Young Adult Blog Series: Student Loans

If you’re spending the dollars on a higher education, you likely have the prospect of student loans hanging over your head. You’re not alone—Forbes.com reports that two thirds of students graduating from American universities today are carrying some amount of debt with them. Even more staggering, the total student loan debt in the United States is estimated at around $1.2 trillion, with the average graduate owing $26,000.

In the flurry of excitement that comes with graduation, job searching and (hopefully!) snagging that first job, it can be easy to put off thinking about loan payback. Consequently, nearly one quarter to one third of borrowers are late or delinquent on their student loans, a misstep that can have a negative impact on a financial future down the line.

When it comes to student loans, it’s beneficial to take the time to understand your personal situation. Every student is different, so be sure to find out who you owe, and how much you have in debt. As you go through that process, there are a few things to keep in mind:

What type of repayment plan will you have? Many loan programs allow you to defer starting the repayment process until you graduate and then have level payments for up to ten years to pay off the loan. Depending on the type of loan you have and your situation, you may be able to extend the term or have variable payments.

What are the terms (repayment and interest rate) of your loan? As you review your loan, be sure to compare the student loan rate with any other borrowing you may have. For example, it may sound nice to pay off your student loan just to get it behind you, but if that means that your credit card balance would grow, it may not make sense.

Would consolidating your loans or refinancing them make sense? Again, you need to review all of the terms of any existing loan with the terms of a potential consolidated loan. Be sure to consider rates, terms and any costs of consolidating or refinancing.

What if you are having trouble making your required payments? Living up to your repayment responsibilities is serious. Missing payments may trigger penalties and ultimately that may be reflected on your credit record. If this is an issue, contact your lender immediately. You may be able to work out an agreement to extend the repayment period or change the terms to ease the problem. Your lender does not want to see the loan go into default and neither do you.

Looking for additional tips for managing your student loans? Click here to read more.

Friday Focus: The Community Foundation of Rappahannock River Region

Since 1997, the Community Foundation of Rappahannock has supported local organizations through its philanthropic efforts. Working with individual donors and corporations alike, the Foundation creates endowments, grants and scholarships that benefit a number of programs, groups and community-oriented charitable efforts throughout Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties.  Our Friday Focus interviewee this week is the Foundation’s Executive Director, Teri McNally, who shared with us the challenges and rewards of grant-making!

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The Community Foundation is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has been managing charitable giving on behalf of generous local individuals, families and businesses since 1997. We establish named charitable funds and invest and manage charitable assets for the benefit of the entire Rappahannock River region, which includes the City of Fredericksburg and the four surrounding counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: I’m happiest at work when I am talking to area donors about what they believe in, what they are grateful for and how they want to give back. And I love it when we get to “connect the dots” between generous donors and the nonprofit organizations who are working hard each day to meet our community’s needs – whether that be through environmental conservation, arts, education, health and wellness, etc.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: They biggest challenge is that there are so many nonprofits doing such great work, but a limited amount of grant funding to distribute. It can be hard to say no when multiple nonprofits are competing for a grant. But it has an upside, too, because it pushes us to look for the most efficient, strategic and well-planned projects to benefit from our donor’s giving.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We will be hosting a continuing education opportunity for area professional advisors, such as investment bankers, estate attorneys, and accountants. This low cost, high value training will be held on September 16. Our website–www.cfrrr.org—will have more information and registration opportunities as the event draws closer.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: When the time comes in life to give back to a community that gives so much to each of us, I hope everyone will remember the local foundation that can help.

Opening a charitable fund at the Community Foundation is easy. A phone call is a great way to start! Teri McNally, Executive Director: 540 373-9292 or email terrimcnally@cfrrr.org.

Young Adult Blog Series: Do you know your credit score?

If your answer is “no”, don’t feel bad; a recent study by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solutions found that there are many misconceptions and a general lack of knowledge among Americans when it comes to their credit score.

When you’re young, a credit score probably isn’t something you regularly think about, but as your level of financial responsibility increases, it becomes an important thing to keep track of. So what is a credit score, and how do you find out yours?

Essentially, your credit score is a snapshot of your borrowing history, comprised of information from credit card companies, financial institutions and other companies. This history is used to calculate your creditworthiness—in other words, your likelihood of being able to pay back money that you borrow.

Each time you apply for credit, whether you complete a credit card application, apply for an auto loan or sign a lease for an apartment, someone is probably checking your credit report. When it comes to loans, your credit score is a major determining factor on whether or not a lender will approve you. It can also affect your interest rate; the lower your credit score, the more likely you’ll end up paying more in interest.

Here are some tips to help you build and maintain a solid credit rating:

-Make your payments before the due date Remember, promptness counts! Making your payments ahead of schedule will not only help you avoid late fees, but it will keep your account from delinquency.

-Pay more than the minimum on all credit cards if you can. Having a high credit card balance relative to your credit limit can negatively affect your credit score. If you have a high amount of credit card debt, make every effort to pay down your balances as quickly as possible.

-Order a credit report once a year There are three major bureaus that house credit card information: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You are entitled to one free report per year from each of the financial institutions, so make a yearly credit check-up part of your life! If you notice any errors on your credit report, contact the issuing bureau immediately.

Want to test your knowledge? Take this quiz and see how much you know about your credit score!

Friday Focus: Accokeek Foundation

Along the Potomac River just across from the historic Mount VernDSC_0915 Becky talks about watermelonson plantation sits Piscataway Park, a 5,000-acre span of natural landscape. The park is a product of a large-scale conservation effort begun in the 1950s, when rapid development threatened to
destroy the land. Today, the stewardship of the park is a joint effort between the National Park Service and the Accokeek Foundation, an organization dedicated to sharing the land and its heritage with visitors. This week’s Friday Focus is a conversation with Anjela Barnes, the Foundation’s Marketing Director, who shared some favorite moments and the Foundation’s plans for celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812!

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The Accokeek Foundation’s mission is to cultivate passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and commitment to stewardship and sustainability. We were founded in 1957 to protect the view from George Washington’s Mount Vernon as one of the nation’s first land trusts, and we continue land conservation efforts today to ensure continued protection of the viewshed and the working landscapes in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the Foundation uses Piscataway Park to interpret agriculture and environmental stewardship to its 20,000 annual visitors, including school youth, local residents, recreational enthusiasts and D.C. area tourists. The National Colonial Farm, a well known historic farm museum established in 1958, demonstrates Maryland agriculture during the 18th century, and has been the backdrop for hundreds of school tours each year. The Ecosystem Farm, a certified organic 8-acre farm, teaches visitors about sustainable food production using innovative growing techniques. It is the goal of the farm to demonstrate a compelling variety of possibilities that inspire people to want to grow while creating a thriving, engaged community.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: There are so many favorite moments that it’s hard to choose just one, but I would say that the best moments come by way of the school tours offered to kids aged 13 or younger. Last fall, the organic farm we operate was host to a group of kids from D.C.’s Mundo Verde Public Charter School. The kids learned about what it’s like to be a farmer, where their food comes from and even helped to harvest carrots–a lot of carrots! For many of the kids, it is their first time visiting a farm, an experience quoted by one teacher as, “one they’ll never forget.”

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Because of recent federal budget cuts, including sequestration and the October shutdown, the Accokeek Foundation has been impacted by a decrease in federal funding. Support from private foundations and individuals help to provide the funds needed so we can maintain and provide an open space that is available daily and free for all to enjoy its beauty.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Yes. We’ve just launched a free monthly workshop series on Modern Homesteading which integrates classroom learning with practical, hands-on work on the farm. The series will be held on Sundays through the fall and will cover topics such as composting, permaculture design, kitchen gardening, canning and food preservation and seed saving. We are also in the midst of planning for a large public event on July 12. The event, “Celebrating with Pride on the Potomac”, commemorates the War of 1812 bicentennial with a visit to the Potomac by the Pride of Baltimore. The event will feature deck tours aboard the Pride, shore side captain talks about the life of a privateer, kayak tours by Atlantic Kayak Company, music and historic interpretation on the National Colonial Farm. Admission is $10 per person, and children 10 and under are free.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: There are many ways to get involved with the organization. Volunteering on a recurring basis is often the most rewarding way to get involved and give back by helping with the gardens, caring for heritage breed livestock, working the on-farm market or lending a hand during special events. Individuals and families can also join and become members of the Accokeek Foundation to support the natural and cultural heritage programs offered. Or simply visit, bring your family and friends, and enjoy the natural beauty of Piscataway Park, preserved and protected for generations to come.

Young Adult Blog Series: Buying Your First Car

Car Care Tips to Save You MoneyOne of the first big financial steps you’ll likely take is making the decision to buy a car. Buying a car can be exciting, a little stressful and will have a big impact on your financial life. You’ll need to consider what you want, but also what you can reasonably afford. Owning a car doesn’t just involve making a monthly payment on your loan; you will also need to consider things like gas, insurance and maintenance before making a purchase. And always remember that a car isn’t an investment—it’s just a means of getting from one place to another.

Buying a car is essentially a three-step process: choosing the car you want, negotiating the purchase and actually paying for it.

Step One: The New or Used Decision
The automobile industry spends millions of dollars each year to bring you advertisements for sleek, shiny, new cars with countless features and custom furnishings. But as you can imagine, luxury comes with a high price tag, so as you begin your search be sure to set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend.

There are pros and cons to both new and used cars; new cars usually come with a warranty that will cover unforeseen expenses, but can be expensive. Buying used can be a cost-savings up front, but you’ll need to do extra homework on the car’s history to avoid getting stuck with a clunker. Sites like Carfax.com offer history reports that can tell you if a car was ever stolen, salvaged or recalled, so make that part of your research process. It’s also a good idea to have a qualified mechanic take a look at the car before you buy.

Step Two: Negotiating
Negotiating the purchase of your car can be the most stressful part of the process, particularly if it’s your first time. It helps to go in knowing the facts about the car you’re interested in and be firm on your price limit.

The Internet is a great resource for comparing prices. Check out sites like Autobytel and CarsDirect to get quotes beforehand. Don’t be afraid to share competitive pricing with your salesperson. While you negotiate, stay focused on the purchase price of the car you want and keep discussions about trade-ins or financing options separate. Be wary of expensive add-ons, too; often times, dealerships offer things like rust-proofing or extended warranties that are profitable for the dealer but can be very expensive for you.

Finally, if you feel that you cannot get the price you want or you aren’t being treated with respect, don’t be afraid to table the negotiation and take your business elsewhere. There are many dealerships out there who would love to have your business!

Step Three: Paying for the Car
When it comes to paying for your car, you have several different options.

The first and easiest option would be to pay cash in full, that way you’ll avoid any interest expenses. If you’re buying a new or more expensive used car, though, paying cash might not be possible. In that case, most people choose to make a down payment and then finance the rest of their purchase with a loan. You can take a loan through your bank or credit union, or through the dealership itself. If you’re not planning to finance through the dealer, secure your loan before you walk into the showroom.

Another option is to lease a car, which avoids the need for a large down payment. When you lease, you make monthly payments until the lease is up, at which point you return the car. The obvious drawback here is that you don’t actually own the car.

Whether you’re leasing or buying, be sure to fully understand the terms and conditions before you sign any documents.

Are you ready to take your first steps toward owning a car? Community Bank offers auto loans to help you finance your purchase. Stop in and talk to us anytime!

Friday Focus: Charles County Dive Rescue, Inc.

When disaster strikes on the water, Charles County Dive Rescue, Inc. (CCDR) is there to help by dispatching properly trained and equipped divers to assist in emergencies. The organization was founded in 1989, when medical advances in near-drowning resuscitation prompted a need for a specialized rescue team that could respond in those situations. Today, CCDR Company 13 is an independent emergency service agency that operates an in-house training program and maintains a fleet of dive and rescue boats and vehicles. We talked with Chief William “Skeeter” Porter for this week’s Friday Focus, who gave us an inside look into the organization.design4_01

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: CCDR is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that operates with other public safety agencies for emergencies around water and ice. Our mission is to serve the citizens of Charles County (as well as neighboring jurisdictions) by providing properly trained and equipped divers to assist in times of need. Further, we shall always strive to raise public conscience concerning safety around water and ice.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: It’s hard to pick a ‘favorite’ moment when your service is most needed at times when people may be experiencing a horrible tragedy. Suffice it to say, we are fortunate to have dedicated members who volunteer their time, knowledge and skills to help others in their time of need.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Many emergency operations on open water are difficult due to a lack of reliable information. Distance is very hard to estimate over water. Also, wind and currents create difficult contributing factors. Alcohol is often a contributing factor to accidents, which also makes obtaining accurate information about an incident difficult.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Our 26th Annual “Vampire Manor” fundraiser starts in October. The Manor is run by our team members and all profits go to support CCDR, the Bel Alton VFD and some of the local high schools who help provide the volunteer creatures. Check out the website at www.vampiremanor.com/ for more information.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: You can learn more about CCDR by visiting our website at www.ccdr.net.

Community Bank is proud to support Charles County Dive Rescue through our annual “Casual for a Cause” campaign. If you’d like to donate directly to CCDR, donations can be mailed to: Charles County Dive and Rescue, Inc. P.O. Box 13, Pomfret, MD 20675.

Young Adult Blog Series: Find Your Financial Co-Pilot

CoffeeWorkerIf you think of your financial life as one giant road trip with financial stability as the end destination, one of the first things you’ll need to do is find yourself a good co-pilot. Someone dependable, who will have your back if the going gets tough. Someone who understands you—how you operate, what your needs are—and someone you’ll enjoy having along for the ride!

In the context of finance, that co-pilot is your bank.
A good working relationship with a financial institution is part of a solid financial foundation, and it’s important to find the right one to work with. Depending on where you live, you’ll probably have several to choose from, so here are a few things to consider when selecting a bank:

• Location of branches and ATMs — While the days of traditional banking are giving way to online tools and mobile apps, it’s still good to find one that is conveniently located, in the event that you need to physically visit the branch. Also, consider their ATM locations in relation to where you live and work. Is there a branch ATM nearby? Many branches are also part of networks that don’t charge fees, so be sure to find out as you research different banks.

• Fairly priced products and services — Different banks will offer different accounts and services. Be sure to do a good comparison between banks you’re considering; take into account interest rates and fees associated with their various accounts.

• The overall “vibe” — Remember, you’re choosing a partner accompany you on your journey toward financial success. Interacting with your bank should be a positive experience, so be sure to find a bank that will take the time to understand your needs and genuinely wants your business. Trust your instincts—if you’re not getting the right feeling when you walk into a branch or speak to someone on the phone, find another institution.

When you walk into the branch, be prepared and know what you need, but also ask questions. Make sure you’re getting the products and services that are best for you. If you’re opening an account for the first time, you’ll need your Social Security number, identification and proof of residency. Consider signing up for some basic accounts and services: a checking account, savings account and ATM card are a good place to start. You could also consider enrolling in direct deposit to make it even easier to receive your paycheck.

Having all of these services under one roof and getting to know your personal banker can help keep your financial life simple, and can help down the road when you need other things like loans or mortgages.

 

Friday Focus: The Center for Life Enrichment

In 1963, the Center for Life Enrichment was founded in Leonardtown Maryland and has worked to positively impact the lives of people with intellectual disalogobilities in Southern Maryland ever since. The Center provides programs and services to help individuals increase independence, integrate into the workforce and have opportunities for social interaction. The Center is currently making the final preparations for its annual “Cash Bash” event this weekend, and Executive Director Randy Ferguson took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us for this week’s Friday Focus.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.).

A: The Center for Life Enrichment (TCLE) is a nonprofit organization that provides services to individuals with special needs in St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles counties. The type of services that we provide are aligned with our mission statement: “to provide programs and support services that will increase the vocational and personal potential of individuals with disabilities”. We are currently providing support to nearly 250 individuals throughout the three counties. TCLE provides a variety of services, grouped according to an individual’s interest and needs: day supports, vocational training, community employment, in-home supports, transportation and community integration. To learn more about our organization, please visit our website at http://www.tcle.org.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: If you ask anyone who works in this field what their favorite moment would be, more than likely their response would be “Every day is special and the biggest reward is the smiles that we receive”. We have a number of individual success stories from individuals receiving their first job, their first paycheck, to individuals getting their own apartment. For TCLE, the favorite moments are all individualized.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: All nonprofit organizations will tell you that their biggest challenge is maintaining or raising money for their organization. The biggest challenge facing many nonprofits is to remain fiscally strong and sound and at the same time, be able to provide the necessary services needed by those we serve.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We have a few events on our calendar. On May 17, TLCE will be holding our fourth annual Cash Bash at the Hollywood Fire House from noon to five, with tickets available at the door. We also have a golf tournament scheduled on September 26, 2014 at the Wicomico Golf Course.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: We have a number of ways individuals can become involved at the Center for Life Enrichment:
• We have a volunteer program where individuals can volunteer their time working directly with the participants or assisting us at fundraising events.
• We are always looking for the community’s support by accepting donations of clothes, toys, furniture and everyday knick-knacks that will support our four Vintage Values Thrift Stores.
• We have a boat and car donation program
• We are a United Way Recipient; our campaign number is #56384
• We accept monetary donations to support special projects

Individuals wishing to help or if they would like more information can contact us at 301-373-8100 or email us at contact@tcle.org.

Starting on the Road to Financial Security

CarAsk ten people what it means to be financially stable, and you’ll likely receive ten completely different answers. But whatever your personal definition of financial stability might be, the most important thing is making it a reality.

Reaching a point of financial security is a process that takes time, effort and yes, a little sacrificing. The results are worth it though, and starting early can give you a huge leg up down the line.  To get you started, here are 11 good financial habits that can help put you on the road to financial security.

1. Be organized. Keep your financial records together and figure out an organizational system that works best for you.

2. Use direct deposit for your paychecks. Direct deposit is a faster, safer way to have your paychecks delivered to you that a printed check. Plus, you can elect to have a portion of your check deposited into a savings account, which is a great way to ensure that you’re always saving!

3. Start saving for retirement. If your employer offers a retirement plan, contribute as much as you’re able. Remember that retirement savings deductions are taken pre-tax. If your employer doesn’t offer retirement options, consider starting an IRA for yourself.

4. Set up an automatic savings program. Commit to having a set amount of money transferred to your savings account each week, even if you can only save a small amount. Every dollar makes a difference!

5. Do a monthly budget. Take a good look at your income and monthly expenses. Write down the monthly expenses that you have: rent, student loan payments, bills, etc. Once those expenses are taken out, figure out how much you can afford to save, and how much you’re going to allow yourself for miscellaneous expenses. Discipline yourself to stay within your budget, especially when it comes to entertainment and leisure expenses.

6. Create a personal balance sheet. A balance sheet helps you calculate your net worth—the difference between your assets and your liabilities. It’s a good practice to update your balance sheet at least a few times a year so that you always have an accurate idea of where you are financially.

7. Use credit cards wisely. Credit card debt can add up quickly and can put you in a tough financial spot. While it’s tempting to be able to buy things today and not worrying about paying until tomorrow, remember that “tomorrow” will inevitably come and you’ll need to pay your balance. A good practice is to make sure that you can always pay your balance off in full each month, that way you’ll never get hit with high interest rates. If you think you’re likely to carry a balance month-to-month, be sure to shop for a card with a good interest rate.

8. Make credit card payments promptly and pay more than the minimum. If you find that you are carrying over a balance on a credit card, make every effort to pay more than the minimum—not doing so can lead to trouble for your credit score, and can increase your monthly payments in the long run.

9. Reconcile your checking account monthly. Keeping a close and careful record of your transactions will help you to ensure that you always have enough funds in your bank account and avoid overdraft fees.

10. Review all your bills and statements as soon as you receive them. You should make a point to look at your bills and statements as soon as they’re available to check for any discrepancies and see if any action is needed.

11. Get smart! Take every opportunity to boost your financial literacy—check out financial columns and blogs for the latest advice, and don’t hesitate to talk to your banker or financial advisor if you have questions.

 

 

 

Financial Education Blog Series: Young Adults

They are the generation that came of age in a time of economic uncertainty: young adults, between ages 18 and 25, dubbed “millennials” by the media.

For them, student loan debt, underemployment, the rising cost of living and the never-ending pressure of consumer culture have shaped their financial experience thus far and will likely have a far-reaching impact on their financial futures. And while information is more accessible than ever before, studies are mixed on just how much of it millennials are digesting when it comes to financial literacy.

Over the next 12 weeks, the Community Bank blog will take a look at financial issues facing today’s young people, from establishing credit to buying a first car. We’ll provide some tips and strategies for saving, investing and planning for the financial future. Whether you’re starting your first 401k or just saving your pennies for a rainy day, we’ll help improve your financial-know how!

What’s your financial IQ? According to a recent FINRA study, only 24% of millennials were able to answer four or five questions correctly on this Financial Literacy Quiz. See how you measure up!