if they need help packaging meals, collecting canned food or non-perishables for a food drive or preparing meals. Local churches often have lists of families who would greatly appreciate groceries and a holiday meal, and Meals on Wheels, a nationwide program that provides meals for seniors, might be able to put your volunteer spirit to work.

Send a message of love

A kind word can make all the difference to someone struggling during the holidays. If you are eager to share a message of love, hope and kindness, consider volunteering with More Love Letters, a letter writing campaign that spreads love through the mail. New letter requests are posted each month on the organization’s website, so you send a letter of love not only during the holidays, but also throughout the year.

If you love to combine your writing skills with creative crafting, check out the organization Cards for Hospitalized Kids. The charity specializes in bringing joy to kids who have to spend the holidays in the hospital. All you have to do is pen an uplifting message in a card you create, and the organization will send your special message to a kid in the hospital. You don’t have to be an artist or a celebrated wordsmith — just write from the heart. Creating cards for this organization works wonderfully as a group event, so invite your friends, coworkers and family to share their artistic abilities for deserving patients across the country.

There are so many ways to volunteer your talents and time during the holiday. Whether you have a ton of time or only a few hours to spare, you can make a difference in someone’s life.

 

5 Fitness Tips for the New Year

Are you ready for a healthy year? Start the year off right and keep your health on track all year long by incorporating the following fitness tips into your routine.

 

Outline your goals

Saying you want to get fit or exercise more are broad goals. In order to achieve your fitness resolutions, you need to be detailed about the changes you want to see and the strides you want to make. Are you hoping to lose a certain amount of weight? Do you want to achieve a specific number of steps each day? Do you want to try a new exercise class? Define your goals so you can determine the steps necessary to reach them.

Start slow

Although you’re fired up to make a fitness change in your life, starting slow is the best approach. You don’t want to hurt yourself trying to do too much too soon. Set yourself up for fitness success by forging your own path.

“You may see people exercising at a very high intensity, but you should start with low-to-moderate intensity workouts. You may know people who train six days a week, but it's fine to start with three. You may see people engage in a diverse array of physical activities, but a 15-minute walk three days a week is a great place to begin,” advises Tyrone Holmes, Ed.D, CPT, certified personal trainer, author and Active.com writer.

Ask for guidance

Unless you have a degree in physical education, kinesiology or health and fitness, chances are you might be unsure how to start your fitness journey. It’s okay to not know because there are plenty of experts such as personal trainers, physical therapists and exercise specialists who can help you define your fitness goals, teach you how to train and develop a program that supports your fitness aspirations.

Make it social

Friends make everything better, including exercise. There’s no reason you need to board the fitness train alone. Encourage a friend to go with you on an afternoon hike, join you for an early-morning sweat session in the gym, try out a new workout DVD in your living room or brave the unknown in a new workout class. Working out with a friend who’s dedicated to making the New Year a healthier and fitter one will help you succeed.

Don’t give up

It takes time to see significant results, so be kind to yourself, especially when you’re not seeing the number on the scale move down as quickly as you hoped. Fitness is more than just the number on the scale, and you should be proud of every workout you complete and healthy change you make.

“Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity to become a habit and six months for it to become part of your personality. It won’t happen overnight, so be persistent and patient,” according to GAIAM writer Louise Smith.

Whether you want to improve coordination, get stronger, lose weight or just move more, these suggestions will help you work up a sweat so your year is filled with fitness successes.