Streaming TV Can Be a Money Saver Compared to Cable

First there was broadcast TV, which consists of basic channels like CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS. It’s considered “free TV” because all you need is an antenna to watch programming, since advertisers fund your viewing pleasure.
Male hand holding TV remote control.

Then along came cable TV, which delivers television programming through a coaxial cable system to paying subscribers. Cable providers include Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and COX.

While cable TV provides a broader spectrum of programming than broadcast television, that extra programming comes at a cost. And that cost seems to be climbing higher and higher. According to a report by Leichtman Research Group, the average American household with cable pays $103 a month for the service. Imagine if you could turn that $103 monthly bill into a $12 or $20 monthly charge? Your savings account would thank you!

The good news is that cutting out the cost of cable is easier than ever before, thanks to a wide variety of video streaming services that allow you to watch your favorite programming at a fraction of the cost. From Netflix to Hulu, the variety of video streaming services is mind-boggling. And the competition seems to grow every day.

So what is a video streaming service? It’s basically an on-demand online entertainment source for TV shows, movies and other media. If you have a computer, smart phone, or tablet, or a smart TV or a streaming device like Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire, you can take advantage of video streaming. The services you decide to use will depend on what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to spend. But the bottom line is that video streaming services are starting to replace cable TV for a lot of Americans.

Netflix is a popular choice, with countless movies, television series, children’s programming, and documentaries to choose from. Netflix offers three different pricing tiers to suit your needs. Their “Basic” plan is $8.99 per month and allows you to stream video content on one device at a time in Standard Definition. If HD is more of your thing, you can try their $12.99 per month “Standard” plan, which allows High-Definition viewing, and streaming on up to 2 devices at the same time. And they also offer a “Premium” plan for $15.99 per month that allows you to stream on up to 4 devices at a time in HD and Ultra High-Definition (UHD) when available.

If you’re looking to get a lot of bang for your buck, you may want to look into Amazon Prime Video, which comes included with an Amazon Prime membership. Amazon Prime Video gives you access to a wide array of television series and movies, and your $119 per year Amazon Prime membership also grants you access to free two-day shipping on eligible purchases on Amazon.com (and in many cases, free one-day shipping), the ability to borrow free e-books via Prime Reading, commercial-free access to Amazon Music, and unlimited photo storage with Amazon Photos.

Hulu is another option, which allows you to watch episodes from both current and past seasons of your favorite TV shows. They also offer access to movies, and Hulu-original programming. Access to the service costs only $5.99 month, and if you’d like to eliminate commercials you can do so by paying $6 more a month. And if you’ve been hanging onto cable because you just can’t part with HBO or Showtime, you can add those to your Hulu subscription as well! It costs $14.99 per month to add HBO to a Hulu plan and you can add Showtime for an additional $10.00 per month. Hulu even has a new live-TV package for $44.99 per month. “Hulu with Live TV” includes Hulu’s regular on-demand video streaming, but also allows you to stream live television channels to supported devices such as Apple TV, Xbox, PlayStation, Fire TV, and Roku.

Slightly newer services that also offer live TV streaming include Sling TV, owned by Dish Network, and YouTube TV, a paid-subscription version of the popular website.

The traditional networks like CBS and ABC have jumped onto the streaming bandwagon, too. By visiting their websites, or downloading their apps, you can tap into shows that recently aired. And premium cable channels like HBO, Starz and Showtime are in on the game too. All of them offer stand-alone paid viewing packages that give you access to a broad selection of original programs, special shows, and movies.

So if you’ve been debating whether to stash away some significant money each month by ditching your high-cost cable provider, there’s not much to debate anymore. Streaming is the new way to save!

Ways To Improve Your Credit Score

Is your below-average credit score keeping you up at night? No one wants to be denied a mortgage or loan, or face higher interest rates because of a poor credit score. But if you do have a low credit score, the good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way. Fortunately there are changes you can begin making to your financial lifestyle that can have a significant positive impact on your score.AdobeStock_93575617

To start, it’s good to know exactly which credit score tier you fall into. Generally speaking, “Excellent” credit is defined as any score at or above 750. A “Good” credit score is one that falls between 700 and 749. If your credit score falls between 650 and 699, you have a “Fair” credit rating. “Poor” credit would be a score that lies between 600 and 649. And “Bad” credit is any score below 600.

If you don’t know your credit score, there are a few different ways you can find out. One potential way is to check your credit card or loan statement. Many major credit card and loan companies have started to provide credit scores to their customers on a monthly basis. If your credit card or loan provider offers this service, your score is typically listed on your monthly statement, or can be accessed by logging into your account online.

Your credit score can also be purchased directly from the three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, or Transunion – or you can obtain your FICO credit score through http://www.myfico.com.

Another way is to utilize a free credit score service like Credit Karma. Before signing up for these types of services however, be sure to read any fine print associated with the offer. And be aware of “free” sites that require you to enter your credit card information. Many times, you’ll need to cancel the service within a specified period of time in order to avoid charges on your credit card.

Once you’ve determined your credit score, and your credit tier, it’s time to check your credit reports. The law allows you can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three agencies every year. You can order these free reports from a central website – http://www.annualcreditreport.com. Or you can call 1-877-322-8228 for your report. There is also a request form that you can download from https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/sites/www.consumer.ftc.gov/files/articles/pdf/pdf-0093-annual-report-request-form.pdf. Just fill it out and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Once you have your reports, look for any errors such as incorrect records of what you owe on your accounts, or late payments that never occurred. When verifying information in your credit reports, keep in mind that each of the three major credit reporting agencies operate separately from one another. So, if you find an error on one agency’s report, you’ll need to check to see if that error also exists on the other reports. Any errors you find should be disputed directly with the credit reporting bureau that produced the report. If the same error appears on multiple reports, you’ll need to dispute each one individually with the different credit bureaus.

Once you have a handle on your credit reports, consider these tips for improving your credit score:

  • Pay down balances on your accounts. Eliminating or reducing your balances has the greatest impact on your credit score, according to financial experts. That’s because credit utilization – which is the amount you can borrow versus the amount of debt you’re carrying – accounts for 30% of your score. Paying down balances is also one of the fastest ways to improve your credit score. And if you have nuisance balances – small balances carried across several credit cards – get them out of the way as fast as you can, since one of the factors used in determining your credit score is the number of cards that have balances.
  • Pay your bills on time. Paying your bills on time shows that you can handle credit responsibly. If you repeatedly make late payments, you’ll be considered a greater risk by creditors. To ensure you’re making timely bill payments, take advantage of payment alerts, or bill pay services through your financial institution.
  • Have a good mix of accounts, such as loans and credit cards. It shows that you’re capable of handling different types of accounts.
  • Consider opening a new account. While it may seem strange to open a new credit card account while you’re paying off balances on existing ones, in some cases doing so can actually help your credit score. This is because a new credit card will increase your total outstanding credit line and thereby improve your credit utilization ratio. But don’t overdo it and try to open several accounts at one time. This will trigger multiple inquiries that will show up on your credit reports, which could drag down your score.
  • Don’t close out existing credit cards once you pay them off. Once you pay off the entire balance on your credit card, you may be tempted to close the account for good to avoid racking up additional balances. But doing so could have a negative impact on your credit score, since closing an account will decrease the amount of credit available to you. If you keep your card open instead, and either use it sparingly, or not at all, that available credit will help to reduce your credit utilization, and improve your credit score.

Starting the process of improving your credit score may seem daunting, but every little thing you do to help clean up your credit reports will go a long way toward brightening your financial future.

CD Investing Strategies: Things to Consider

Anyone interested in investing has heard of a certificate of deposit, or CD. It’s a financial product similar to a savings account. Where a CD differs, however, is that it has a specific, fixed term, and a fixed interest rate. It is intended for a CD to be held until maturity, at which time the money may be withdrawn together with the accrued interest, or rolled over into a new CD term.cd-investing-strategies

Most banks offer a variety of CD terms. Term lengths can range anywhere from six months to 5 years or more, depending on the financial institution.

At Bank5 Connect, we offer CDs with terms of 6, 12, 18, 21, 24, and 36 months. And the minimum deposit to open a Bank5 Connect CD is only $500.

While CDs provide a safe, guaranteed return on your investment, getting the most out of them requires you to think strategically. Here are some tips to help make your CD work for you:

  • Give thought to the length of your CD term. When your money is tied up in a long-term, multi-year CD, you run the risk of missing out on higher-yielding opportunities. A lot can change over the course of several years, and rates are no exception. The Federal Reserve meets every six to seven weeks about whether or not to change interest rates. Think of how disappointing it would be to see rates rapidly increasing around you, and all of your investing dollars are locked up in an underperforming CD for 4 more years.
  • Don’t withdraw your money from a CD before it matures. It’s important to understand all of the penalties associated with taking your money out of a CD before it reaches maturity. Doing so can take a huge bite out of your earnings. For a CD with a term of a year or more, the average penalty for withdrawing your funds early is six months’ worth of interest. In some cases, early withdrawal penalties can even dip into your principal if the CD hasn’t been opened long enough to cover the penalty fees through interest.
  • Do your homework regarding rates. If you don’t shop around for the best CD rates, you could end up missing out on some real bargains. With the internet at your disposal, it’s easier than ever to compare the CD products offered by various financial institutions. Using the comparison tools available on sites like DepositAccounts.com, it’s easy to find the most competitive CD offerings before choosing which to invest in.
  • Know when your CD is nearing maturity. Most financial institutions will automatically roll the funds in your CD over to a new CD with similar terms once it matures, unless you instruct them otherwise. However, allowing a CD to automatically roll over to a new term could be a costly mistake if you haven’t evaluated all of your other options. It pays to assess other investment opportunities to ensure you’re putting your money in a place that makes sense for you given your current situation and financial goals.
  • Use CD laddering to help generate a stream of interest income. A CD ladder could be a great was to prevent your funds from being unnecessarily tied up. This type of investment strategy involves setting up a collection of CDs that will mature at different intervals so you regularly have funds becoming available. For example, if instead of putting all of your investment dollars into an 18-month CD, you split those dollars three ways and open a 6-month CD, a 12-month CD, and an 18-month CD, you will have funds becoming available every 6 months, and a third of your money will still be earning interest at an 18-month rate!

With a little strategic thought, investing in CDs could be a great opportunity to earn some extra cash. But remember that it’s always best to consult with a tax advisor before making any major financial decisions. To learn more about the CDs offered by Bank5 Connect, visit http://www.bank5connect.com/home/cds.

Prepare for Opening Your First Bank Account

Maybe you’re a high school or college student. Or maybe you just haven’t had the need to open a bank account until now. Whatever your age or motivation, it’s important to “do your homework” before opening your first bank account – to ensure you get what it is that you need, and to make the account opening process as smooth and painless as possible.Happy savings

Here are some things to consider:

What type of account do you need?

Do you need a checking account, a savings account, or both? If you’re looking to pay routine bills like rent or utilities, make purchases with a debit card, or withdraw cash on a regular basis from an ATM, a checking account is likely the way to go. If your intent is to save money or establish an emergency fund, you’re going to want a savings account.

What features do you need, and what fees are you looking to avoid?

One of the biggest considerations when opening a savings account is the interest rate. When you deposit money into a savings account, you typically earn interest on that money. And the higher the interest rate, the more money you’ll earn! You should also look to see if there is a minimum balance required in order to earn interest.

There are even some checking accounts that offer interest. Online banks like Bank5 Connect typically don’t have as many overhead costs as brick-and-mortar banks, so they’re able to offer high-interest checking accounts.

It’s also important to read all the fine print associated with an account and understand any fees you could be subject to. Some checking accounts charge a monthly maintenance fee, or charge you a fee if you don’t maintain a certain balance. Luckily, many banks offer checking accounts that are free of these types of monthly fees. Bank5 Connect’s High Interest Checking account doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee or a minimum balance fee (however, you do need to maintain a minimum balance of $100 in order to earn interest).

How do you plan to access and manage your money?

These days there are many ways for you to keep track of your bank account. Most banks offer online and mobile banking. Through the bank’s website or mobile app you can typically check balances, transfer money between accounts, pay bills, and view statements. In some cases you can even set up email and text message alerts to warn you about low balances or suspicious activity. If you’re looking to utilize these types of tools to manage your finances, it’s a good idea to ensure your bank offers them before you open an account.

And then there’s the matter of ATMs. Your ATM or debit card will give you access to your bank’s network of ATMs, but what happens if you use an ATM outside of the network? What fees will you face? Will your bank waive those fees? If having ATM flexibility is important to you, you should be sure to review the bank’s ATM policy thoroughly. At Bank5 Connect, in addition to offering our customers free access to thousands of ATMs nationwide through the SUM ATM network, we don’t charge our customers a fee for using an ATM outside of the network. What’s more, we will reimburse them for other banks’ surcharges up to $15 per statement cycle!

What information will I have to provide the bank with?

Whether you’re opening an account online, or in-person at a branch, you’re going to need to formally identify yourself. If you’re opening your account at the bank, they’ll typically require you to show them a valid, government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, state ID card, or a passport. Some banks require a second form of ID as well, such as a social security card or birth certificate.

If you apply online, you’ll have to enter your license number, passport number, or ID card number, and you’ll have to supply additional information such as your Social Security number, phone number, physical mailing address, and email address. You may also have to answer “ID verification” questions online to prove you are who claim to be.

And remember that if you’re under the age of 18, you’ll need a parent or legal guardian to apply with you as a joint account holder. They’ll need to be with you if you apply in-person, and if you apply online they’ll need to be present to enter all of their identifying information into the application.

Lastly, you’ll need to provide the bank with money to fund the account. Some banks allow you to fund your new account with a credit card, others will require the initial funds be deposited in cash, by check, or through a transfer from an existing account.

Preparation Tips for a More Enjoyable Vacation

We all have different ideas of a “perfect vacation.” Some like to relax at the beach, others like something a little more adventurous. But whatever your definition of a perfect vacation, it probably doesn’t involve extra stress, right? If you’re aiming for a stress-free getaway, a little preparation can help minimize potential financial worries and security concerns, so you can enjoy every second of your well-deserved vacation.preparation-tips-for-a-more-enjoyable-vacation

For starters, a major part of your vacation planning should be creating a budget. You should try to anticipate what your expenses will be while you’re away, such as the costs of transportation, lodging and food. Once you have a good idea how much the basics of your trip will cost, be sure to factor in expenses like souvenirs, entertainment, and other little splurges. By having money already set aside and budgeted for your trip, you can minimize the chance of going “spend crazy” and racking up unforeseen credit card expenses. After all, it’s not fun coming home to sky-high credit card bills.

After you’ve got your budget in order, be sure to alert your bank of your vacation plans, including your travel dates and destination. Doing so will let them know that they can expect purchases outside of your normal routine and area, helping to reduce the chance of them putting a fraud alert on your credit or debit card and freezing access to your funds.

What’s more, let your bank know if you plan to make any large or major purchases during your vacation. Many financial institutions have a daily spending limit on their accounts, so it’s a good idea to confirm any limit you may have, and request it be raised if necessary. A quick phone call to the bank is well worth it if it can save you the embarrassment of being declined at the sales register.

Once your finances are in order, it’s a good idea to be proactive about your security as well. Before you head off on your vacation, considering suspending delivery of your mail and newspaper, especially if you’ll be away for more than a few days. If you don’t, your mail and newspapers will start to pile up, which could put you at risk. Think about all of the bills and credit card offers you receive on a daily basis. You definitely don’t want the sensitive information in those mailings to fall into the wrong hands. And think about all the people who pass by your house on a daily basis. Do you really want your pile of newspapers and bulging mailbox to advertise that you’re not home? An empty house can be pretty inviting to a burglar.

Along those same lines, while it may be tempting to share your vacation escapades on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, think twice about doing it. Those beach photos and updates from the airport give crooks a clue that you’re away from home. It’s a much safer idea to save your photos and stories and share them online when you return.

With a little planning, you’ll be ready to have fun and leave the financial stress and security concerns behind, so you can enjoy your perfect vacation.

Tying the Knot? Consider these Wedding Saving Tips!

The cost of a wedding keeps spiraling higher and higher. According to a survey by popular wedding website TheKnot.com, the average cost of a wedding in the United States was $33,391 in 2017.wedding-saving-tips

If you’re serious about keeping a financial lid on your wedding celebration, there are dozens of ideas that can help make it more affordable. Taking some time to plan ahead can have a significant impact on the cost of your special day.

Here are some wedding saving tips to consider:

Start saving early. Create a special savings account for your wedding and routinely place money in it. Even if it’s only $50 or $100 per paycheck, your balance will add up over time. Relying on credit cards to carry you through could leave you with a hefty bill for years to come.

Get a good return on those wedding dollars. If you’re planning on having a relatively long engagement, you could benefit from placing your wedding funds in an add-on CD, rather than a savings account. For starters, interest rates on CDs (also known as “certificates of deposit”) are usually higher than that of traditional savings accounts, and an add-on CD allows you to add funds to your account at any time, so you can continue stashing money away on a regular basis. This is in contrast to traditional CDs, which don’t usually allow you to add funds after your initial opening deposit. But remember, if you do decide to go the “CD route”, be sure to choose your term-length wisely! You’ll typically be slapped with an early-withdrawal penalty for taking your money out of a CD before it matures, so before you commit, make sure you can afford to leave the funds in your CD until the maturity date.

Skip the wedding planner. It would be nice to have someone else handle all the details surrounding your big day, but is it a necessity? Probably not. Rather than shell out the big bucks for a professional, recruit a friend or two to help you pull the big day together.

Give yourself enough time to plan. The more time you have, the more research you can do to make the event more manageable money-wise. You’ll have a better chance of finding money-saving deals, and you’ll be able to avoid rush-delivery fees.

Tie the knot during the off-season. June and October have become the most popular months to get hitched, mainly because it’s usually neither too hot nor too cold during those months in most areas of the United States. Wedding dates around Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day are also popular choices. But keep in mind the concept of “supply and demand”. Holding your wedding during a coveted time period is going to be more expensive than other dates. But by picking a date during the off-peak season, you can save yourself some big money – not just on a venue, but on everything from flowers to photographers and food!

Choose flowers that are in-season. You may have been dreaming about having a specific flower in your wedding bouquet since you were a little girl, but if that floral favorite isn’t blooming during the season you’re marrying, you’ll likely end up paying a premium for it. Visit a florist to get a sense of what flowers will be in-season during the time of your wedding, and pick from that selection to ensure you don’t break the budget. Chances are you’ll have plenty of beautiful options to choose from.

Stay away from Saturday. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Saturday is the most popular day of the week to hold a wedding. But just because it’s the most popular choice, doesn’t mean it needs to be your choice. If you’re serious about being smart with your wedding budget, you should at least consider an alternative day of the week. You could possibly save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by selecting a day other than Saturday. Speak with your preferred venue and other vendors before committing to a date, to get a sense of just how much money you could save.

Pick a venue that allows you to choose your own vendors. This wedding saving tip alone can make a huge difference in your budget. If you go with a wedding venue that is tied to (and mandates) specific vendors, it’s usually a given that those vendors are going to cost a lot more than if you shopped around yourself. Between the DJ, caterer, florist, and photographer, you could save a pretty penny in the end by hand-selecting each of your vendors.

Avoid the sit-down dinner. Needless to say, per-person plate costs can really whack you in the wallet, depending on what you’re serving. Why not opt for a buffet instead? Another option is to have a cocktail reception and serve only hors d’oeuvres.

Do you really need a wedding cake? Considering the price tag tied to a formal tiered or fondant cake, you could come up with a less expensive alternative that’s just as enjoyable. Consider trying a cupcake spread instead. Or, if your weakness is ice cream, set up a “sundae shop” with all the fixings. And, if your heart’s set on a traditional treat, another option is to order a “dummy cake” with a small layer you can cut into, and then have your venue serve a less expensive sheet cakes to guests. They’ll never know the difference!

Tap into your crafty and creative side for table decorations. There’s no rule that you have to have flowers at each table, let alone flowers that are professionally arranged. Go online and see what ideas are floating about. If you’re having a fall wedding, a small pumpkin, a few gourds and some colorful autumn leaves can add a special seasonal touch. Photo albums can also make unique, conversational centerpieces.

Sometimes, it pays to think “outside of the box”. With careful planning and an eye on your budget you can have a memorable wedding celebration that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life, but won’t break the bank!