After this past weekend’s heatwave, it’s finally starting to feel like summer. The nice weather probably also has you ready to take off for that much-needed summer vacation. Before you leave home, there are some important steps you should take to ensure a safe and relaxing journey:
- Stop mail, newspaper, and other deliveries. Nothing advertises you’re away from home better than an overstuffed mailbox or a driveway covered with newspapers. Be sure to contact the post office and other delivery companies to arrange for a vacation stoppage.
- Make arrangements for pets. If you’re leaving behind your pets, make arrangements with a pet sitter or kennel. Since summer is the busiest time for vacations, you’ll want to make your pet’s plans well in advance of your trip.
- Set lights on timers. To guard against potential burglars, be sure to set lights on timers, so others will think the home is occupied.
- Unplug electronics. Before you leave home, be sure to unplug any electronics from wall outlets, such as televisions, stereos and appliances. If you have these devices on surge protectors, switch the power off.
- Give a family member or neighbor a key. It’s always a good idea to give someone you trust a key to your home in the event that something should happen to the home while you’re away. Avoid leaving a key under the welcome mat or other obvious places.
- Call First County Bank before you leave. To ensure you receive uninterrupted debit card access, call our CustomerFirst Contact Center at 203.462.4400 to let us know your travel plans.
Once you follow these simple steps, there’s only one more thing to do – relax!
As spring cleaning season begins, the American Bankers Association is encouraging consumers to put a priority on organizing their finances. ABA has highlighted six tips for getting your financial house in order.
“With the tax season ending, spring is a great time to take a close look at your budget and bank account,” said Corey Carlisle, executive director of the ABA Foundation. “You’ll have a clear picture of your financial situation, and you can make stress-reducing moves now that will pay dividends throughout the year.”
ABA recommends these six tips to help consumers organize their finances:
- Evaluate and pay down debt. Take a look at how much you owe and what you are paying in interest. Begin paying off existing debt, whether that’s by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
- Review your budget. A lot can change in a year. If you’ve been promoted, had a child, or become a new homeowner or renter, be sure to update your budget. Determine what expenses demand the most money and identify areas where you can realistically cut back. Develop a strategy for spending and saving – and stick to it.
- Check your credit report. Every year, you are guaranteed one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. Take advantage of these free reports and check them for any possible errors. Mistakes can drag down your score and prevent you from getting a loan, or cause you to pay a higher than necessary interest rate.
- Download your bank’s mobile app. From the palm of your hand, you can make a deposit or access a record of all your recent transactions. Be sure to download the latest updates when they are available.
- Sign up for e-statements, paperless billing and text alerts. Converting to paperless billing will help keep your house—physical and financial—more clean and organized, and will help protect you from fraud.
- Set up automatic bill pay. By signing up for automatic bill pay, you’ll never have to worry about a missed payment impacting your credit score. You can set it so that money is withdrawn from your checking account on the same day each month.
April is National Financial Literacy month. Whether it’s in schools, in the community or in the workplace, the importance of educating each other on personal finance seems to have lost its importance.
We have also noticed this issue and have made great strides to improve the financial literacy and the availability of financial education to those within our community. In 2011 we began the First County Bank Money Smart Program. We’ve conducted over 150 seminars for hundreds of members of the Norwalk and Stamford communities. With an FDIC Money Smart Alliance Certificate of Membership and as an FDIC Money Smart for Young Adults Partner, this program has made an impact in our community and demonstrates our dedication to financial literacy education as a year-round effort.
Our Money Smart Program is not limited to just adults, we have held seminars in four high schools in the Norwalk and Stamford communities. Recently in 2016, we opened a limited-access high school branch at the Academy of Institute Technology and Engineering (AITE) for high school students and managed by high school students. This high school branch no only represents our commitment to financial literacy but creates an opportunity for students to ask questions and explore the challenges of personal finance.
Whether it’s in your school, your community, your workplace, or your family – use this month to start a conversation around financial literacy. More and more seminars are becoming available to educate members of the community on personal finance and its importance. Let’s not let the importance of National Financial Literacy Month slip by without action.
According to America Saves, only two out of five households are making “good” progress in achieving their savings needs. Insufficient savings is a growing trend in our society, and we want to change it. Setting a little extra cash aside for an emergency fund or stowing away money in a retirement account may seem like simple tasks, but we know the toll it can take when living from paycheck to paycheck – that being said, we also realize it’s importance.
Saving is more than just a financial task, it’s a state of mind. It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a gradual process that is built over time. Setting aside extra cash does not mean giving up half a paycheck. Extra cash can be as much or as little as $25, which is an amount that will make a build-up and make a difference over time.
Realizing this, in 2016 we set out to develop a product that was a fun way to help our customers begin the gradual process of saving regularly. The FirstPrize $avings account was launched in October and has been a success since. Account holders are encouraged to save $25 deposits and resist the temptation to withdraw it. Customers who successfully make eligible deposits are entered in a drawing for $1,000 – which is put right into their account.
Saving isn’t always the most exciting topic of conversation. We’re hoping that through efforts like the FirstPrize $avings account, we can change the trend of setting extra cash aside in our local area and helping everyone make better progress in achieving their savings needs.
In a recent article from the Greenwich Times, First County Bank Corporator, Juanita James was profiled in an article titled, “The Bright Side.” As an established businesswoman and philanthropist, James credits this to always having a positive outlook. From early challenges at Princeton University to becoming the first in her family to graduate from college, “she never loses her smile.”
As a businesswoman, James held high-level executive positions at both Time Inc. and at Pitney-Bowes, here in Stamford. Some of her recognition include being named, Stamford’s Citizen of the Year and Most Influential Black Corporate Directors.
Noting her challenges but choosing to dwell on her positive experiences, James states, “There seems to always be periods of great dissatisfaction and usually we come out of it with great leadership, because in the end, people want to be happy. As leaders, we need to generate that. Each of us has that power.” We congratulate Juanita on her accomplishments and are proud to have her as a First County Bank Corporator.
To read the full article, click here.
Meet Dave Zamary, Senior Vice President, Residential Lending Manager.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I currently live in Milford, CT with my wife and dog Chance. I have been with First County Bank for over 30 years. In my tenure I have experience with all aspects of mortgage origination, specializing in residential purchase and refinance, lending, and construction permanent lending. When I am not helping homebuyers get into the home of their dreams, I am active in my local community as a Knights of Columbus member and volunteering at a local food pantry.
What is your favorite part of your role with First County Bank?
I enjoy helping home buyers get into their home. I especially enjoy helping first-time homebuyers as it is often such an exciting experience for them.
What is the most frequent question you receive from customers?
Top three questions are: How long I’ve been with the Bank? How old is the Bank? Is the Bank stock or mutual? Clients are often most pleased to hear that I have been with the Bank for over 30 years and that we are a mutual community bank.
What advice would you give someone looking to buy or sell in 2017?
Go for it! Interest rates are still low and the purchase market is starting to get busy. It’s a good time to buy or sell.
America Saves Week was established in 2007 by America Saves and the American Savings Education Council in an effort to promote personal savings throughout America and to change people’s behavior when it comes to saving money. AmericaSavesWeek.org uncovered some startling statistics from the 2016 Annual America Saves Week survey:
- Just two out of every five U.S. households report good or excellent progress in meeting their savings goals
- 52 percent are saving enough for retirement at a desirable standard of living
- Only 43 percent have automatic savings outside of work
- More men (74 percent) report savings progress than women (67 percent)
- Those with a savings plan with specific goals (55 percent) are making more savings progress than those without a plan (23 percent)
At First County Bank we have many initiatives and programs to help promote savings. From our most basic savings account to comprehensive retirement strategies, we have the people in place to help you achieve the results you want when it comes to savings.
Well it’s here – 2017 is in full-swing, with a fresh financial start, defined resolutions, and a new administration in D.C. There are many questions circling what the financial industry will look like come fourth quarter. WalletHub, a consumer finance website, has released their financial predictions as we begin to wade through 2017.
- U.S. GDP growth will remain anemic, at 2.1% – Closing 2016 at approximately 1.75% WalletHub is predicting low growth, but growth is still a positive.
- Existing home sales will rise to $6M, despite higher rates – WalletHub forecasts nearly $6M in home sales for 2017, and surprisingly they attribute this to higher interest rates. “If interest rates rise slowly, we may see a nice bump in home sales and mortgage availability as buyers see low interest rates slowly fading and banks have higher rates to buffer against risk,” said Dr. Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.
- The Fed will raise rates twice, bringing its target to 1.125% – With only one rate hike in 2016, it is expected that we will see two in 2017. What does this mean for consumers? According to WalletHub, “each rate hike costs people with credit card debt around $1.4 billion in additional interest charges. As a result, consumers interest charges will be at least $2.8 billion higher in 2017 relative to 2016.” Not that you ever want to build debt, this is one more reason to be careful as you spend.
- Credit card debt will break all-time records, topping $1 trillion owed – As the dust settles it seems that 2016 will end up totaling around $80 billion in credit card debt. Ending 2016 at $80 billion seems to only be a starting point as early estimates project 2017 leaving the $1 trillion mark in the dust. This prediction coupled with the predicted rate hike is even more reason to be strict in your spending and to have a defined financial plan for the year.
- Consumer credit scores will peak at 675 in 2017 – The current average person’s credit score of 668 is expected to peak and plateau in 2017 around 675. Use this expected average increase as an opportunity to evaluate your score and efforts.
For more predictions on what to expect in 2017 read the full article, here. To learn how these predictions can affect you, talk with your local banker by calling or stopping by one of our branches.
Cold Weather Travel & Safety Tips
The holiday season brings a host of emotions and experiences often involving friends and family. One caveat of creating these holiday memories with friends and family can be harsh traveling conditions. With parts of Connecticut already receiving substantial amounts of snow, it seems we will experience yet another New England winter. Whether you have winter travel plans to see friends, family or to go to work, here are some cold weather travel and safety tips:
- Start off with the basics by making sure your vehicle is safe before traveling – this means checking your tire pressure and tread as well as making sure all headlights, directional lights, and emergency lights are working before traveling in wintry conditions.
- When traveling do your best to stay on roads that are well plowed and flat – stick to main roads and highways and avoid hills and slopes. Give yourself extra time to travel on these roads even if they may be a little heavier with traffic.
- Keep an extra layer of clothing, a couple of blankets and bottled water in your car for worst case scenarios. If you become stranded you will benefit from the ability to stay warm and hydrated.
- Let friends or family know where you’re headed! This may seem simple but letting someone know when you’re traveling is a simple way to stay safe.
- In the scenario you become stranded in your car – remember to use your hazard lights; if you’re running your engine to stay warm, keep a window slightly open to avoid carbon monoxide build-up; remove snow build-up around the vehicles exhaust pipe; and if you end up spending a night in your car, keep an interior overhead light on so you can be visible to overnight rescue crews.
Enjoy your holiday season with friends and family, and be safe when traveling. To read the full article visit, The Weather Channel.
All over the news we’ve heard about the recent Kim Kardashian robbery at gun point while she was traveling in Paris. Kim used social media to let her fans know her every movement—even posting where she was staying, and when and where she was alone. She found out in a very dramatic way that this wasn’t the best practice! Kim’s robbery has caused many to re-evaluate their own social media habits and how they affect personal safety.
Often we don’t think twice about posting our upcoming travel plans, “checking in” at distant locations or sharing travel photos during our trip. By doing this, we are essentially broadcasting when our home is empty and ripe for burglary! If we’ve been posting this way in the past, we should change our behavior in regard to social media and realize how our posts can directly affect our safety and security.
We’d like to share a few tips on how to keep safe while still having fun on social media:
- Your Social Security Number or the last four digits
- Home address
- Home phone number (mobile or business numbers are fine)
- Birth date
- Birth city
- Passwords, PINs or any financial account numbers
- Dates you will be away traveling
- Photos while traveling
- Use your privacy settings- they are available for a reason and can block sensitive information from the public, while keeping the fun with your friends
- Friend people you actually know– it’s not a popularity contest
- Limit access to “Friends” you really don’t know – not every “Friend” is a true friend
- Share your amazing travel photos once you are back from your trip
- Verify then trust – not the other way around! Be certain you are on a real website by looking at the URL to see if it makes sense before sharing information.
- Share sensitive information only on secure sites. You can verify this by the “https” or sometimes a padlock icon in the URL.
- What you post on the internet is permanent
- If you don’t use privacy settings, your posts are all public and your information can be used for nefarious purposes
- Educate yourself on site privacy policies
- If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t
- Protect yourself – Don’t click on attachments from people you don’t know. This is a way malware and malicious viruses infect your computer
First County Bank wants you and our customers to have fun with social media and to use these communication channels in a safe manner.