Strategies to Make College More Affordable

With the price of college still on an upward trajectory, families are looking for ways to make higher education affordable.

According to “How America Pays for College,” a report by Sallie Mae, the average American family spent $23,757 on college costs in 2017.

Here are some ways families are reducing their college costs:

• Live at home. The report found 50% of students live with their parents or relatives.

• Cut the pricey top picks. Nearly 70% of families eliminated colleges during the application process due to their high price tags, up from 58% in 2008. About 73% are choosing an in-state school.

• Take a student job. At least 76% the students surveyed reported planned to work while in college, with 55% working year-round.

• Finish quicker. Nearly 26% of students enrolled in accelerated courses while in high school to pay for fewer semesters in college.

• Use grants and scholarships. Families reported covering about 35% of their school bills with grants and scholarships—the biggest portion of their payment sources. About 87% of these scholarships come from the schools.  Visit http://www.hopewellfcu.org to learn about Hopewell & Ohio Credit Union Leagues scholarship opportunities.

• Start a college-savings plan. In 2016-17, 13% of families used the 529 tax-advantaged college-savings plan, with an average amount of $10,031. See Hopewell Federal Credit Union about starting a college-savings plan today.

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.

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New Year, New You, New Budget

Just like swearing off chocolate and carbs, sticking to a household budget is a New Year’s resolution easier made than accomplished. In fact, last year only two in five U.S. adults said they had a budget and kept close track of their spending throughout the year, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s 2017 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey.

Everybody knows it’s important to track personal finances and maintain your financial health. So, why do Americans have such a difficult time sustaining a budget?

It likely doesn’t have much to do with a lack of money. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household in America makes $74,664, well above the $18,871 national poverty line for a family of three. It’s also unlikely that consumers are too busy to keep up with their budgets. Budgeting apps such as Wally and Mint can track spending and income with minimal attention from the user.

Financial planning and psychology experts believe the real reason people struggle with budgeting is psychological. According to an article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, humans only have a finite amount of willpower. We can only restrict ourselves so long before we indulge. Just like dieting, people tend to see budgeting as restrictive; therefore, struggle to preserve the motivation to stick with it.

As you ramp-up your drive for 2018, here are some tips to help you exercise good budgeting habits and overcome a craving to spend.

  • Don’t mindlessly spend: If you don’t feel you have enough money, you could be spending money unnecessarily. Search the corners of your budget for empty spending that isn’t serving you. Many financial blogs offer creative tips to help with this. Check out Lauren Greutman’s list of 13 Things You Should Never Pay For.
  • Make time: If you don’t feel you have enough time to track spending, try finding a simple solution – like an app. Phone apps such as Wally and Mint track spending and income for you. They require minimum attention and time.
  • Start small: It takes weeks to form a new habit, and the same thing applies to tracking your income and expenses. In the beginning, keep it simple. If your spending plan is too complicated or restrictive, you will not stick to it.
  • Budget with a friend: If you don’t feel confident, get some help! Apps, financial blogs, and spreadsheets might help if you’re a little stuck in your budgeting process. But if you don’t even know where to start, consider seeking help from a trusted family member or a financial expert. Your local credit union is dedicated to financial literacy and can offer help and advice for your unique budget.

To learn more about how a credit union can help you be financially fit, visit www.aSmarterChoice.org and find a credit union in your area.

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.

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.