Archive for February 2018

3 Tips to Help You Secure a Good Auto Loan

credit union auto financingIf you’re looking for a new car, you’re probably wondering how to secure a good auto loan. Finding the right auto loan can be tricky and frustrating. Luckily, we’ve compiled a few tips to help make the process easier.

Understand your credit history. With home loans, lenders tend to be more strict about offers regarding your credit score. But when you apply for an auto loan, you may have more flexibility with what you can get approved for with your credit score. You can get free copies of your credit score reports through various platforms. This is important to do because you need to know what kind of loans you should consider looking into. Also, you should understand your credit score in general because it can impact other financial situations in your life. In fact, According to a Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 88% of borrowers with credit scores of 780 or higher had credit cards in 2016. Credit card and loan approval can be significantly influenced by your credit score.

Choose a lender separately from the car dealer. While many people choose to get their auto loan through the car dealership, it can actually be more beneficial to look into credit union auto financing. Credit union rates tend to be much lower and they can offer better loan terms. It’s important to get prequalified for a loan before talking to the dealership about their financing offers. This way, you can look at the contract with the dealer and see if they are able to beat the credit union auto financing deal you already got approved for.

Keep in mind the loan’s total cost. Auto loan rates can change every day, depending on where you’re looking. Of course, it’s important to look for the lowest interest rates possible. Additionally, you need to consider the length of the loan term. While a longer term means smaller monthly payments, you also don’t want to be stuck paying off a loan for too long. And lastly, consider how much you can afford to put down on the loan. While it may seem scary to put a large sum down, this can help you in the long run. All of these individual factors add up to contribute to the overall cost of the loan. Because of this, it’s important to think about what everything is going to add up to be in the end.

Hopefully, you feel better about applying for auto loans now. Just remember, credit union auto financing can offer you lower rates and work with you to make sure you get the right loan for your financial situation.

How Can You Benefit From Choosing a Credit Union?

credit union ratesYou’ve heard the term “credit union,” but do you really know what sets these financial institutions apart from your traditional bank? Sure, credit unions follow a different business model, but that’s not really why people choose them. Customers often join a credit union for its “members first” mentality. After all, when you become a member of a credit union, you ultimately own a piece of the organization. And in doing so, you take ownership of your finances, and more importantly, your future. Let’s take a closer look at some of the specific advantages customers can expect when they choose a credit union.

Exceptional Customer Service: When you open an account, you become a valued member of the credit union. As such, you are sure to enjoy a more personalized experience, one in which your financial needs come first and support is always available. This means if you have difficulty getting approved for a home loan, a credit union may be able to work with you to figure out a solution that works for everyone involved.

Higher Interest Rates on Your Savings: Savings accounts allow you to earn interest on the funds you’ve got stored away for a rainy day. Here at Members Choice Credit Union, we understand that you want your money to grow for the sake of your family and your future. Fortunately, our credit union rates on savings are higher than those you might get at a standard bank. Credit unions are not focused on turning a profit; the happiness and success of the member is always the main concern.

Lower Fees: You may have learned the hard way that fees are often the greatest source of income for banks. But rest assured, while credit unions do have fees for certain services and products, they are typically much lower. Whether it’s transfer fees, ATM fees, or overdraft fees, credit union members can save a lot of money by facing fewer of these expenses.

Sadly, the average person in the U.S. has $17,966 in auto debt and thousands more in debt like student loans or mortgages. That’s why it’s important to join a financial institution that truly cares about its members. With lower fees and a heavy focus on member satisfaction, credit unions make an excellent option for all of your financial needs.

To learn more about credit union rates, loans, and what Members Choice Credit Union can do for you, contact us today!

What Were The Actual 2018 Tax Changes?

Member Q&A

Q: There was so much talk about the proposed changes to the tax code. Now that the changes have finally been signed into law, I’m wondering which planned modifications actually became a reality. What were the exact changes made to the U.S. tax code this year?

A: Many of the changes signed into law with the official Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts were quite different from those planned. Remember, though, that none of these changes will take effect until April 2018 at the earliest.

Let’s take a look at exactly how the tax code will be different for 2018.

1.) Changes for the seven income brackets

The current administration initially planned on condensing the income bracket system into just three brackets. However, when the law was finally passed, the seven-bracket system remained in place, though income levels for each bracket were tweaked.
The old income levels for the seven brackets were as follows: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35% and 39.6%. The new rates are now 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%.

2.) Removal of Obamacare penalties

While the administration was not successful in repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act, there will be no penalties for those who choose not to have adequate health coverage starting in the year 2019. For your 2017 and 2018 taxes, though, you will still need to provide proof of health coverage or be held liable for the penalty.

3.) Changes in standard deductions and personal exemptions

The personal exemption has been eliminated, while standard deductions have increased.
In 2017, the standard deduction for the single taxpayer was $6,350, in addition to one personal exemption of $4,050. For 2018, those deductions will be combined into one larger standard deduction of $12,000 for those filing separately, and $24,000 for joint filers.

4.) Child tax credit

Deductions and credits for children under age 16 have doubled from $1,000 to $2,000. There is also a new tax credit for non-child dependents.

The Child and Dependent Care Credit, offering parents deductions for specific child care expenses, remains as-is.

5.) Estate tax exemption

Before the current changes, the 40% estate tax applied to the portion of an estate was valued at $5.6 million for the individual, and $11.2 million for a married couple. The new law will double these exemptions. Taxpayers filing as individuals will be granted an exemption of $11.2 million, while married couples will have a $22.4 million exemption.

6.) Education tax breaks
Original versions of the tax bill included plans for reducing or eliminating several education tax breaks, but none of these changes actually made it into the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts.

The Lifetime Learning Credit and Student Loan Interest Deduction remain unchanged, and the exclusion for graduate school tuition waivers is also still in place.

However, the new tax bill has expanded the available use of funds in a 529 college savings plan to include other levels of education. You can now use money in those funds to pay for private school tuition or tutoring services for children in grades K-12.

7.) Deduction changes

There have been slight changes in the mortgage interest, charitable contributions, medical expense and State and Local Taxes (SALT) deductions.

The mortgage interest deduction was previously in place for any mortgage debt totaling up to $1 million. Under the new tax code, all mortgages taken after Dec. 15, 2017 and totaling up to $750,000, are qualified for this deduction. Also, the interest on a home equity loan can no longer be deducted.

The charitable contribution deduction has seen two minor changes. Taxpayers can now deduct as much as 60% of their income for charitable donations, up from the previous 50% limit. Also, donations made to universities in exchange for the privilege of purchasing tickets to athletic events can no longer be deducted as charitable expenses.

The cap for the medical expenses deduction has been cut from 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5% of AGI. Unlike nearly all other provisions in the bill, this change is retroactive to the 2017 tax year. Also, it will only apply through 2018.

The SALT deduction, which includes property and income tax, was originally slated for elimination, but was preserved with some changes. The total SALT deduction now cannot exceed $10,000.

8.) Corporate tax rate changes

The modified tax code lowers the corporate tax rate to a flat 21% on all profits. This simplifies taxes for most businesses while providing them with a significant cut as well.

9.) Disappearing deductions

Not every deduction survived the new tax law. Here are some that won’t be in effect for 2018 taxes:
Casualty and theft losses that were not caused by a federally declared disaster
Unreimbursed employee expenses
Tax preparation expenses
Miscellaneous deductions previously subject to the 2% AGI cap
Moving expenses
Reimbursement for employer-subsidized parking and transportation
10.) Repatriation of foreign assets

In an effort to bring some of the country’s largest companies’ profits back to American shores, the new tax law features a one-time repatriation rate of 15.5% on all cash and similar foreign-held assets, and 8% on non-liquid assets held overseas.

11.) Changes to the AMT exemption amount

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption was permanently adjusted to account for inflation. These changes will be most dramatic in 2018 and are as follows:
For a single taxpayer or one filing as head of household, the AMT rate will increase from $54,300 to $70,300.
For a married couple filing jointly, the AMT rate will increase from $84,500 to $109,400.
For married couples filing separately, the AMT rate will increase from $42,250 to $54,700.

ATM JACKPOTTING SCAM

Hitting the jackpot in an arcade game is enormous fun. You stand there grinning as the tickets keep pouring out. And then you get to choose a cool prize to take home.

Recently, though, scammers have given this awesome kind of win a sinister twist by bringing the jackpotting mechanism to Automatic Teller Machines (ATM). This doesn’t mean you can ask for a $20 and the machine will start spitting out hundreds instead. But it does spell trouble for ATMs and their owners throughout the country.

Jackpotting attacks on ATMs have been spreading through Europe and Asia for quite some time.
Recently, though, the Secret Service sent out an alert warning that jackpotting has reached the United States.

The alert was reported by Brian Krebs, who quotes several sources for this warning and cautions the public to be aware and careful of these attacks.

Here’s what to know about the ATM jackpotting attacks.

 

How does it work?

First, an attacker performs some basic scouting to figure out a way into the ATM. They usually target models with front-facing panels because they’re easier to access. To avoid detection and gain easy access to the machines, thieves have been posing as ATM technicians. They’ve also been using medical endoscopes to reach the insides of the ATMs.
Once the vulnerable area within the ATM is determined, the scammers attach their own computers to mirror the ATM’s software. The thieves will now install malware, which conveniently places the ATM under their control. At this point, the ATM will appear to be out of service for users and so scammers can force the machine to do their bidding from a remote location.
The criminals’ final step in this hack is to program the ATMs to spit out piles of cash and to send “money mules” to go and collect the cash for them.
Alternately, scammers may quietly bide their time and only take action a few days, or even a week, later. They will then return to the compromised ATM and program it to dispense all of its cash at once – which they will promptly pocket, of course.

What malware is at play?

Krebs’ report suggests that the malware being used in these attacks is Ploutus D, a malware that has been widely used in ATM hacks since 2013. However, this claim has not been verified.

Just this past spring, researchers working in Kaspersky Lab wrote about three relatively simple ways fraudsters can hack and remotely control ATMs. The scammers can use any of these methods, or they may be using Ploutus D, as Krebs believes.

Which ATMs are Vulnerable?

While every ATM in the country is at risk of being attacked, the fraudsters appear to be particularly targeting Diebold Nixdorf-made ATMs.
The Secret Service alert also warns that ATMs running Windows XP are “particularly vulnerable” and should be updated as soon as possible. Unfortunately, though the Windows XP Embedded support ended more than two years ago, many ATM owners neglect to install updates as advised, therefore placing their machines at greater risk for hacks.

What you can do?

ATM jackpotting targets the machine’s owners and generally does not affect the common citizen. However, you can do your part to stop these crooks by reporting any suspicious activity you see near an ATM.
Did you spot a technician who looks out of place? Is an ATM that worked just fine yesterday suddenly out of service? If so, alert the local authorities so they can take appropriate action.

ATM Safety

While jackpotting might be relatively new to the U.S. and it’s not yet clear how widespread these attacks are, it’s always a good idea to exercise caution when using an ATM in a public setting. Here are some tips to remember the next time you use an ATM:
  1. Always cover the keypad with your free hand when inputting your PIN.
  2. If someone is lurking near the ATM for no apparent reason, do not use it.
  3. Be wary of signs that the ATM may have been tampered with, such as a new-looking keypad, a card reader that looks different than the rest of the machine, or an out-of-place security camera.
  4. Don’t use ATMs that are in unfamiliar neighborhoods or in stores you never frequent.
  5. If you’re withdrawing cash, be sure to secure your money in a wallet immediately after it’s dispensed. Don’t dawdle near the machine.
While the full impact of these jackpotting attacks is not yet evident, they are definitely not something the Secret Service is taking lightly. Do your due diligence to help stop the attacks, and always use caution when using an ATM in a public area.