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Basic Finances

Basic Finances

A little advice can go a long way in building a strong financial future. Take control of your finances, learn about saving, banking, and budgeting, and set clear priorities with some Money 101.


Anytime is the right time to begin teaching children about money, and the American Bankers Association has tips that can help parents teach about money at home.

  • Talk openly about money with your kids. Communicate your values and experiences with money. Encourage them to ask you questions, and be prepared to answer them – even the tough ones.
  • Explain the difference between needs and wants, the value in saving and budgeting and the consequences of not doing so.
  • Set up a chore chart and give your children an allowance for completing their tasks. Require them to save at least a small portion each week. The three jars method, one for spending, one for saving and one for charitable contributions is a good way to impart a sense of responsibility.
  • Open up a savings account at your local bank for your children and take them with you to make deposits, so children can learn how to be hands-on in their money management.
  • Be an example of a responsible money manager by paying bills on time, being a conscious spender and an active saver. Children tend to emulate their parents' personal finance habits.
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Credit cards have become an everyday tool for people to make purchases and manage their personal finances.  Access to credit enables families to purchase homes, deal with emergencies, obtain goods and services and build a credit history for larger purchases such as a car or home.  Today, roughly 73 percent of all families have at least one credit card. About 60 percent of cardholders are “convenience users” – they avoid interest charges by paying balances in full each month.

The American Bankers Association (ABA) has provided the below answers to some Frequently Asked Questions, as well as a list of credit card tips you should keep in mind.

  • What is an Annual Percentage Rate (APR)?
    • For credit cards, the Annual Percentage Rate or APR is basically the interest rate. The APR is applied to your balance to calculate the interest you owe. The dollar amount of interest you owe is shown as a finance charge on your billing statement for any month you are charged interest.
  • What is the grace period on purchases?
    • Most credit cards give you the chance to avoid interest on purchases (in effect, an interest-free loan) if you pay your credit card bill in full by the due date. This is called the grace period on purchases. The grace period is the period between the date of the purchase and the due date. To get it, you usually must pay your bill in full every month. When the grace period does not apply to purchases, you will pay interest on the purchases from the date of the transaction. Most credit cards do not give you a grace period on cash advances and balance transfers. You usually pay interest from the date of each cash advance or balance transfer.
  • What happens to the grace period if you paid in full one month and the following month you do not pay in full?
    • If you do not pay in full one month, you will lose the grace period. Typically, you will owe interest from the first day of the billing period in which you did not pay in full. This means that if you paid in full in January, but only paid part of the bill in February, you will pay interest from the first day of February based on the full average daily balance for the February billing period when your bill arrives in March.
  • What if I only pay the minimum amount due?
    • If you consistently pay only the minimum on your credit card, it will take you a long time to pay off the balance. You may end up paying a lot of interest. The amount of interest will depend on your APR and the amount of your balance. Pay as much as you can, as soon as you can, and always pay by the due date.
  • What if I do not pay on time?
    •  If you do not pay at least the minimum amount due, credit cards will charge a late fee. Paying late may also cause your APRs to increase.
  • How do I know what my credit limit is? 
    • The credit card company will tell you your credit limit when you first get your card. Over time, based on your needs, usage, and qualifications, the limit may change. Your current credit limit appears on your billing statement each month.
  • What happens if I go over my credit limit?
    • If you go over your credit limit, you may have to pay a fee. In addition, your APRs may increase. Be aware that you may go over your credit limit even if the transaction is authorized. So keep track of your transactions and how close you are to your limit.
  • What types of fees might I pay?
    • Annual fees
    • Late fees
    • Returned payment fees
    • Cash advance fees (using ATM or convenience check)
    • Balance transfer fees
    • Foreign transaction fees
    • Expedited card replacement fees

Consumer Tips:

  • Shop around for the best card for your needs
    • You will You will find a range of interest rates, rewards programs and terms.
    • The interest rate, penalty fees, annual fee and grace period all play a factor in your total cost.
  • Pay as much as you can, as soon as you can, and always pay by the due date
    • If you If you do not pay your balance in full, pay the remainder off as soon as you can; do not wait for the due date.
    • Keep track of your balance by checking it online or by phone.
    • Take into account that interest accrued can put you over your credit limit.
  • To avoid paying your bill late:  
    • Schedule automatic Schedule automatic payments online, mail payments at least one week before the due date or pay by phone (you may be charged a fee for paying by phone if it involves expedited service).
    • Call your credit card company if you are going to pay late; they may offer alternatives.
  • If you realize you have a credit problem, don’t panic, but do act quickly:
    • Make a budget and be realistic.
    • Let creditors know you want to pay. They may help arrange a new schedule.
    • Local Consumer Credit Counseling Services can help (800-388-2227).
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According to the American Bankers Association (ABA), the key to a good budget is including as much information as you can, so that you can adequately prepare and plan. It's important to keep accurate records of your spending so you'll spot places where you can save money and know how much you can reasonably spend.

  • What is your current income? The first step in creating a budget is to total all of your income, or money coming. We recommend you do this on a monthly basis. Include only your take home pay (this is your salary minus taxes and deductions). Your income may also include tips, child support, investment income, etc.
  • What are your monthly expenses?  Next, you'll need to track your expenses, or money going out. Some of your bills will vary from month-to-month, so use a monthly average. For example, if your cell phone is $45 one month and $55 the next, estimate $50 per month. For annual bills, divide the yearly cost by 12 for a monthly figure. 
  • How much of your income should be spent?  Rent or mortgage payments plus your credit obligations – should not exceed 35 to 40 percent of gross monthly income. The amount you owe on credit cards, monthly car payment, student loans and other monthly payments should not exceed 10 to 15 percent of your take-home pay.
  • Put it in writing.  This budgeting worksheet (also available in spanish) will help you document and categorize your expenses. Tally up everything you spend money on. Don't forget your daily coffee or snacks. Those can add up quickly!
  • Do the math.  The last step in creating your budget is to total all of your expenses and subtract them from your total income.

How Did You Do?
Did you have money left over at the end of the month – or too much month left at the end of the money?

  • If your income and expenses are EQUAL ...
    You might be living paycheck to paycheck. Cut expenses and develop a savings plan in case of emergencies or unexpected expenses.
    • If your income and expenses equal each other, but only because you're using credit to survive and paying only minimums each month, you may need to talk to a debt counseling service to help you get back on the track to live within your means.
  • If you have MONEY LEFTOVER at the end of the month ...
    You're doing a good job of managing your expenses. Here are some suggestions for the leftover money:
    • Open a savings account at a bank. 
    • If you already have a savings account, consider setting up automatic transfers to your savings account or, if you have direct deposit, ask your employer to put a portion of your paycheck in your savings account automatically.
    • Also investigate whether your employer offers a 401(k) or other employee matching savings plan. The contribution you make to this type of account is taken out of your paycheck before taxes.
  • If your total was negative and you DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY ...
    You need to make adjustments immediately. Keep in mind that it's usually easier to cut back on expenses than to increase your income. Analyze your budget to see where you can cut expenses – especially from the Looking Good and Just for Fun categories. Often those are the easiest things to cut from your budget.
    • Call your utility, phone, cable, cell phone providers. There may be ways to cut those bills that just take a phone call.
    • Consider increasing your income by getting a second part-time job or by working overtime.


You can take charge of your finances and your life by setting financial goals, planning a budget and sticking to it.​​

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As college students across the nation graduate and start their careers, financial responsibility should be a top priority. The American Bankers Association has identified six traps that could hinder new college graduates from securing their financial future:

  • Not having a budget.  Simply put, don’t spend more than you make. Calculate the amount of money you’re taking home after taxes, then figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month while contributing to your savings. Be sure to factor in recurring expenses such as student loans, monthly rent, utilities, groceries, transportation expenses and car loans.
  • Forgoing an emergency fund.  Make it a priority to set aside the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Start putting some money away immediately, no matter how small the amount. A bank savings account is a smart place to stash your cash for a rainy day.
  • Paying bills late – or not at all. Each missed payment can hurt your credit history for up to seven years, and can affect your ability to get loans, the interest rates you pay on loans and your ability to get a job or rent an apartment. Consider setting up automatic payments for regular expenses like student loans, car payments and phone bills.
  • Racking up debt. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit.  Shop around for a card that best suits your needs, and spend only what you can afford to pay back. It’s a great tool if you use it responsibly. 
  • Not thinking about the future.  It may seem odd since you’re just beginning your career, but now is the best time to start planning for your retirement. Contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or similar account, especially if there is a company match. Invest enough to qualify for your company’s full match – it’s free money.  
  • Ignoring help from your bank. Most banks offer online, mobile and text banking tools to manage your account night and day. Use these tools to check balances, pay bills, deposit checks, monitor transaction history and track budgets.
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Forty-three percent of consumers know their credit score, a key metric that helps determine whether they can get credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and insurance coverage, according to a recent survey by the American Bankers Association (ABA).  Whether or not they know their score, consumers can take action now to understand and protect their credit.

“The more you know about your own credit history, the better you can position yourself for lower rates when applying for a loan or insurance coverage,” said Nessa Feddis, ABA’s senior vice president and deputy chief counsel for consumer protection and payments. 

Credit scores are reflective of a person’s creditworthiness and are based on their credit reports, which indicate whether a person pays their bills on time.  Lenders use a consumer’s credit score to decide whether to lend them money and at what rate. Credit scores are also used by organizations for screening insurance and other applications.  Consumers receive their credit score when they apply for a mortgage, if they are turned down for credit or if a bank used their credit score to determine their interest rate.  Some banks will supply their customers with a complimentary credit score from one of the major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—or consumers can pay to obtain their score directly from a credit bureau.

“If you check your score and don’t like what you see, you can take action today to begin improving it,” said Feddis.  “While there is no overnight fix for a low credit score, paying your debts on time and demonstrating that you can manage credit responsibly can help you gradually rebuild your score.”

Below are tips from ABA to help consumers improve and maintain their credit scores:
Credit Do's:
  • DO order a copy of your credit report annually. The three major credit bureaus are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report at your request each year. To get a free copy of your credit report, call 1-877-322-8228. You can also obtain your credit score from any of these credit bureaus for a reasonable fee.
  • DO know the power of credit. Banks look at your credit history as an indication of your future financial behavior. By using credit wisely, you can build a good credit history making it easier to get loans with low interest rates, rent an apartment, purchase a car or home, and may even help you get a job.
  • DO read the fine print on the credit application. The application is a contract, so read it carefully before signing. Credit card companies are very competitive so interest rates, credit limits, grace periods, annual fees, terms and conditions may vary.
  • DO pay at least the minimum due and contact your creditor if you have trouble making payments. This will help you to avoid late fees and a rising APR. To pay off your balance more quickly, pay more than the minimum due. If you are unable to make the minimum monthly payments, let your creditor know so they can work with you to create a more manageable payment plan.
  • DO be wary of anyone who claims they can "fix" your credit report. No one can legally remove negative information from your credit history if it is accurate. The only thing that can fix a credit report is time and a positive payment history.
Credit Don'ts:
  • DON'T pay your bills late. Late payments can affect your credit rating and increase your balance. If you are unable to pay the minimum monthly payment, let your creditor know and it may be able to lower your payments.
  • DON'T spend more than you can afford. Credit is a loan and has to be repaid. It is your responsibility to manage your debts and to keep your commitment with lenders. Avoid reaching your credit limit or "maxing out" your cards.
  • DON'T ignore the warning signs of credit trouble. If you pay only the minimum balance, pay late, use cash-advances to fund daily living expenses or transfer a lot of balances you might be in the credit “danger zone.” Talk to a non-profit financial counseling organization like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to regain control of your finances.
  • DON'T share your credit card number. Never give out credit card or personal information if you have not initiated the transaction. Be aware of identity theft and phishing scams that ask for credit card numbers. If you suspect that your identity has been compromised, call your bank and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338).
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