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Need Help Buying a Home? Check Out Our Equity Builder Program!

Owning a home shouldn’t be a dream beyond your reach. With help from the Equity Builder Program, it can become a reality!equity builder program

BankFive is offering up to $15,000 for closing costs and down payment assistance through the program, which is administered by The Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. Households with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area median income are eligible for consideration for assistance.*

To apply for the Equity Builder Program, call our Customer Contact Center at 774-888-6100 and ask to speak to one of our Home Mortgage Specialists. Or you can contact them directly by going to their web page at http://www.bankfive.com/home/personal-banking/mortgages/mortgage-specialists.

Our Specialists will determine if you qualify for the program and, if you do, they’ll help guide you through the process.

Since 2003, the Equity Builder Program has awarded more than $27.2 million to assist 2,487 income-eligible households purchase a home. And you may be eligible for assistance, too. Contact us today to learn more!

 

*Offered under the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Equity Builder Program (EBP) to qualified households with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area median income. Subject to qualification and fund availability. Income qualifications based on §5.609 of the HUD regulations. Household income limits are determined by HUD and can change at any time.


Free is Good, Especially When Checking Credit

There’s nothing like getting something for free. And a free credit report ranks right up there with the best freebies.free credit report

Knowing the condition of your credit is important for so many reasons. Credit ratings could have an impact on such things as credit card approvals, mortgage rates, and car loans. Fortunately, the federal government recognizes how important it is for people to keep track of their credit ratings. That’s why the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.

FCRA is focused on promoting the accuracy and privacy of information that’s on file with these credit reporting companies. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces this law with respect to credit reporting companies.

So what can you expect to find in your credit report? It will include such information as where you live, how you pay your bills and whether they’re paid on time, and whether you’ve been sued or have filed for bankruptcy. The three credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit.

And how do you go about ordering your free report? TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax have a central website – www.annualcreditreport.com – where you can place your order. Or you can call 1-877-322-8228. There is also a request form that you can fill out and mail to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Click on this link — Annual Credit Report Request Form – to access the document.

You may order your reports from each of the credit reporting companies at the same time, or you can order from each of the companies one at a time.

Reports ordered online should be accessible immediately on the website. If you request your report by phone, your request will be processed and the report mailed to you within 15 days. The same 15-day timeframe is in effect if you order your report by mail.

A word of warning – there are imposter websites that claim to offer free credit reports, free credit monitoring, or free credit scores. These sites are not part of the legally required free annual credit report program established by the FCRA.

Some of these sites lure in unsuspecting consumers with their “free services” and then charge for those services after a trial period. A tipoff to this is if the site requires you to submit credit card information in advance of providing services.

Once you receive your free report(s), make sure the information in it is accurate, complete, and up-to-date. This is particularly important before you apply for a loan for a major purchase such as a house or car.

Checking the information in your report also helps guard you against identity theft. If you find inaccuracies in your report – such as purchases you never made – it’s possible that your identity has been compromised and that someone is pretending to be you to make those purchases.

Inaccuracies should be reported immediately to the credit report company that issued your report.

COMING NEXT TIME: How to build and/or improve your credit.


First-Time Homebuyers

Spring is finally in the air, and that’s a sure sign that first-time homebuyers are out and about, looking for their perfect new home.first-time homebuyers

If you’re one of them, you’re probably having a hard time containing your excitement. It’s a natural impulse to want to hit the ground running today, if not yesterday! But don’t let emotions take over your hunt for a new house.

Before you even head out the door to start your search, do your homework first. There are a multitude of things to consider. Here are some pointers to help prepare you for your quest.

Figure out what you can afford – Knowing what you can realistically handle as a monthly mortgage payment is crucial. The last thing you want to do is get in over your head. Sit down and figure out in detail your current monthly income and expenses. And don’t overlook all the expenses that will come with home ownership. In addition to principal, interest, taxes and insurance, you’ll have utility costs such as heating, electric, cable, water and sewer. Contact utility companies that will service your house and ask for cost estimates and whether budget plans are available. Your overall budget should also include a “rainy day fund” for unexpected expenses, such as an appliance replacement or roof repairs.

By determining your debt-to-income ratio and factoring in a down payment, you’ll get a good idea of what you can afford. Generally speaking, no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income should be devoted to housing costs. This is referred to as the front-end ratio. The portion of income that covers all monthly debt obligations is called the back-end ratio. Lenders typically prefer this to be 36 percent or less.

Also keep in mind that you’ll need money for closing costs. They typically amount to 1-1/2 to 2 percent of the purchase price.

And don’t forget to check your credit score. It goes without saying that the higher the score, the better your chances of securing a mortgage loan. To get an idea of where your credit stands, go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.

Look for classes tailored to first-time homebuyers – Many Realtors and financial institutions offer free classes for first-time buyers so they know what to expect in advance of making a purchase. These classes are usually presented by lenders, attorneys and Realtors who can offer their specific insights and advice.

Pick the right real estate agent – Not all Realtors are created equal. Knowing which one is right for you takes some research. Ask agents for a list of previous clients and their contact information, then get in touch with at least some of those individuals to see what their experiences were with their lender. Ask friends, family members and neighbors who they would recommend. Check with licensing boards to determine if agents you’re interested in are properly licensed and whether they’ve had any disciplinary actions or complaints. See how long agents have been in business and what properties they have listed.

And choose the right lender – Finding the right lender is just as important as tracking down the right Realtor. Again, ask friends and family for recommendations and also check with your financial institution to see what it can offer. Look for lenders who are local, since they’re familiar with the region’s real estate market and the distinct features that come with it. Local lenders will know what lending programs are available and which ones will be a good fit for you. And they should be willing to take the time to explain in detail what’s involved with taking out a mortgage loan.

If you can arrange to have your financing in place before you go looking for a home, you’ll be better positioned to make an offer should you come across a property you really want.

Create a list of your must-haves/essentials/extra perks – It’s highly unlikely you’re going to find the perfect home that has everything you want. But by creating a list, you’ll get a handle on things you absolutely need and want, as well as things that would be nice to have. Take the checklist with you on every house visit you make so you can keep track of which homes have what you’re looking for.

Go online – A wealth of information on buying a home is also available on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website. Check it out here.

http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/buying_a_home

Happy house hunting!


Ways for Millennials to Stress Less about Finances

There’s no question that Millennials in the U.S. have significant financial power. On the other hand, many of them are distressed by their financial situation.financial stress

In fact, a recent report by Bank of America and USA Today showed that more than 40 percent of surveyed U.S. Millennials are “chronically stressed” about money. That’s an alarming statistic. But fortunately there are ways for Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – to gain more control over their personal finances.

Whether they’re into mobile banking (an increasingly popular approach) or prefer the more traditional “brick and mortar” route to conduct their financial business, Millennials have options to relieve their financial stress. Here are some to consider:

  • Choose a bank that matches your needs. Millennials are almost always on the go, so a bank that has robust mobile banking is essential. Add to that a reliable mobile banking app that has strong security and a variety of features, such as remote check deposit and bill pay. A search online should help in finding the right bank that syncs with your lifestyle.
  • Today’s banks have budgeting tools and related resources that are just a click or two away. And, of course, many banks have financial specialists who can provide assistance by phone or in person.
  • Another way to relieve financial stress is to be prepared for the unexpected by establishing a rainy day fund. Financial experts recommend that such a fund should have enough money to cover at least three months of routine expenses, such as mortgage payments and utility bills.
  • Know in advance what fees your bank charges before taking advantage of its services. For example, some banks will levy a fee for using their remote check deposit service or foreign ATMs.
  • Don’t do any online banking on public Wi-Fi. You run the risk of the network not having adequate security protocols, leaving you exposed to cyber-criminals lurking nearby. For more mobile security tips, visit the BankFive Fraud Prevention page.
  • Take advantage of text and e-mail alerts regarding your bank accounts, such as recent transaction activity and low account balance notifications.
  • If you use mobile banking, make sure your smart phone or tablet are password-protected. It’s an added layer of protection if your device is lost or stolen.
  • Don’t stay automatically logged into your financial accounts, again for security reasons.
  • It’s never too early to open a retirement account. The sooner you get started, the more opportunity you have to build up your savings for those “golden years.”

Millennials have enough to stress about in their lives, but personal finances don’t have to add to that burden.


Here’s A Day Worth Celebrating Globally!

Forty-six years ago, Earth received a birthday present from millions of Americans. This April 22, our planet will be the center of yet another anniversary celebration.earth day

It was April 22, 1970 when the first Earth Day made its debut in the United States. Founded by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator, Earth Day is said to be based on anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that Nelson witnessed on college campuses. The story goes that these demonstrations were organized to educate people about the war, and that Nelson adopted this strategy to educate society about the environment.

Why did Nelson pick April 22? He figured it was the best time for college students to get involved. There were no exams or spring break, and the date didn’t conflict with religious holidays like Easter or Passover. Plus, Mother Nature was more likely to cooperate with warmer weather.

But did you know that Nelson wasn’t the only one to come up with the idea of an Earth Day? John McConnell, a newspaper publisher and influential community activist, proposed the idea of a global holiday called Earth Day at a UNESCO Conference on the Environment in 1969. He called for an annual observance as a reminder to people that they share responsibility as environmental stewards. A year later, on March 21, an internationally recognized Earth Day was celebrated.

No matter who is credited for the holiday, Earth Day has become a global phenomenon. People are encouraged to do their part to make Earth a cleaner, greener place to live. Activities that are held include the cleanup of parks, rivers, streams, and roadsides, and planting of flowers and trees.

How can you make your mark on Earth Day? From a banking perspective, switching to e-statements from paper statements, using electronic bill pay in lieu of mailing paper bills, and even using your debit card instead of writing checks can all have a positive impact on the Earth. You can also reduce your footprint by considering a Heat Loan for projects such as installing energy-efficient windows and doors, and upgrading your heating or cooling system, or by obtaining a Solar Loan to power your home via a clean and renewable energy source.

Here are some other suggestions to show Earth that you really care:

  • Make a rain barrel to capture water for gardens and flower beds.
  • Build bird houses and feeders.
  • Bike or carpool to work.
  • Print on both sides of paper.
  • Use refillable water bottles instead of plastic disposable bottles of water.
  • Drink coffee from a reusable mug.
  • Use paper products made of recyclable materials.
  • Take full advantage of recycling programs in your community.
  • Pack lunches in reusable bags.
  • Turn off lights when you leave a room.
  • Adjust the thermostat in your home to higher/lower temperatures (depending on the season) when you’re not there.
  • Set up a collection day for unwanted cell phones at work and donate them to a non-profit agency that can reuse them.

And remember that Earth Day doesn’t have to be recognized only once a year – it can be a year-round celebration!


Owning or Renting? There’s Lots to Consider

To buy or rent? That’s not always an easy question to answer when it comes to deciding your living arrangements.

A lot of elements come into play, such as where you live and what long-term goals you have. Fortunately, there are calculators on a variety of websites that can help you decide which way to go.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that play a role in this important decision.buy or rent a home

  • Size may matter, especially if you have a large family. It might be easier to find and purchase a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home than locating an apartment with the same dimensions.
  • Length of stay tends to favor those who buy a house. That’s because upfront fees for a home purchase can be spread out over the course of several years.
  • Whether buying or renting, insurance is necessary, so that’s basically a wash. That is, unless Private Mortgage Insurance, or PMI, is needed. This insurance is a percentage of the original mortgage loan amount added each year, and is called for if the down payment is less than 20 percent. It drops to zero in the year after the outstanding loan balance falls below 80 percent of home value.
  • Home buyers have the advantage at tax time, when they can count mortgage interest and property taxes as deductions.
  • On the flip side, home buyers have to put out money for closing costs, which cover a variety of fees. And they have to pay directly for maintenance, such as replacing an appliance or having plumbing repairs done. Renters indirectly pay for maintenance but the cost is spread out over time and among other renters.
  • The cost of utilities — electric, water, sewage — tend to be lower for renters.
  • Those property owners who are required to be part of a condo or homeowner’s association can expect to pay monthly association fees in addition to mortgage payments.
  • Depending on where you live, it may be cheaper to rent than buy.
  • Owning a home can be looked at as an investment, unless there’s a downturn in the housing market when you decide to sell. Generally speaking, though, homeowners can expect to realize a decent profit when they finalize a sale.
  • On the downside for renters, they typically face an annual hike in rental fees, something that homeowners don’t have to worry about (although they may be hit with tax increases).
  • Homeowners can take advantage of equity in their home to take out loans for such things as college tuition or a new car at a lower-than-average interest rate.

Of course, other factors may influence a final decision. But it’s wise to weigh all of your options before making your move. If you think you may be ready to buy a home, review our “Qualities of a Prepared Homebuyer” checklist, or consult with one of our Mortgage Specialists.

 

 


Save on Your Taxes While Saving for Retirement

saving for retirementIf you think your 2015 tax bill is set in stone, think again. Although it’s true that the tax filing deadline is almost here, you may still have time to reduce your taxes, and boost your retirement savings at the same time!

For those folks who have been considering an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA), there’s no time like the present. Believe it or not, you can open an IRA now and have it applied to 2015. You’ll not only be putting money away for retirement, but since most traditional IRA contributions are tax deductible, you’ll likely be helping to reduce your taxable income as well.

In Massachusetts the deadline for making your 2015 IRA investment is April 19, 2016, due to the Patriots’ Day holiday. If you’re making a 2015 IRA investment in another state, the deadline is April 18th. Just be sure to tell your bank that you’d like the IRA contribution applied to 2015, otherwise the funds could be applied to this year.

If you’re interested in setting up an IRA between now and the tax filing deadline, visit the BankFive website to learn more about the benefits of a BankFive IRA, and get the help you need to open your account.

For more information and tips regarding IRA contributions, visit the Massachusetts Bankers Association website. As always, remember to consult with a tax advisor before making any major financial decisions.


Ease the Pain of Prepping Your Home for Sale

Prepping your home for sale probably ranks up there with having your teeth pulled or paying a tax bill. But sometimes in life there are painful things you just need to do. And properly prepping a house for “show time” is one of them if you want to maximize your profit.prepping your home for sale

Whipping a house into shape often takes more sweat equity and less financial investment. It also takes a critical eye and a willingness to reverse roles and consider yourself the buyer instead of the seller. What things would you find appealing and what would be turn-offs?

And where do you start? Just like your home has lots of nooks and crannies, there are lots of areas that probably could use some attention. Here’s a brief checklist to consider:

  • Clear out the clutter! From mountains of magazines and newspapers to piles of clothing stuffed away in corners or under beds, clutter is a nasty enemy that needs to be dealt with. Once removed, it frees up space in rooms and presents a more orderly, appealing appearance.
  • Flow is the way to go. When you enter a room, does it have a natural flow? Or are there things in the way, such as bulky furniture or pieces in awkward places? This may call for rearranging rooms or removing some furniture to get the “flow mojo” going.
  • Show some zeal for curb appeal. Home-selling experts will tell you that if a home doesn’t look attractive on the outside, many prospective buyers won’t even bother stepping inside. So keep the lawn neatly trimmed, pick up the kids’ toys, paint weather-worn porches and railings, and invest in some plantings. Hint: yellow and red flowers have proven to have drawing power.
  • Organize! Organize! Organize! Whether it’s a closet or a garage, put things in their place and bring order to any disorder you encounter. Lining up shoes neatly in a row, hanging up clothes instead of shoving them in a corner, cleaning up a messy pantry – you know the drill.
  • Put away personal effects. Photos of family and friends, knickknacks collected on vacations, antique toys, collectible plates – these and more need to be out of sight. You need to give the prospective buyer a vision of what a home would look like with their personal touches, not yours.
  • A bathroom should be a beauty to behold. That means spotless, from sinks to showers to toilet bowls. Invest in a few crisp new towels and repaint the walls if necessary. And make sure the room is free of mold and mildew smells. Lightly scented candles can add a nice touch. And always, always, put down the toilet lid before a showing!
  • The nose knows – when it comes to an unappealing smell, that is. Just like you want to keep your bathroom free of unwanted odors, so goes for the rest of the house. That means not whipping up your favorite garlic-laced dish right before a showing, or letting stinky sneakers sit in a closet. On the flip side, the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting through a home can often work wonders.

Once you feel you have your house in order and you can take constructive criticism, invite a friend or neighbor to your home to conduct an inspection. If they find your home is show-worthy, you should be good to go!


How Secure Are You On Social Media?

It appears that almost anything goes on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can say what you want, share all sorts of secrets, and display silly and often embarrassing photos without giving it a second thought.

Think again.

It’s not as safe out there in the social media cyber sphere as you might expect. Security experts point out several pitfalls when it comes to opening up online. Before you decide to post again, consider these social media safety tips:social media safety

Avoid oversharing

Putting too much personal information out there is an invitation to cyber crooks, who are looking for opportunities to steal your identity or hack into your computer. Personal telephone numbers, physical mailing addresses, dates of birth, where you work or attend school — all of these can be useful to thieves. They also can leave you susceptible to stalkers. Parents should be especially cautious about what personal information their children post online. 

Announcing that you’re away on vacation or out to dinner at your favorite restaurant could literally open the door for burglars if they know where you live. And when you post pics of your getaway or your favorite culinary dish for all to see? That’s another surefire way to set yourself up for a break-in. 

Stay away from strange links

“This video is hilarious!” and “I can’t stop watching this clip!” are link messages that aren’t easy to ignore. But this type of messaging is used to lure in unsuspecting people, who click on the link that ultimately allows an attacker to install malicious software on their computer. That software, in turn, could give crooks access to personal information, such as bank and credit card account numbers, passwords, etc.  

And watch out for short URLs, like the kind you find on Twitter, since the number of characters is limited with that service. If you’re unsure where a shortened URL will take you, don’t follow it. Criminals like to use this approach, too, to attract people to sites that contain malicious software traps. You can also hover over the link until the full URL is displayed in the lower corner of the browser. If the address doesn’t look familiar or it looks suspicious, avoid it.

Questionnaires are questionable

Do you like to take online surveys? Or fill out those quirky personality quizzes? Be careful what you complete. These are more ways to compromise yourself by sharing too much information. And as mentioned earlier, we know where that can lead to.

Beware of data-sharing applications 

Think again before giving in to applications that seek permission to share your data. That creates the potential for an unknown party to do things such as post to your wall or access your information. In effect, you lose some control over your social media accounts when you approve these types of applications.

Protect your privacy

It never hurts to check your privacy settings on a regular basis. Choose the most secure options that are available.

Update your browser(s)

Outdated browsers tend to have security flaws, so install the latest versions on your computer.

And update your security software

Old anti-virus and anti-spam software may not be able to withstand the latest and greatest malware that’s out there. So stay on top of installing security patches and consider investing in a new security software suite that includes a firewall and other added protection.

Be cautious of who you befriend

Sure, it’s great to have lots of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter. But can you be sure that all of them are trustworthy? If someone asks to be your pal and you have no clue who they are, think twice about letting them in your circle. And if someone starts to harass or threaten you, block them and report them immediately to the site administrator.

The bottom line? Always keep in mind that familiar adage, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

 

 


Ways to Avoid Burning Through Your Tax Refund

If you have a sizeable tax refund burning a hole in your pocket, put out the fire before you start splurging!tax refund

It’s tempting to go on a spending spree, especially if you have a couple thousand dollars in hand. But experts suggest you step back and figure out where you can get the biggest bang for your buck.

Do you have credit card debt that’s burdening you with high interest rates? It might be worthwhile to pay it down with some of the refund. Is your life insurance policy a bit underinsured? Upping the amount could bring you more peace of mind for yourself as well as your family.

Here are some other suggestions for using your refund:

  • Set up an emergency fund. Experts recommend that you have at least a three-month emergency reserve that would cover all your fixed expenses, such as mortgage and utility bills as well as food bills.
  • If you have young children, now’s a good time to establish a college fund. And if your kids are already in college, it’s likely they could still use money for tuition and books, rather than borrow to cover those expenses.
  • Plan now for a major purchase later, such as a car or boat. Consider short-term savings that could earn interest, such as a certificate of deposit. Or look into interest-bearing savings accounts. BankFive has beneficial savings products available at www.bankfive.com/home/personal-banking.
  • Contribute to a charitable organization. Not only will the charity benefit, but you will, too, in terms of a tax write-off.
  • Catch up on some home maintenance projects. Maybe it’s fixing a leaky roof or replacing a worn-out storm door. Whatever the project, now’s a good time to tackle it.
  • Pay for a vacation using money from the refund rather than borrowing for the trip.
  • Have you been putting off seeing a doctor or dentist because you couldn’t afford it? Well, now you can. Isn’t it worth investing in your health?
  • Bulk up your retirement account with additional contributions. And if you don’t have an account, start one right away.
  • Spend some money on furthering your education, especially if it could help in furthering your career.

Here’s something else to consider — if you have a large refund, you may want to consider having your withholding allowances adjusted in your paycheck. If you think about it, the more money coming out of your pay is just like giving the government an interest-free loan. Why not turn that around and give yourself a little raise each pay day? Remember to always consult with a tax advisor before making any major financial decision.