Attention Snowbirds!

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Every winter season, as soon as the temps drop, a large number of “Snowbirds” leave their Minnesota homes for the gentler climates of Arizona.  You may be familiar with this group or may even be lucky enough to be a Snowbird yourself.  The agents at Citizens Agency can now write the insurance for your Arizona seasonal homes, mobile homes, autos and golf carts.

Snowbirds have come up with some practical habits for maintaining the nest left behind. It’s important to have a checklist of items to think about when leaving your home for extending periods of time, making your migration as smooth as possible.

Essential Tips for the Nest Left Behind:

  1. Unplug all electrical appliances, except the fridge.
  2. Turn down thermostats, but not completely off. A good temperature is about 55-60 degrees depending upon where you live.
  3. Secure all water sources: turn off all faucets, make sure drains are clear and turn off the supply valve to toilets and washing machine.
  4. Don’t make your absence obvious – i.e. stop newspaper and mail delivery, use lamp timers and don’t announce it on Facebook.
  5. Forward bills and notify credit card companies so that charges don’t appear suspicious.
  6. Take care of doctor appointments and prescriptions before you go.
  7. Make sure your smoke alarms work and have fresh batteries.
  8. Ask a trusted friend or family member to check on your place periodically.
  9. Make sure your driver’s license and/or passport won’t expire while you’re gone.

By: Jen Eager, Citizens Agency CSR/Insurance Agent

Investment and insurance products:

  • Are Not Insured by the FDIC or any other federal government agency
  • Are Not deposits of or guaranteed by a Bank or any Bank Affiliate
  • May lose value

Top 10 Money Tips Every Freshman Should Know

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As college students head to campus for the fall semester, money management should be on their personal syllabus. Citizens Bank Minnesota has ten money-saving tips to help college students get an early start on securing their financial future:

  • Create a budget. You’re an adult now and are responsible for managing your own finances. The first step is to create a realistic budget or plan and stick to it.
  • Watch spending. Keep receipts and track spending in a notebook. Pace spending and increase saving by cutting unnecessary expenses like eating out or shopping so that your money can last throughout the semester.
  • Use credit wisely. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit.  Use it, but don’t abuse it. How you handle your credit in college could affect you well after graduation.  Shop around for a card that best suits your needs.
  • Take advantage of your bank’s resources. 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 and monitor transaction history.
  • Lookout for money. There’s a lot of money available for students — you just have to look for it. Apply for scholarships, and look for student discounts or other deals.
  • Buy used. Consider buying used books or ordering them online.  Buying books can become expensive and often used books are in just as good of shape as new ones.
  • Entertain on a budget. Limit your “hanging out” fund.  There are lots of fun activities to keep you busy in college and many are free for students.  Get the most from your student ID. Use your meal plan or sample new recipes instead of eating out.
  • Use only your bank’s ATMs. Avoid fees by using ATMs owned by or affiliated with your bank. If you must use an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank, take out larger withdrawals to avoid having to go back multiple times.
  • Expect the unexpected. Things happen, and it’s important that you are financially prepared when your car or computer breaks down or you have to buy an unexpected bus ticket home.  You should start putting some money away immediately, no matter how small the amount.
  • Ask. This is a learning experience, so if you need help, ask.  Your parents or your bank are a good place to start, and remember—the sooner the better.

Planning a last minute summer get-away?

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Planning for your trip ahead of time can help keep your money safe

Washington, D.C. (August 5, 2014)—The Independent Community Bankers of America® (ICBA) and the nation’s more than 6,500 community banks are providing consumers information they need to help keep their money safe before they plan their next vacation.

“Running out of money or losing your wallet is a quick way to spoil your trip,” John Buhrmaster, president and CEO of 1st National Bank of Scotia, N.Y. said. “Community bankers are relationship bankers who work together with their customers, so in the event something unfortunate does happen, they will be ready to lend a helping hand.”

Financial professionals agree that the safest and most convenient way to travel with your money is to take a small amount of cash with you. Another good idea is to carry a debit and/or credit card along for the trip. These cards are convenient while traveling because they are easy to carry, easy to use and often offer the lowest fees and the best exchange rates.

ICBA offers these tips to consumers about what they need to take care of before they take off:

  • Let your community bank know when and where you will be traveling so that you will avoid any potential denials or fraud alerts when out-of-the-ordinary transactions are presented. This is crucial for international travel.
  • Check your available balances before you leave. Know the limits on how much cash you can withdraw or purchases you can make.
  • Find out what ATM or debit card fees you may be subject to around the country and abroad.
  • Make copies of all the cards you’ll be carrying and take a copy with you. Be sure to also include the customer service phone number.
  • Many credit cards provide travel accident insurance and traveler’s assistance. Ask your community bank what special services are available through your card.
  • Bring a list of emergency phone numbers. Be sure to get a number for your bank that you can call if you’re out of the country.

“Whether you and your family are traveling near or far, it is better to be prepared for any event that comes your way. Your local community bank is always there to help ensure your finances will be kept safe,” Buhrmaster said

Press release from Independent Community Bankers of America

What Is Really Happening With Fannie & Freddie!

fannie-mae-and-freddie-macTHE TRILLION-DOLLAR BATTLE FOR HIGHER MORTGAGE RATES

If you’re a mortgage borrower your great goal in life is to get a lower rate. While 2012 saw the lowest mortgage rates in 65 years, 2013 and early 2014 have not been far off the mark.

In a plot worthy of a James Bond villain, there has been a decided effort in Washington to make the mortgage market less competitive, to assure that the lending system as we know it is  completely gutted and thus to artificially raise mortgage rates.

How?

By replacing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with new firms created by the private sector — but backed with government guarantees. Without Fannie and Freddie costs to borrowers would rise, creating less housing demand but raising huge profits for replacement companies.

A year or two ago the end of Fannie and Freddie seemed like a done deal, but in a sudden reversal, it looks like the two giant mortgage buyers will remain in business for the foreseeable future.

Here’s what’s happening — and why:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Fannie and Freddie buy conforming loans from local lenders. These loans are bundled together and re-sold to investors worldwide. Such securities are then insured and guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie in exchange for guarantee fees (g-fees) — fees worth tens of billions of dollars annually.

So who should get the fees?

Until 2008, it was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who got the money, as well as their shareholders. However, with the nationalization of the two giant secondary lenders the picture is no longer so clear. For instance, in 2012 Congress increased the g-fees charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, not to improve their bottom line or lower mortgage rates, but to fund a temporary payroll tax reduction. In effect, Fannie and Freddie became cash cows to be milked by Congress.

Privatization
The big battle is whether Fannie and Freddie should exist at all. There are several plans floating around Washington to replace the two big GSE with private firms, big companies created on Wall Street.

Not usually mentioned is that such plans to “privatize” the secondary market are unnecessary. There are already private firms that buy mortgages and then sell securities to investors. For instance, according to conservative financial writer James K Glassman, private companies controlled 67 percent of the secondary market in 2006 but only 14 percent in 2012.

Why did private-sector companies lose so much market share? It was these companies that securitized toxic and subprime mortgages, the loans most likely to fail and the financing at the heart of the mortgage meltdown.

What makes the DC “private sector” proposals different from the private companies long been active in the secondary market is that the new firms would be backed with federal guarantees, just like Fannie and Freddie. Taxpayers would implicitly be on the hook for any losses while all profits would go to investors. In other words, the new private companies would be exactly the same as Fannie and Freddie before the mortgage meltdown. Only the names on the dividend checks would change.

The government’s position in this matter for the past few years could not be more clear: The Federal Housing  Finance Agency — the bureaucracy that now runs Fannie and Freddie — actually produced a report which lays out the whole plan.

How do we know? Just look at the title: “FHFA’s Initiative to Reduce the Enterprises’ Dominant Position in the Housing Finance System by Raising Gradually Their Guarantee Fees.”

The idea is not to create private companies that through better products or lower costs would gain market share, but instead to purposely hobble Fannie and Freddie with higher costs so they can no longer compete effectively.

The plan to undermine Fannie and Freddie has been in high gear but is now facing resistance. Arguably, it may even be dead.

Net Worth Sweep
What happened to stop one of the biggest lobbying efforts in Washington?

Three things:

First, Fannie and Freddie are hugely profitable — and the profits are now collected by the government and used to hold down the deficit. Fannie has so far paid $114 billion to the federal government while Freddie has chipped in $71.3 billion. The two companies will easily repay the $188 billion advanced by the Treasury.

Payments to the federal government from Fannie and Freddie are not considered “income,” instead in the magical thinking of government finance they are defined as “negative outlays” that “reduce” spending and thus the deficit.

“Much of the drop in spending” for December 2013, said the Congressional Budget Office, “occurred because payments from the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the Treasury were $34 billion more than they were last year.”

Second, unlike Citigroup, General Motors, Chrysler or AIG, federal claims against Fannie and Freddie will not end with the repayment of advances plus interest. In one of the most unusual financial strategies ever seen, last summer the government unilaterally declared that it was entitled to a “net worth sweep” from the two companies, meaning that it would take all profits and income from Fannie and Freddie.

If the government takes all income it means no cash is available to pay dividends to other shareholders or rebuild capital reserves. The government now faces multiple suits as a result of the “net worth sweep” policy because of claims that it’s violating the “taking” clause of the Fifth Amendment by not offering “just” compensation to shareholders.

No one knows how the courts will  rule on such claims, but prospects for the federal government are fairly grim. In the 1996 Winstar case, shareholders of illegally-seized savings-and-loan associations won $30 billion in compensation for the loss of their property. The claims from Fannie and Freddie shareholders could be substantially larger.

Third, given the flood of money generated by Fannie and Freddie, maybe their premeditated and artificial collapse is not such a good policy. Not only would the government lose dividend payments, it would also have new liabilities with their private-sector  replacements.

In addition — and not to be overlooked — with an end to Fannie and Freddie borrowers would face higher financing costs. Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told the Associated Press that privatization of the secondary market would increase the cost of a typical $200,000 mortgage by $75 to $135 a month — that’s $900 to $1,620 per year — with no additional benefit to borrowers.

You can see the impact of recent federal policies by looking at conventional and jumbo mortgage rates. In an historic reversal, jumbo loans are now cheaper than conventional mortgages because g-fees have pushed up the cost of conventional loans. This happens because jumbo financing is not purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, thus such loans do not include g-fees.

The re-thinking of government policies was dramatically shown when still-another increase in the g-fee was announced in December and stopped in January. Interestingly, the increase was the last major act of outgoing FHFA Director Ed DeMarco — and the first for incoming Director Mel Watt.

Article taken from RealtyTrac.com, written by Peter Miller, Contributor

June Is American Housing Month

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6 Tips for Saving for Your Down Payment

Before you can make the transition from renting your home to owning your home, you will need to have a substantial down payment, typically 5 to 20 percent of the home’s value. The American Bankers Association suggests the following tips to help save for it:

​Develop a budget & timeline. 

Start by determining how much you’ll need for a down payment. Create a budget and calculate how much you can realistically save each month – that will help you gauge when you’ll be ready to transition from renter to homeowner.

Establish a separate savings account. 

Set up a separate savings account exclusively for your down payment and make your monthly contributions automatic. By keeping this money separate, you’ll be less likely to tap into it when you’re tight on cash.

Shop around to reduce major monthly expenses.

It’s a good idea to check rates for your car insurance, renter’s insurance, health insurance, cable, Internet or cell phone plan. There may be deals or promotions available that allow you to save hundreds of dollars by adjusting your contracts.

Monitor your spending.

With online banking, keeping an eye on your spending is easier than ever. Track where most of your discretionary income is going. Identify areas where you could cut back (e.g. nice meals out, vacations, etc.) and instead put that money into savings.

Look into state and local home-buying programs. 

Many states, counties and local governments operate programs for first-time homebuyers. Some programs offer housing discounts, while others provide down payment loans or grants.

Celebrate savings milestones.

Saving enough for a down payment can be daunting. To avoid getting discouraged, break it up into smaller goals and reward yourself when you reach each one. If you need to save $30,000 total, consider treating yourself to a nice meal every $5,000 saved. This will help you stay motivated throughout the process.

 

Article taken from American Bankers Association, June 2014

CITIZENS BANK MINNESOTA ‘TEACHES CHILDREN TO SAVE’

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April 11, 2014  marked the 18th annual Teach Children to Save Day

During the week of April 7th – 11th, several Citizens Bank Minnesota employees visited second grade classrooms in the New Ulm and Lakeville area and connected with over 500 students, raising awareness on the importance of saving money at an early age.  They also talked about where they can save their money – in a bank, or in their piggy banks at home.

To emphasize how banks are a better place to save their money than at home in their piggy banks, the students play a game with laffy taffy.  After the class is divided into two, they each take turns to “make a deposit” with their taffy, one group to their piggy bank, the other to the bank.  After the first round, the students who deposited their taffy at the bank receive interest in the form of more taffy.  After five rounds, the bank students have an overflowing bucket of taffy, while the piggy bank students have only the amount of taffy they started with.  This is a good visual and interactive example for students to see the benefits of saving.

Following the laffy taffy game, the students talk about different ways they can add to their savings accounts, such as receiving money as a gift, earning money from jobs at home, or their allowance.  They also talk about their savings goals, such as buying video games or toys now, or saving for a car or college in the future.  The students are always ready to ask questions in regards to saving and the bank!

Looking for a few tips on raising money-smart kids?

  • Set the example of a responsible money manager by paying bills on time, being a conscientious spender and an active saver. Children tend to emulate their parents’ personal finance habits.
  • 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 of saving and budgeting and the consequences of not doing so.
  • Open a savings account for your children and take them with you to make deposits, so they can learn how to be hands-on in their money management.
  • Let friends and family know about your child’s savings goal.  They’ll be more likely to give cash for special occasions, which means more trips to the bank.
  • Engage your community.  Many schools, banks and community organizations share your commitment to creating a money-savvy generation.  Engage a coalition of support to provide youth with the education they need to succeed.

Citizens has a great Savings Force account with a Power Rewards Program.  This program is geared towards saving money and getting good grades in school to earn rewards!  It also includes receiving fun, educational newsletters and special promotions throughout the year. If you are interested in opening a savings account for your child or grandchild at Citizens, please stop in and talk with one of our Client Service Representatives today!

 

By: Sarah Seifert, Marketing Assistant/Youth Coordinator

Citizens Bank Minnesota is Green!

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When you think of “green” at a bank, you probably automatically think of the government-approved currency kind of “green”.  But at Citizens Bank Minnesota, we care about another type of “green” – Going Green!

We offer online banking with e-Statements, so paper doesn’t have to be wasted by printing a paper statement and mailing it in an envelope.  It is estimated that one household’s annual paper statements from banks would strip 24 square feet of forest each year.  Plus, e-Statements may help avoid identity theft by eliminating paper documents that may expose personal information.  Your unique Login ID and password helps to ensure confidentiality. With e-Statements you may not have to worry about your bank statement falling into the wrong hands through the mail, or by having it in your mailbox.

You can even pay your bills online with our bill payment – saving yourself time and money.  No more buying stamps or licking envelopes.

Citizens Go! Mobile app will save you drive time by allowing you to bank from your smartphone – eliminating a trip to the bank!  You can access your account information, transfer funds, pay bills and more from the app.  And Go! Mobile just got even better with Go! Mobile Deposit.  Now you can deposit checks with your smartphone from the convenience of your own home or anywhere that you have cell service!

Here are a few ways that you can Go Green and save paper:

  • Turn off paper bank statements by signing up for e-Statements.
  • Switch to direct deposit.
  • Start using online banking.
  • Try mobile banking, such as Citizens Go! Mobile app for your smartphone.

 

By: Sarah Seifert, Marketing Assistant

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