Tax Tips for First-Time Filers in College

Unless you’re an accounting major, filing taxes may not be your idea of a good time. But if you don’t file, you may end up leaving a lot of money on the table. If you’re going to file taxes for the first time this year, here are a few tips to make this task easier and less stressful:

• If taxes were withheld from your paycheck, even if you only earned a little money, file your taxes so you can get some of that money returned to you.
• If you earned more than $10,400 in 2017, you must file a tax return.
• You’re eligible for at least 3 tax breaks in the years you pay tuition: The American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, and the tuition and fees deductions.
• If your parent still claims you as a dependent, you must mark off “I can be claimed on someone else’s return” on your form.
• File early. Waiting until the last moment will only make the process more stressful.
• You can file your Federal taxes for free and online by going to http://www.irs.gov. There are other free filing websites, found easily through an online search.
• You’ll have to pay state taxes to each state you are a resident of during the tax year. If you attend college in one state but live in another, check the residency requirements to see if you qualify as a resident or nonresident of the state in which you attend school.

Here are the forms you’ll need to file your taxes and get your returns:
• W-2: Your employer will give this to you. It’ll show any taxes that were withheld from your paycheck.
• Form 1098-T: Your college will send you this tuition statement. It includes information you’ll need to claim education credits.
• Form 8863: This is another form that will tell you if you qualify credits like the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
• Form 1098-E: Use this to deduct the interest you paid on a qualified student loan during the tax year. Your lender will send this form to you if you paid more than $600 in interest.

Filing taxes may seem like a boring chore, but if you don’t, you’ll miss out on a nice tax return. And who wouldn’t like a little extra cash in their account? Hm?

Copyright 2018 Credit Union National Association Inc. Information subject to change without notice. For use with members of a single credit union. All other rights reserved.

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3 Steps to Strong Passwords You Can Remember

Passwords are the house keys to your online accounts, and when they’re hacked, intruders can break in and wreak havoc.

To create strong passwords, you have to strike a balance between making them difficult for others to guess and making them easy enough for you to remember. Many people favor simple ones at their own risk: “123456” and “password” have remained the two most common passwords for six years, according to password security company SplashData.

Unlike many other security measures on websites, a password is one you have full control over. And given that over 1,000 data breaches happened in 2017 alone, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, it might be time to strengthen your passwords. Here’s how.

How to make a foolproof password

1. Start with a sentence

Despite the “word” in “password,” it’s better to think of starting with multiple words. Some websites require only six or eight characters for passwords, but that doesn’t mean it’s a recommended length.

» MORE: How to make online banking more secure

When it comes to passwords, “longer is better,” says Richard Crone, a payments expert and CEO of Crone Consulting LLC. “And the way to do that is to use a sentence structure.”

Pick a sentence that’s memorable but doesn’t have details that relate too closely to you. Avoid using birthdays or the names of pets or family members, and feel free to be creative. Here’s an example: “cats do not like cucumbers.” Then, take out the spaces, “catsdonotlikecucumbers.”

“It’s really the length and the unrelatedness that gives you the best protection,” Crone says.

2. Avoid using real words

Change how your sentence looks by removing all the vowels, or only use the first one or two letters of each word. Don’t use dictionary words, which makes your password easier to guess.

The previous example becomes “cadonolicu” if you’re using the first two letters of every word in that sentence.

3. Mix in numbers, symbols and uppercase letters

Bring in a variety of characters to your password. Some websites have minimum requirements so you need to use at least one capital letter, one lowercase letter and a number. You might have to add a symbol like a period or exclamation point, too. As you mix it up, don’t repeat letters, numbers or symbols right next to each other.

By capitalizing some letters, replacing the “l” with an exclamation point and turning an “o” into a zero, the sample password becomes “CaD0No!icU.”

Use a password manager

The steps above help when you’re creating one really strong password, but remembering a dozen or more such passwords might make your head spin. That’s why you might want to consider using a password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane. There are free options, but some features are available only for purchase.

Think of a password manager as a bank vault that creates and stores long and complex passwords so you don’t have to. The only password to know is the one that unlocks the vault. Once you type that one, you can log into whatever online accounts you decide to keep on the password manager.

If you don’t use an online password manager, consider writing down complex passwords and storing them in a safe place such as a locked cabinet at home or in an encrypted file on your computer. These passwords should be difficult to access as well as to guess.

A password is “like scrambled eggs,” Crone says. “The more you fluff it up and spice it up, the better.”

The article 3 Steps to Strong Passwords You Can Remember originally appeared on NerdWallet.

3 Safe, Easy Ways to Gift Money This Holiday Season

Giving money as a holiday present is like baking cookies for a potluck: It’s easy to do, and it’s usually appreciated. But cash might miss the mark.

Slipping it into a holiday card and mailing it is risky, because it has no protections if it’s lost or stolen. And whether you mail it or give it in person, it’s easy for recipients to quickly stash the cash in their wallets and forget where it came from.

Here are three easy, safe alternatives to cash that might make for a more memorable gift.

1. Checks

Writing checks is becoming a lost art, but if you already have a checkbook, it’s hard to beat for convenience. Many banks have mobile apps that let customers cash a check by taking photos with a smartphone, which could increase the convenience for your recipient, too. Add a handwritten card to make it even more personal.

Protections: Whereas cash is anonymous, a check requires you to write the recipient’s name. And if a check is never delivered, you can have your bank cancel it. This service generally comes with a steep fee, so think of it as a last resort.

When they’re a hassle: You won’t know exactly when a person deposits your check or when the money will leave your account. So if the check is cashed when your account has a low balance, you might overdraw and face a hefty fee.

Around the holidays, “my mother generally writes checks,” says Lou Anne Alexander, the group president of payments solutions at the financial risk management firm Early Warning Services. “She will call [her granddaughters] two or three times to say, ‘Why haven’t you cashed my check?’”

2. Gift cards

With a gift card, you can earmark money for a specific spending experience, rather than give cash that could be used for anything. If you’re in a financial bind, Shelley Hunter, gift card expert for GiftCards.com, suggests pairing lower-value gift cards with something homemade to make the gift more personal. For instance, you can pair a $10 gift card to a coffee shop with a plate of homemade cookies. And don’t forget a written note to keep the personal touch.

Protections: Anyone can use a gift card, so there isn’t much you can do if a card is stolen and then spent. But if it hasn’t been used yet, you or the recipient could try replacing it.

“You need to have some proof of purchase to get a replacement gift card,” Hunter says. If you have a receipt or email that includes the gift card number, plus the exact store where it was purchased, customer service may be able to help, Hunter says. Lost cash is just lost.

When they’re a hassle: Gifting the right card could require some detective work, especially if your shopping tastes differ from those of the would-be recipient. Check with the recipient directly, or with someone in the know, if you’re not sure what card would be a good fit.

3. Online peer-to-peer payments

Peer-to-peer payments (P2P for short) have grown popular recently thanks to easy-to-use apps such as PayPal, Venmo and Square Cash. This past summer, many banks started offering a similar service run by Zelle, a network and P2P provider that can send and deliver money within seconds between two bank accounts. Most providers offer a free way to send and request money, though details vary.

Protections: The major P2P platforms encrypt their websites and can help resolve unauthorized transactions. In fact, federal law caps how much you can lose from unauthorized transfers if you report the theft or loss within a few days.

When they’re a hassle: You generally can’t cancel or reverse P2P payments after you send them, even if it’s to the wrong person. Your best bet is to request the money back.

Also, you might have to work harder to personalize it. As a gift, “I think P2P transfers could work, especially if you put emojis into it,” says Dan Andrews, a certified financial planner at the firm Well-Rounded Success in the Denver area, “but it’s just not a glamorous way to receive a gift.”

Unlike with a check or gift card, including a physical note about a P2P transfer might be awkward, so consider adding a note with the transaction and sending the payment while you’re exchanging gifts. Or see if your bank can schedule the payment to give you control over when the money gets to your recipient.

“Presentation factors into any gift that you give,” Hunter says, “whether it’s cash, a gift card or a new sweater.”

The article 3 Safe, Easy Ways to Gift Money This Holiday Season originally appeared on NerdWallet.

3 Steps to Tame Your Debt in an Hour or Less

Maybe you’re afraid to face your bills, or just don’t know how to start paying them off. What you do know is you want relief from too much debt.

Here are three concrete steps to help you get a handle on debt, each of which can be done in an hour or less:

1. Add it up

“The first step to getting control over your money is to know exactly what you’re dealing with,” says Lara Lamb, a certified financial planner at California firm Abacus Wealth Partners.

List your debts and their interest rates. Include credit cards, medical bills, and auto, payday and personal loans, but not your mortgage or student loans, which are considered “good” debts you can pay off over the long term.

Divide the total by your gross annual income. This number is your debt-to-income ratio, and it will help you with the next step, choosing a strategy to pay off debt.

2. Pick a strategy

Moderate debt: Suppose you’ve racked up balances on a few credit cards and feel confident you can pay them off with a little budgeting and discipline. Explore do-it-yourself methods like debt avalanche or debt snowball.

With debt avalanche, you pay off the highest interest-rate debt first, which can lower the total interest you pay. The snowball method involves paying off debts from the smallest to the largest amount, regardless of interest rate. The short-term reward of knocking off a smaller debt or two can motivate you to keep going.

Heavier debt: If your debt-to-income ratio is high — between 15% and 50% — then the snowball or avalanche method is less likely to cut it.

Instead, consider a 0% interest balance-transfer credit card or low-interest debt consolidation loan to pay off your debt — and be unwavering about paying off that card or loan.

Crushing debt: If you’re overwhelmed with debt, especially if it’s more than half your gross income, ask for help. Talk to a nonprofit credit counselor and a bankruptcy attorney. Initial consultations with both are typically free.

3. Be your own advocate

You may have heard ads for companies that say they can solve your debt problems. But you can negotiate with creditors yourself — for free.

Using your list of debts, call each creditor. If you aren’t seriously behind on your payments, asking for a lower interest rate or information about a hardship program shouldn’t do any harm.

Let’s take the credit cards example again. If you’ve been paying the minimum due each month but carrying a balance, you still have a history of on-time payments. That could help your case when you negotiate with your issuer.

“It can be scary, but it’s important to create a plan before you can move forward and gain control,” Lamb says.

More from NerdWallet:

Amrita Jayakumar is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ajayakumar@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ajbombay.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

Freezer Tips for Smart Savers

No one likes throwing away food, especially if you’re trying to save money. But what do you do with those fresh string beans you got on sale that may not get eaten before they go bad? Freeze them. Follow these handy tips and you’ll be able you to enjoy your favorite foods for months.

Vegetables
It’s best to freeze veggies when they’re fresh. Blanch them first. This stops the enzymes that cause vegetables to lose their flavor, color, and nutritional value. Blanching time is crucial, but it also varies depending on the vegetable, so check the National Center of Home Food Preservation’s website for blanching times http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html. After the recommended time, dunk the vegetables in ice water for the same amount of time, then drain them thoroughly. Finally pack them into freezer bags or freezer safe plastic containers and be sure to mark each container clearly with the name of the item and date. When you’re ready to cook your veggies, throw them in the pot while they’re still frozen.

Fruit
Very ripe fruit is perfect for smoothies. First wash them. If they’re bananas, remove them from their peels. Then chop them up, bag them, and put them in the freezer. You can leave grapes whole before freezing and use them later as ice cubes in your favorite drinks.

Meat
You can freeze meat in the store wrapper for a month or two, but if you’re going to keep it longer, add a second wrapping to maintain quality and prevent freezer burn. You can use airtight heavy-duty freezer foil, freezer paper or place the package inside a freezer bag. If food does get freezer burn, it is still safe to eat, though it may be dry in spots.

Dairy
Milk, hard cheese and egg whites (not the yolks) freeze well. Store milk in plastic jugs, not glass or paper. Cheese should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Egg whites can be poured into a freezer bag — just make sure to note how many eggs you used.

Herbs
Make simple herb butters by combining fresh herbs with softened butter and crushed garlic. Wrap them in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer. You can also make flavored oil cubes by tearing your favorite fresh herbs into ice cube trays and filling each compartment with olive or canola oil before freezing. They can go straight into the pan when you’re ready to use them.

It’s very important to clearly mark the date and description of each item so you don’t have a freezer full of mysteries. Most vegetables can be stored for 8 to 12 months, fruits for 6 to 9 months, and dairy products and leftover meals are safe for up to 3 months. 

For more information, go to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service at http://www.fsis.usda.gov.

Copyright 2017 Credit Union National Association Inc. Information subject to change without notice. For use with members of a single credit union. All other rights reserved.

How To Get a Great Price on Your Next Car

Are you thinking of buying a car, but want to make sure you get the best price? Here are a few tips to help you find the right car at the best price.

Buy “off-season.” Peak demand for cars is in the spring and fall, but if you want to find a bargain, shop for a car in December and January when the prices are lowered. That’s when dealerships are eager to move the inventory off their lots to make room for newer models.

Know the real price of the car. Use websites like Edmunds.com, Kbb.com (Kelley Blue Book), and carsdirect.com to find the actual value of particular make and model. If you’re looking at new cars, find the invoice price (what the dealer paid for the car) and the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. If you’re looking at used cars, find the wholesale price and the dealer’s asking price. Also look for current rebates. Knowing this information will help you during your negotiations with dealers.

Comparison shop. Use online resources like TrueCar.com and Cars.com to compare the prices at dealerships in your area. This will save you time and gas money.

Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) states have the best prices for hybrids. If you live in a state with strict emissions regulations, like California, you can probably get a good deal on hybrids and battery-electric cars. Manufacturers must sell a certain number of zero-emission cars per year in order to continuing selling in those states, so invoice prices will be lower there.

Look for discounts. Check the automakers websites under their “current offers” webpages. Many offer discounts to students, military servicemembers, and members of credit unions. Deduct these discounts after you negotiate the price with the dealer.

Don’t settle for dealer financing. Since dealers get a commission or flat fee for every loan they coordinate, he or she will probably try to get you to finance through the dealership. There are better options. You’ll get a much better loan rate at a credit union — typically 1-2 percentage points lower than the average.

Cash Rebate vs. 0% Financing. Some dealerships lure customers by offering a cash rebate or zero percent financing. Typically, only 10% of car buyers qualify for these incentives, and you may find you don’t qualify. Even if you do qualify for their incentives, you’ll likely save more money per month by taking the cash rebate and getting your loan through your credit union. To see for yourself, use the calculator at http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/auto/car-finance-payment-calculator.aspx to compare the two options.

Before you head to the lots, do a little research, then talk to one of our loan officers to ensure you get a great auto loan.

Copyright 2017 Credit Union National Association Inc. Information subject to change without notice. For use with members of a single credit union. All other rights reserved.

HOPEWELL FEDERAL CELEBRATES GRAND OPENING IN JOHNSTOWN, OHIO

More than Fifty Individuals Shared in The Event

On November 17th, Hopewell Federal Credit Union (HFCU) celebrated the Grand Opening of its newest office in Johnstown, Ohio.  The 2,100 square-foot building, located at 635 W. Coshocton Street, is the third office in HFCU’s portfolio.  The building was constructed from April 2017 through October 2017 by the teams of Mark Caughenbaugh Construction, LLC and Phil Claggett, Ohio Architect with Northpoint Ohio Architecture.   The grand opening celebration included ceremonial ribbon cutting, WCLT-T100 Big Thunder live broadcast, lobby tours throughout the day, light refreshments, giveaways and a special grand opening CD special.

Attendees of the event included Johnstown council members and government officials, representatives from the many vendors who helped construct the building, members of the HFCU Board of Directors, new and existing members, as well as the Johnstown Cheerleading squad.

The community of Johnstown, Ohio, situated on the far western edge of Licking County, is home to residents who may benefit from credit union services.  Prior to Hopewell Federal’s arrival, members of this community needed to travel 11 miles to obtain credit union services.  Hopewell is thrilled to close that lengthy gap and provide a full-service facility right in the heart of Johnstown.  HFCU’s President and CEO said, “Today marks the culmination of an idea that began a few years ago as we considered bringing credit union services to members, and potential members in this area.  We look forward to serving and rolling up our sleeves and becoming part of this great community.”

About Hopewell Federal Credit Union (HFCU):

Hopewell Federal Credit Union, one of the leading credit unions serving Licking, Franklin and Delaware Counties, is a not-for-profit financial cooperative that is owned by its members. They provide a full range of financial services including savings and checking accounts, loan products and business accounts.  HFCU operates with the mission of helping its members get ahead financially and serves anyone who lives, works or worships in Licking, Franklin and Delaware Counties.