Monday, May 23, 2016

CREATING A HOLIDAY BUDGET... NOW

Create your holiday budget... NOW!

Yes, I know it is only May but what better time to start creating a holiday budget than NOW?
If you are anything like me, you wait until the last minute to start buying holiday gifts and then you're stressed, your checking account is empty and your credit card bill is higher than expected.
So why not start preparing your holiday budget now and maybe even checking some items off the shopping list? First things first, give yourself a loose budget. Maybe you plan to spend between $500 and $800 on holidays shopping this year.  Second, find the best way to save!

Is it a Holiday Club Account?

Tropical Financial offers a Holiday Club Account, which is in essence, a savings account. This is a FREE account to our members and is a great way to stash your cash. The account can be opened up any time of the year... (Now is a great time to open it) and you add to the account as often as you want. You can set up direct deposit, deposit at the branch or send deposits through the mail. There is no minimum balance required so you can save what fits your budget. Maybe one week its $100 but the next week is $20. It's your money, your account and your terms.

Once October rolls around, your money is transferred to an account of your choosing and BAM you're ready to shop. Oh and there's even a "gift” for you too! The Holiday Club Account earns monthly interest so you'll have a little extra for you.  As the saying goes, "out of sight, out of mind." This is a great way to save and not accidentally use the money for something else.

Gift Cards

This is another great way to save weekly or monthly and doesn't require too much effort on your end.
Every pay check you receive, go to the store and buy a gift card. For instance if you're goal is $600 and you buy two gift cards each month for $50. You'll be at your goal in no time.
The trick here is to keep those gift cards in a safe place, and remember that safe place. For the record, your wallet is not a good or safe place as you might see the gift cards and spend them on yourself.

Shop now and save later

All year long we have amazing sales in the stores. Memorial Day Sales, President’s Day Sales, Sales just because it's Monday and even sales for on-line only purchases. The sales are endless... I know I get text alerts daily.

So, if you know who you’re shopping for and you have an idea of what to get them, why not buy it now? Find a coupon, check out the sales and make the purchase now! Just don't be like my mom who I love dearly, buy it, hide it and forget it. I get a lot of gifts after Christmas.

Now, you might be thinking, "What about Black Friday?" What about it?! Most people think those are the deal of a lifetime but that isn't always the case. A lot of time the TV's are several generations old, or they only have two of the special deal computers in stock and sometimes the prices are raised and then discounted to make you feel like you're getting 50% off.  Often times the deals are much better throughout the year.  So, just be aware and alert of the sales and deals.

Start now! 

No matter which route you chose, even if it isn't one of my options, start preparing now. It's never too early. Start creating your shopping list and the items you hope to buy. Start checking out pricing so that you can set a budget that works with your finances. But more importantly, don't wait until the last minute. We know that every year our loved one has a birthday, and the holidays are coming, yet we ALWAYS wait until the last minute to buy gifts.

The more you spread out your holiday spending and the more you save now, the less your wallet will feel the hit later.

^Alysha

Thursday, May 19, 2016

THE MORTGAGE APPLICATION PROCESS


This month, our blogs have been focused on getting yourself a new home. We started with the younger generation talking about the idea of moving out and all that it entails. From there, we spoke about the basics of getting a mortgage and what you need to know. And then, we asked a tough question. "How do YOU know YOUR ready to buy a home?" Each topic covered a different area of getting your new home. But nothing beats the feeling of hearing your offer has been accepted! 

Now, it's time for the fun part. The application process. But, what does it entail? How do you know what to provide? All questions that we here at Tropical Financial are prepared to assist you with.


If you've already been pre-approved a lot of the documentation needed will have already been provided, but just in case here is a list of what you'll need:
  • Last 2 years of documented income (tax returns, W2s, and/or 1099s)
  • Last 2 months of bank statements (checking, savings, and retirement)
  • Last 30 days of paycheck stubs
  • Explanation for any credit inquiries or letters explaining negative ratings
  • Proof of downpayment or gift funds
  • Home appraisal fee
  • Signed executed purchase contract
That's it! Just a few simple steps and you are on your way to your new home! 

Note of caution: Do NOT make any large purchases or apply for any new credit while you're going through the mortgage process. Credit is pulled one more time just before closing and anything new on your credit report could upset your debt-to-income and potentially prevent the deal from closing.  So wait until you have those keys in hand before you buy the new furniture.

For more help and guidance on purchasing you new home. speak with a knowledgeable loan officer from Tropical Financial Credit Union who will be there every step of the way.

^Alysha

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

TRAVELING WITHIN A BUDGET: GROUPON VS LIVING SOCIAL

If you were to ask me what my all-time favorite hobby is, the answer would be simple, traveling. I love to pack my bags and see new sights. Although I like planning for my next big adventure, money can be the deciding factor on whether or not I can take the trip. So, like most of us I’ve turned to the internet to see how I can get the best deal.

I have found some great tips and tricks along the way, for instance with some cruise lines, if you book a cruise while on board their ship you are likely to get a better deal than if you book while at home. I’ve also learned that booking airfare at 2 am on Tuesday doesn’t give you the best deal but in fact a horrible deal! Trust me, I know from experience.

There is one option I haven’t had the change to explore but I plan to check out, that’s Groupon and Living Social’s travel deals.

When it comes to Groupon and Living Social, I love their deals. I have purchased great dinner deals, fun activities and even some great deals on health and beauty. Plus, they have great ideas for birthday gifts! Whenever I have a birthday or even a bridal shower, I tend to turn to Groupon and Living Social for gift ideas! Not only are the services and products awesome, but the cost helps me and my budget.

But, what’s the truth with travel?

When it comes to using discount sites like groupon and living social for travel, you need to put a little leg work into the experience. Sometimes the cheapest deals are not the best experiences and the same goes for the most expensive trips, those can lead to terrible experiences.  But, there are a few things you can do and look for to plan for a great getaway.

Research!

I have traveled a lot and I’ve done a lot of research too! When you find a trip that looks out of this world on Groupon or Living Social, do some research off the site! Check out the hotel through sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor and see what others are saying about the resort. This will help give you a good idea of what the resort has to offer as well as a variety of experiences from people that have first-hand experience.  Also, check out social media sites associated with the resorts, you would be surprised at the good information available via social media including reviews of the resort.

Ask Questions!

When it comes to booking a trip, it’s important to ask questions. I know that deals are limited on Living Social and Groupon but pick up the phone and talk to a representative, see what they have to say about the trip, ask about insurance policies and their individual policies. If a representative from Groupon or Living Social can’t help you out, then maybe you should look for another way to take your big trip!

Likewise, when looking for travel options, call the resort directly. Ask them questions about the deal they have posted, talk to them about what the resort offers and even speak with them about the upkeep of the resort and their resort rating. This is a great time to get more information and more details on the offer. 

This is also a great time to speak to the hotel about getting “walk in” pricing. Find out what the rate would cost you to book the same room directly with them, you may save $500 or $20, either way it could be a savings.

Book local and smart!

I’ve read several articles that talk about the good and the bad with booking through Groupon and LivingSocial. I can see the point on both the good and the bad reviews but keep in mind people have different standards or expectations, other times something like bad weather might cause someone to give a bad review. If all we read is the end result, we won’t know the details.

So, be your own judge! If you want to take a big trip like Europe or Asia, try taking a local trip first. Find an affordable beach vacation, or if you know you’re going to see family, try booking a trip that includes airfare so you can see firsthand the experience from start to finish. If you book something local and cheap for the beach and you hate it, you can drive back home. Likewise, if you fly out to see family, just stay at their place if you are unhappy.

This is a great way to try it out, see the experience and make up your own mind and hey, it forces you to take a vacation or a staycation if you didn’t have one planned.

Budget Friendly

Another important thing to keep in mind when booking any trip is that it’s budget friendly. There are a few things that you want to be able to account for with your vacation. If you are flying be sure to account for the cost of luggage. You also want to be sure to account for transportation cost and any additional taxes or fees that might come with your stay. If you budget for a 5 day vacation with airfare for $1,000 a person you should try to find something a few hundred dollars less. This will help you from going over budget with the fees you didn’t think about… like luggage.

Good deal or not?

This is something that only you can decide! Everyone has different expectations when it comes to travel and price. What I think is a great price you might think is too high or what I think is a nice getaway you might not. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

I have personally booked vacations through discounted websites which included airfare and the resort stay and I will say, it was an amazing trip! I had no problems or issues with my resort, in fact, the resort was nicer than the photos. When I read the reviews before paying for my trip they were 50-50 with positive and negative and I will tell you I had a 100% positive experience. The negatives that I read about didn’t exist and the trip was beautiful. I can’t wait to book my next trip and be proud of my savings!

^Alysha

Friday, May 13, 2016

IT'S PARTY TIME!!

Tis the season... To throw a party! Growing up, my house was the party house. Any occasion was a good occasion for my parents to have people over. Memorial Day, July 4th, graduations, birthdays, sports events, even hurricanes were a reason to party. My house was the place to be and my parents were always amazing hosts. So, naturally, I love to entertain too. But I've come to the realization that party planning is an expensive venture. There is tons of planning involved, many shopping trips and lots of time needed to ensure your guest have a great time. 

Logistics:

First things first, the planning! Creating the perfect party not only requires money but time. It's important to plan things through so that you have enough food, space and your guests enjoy themselves. If needed, gather a few of your close friends to help with the party planning. 
Invites: 

When it comes to celebrating anything from a graduation, to a birthday or even just the holidays, sending out invites is a nice touch, but it can be costly. So, use resources that are free. Evite is a great site for sending invites and keeping track of the RSVP’s. Another free and great site is Facebook events, you can make the invite private and share details with just your friends. You can also create a PDF invite and e-mail that out to all of your friends. 

There are many ways save money without compromising style 

Decorations: 

Presentation is key at a party. Everything from the appearance of the food to the appearance of the tables is key when planning a fun party, but like everything decorations can get really pricey. Luckily for you, there's Pinterest. I know you might be thinking "I'm not crafty", don't worry I'm not either. But there are fun and cute decorations you can create online and print out like food titles or printable banners and even printable gift wrap if you're giving away party favors. But more than that, you can use  Pinterest to get clever ideas that won't cost a lot. Like making candle centerpiece (you can buy these from the dollar store) or creating simple collages with photos you already have framed. This is great if the party is for a graduation or birthday. Flower arrangements also make for great center pieces and are also fairly cheap at the dollar store or can be found on sale at many stores. Bowls of candy also make for great center pieces and are cheap to supply. 

 Pinterest is full of great ideas to help spice up your party while keeping within your budget. You'd be surprised at what ideas you can find off of the Internet that are easy to create and easy on your pocket. 

Food and drinks:

 First things first, if someone ever asks to bring something... say YES! Because that means one less thing you have to worry about. Whether it's something as simple as cups, or something as fancy as dessert. If you have a theme, ask them to bring an item that fits with the theme. Otherwise, when it comes to food and drinks for your guests, buffet style is always great and the more variety the better. It's important to know your guest and the time frame too this will help when deciding on what to serve and how much. Great food ideas are pasta bars, all things mini (sliders, mini Mac and cheese...) or do a taco bar or even my favorite a fajita bar. Fajitas are easy to put together, you marinate meet overnight and set up the station and people can come and go as they please. Add a dish of rice and maybe some chips and let your friends enjoy a cheap but yummy Mexican themed party. You could also go the pot luck route. Pot lucks are a great way to try various foods and a great way for you to stay within your budget.

Likewise, when it comes to beverages for the party, buy store brand products, they will save you money and they taste the same. If you feel shy about asking guest to bring beverages, buy in bulk. Go to wholesale stores and buy from them, the cases of soda will be cheaper as will the various other beverages you are looking to supply. 

Entertainment:

Music is always a must at parties but sometimes hiring a DJ can really put you over your budget. My trick for playing music is my mini jib speakers. I love these things, I got them from Amazon for under $20 and they play such great quality music. I pair it up with my phone and caLiving Social and Groupon, talk to friends and even ask on social media. See what people can recommend. Hey you never know, a co-worker might be a DJ on the side.
n place the speakers in two different locations so that all my guest can hear the music. There are many wireless speaker options that play great sound and allow you to pair up more than two speakers. This is a great alternative to spending a lot of money on a DJ. But, depending on the party setting a DJ might be the best option, so shop around. Check out

There are many ways to have a great party and stick within a budget! It's all about being resourceful and using what's available to you. 

It doesn't matter if you’re throwing a high school graduation party, a house warming party or even a wedding. There are things you can do to help with the cost but still give your guest an amazing time! 
I think it’s time for a summer bbq/pool party... I better start planning!

^Alysha 


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

HOW TO TELL IF YOU'RE READY TO BUY A HOME


Making the decision to become a homeowner is emotionally and financially complex. Here are some key things to ask yourself if you're considering whether buying is right for you.

Do you have a good reason to buy?

Sometimes switching from renting to buying is a no-brainer.  Maybe you live in a modern one-bedroom apartment in a chic part of town, but you have a baby on the way. If you want a place in a good school district, with more square footage and a yard, buying may well be your best bet.

Other times, the urge to buy is driven by emotion: You see a house you like and you “just know.” There's nothing wrong with that reaction, but take time to check out the property before you make any commitments. If it's too far from work, near a noisy road or the best house on a bad block, it may not be as good a deal as it first appears.
And remember: Houses go on the market all the time, and there are tens of millions of single-family homes and condos in the U.S. So there's no need to worry if your first choice doesn't work out; your home is out there.

Can you make the upfront investment?

Buying a home requires an initial investment that you can't ignore.
First, many lenders require a down payment of 20% of the home price. That's $40,000 for a home that costs $200,000, about the median price in America. You'll also owe closing costs, which could include loan-origination fees, discount points, appraisal fees, survey fees, underwriting fees, title search fees, and title insurance. Those could total another few thousand dollars.

The expenses don't end there. You'll want to hire an independent inspector to look for defects in a home before you buy.  This will cost several hundred dollars, but could save you thousands in repairs. And then there are moving costs, state or city taxes, utilities installation and the costs of changes you might want to make to the home — such as new flooring or painting — that are easiest to do while it's empty.

This isn't meant to scare you off; buying a home is still a smart choice for many people, despite the costs. But it does take a lot of cash.

Can you afford the upkeep?

Your mortgage payment might be fixed for the next 30 years, but your property taxes and insurance rates can rise. And if you didn't make a 20% down payment, you'll have to buy private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until you have 20% equity in your home. It costs about $165 per month on a $200,000 loan.

Once you're a homeowner, you'll also have to pay certain utility bills that might have been included in your rent. And you'll be responsible for maintenance: double-pane windows one year, a new garage door the next, fixes to the roof five years up the road. It adds up.


These numbers are based on averages.  Plug your specific figures into a rent-or-buy calculator to find out if you're ready for home ownership. And know that there is no one answer that's right for everybody. Whether you keep renting or buy, your decision should be right for you alone.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 9, 2016

THE BASICS OF A MORTGAGE

The house buying process is both exciting and scary. I am not there yet… mostly because I can’t afford it. But becoming a homeowner can be one of the most rewarding life experiences. Just think about it for a second, you start saving for a place of your own, not a house but a home. Then you go on the hunt and view house after house to see which one makes you say; “This is it!!”.  Next thing you know you are off to complete the buying and mortgage process and finally you are given a set of keys… your keys… to your home. How could you not smile? How could you not be proud that you set out to achieve something, and you did it!

So, what are the steps we need to take to achieve this amazing feeling? First things first, we need to know and understand what the road to being a homeowner is, so we need to know the basics.

Save!
For starters, when looking to become a homeowner it’s important that you start the saving process earlier rather than later. The more money you can save, the more it will help you later on down the road. For instance, many buyers want to have a down payment is at least 20% of the purchase price in order to avoid monthly mortgage insurance fees. That could be a lot of money depending upon what you are looking to buy, so the more you save… the more you can put down which will in turn help lower your monthly payments.

Another cost you should be saving for are the closing costs. These fees vary with every mortgage but is needed in order to transfer the ownership from the previous owner to you. One of the many great perks about being a member at Tropical Financial is that if you get you use our Home Advantage program and get your mortgage loan from us, we will give you a rebate at closing that will help with those closing costs. But, I say you save anyway and then the money left over can be for the new home!

Always be prepared for the extras! You never know how your purchase deal is going to go and you never know which fees might pop up during the process. Be sure that you are saving more money than you anticipate so you are not left at the closing table counting pennies.

Prepare yourself!

You need to be prepared! That means before you start the home purchase process, check out your credit report and your credit score and see where you can improve. Do you have bills in collections? Pay them off. Do you have tons of late fees? Get up to date on those payments. Did you find fraudulent activity reported? Dispute that and get it cleaned up! By taking the time to view your credit report you can keep the home buying process smooth and easy. Oh and during the home buying process NEVER EVER apply for a new auto loan, or take out a loan or even open up a store credit card. These things can prevent you from closing on your new home. 

Mortgage Types!

There are several types of mortgages to know and be aware of before you start the home buying process. The most common ones are fixed-rate and adjustable mortgages

Fixed-rate mortgages
come with an interest rate that remains constant over the life of the loan. 30-year mortgages are the most common, but you may also choose a 20-year, 15-year, and even 10-year fixed-rate mortgage. In certain high-cost areas some mortgage lenders are even offering 40 year-loans. Though the mortgage interest rates tend to be higher than for other loan types, the rate is fixed and your payment won’t change. This stability makes them the most secure type of mortgage for buyers.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) have a period of fixed interest, but after that the payment changes with whatever index the loan is based on. The period of fixed interest may be three, five, or seven years. With a 5/1 (the first number stands for the number of years in the initial fixed period, while the second indicates how often the new rate will adjust) ARM, for example, the initial interest rate remains fixed for the first five years, and then adjusts annually for the remaining term.
There are several types of caps that may apply to an ARM: an overall cap limits how much the interest rate can increase over the life of the loan; a periodic cap limits the amount the interest can increase from one period of adjustment to the next; and a payment cap limits the amount the monthly payment can increase at each adjustment.

While ARMs are less secure than fixed-rate mortgages, they tend to have lower initial rates and therefore lower monthly payments. They can be a good option if money is tight in the early years, as long as you are confident you can meet future interest and payment increases.

What’s next?!
You’ve taken the time to start saving and preparing for the mortgage process but what’s next? The first thing you should do is speak with a Tropical Financial Mortgage Loan Officer. They will sit down with you and explain the home buying process as well as what type of mortgage is best for you and your budget. They will also help you find a qualified Real Estate Agent with our Home Advantage program. But more than anything, they will be there for you throughout the entire home buying process.

Contact a Tropical Financial Mortgage Loan Officer today to get you started on the home buying process and be sure to check back as we share ways to help you make your dream of owning a home come true!


^Alysha 

Friday, May 6, 2016

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful moms out there!

Mother’s Day is a time to thank our beautiful mothers and to celebrate them for all that they do!

But how?

This Mother’s Day give your mom something from the heart, show her that you put time and thought into something to honor her. Unfortunately I won’t have the opportunity to spend Mother’s Day with my mom this year as she will be out of town, but I started to think, “How can I make her Mother’s Day special even though I am not there?” I decided to send her flowers, yes I know it’s ordinary but I know she will feel so happy and loved when she gets her flower delivery all the way in Mexico.

Sometimes it’s the simple things just flowers and a card with three words, “I Love You!” To make Mother’s Day one-of-a-kind.

Another great way to show your love for your mother this Mother’s Day no matter how close or far you might be is to make your mom something! Go through a bunch of old photos and create a photo calendar of all the fun times you’ve share with your mom and your family. Or create a photo book of one of your favorite family vacations. Mom’s love photos and looking back on all the wonderful memories!

For my mom and I, It’s all about mother daughter days and spending quality time together, whether its lunch, getting our nails done or even spending a day at the pool. Anything as long as we are laughing and chatting we are happy!

If your mom is the one who does all the cooking in the household, try taking over for the day and allow your mom to rest with her feet up as you prepare breakfast in bed or lunch by the pool and even a nice dinner.

There are tons of ways to show your mom how much you appreciate her this Mother’s Day. Be sure to do something special to spoil her and be sure to tell her Thank you and I Love you. Words that all mothers love and deserve to hear.

Whatever it is that you decide to do for your mother, make it a special Mother’s Day!

^Alysha