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  • Beware of Loan Scams

    We have all heard the ads about stopping foreclosure or getting help with your mortgage payments but do we really know if these companies or their claims are legitimate? Fraudsters like to pray on people’s emotions and take advantage of someone in need.  They will use phrases like “Stop foreclosure now!” or “We have special relationships with banks to speed up your approval process.” to get your attention then try to get your money. You can prevent fraud and scams simply by knowing about the different types of scams.

    Phony Loan/Credit Counseling

    The scam artists will claim they can work with your lender to reduce your mortgage payments or save your home from foreclosure for a small fee.   The scam artist may pose as an attorney or a representative from a law firm. They may tell you not to contact your lender they will handle all the correspondence on you pay them their fee, and then stop returning your calls. Or they may insist you make your mortgage payment to them and after a few months of payments they are unreachable.

    Forensic Audit

    Fraudsters offer a service to have an auditor or attorney review your loan documents to detect if your lender complied with the law in exchange for a fee. They claim you can use their audit report to avoid foreclosure, help the loan modification process, reduce how much you owe, or even cancel your loan.

    Rent-to-Buy Schemes

    In this scam you are deceived into signing over the deed to your home to a scam artist that says you will be able to remain in the house as a renter and eventually buy it back. Usually, the terms of this scheme are so demanding that the buy-back becomes impossible or the rent significantly increases, you are evicted and the “rescuer” walks off with most or all of the equity from your home plus any rent you paid.


    Scam artists offer to help and claim you need to sign paperwork to bring your mortgage current, but hidden in the stack of papers is a document that surrenders the title of your house to the scammers in exchange for a "rescue" loan.

    Warning Signs

    If you're looking for a loan modification or other help to save your home, avoid any business that:

    • Guarantees to get you a loan modification or stop the foreclosure process – no matter what your circumstances.
    • Tells you not to contact your lender or lawyer.
    • Claims that all or most of its customers get loan modifications or mortgage relief.
    • Asks for an upfront fee before providing you with any services.
    • Accepts payment only by cashier's check or wire transfer.
    • Encourages you to lease your home so you can buy it back over time.
    • Tells you to make your mortgage payments directly to them, rather than your lender.
    • Tells you to transfer your property deed or title to them.
    • Offers to buy your house for cash for much lower than the selling price of similar houses in your neighborhood.
    • Pressures you to sign papers you haven't had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don't understand.

    If you're having trouble paying your mortgage or have gotten a foreclosure notice, contact your lender immediately.

    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • When Small Charges Can Signal a Big Crime

    Most people looking at their bank statements would probably notice if their credit or debit card were used without their approval to purchase a big ticket item, and they would quickly call their bank or card issuer to report the error or fraudulent transaction. But consumers are less likely to be suspicious of very small charges, including those less than a dollar ... which is why criminals like to make them.

    Small transactions can be signs that someone has learned your account information and is using it to commit a crime," said Michael Benardo, manager of the FDIC's Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. "That’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for fraudulent transactions, no matter how small."

    He added, "When thieves fraudulently obtain someone else’s credit or debit card information and create a counterfeit card, they might test it out with a small transaction — like buying a pack of gum or a soda — to make sure the counterfeit card works before using it to make a big purchase. If this test goes unnoticed by the true account holder, thieves will use the card to buy something expensive that they want or that they can easily sell for cash."

    In one example, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that a group of individuals stole nearly $10 million by making charges to more than a million credit and debit cards that went unnoticed by most of cardholders because the transactions ranged from 20 cents to $10.

    Even a small deposit in your checking or savings account that you weren’t expecting could be a sign that criminals have learned your account information and are trying to link your account to theirs so they can fraudulently withdraw money, perhaps your entire balance. Note: Be aware that if you ask to link your accounts at two different financial institutions, such as when setting up automatic transfers for investment or payment purposes, many banks and other payment providers may make test charges or deposits of less than $1 to verify that the proper arrangements have been made.

    What can consumers to do protect themselves? Be on the lookout for small transactions you don’t think you’ve conducted or authorized. "The best way to catch this kind of fraud is to regularly and thoroughly review your bank and credit card statements to look for transactions that you didn’t initiate," Benardo said. "If you have online access to your bank and credit card accounts, it is a good idea to check them regularly, perhaps weekly, for suspicious activity."

    Immediately contact your bank or credit card issuer if you see a transaction that you didn’t authorize and ask for it to be reversed. Debit card users in particular should promptly report an unauthorized transaction. While federal protections for credit cards cap losses from fraudulent charges at $50, a consumer’s liability limit for a debit card could be up to $500 or more if you don’t notify your bank within two business days after discovering the theft.

    Also ask your bank or credit card issuer about additional precautions it could take to prevent fraud on your account. "For a period of time, it might monitor your account more closely for fraudulent transactions," Benardo said. "Or, it may determine that the best course of action is to close your current account and issue you a new card with a new account number."

    Article Provided by FDIC, Consumer News. To learn more about how to keep your credit and debit cards safe from fraud, visit FDIC Consumer News.

    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • Happy National Ag Day!

    Today and every day, Better Banks recognizes and celebrates the contributions of America’s local farmers, ranchers, and agricultural enterprises.

    We recognize the essential role of agriculture, which is central to our country’s health and prosperity and we pledge to do all we can to support these stewards of the land and their work to preserve our nation’s natural resources—today, tomorrow and for the future—for the benefit of all Americans.

    Did you know?

    Community banks provide 80% of all financing to and are often the catalysts for new and expanded business opportunities within agriculture communities. In fact, community banks provide roughly $130 billion in agriculture loans. Better Banks is proud to be a part of the community banks supporting our farmers.

    National Ag Day was founded nearly 50 years ago to recognize the contributions of farmers in providing Americans with healthy, affordable, and abundant food options.

    Here are some facts from the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA):

    • The typical American farmer produces enough food and fiber to feed 166 people, producing jobs and investment throughout the economy.
    • Americans spend less than 10 percent of their disposable income on food, allowing consumers financial freedom to purchase other goods.
    • Farming and related industries employ 21.6 million people, making up 11 percent of total U.S. employment.

    Better Banks has been serving the agricultural community since 1898, applying their intrinsic knowledge of local markets and relationship-based lending philosophy to address this sector’s financial needs. We look forward to building on this rich tradition of service, which supports our nation’s food supply and bolsters our economy for many years to come.

    To learn more about many of the products and services available for your ag business click here.

    Tags: News
  • Shipping Phishing Scam

    The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact supply chains for countless industries around the world. Unfortunately, cybercriminals are using problems like shipping delays to their advantage. Recently cybercriminals started using the possibility of a delayed or missed shipment as phish bait.

    The scam starts with an email that appears to come from a reputable shipping company (FedEx, UPS, or USPS) or a trusted online store (Amazon, Etsy, Walmart). The email urges you to click on a link to download an important shipping confirmation document. If you click the link, you’ll be taken to a login webpage that asks for your email and password. Unfortunately, the email was actually sent by cybercriminals and the link leads to a well-designed phishing webpage. Any information that you enter on the webpage will be sent straight to the cybercriminals.

    To stay safe from similar scams, remember the following tips:

    • Watch out for a sense of urgency. These types of scams rely on impulsive actions, so always think before you click.
    • Never click on a link or download an attachment in an email that you were not expecting.
    • If you are expecting a shipment and receive a related email, confirm that the email is legitimate before clicking any links in the email. Look for details such as the order number, the purchase date, and the payment method.

    If you suspect you have been duped by this type of phishing scams, go to There you’ll see the specific steps to take based on the information that you lost. And be sure to contact your bank immediately.

    Your security is our top priority.
    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • It’s Time to Start Spring Cleaning

    Spring can be a great time to clear out clutter and start fresh, both inside and outside your home. The milder days of spring are a perfect time to get outside and start your spring cleaning and perform some basic home maintenance.

    This checklist will help make it easier to tackle these spring home maintenance projects.

    Gutters – Clean leaves and other debris from gutters and downspouts to keep water flowing and reduce the possibility of water damage.

    Roof – Check for any damage from snow or ice, and make any necessary repairs to reduce the possibility of leaks. Also, check the indoor ceiling for signs of leaks. (Remember to put safety first any time you are on a roof. If you have any doubt, leave it to the professionals.)

    Air Conditioning – Check around the unit for indications of leaks. Before turning it on for the season, have your air-conditioning system inspected and tuned up by a professional. Check the drain lines annually and clean them if they are clogged. Change the air filter before turning it on for the season.

    Siding – Take a walk around your house and look for any siding damage. Be sure to repair any pieces of siding that are extremely weathered or cracking. If you have painted wood siding, peeling or loose paint should be scraped off, sanded and repainted.

    Windows – Repair any peeling or cracked caulk around the seals. Repair or replace any screens that have holes, and ensure winter wind hasn’t loosened any screens from their fasteners.

    Landscaping – Trim back shrubs and trees. Remove dead branches. Prepare your flower beds for planting.

    Outdoor Plumbing – After opening valves for outdoor water supplies, be sure to inspect components for leaks. Don’t forget to check inside plumbing as well as outdoor spigots.

    Smoke Detectors – Daylight saving time is a good time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors.

    Inspect Driveways and Paths – Freezing and thawing is rough on concrete, asphalt, and other hardscaping materials. Take a walk around your property to look for damage to walkways, paths, and driveways, and schedule repairs as needed.

    Review Your Home Insurance Policy – Make any necessary adjustments. Meet with your insurance agent regularly to adjust all of your policies as your home and family change over time.

    Call CFC Insurance today at 309.243.1010 to discuss your insurance needs or request a free quote!

    Get a Free Quote 

    Tags: CFC Insurance
  • Better Banks Announces New Contest Promoting Community Involvement

    To honor their commitment to improving the communities in which they live and serve, Better Banks has announced a new contest - Better Your Community.

    “The goal of the contest is to put a spotlight on those individuals who go above and beyond to better our communities,” said Better Banks President, Mike Stratton. “As a community bank, we are deeply committed to our local communities not just professionally, but also personally. We want to honor our neighbors who are doing more, and those that give of themselves to help others.”

    Members of our communities are encouraged to nominate a deserving person in their community and provide details why these individuals deserve this honor. The contest kicks off on March 1, 2022 with a new winner selected each month. The monthly winners will receive a check for $250 from Better Banks for the local charity of their choosing.

    Better Banks is committed to improving the communities in which we live and serve. Click here to learn more about this contest and to review the complete rules.

    Tags: News
  • Protect Your 2FA Codes!

    Protect your 2FA codes along with your password!

    Google recently removed a malicious app from their Google Play store. The app, “2FA Authenticator” was available for download for 2 weeks and was downloaded more than 10,000 times.

    Hackers used the fully functional 2FA Authenticator app to not only deliver two-factor authentication (2FA) codes but it also downloaded a virus giving the hackers remote access to the user's phone. The virus uses keylogging and screen captures in order to steal banking credentials and financial information from the unsuspecting user. Anyone who downloaded the software is advised to remove the app from their Android phone, change their bank credentials, and scan their phone for malicious software that may still reside on their Android.

    Better Banks does NOT utilize the ‘2FA Authenticator’ software. We support the 'Authy Authenticator App' for our Digital Banking platform. Authy is highly regarded and considered to offer the best combination of compatibility, usability, security, and reliability.

    You should always be careful about the applications that you download from the Android or Apple stores. Additionally, you should also protect any 2FA codes you receive, similarly to how you protect your passwords. No one should ask for your password, and the same is true for 2FA codes.

    For example, in attempt to hack into your account, a scammer may click the ‘reset password’ link in order to change the password for your Amazon account. When the fraudster encounters a prompt for a 2FA code that was sent to your cell phone, they will call you impersonating an Amazon support person. Representatives that support Amazon will never ask for your account password or a 2FA verification code. The same is true for all companies (i.e. Banks, Venmo, PayPal, Coinbase, etc.). 

    If you suspect you have been duped by this type of phishing scams, go to There you’ll see the specific steps to take based on the information that you lost. And be sure to contact your bank immediately.

    Your security is our top priority.

    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • Mobile Deposit Scam

    Banks are reporting customers are falling for a new form of fraud known as a money mule scam. People are recruited through Facebook or social media through what appear to be work-at-home jobs or other opportunities where they are lured as a money transfer agent (middle man). Victims of these scams are told they will receive deposits into their account with instructions on withdrawing the funds and forwarding money to a designated contact person. The victim is told they will receive a percentage of the proceeds as commission.

    The victim is next instructed to provide their personal online/mobile banking usernames and passwords to the contact person. This allows the fraudster to log in to the accounts to access mobile deposit services to deposit their checks. The checks are then returned typically after the victim has already withdrawn the funds, leaving a negative balance and multiple fees. Most people who fall victim to this scam do not have the funds to cover their negative balance.

    Better Banks as always, takes great precaution in preventing against schemes such as these but everyone should be aware that fraudsters come up with new schemes each and every day. If it does not feel right, odds are it isn’t! Please alert us to any such potential scams that you may feel are being perpetrated by contacting us as soon as possible at 309.272.1000 with as many details as possible. Stay alert, protect yourself and never give your online banking login information to someone!

    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • Potential Tax Breaks for Homeowners

    Get the most from your recent purchase!

    Purchasing a home is a life-changing event. Your home also affects how the IRS taxes you. If you’re already a homeowner, this isn’t news to you. However, if you’ve recently purchased your first home, we've got valuable information for you. You may not realize there are several tax benefits of buying a home.

    As a homeowner, Uncle Sam is there to help ease the pain of mortgage payments. The tax deductions now available to you as a homeowner could reduce your tax bill substantially.

    Here are 6 you should be aware of, before you file your taxes.

    MORTGAGE INTEREST for those who have had a mortgage on their home could be an important deduction to take advantage of. You may lower your taxable income through this itemized deduction of mortgage interest.

    DISCOUNT POINTS purchased to reduce the interest rate on your mortgage may be cost deductible. When you take out a mortgage, you may have the option to purchase discount points to lower your interest rate on the loan. If you have this option, one discount point will equate to 1% of the mortgage amount.

    PROPERTY TAXES may be able to be deducted up to $10,000 as a married couple filing jointly – or $5,000 if you are single or married filing separately. Depending on your situation, the property tax deduction can be very valuable.

    NECESSARY HOME IMPROVEMENTS may qualify as tax deductions. Not all home improvements will qualify as a deduction, but many do.

    HOME OFFICE EXPENSES may be deductible if you operate a business from your residence. The IRS requires that you use your home office for regular and exclusive business use in order to qualify for a deduction. If you only use the office space when it is convenient, or just for working from home for your employer, that will not qualify.

    PRIVATE MORTGAGE INSURANCE, or PMI, is another expense that may be deductible on your itemized tax return. PMI protects your lender if you are unable to continue making mortgage payments.

    If you have questions regarding any of these items we recommend that you reach out to your tax advisor. If you would like to refinance or purchase a home, contact one of our Lenders today!

  • Tips to Help You Reduce Debt

    One of the greatest contributors to financial stress is debt. If you're having a tough time financially, it can feel isolating, but the truth is 80 percent of Americans have consumer debt. The only way to relieve financial stress is to make a plan and work your way through it. But to make that plan, you'll need to understand the type of debt you have, your best-case scenario to pay down your debt, and how to leverage your knowledge so that you can maintain or increase your credit score.

    You thought we'd say budget first, didn't you? While creating a spending and savings plan (our preferred term over "budget") is essential, the true value in having a plan is clarity. When you know your exact income and expenses, you can better steward the discretionary income left over after your bills are paid. It will become easier for you to decide how much to spend, if you can put more toward debt, what goes into savings, and whether to begin making investments. Your spending and savings plan will also highlight areas that need attention.

    For example, is your grocery allocation adequate? Are all of your subscriptions and recurring monthly expenses still necessary, or can any be canceled? Knowing where all of your money is coming from and going to helps you build financial confidence and shows you where you can afford to reduce your debt and begin building wealth.

    When you're paying down your debt, one conscious decision to adopt is to stop adding to your debt. This step may seem intuitive, but there are circumstances where the urge to just "charge it" may arise.

    Many "Buy Now, Pay Later" options are becoming increasingly popular. Though it may feel like it is not, options like Klarna, Afterpay, and Affirm are debt and should be treated as such.

    As you work to pay off your credit cards, here's a word of advice: do not close your credit cards!

    Closing your credit card accounts may reduce your credit score, as the "age" of your credit factors into your FICO score. By keeping your card open with a $0 balance, you'll have a longer credit history and a larger amount of available credit. The only time you may want to consider canceling a card is if it has pricey annual fees.

    If you can, consider increasing your income temporarily, allowing you to put more money towards your debt. This will allow you to pay down your debt faster! There are so many options to get a quick cash injection or additional income in today's economy. Some ideas include selling items around your home you no longer use, purging your closet on sites like ThredUp, leveraging a talent or skill you have, like tutoring or singing, to offer as a service, or taking advantage of the booming gig economy.

    There are many strategies to use when working toward paying off your debt. The most popular strategies include the snowball method or the avalanche method. By deciding which method you want to use beforehand, you will reap the benefits of paying it off faster.

    Snowball method 
    "Snowballing" your debt is a type of accelerated debt repayment plan. First, list all of your debts from the smallest balance to the largest balance. Next, make the minimum payment on all your debt except the smallest one. With your smallest debt, you will put as much money as you can toward the balance. Once the smallest debt is paid, take the amount you were putting towards that debt and apply it to the next smallest. With this method, interest rates are not the focus.

    Avalanche method
    With the "avalanche" method, you will still make the minimum payments on every source of debt, but you apply the remaining funds toward the debt with the highest interest rate. By paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first, you reduce the overall amount of interest you pay. 

    Making extra payments allows you to pay off your loan(s) more quickly when paying toward installment loans, like your car payment. Just be sure to specify that any additional funds outside of your monthly payment go toward the principal. Before you begin making extra payments to installment loans, check the terms of your loan to determine whether additional fees or prepayment penalties may apply.

    Regardless of how you decide to reduce your debt, it is the goal with the greatest impact on your overall savings. The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be free of that stress.

    If you need additional help getting started, give us a call. We have Dave Ramsey trained employees ready to provide this FREE service to help get you on the right track. 

    America Saves Week 2022

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • Don't Fall Victim to Sweetheart Scams

    One of the biggest scams, we have seen at the bank, are scammers taking advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective companions. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details. We have seen a rise in these social engineering type scams also known as catfishing. They start with a simple friend request, wink or swipe and usually end in heartbreak and lost money.

    Scammers typically create fake online profiles designed to lure you in with a fictional name or steal the identity of a real person. They pose as military personnel, aid workers or professionals from the United States who are working abroad in countries such as Nigeria.

    These romance scammers will express strong emotions for you in a relatively short period of time and may suggest you move the relationship to a private channel, such as phone, email or instant messaging. They will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as showering you with loving words, sharing ‘personal information’ and even sending you gifts. They may take months to build this romance with you and even pretend to book flights to visit you, but never actually come.

    Once they have gained your trust and your defenses are down, they will ask you (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts or your bank account and credit card details. The scammer will pretend to need the money for some sort of personal emergency or to come visit you because they cannot afford the travel costs.

    In some cases, you may be asked to cash a check they have sent you, keep a portion of the money for you and mail the rest to someone else. The check they sent then is returned as NSF,  the check you sent has been cashed and you are out the money.

    Sometimes the scammer will tell you about a large amount items they need to transfer out of the country they are in but they need your money to cover taxes or fees. After you send the money and they leave the country they are in they become detained in another country and ask you to pay their fines or fees. You may even be contacted by a “lawyer” claiming to need money for court costs and legal fees to release them. This will keep going and going without them ever arriving in the states to meet you.

    In the end you could lose thousands of dollars all in the name of love. The money you send to scammers is almost always impossible to recover. Be cautious of anyone you meet online and look for these warning signs:

    • You meet someone online and after just a few interactions they profess strong feelings for you.
    • Their profile on the internet dating website or their Facebook page is not consistent with what they tell you. For example, their profile picture looks different to their description of themselves.
    •  Their messages are written poorly and they do not speak English well.
    • After gaining your trust – often waiting weeks or months – they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts, your bank account or credit card information.
    • If you don’t send money right away, their messages and calls become more desperate, persistent or direct. If you do send money, they continue to ask you to send more.
    • They don’t keep their promises and always have an excuse for why they can't travel to meet you and why they always need more money.

    If you think you have been scammed, block the person on social media and report them to the website, app or social media site where the scammer first approached you. If you have provided your bank account or credit card details, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • Data Privacy Week

    Data Privacy Week is an annual campaign to spread awareness about data privacy and educate individuals on how to secure their personal information. This is also a great time to review how to manage and protect your valuable online data.

    According to a Pew Research Center study, 79% of U.S. adults report being concerned about the way their data is being used by companies. As technology evolves and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence how consumers interact with businesses online, data collection practices are becoming increasingly unavoidable, making it imperative that companies be open and honest about how they collect, use and share consumers’ personal information and communicate their policies clearly and concisely.

    The National Cybersecurity Alliance has offered up the following tips to help guide consumers to better data privacy practices, such as:

    • Understand the privacy/convenience tradeoff: Many accounts ask for access to personal information, such as your geographic location, contacts list, and photo album, before you even use their services. This personal information has tremendous value to businesses and allows some to even offer you their services at little to no cost. Make informed decisions about whether or not to share your data with certain businesses by considering the amount of personal information they are asking for, and weighing it against the benefits you may receive in return. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and wary of apps or services that require access to information that is not required or relevant for the services they are offering. Delete unused apps on your internet-connected devices and keep others secure by performing updates.
    • Manage your privacy: Once you have decided to use an app or set up a new account, check the privacy and security settings on web services and apps and set them to your comfort level for information sharing. Each device, application or browser you use will have different features to limit how and with whom you share information.
    • Protect your data: Data privacy and data security go hand in hand. Keep your data secure by creating long, unique passwords and storing them in a password manager. Add another layer of security by enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible, especially on accounts with sensitive information. MFA has been found to block 99.9% of automated attacks when enabled and can ensure your data is protected, even in the event of a data breach.

    To learn more about protecting your data, visit and to find information and additional security tips, visit our Security Center.

    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • Make Sure Your Vehicle Is Ready for Winter

    More than 70% of the nation’s roads get more than 5 inches of snowfall annually, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Winter weather-related car crashes result in more than 2,200 deaths and 192,000 annually in the U.S.

    With blizzard conditions hitting a large swath of the country, car crashes and damage to property is likely to occur.

    Here are some tips to help you prepare:

    Get your car checked out by a qualified mechanic before winter hits to identify any problems that cold temperatures might exacerbate and take preventative action against snow, ice, and road salt. And make sure you have the right insurance coverage.

    A good rule of thumb is to buy enough liability insurance to cover what you can lose in a lawsuit.

    Buying umbrella insurance will give you extra liability insurance at a good price.

    Car accidents caused by slippery road conditions are covered under standard auto insurance policies. They typically cover:

    • Vehicle crashes between two or more drivers caused by snowy and slippery roads are covered by liability insurance, which is required by most states. A car that crashes into an object would generally be covered under the optional collision portion of an auto policy.
    • Physical damage to a vehicle caused by heavy wind, flooding or fallen ice or tree limbs is covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto policy.

    If you’d like to discuss your coverage, call CFC Insurance today at 309.243.1010 to discuss your best options and give you some peace of mind this winter!

    Get a Free Quote 

    Tags: CFC Insurance
  • Make Sure Your Home Is Ready for Winter

    Whether snow, ice, freezing or flooding, winter weather can cause a host of headaches for homeowners. And if you’re in a new house that you’re still getting to know, it’s especially worth taking steps to be sure you’re prepared.

    Sometimes, problems that arise are preventable. And even though homeowners insurance generally would cover weather-related damage, you’d still be responsible for paying your deductible — which may be anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars or more.

    Here are a few of the weather-related items covered with your homeowners insurance:

    • Wind-related damage to your house, roof, or contents and other insured structures on the property. Also, wind-driven snow or freezing rain that gets into the home because the home was damaged by wind.
    • Tree limbs that fall on a house or other insured structure on the property—this includes both the damage the tree inflicts on the house and the cost of removing the tree.
    • Damage from ice and other objects that fall on the home.
    • Damage to the house and its contents caused by weight of snow or ice that creates a collapse is covered.
    • Freezing conditions such as burst pipes or ice dams, a condition where water is unable to drain properly through the gutters and seeps into a house causing damage to ceilings and walls. However, there is generally a requirement that the homeowner has taken reasonable steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and properly maintaining the pipes and drains.
    • Additional living expenses—in the event that a home is severely damaged by an insured disaster. This would pay for reasonable expenses incurred by living elsewhere while the home is being fixed.

    Damage caused by flooding is not covered by standard homeowners or renters insurance policies. Melting snow that seeps into a home from the ground up would be covered by flood insurance, not home owners insurance. However, flood insurance is available to both homeowners and renters.

    If you’d like to discuss your coverage, call CFC Insurance today at 309.243.1010 to discuss your best options, or request a free quote!

    Get a Free Quote 

    Tags: CFC Insurance
  • Better Banks Sponsors Cuddles with Kindness Drive for OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois

    Better Banks is pleased to once again sponsor the 2022 Cuddles with Kindness Valentine’s Day Teddy Bear Drive and serve as a drop off location. Cuddles with Kindness was founded by Taylor Larson after she spent two weeks in the Children’s Hospital of Illinois as a child. Now in its 13th year, Cuddles with Kindness continues to provide stuffed animals to kids while patients at OSF Children’s Hospital.

    This Valentine’s Day Drive is their largest drive of the year and they hope to collect thousands of stuffed animals for the children visiting the hospital throughout the year. "Better Banks is happy to support such a wonderful cause and assist as a drop off location at all of our branch locations again this year," said Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks.

    Better Banks strives to support local organizations which focus on community, education and youth. We contribute to the communities we serve through our time, talents and contributions and believe it is our responsibility to give back to the communities that trust us with their financial well-being.

    You can stop by any of our branch locations to drop off new(with tags)stuffed animals by the deadline of February 4th.

    About Cuddles with Kindness
    Cuddles with Kindness is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing comfort to kids in need. Their mission is to provide cuddly stuffed animals to children undergoing rough times. Cuddles with Kindness hopes to educate others on how easy it is to spread kindness no matter your age. They have proudly served approximately 5,000 children in Central Illinois. To learn more about their mission, visit

    Tags: News
  • Winter Is Here, Ready or Not!

    Winter is here, and for many drivers that means facing the challenges of salty streets, icy roads, freezing temperatures, and heavy snow. And from low tire pressure to frozen fuel lines to salt damage, winter can take its toll on your vehicle.
    Making sure your car is prepared for an emergency is more important than ever. Here’s a simple winter maintenance checklist to help you prepare.

    Swap out regular tires for winter tires. Snow or not, if you live in an area where temperatures regularly fall below 45 degrees, winter tires are recommended. They're made to give you better traction while turning or stopping on cold pavement.

    Check tire pressure weekly. Driving on underinflated tires can cause them to wear down prematurely and lose traction on icy or slippery surfaces. Your tires lose a pound of pressure with every 10-degree drop in temperature.

    Keep your fuel tank half full. During winter weather, it's a good idea to keep at least half a tank of fuel in the vehicle in the event of an emergency or if you get stuck in the snow and need to wait for rescue. 

    Check Your Antifreeze. Antifreeze is one of the most important chemicals when it comes to caring for your vehicle in the winter. Antifreeze will prevent the water in your engine’s cooling system from freezing. 

    Add a protective layer. A coat of polymer wax can create a barrier against road salt, grime, snow, sleet and more. Couple that with high-pressure car washes after winter storms to rinse away buildup in hard-to-reach areas such as wheels, wheel wells and underbody.

    Protect your windshield wipers. If you park outdoors, leave the wipers in the raised position to prevent them from freezing to the windshield. Never use your wiper blades to remove ice, snow or frost from the windshield; use an ice scraper instead. And make sure you top off you washer fluid. 

    Be prepared! Navigate through whatever Old Man Winter throws at you by making yourself a car kit with some essentials.

    • Clothing. Make sure you have extra warm clothing in your car: hats, gloves, scarves, hand and foot warmers, thick socks and a blanket.
    • Stay connected. Add a flashlight with extra batteries to your kit. You might also consider flares or a whistle, and an extra phone charger.
    • Stay healthy. Grab some bottled water and other snacks. Make sure you have any medications you might need, along with a first-aid kit.
    • Other necessities. Jumper cables are a good addition to your kit. A small camping shovel and extra ice scraper can also be lifesavers in snowy conditions.

    So there you have it, simple steps to make sure your vehicle is protected during the harsh winter months. If you want to make sure you’re insurance plan is right for you, call CFC Insurance today at 309.243.1010 to discuss your best options, or request a free quote!

    Get a Free Quote 

    Tags: CFC Insurance
  • Watch Out for Omicron Variant Scams

    Unfortunately, as Omicron quickly spreads across the region, so are the Omicron-themed phishing scams as cybercriminals look to cash in.

    Cybercriminals have already started an email scam impersonating the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS). They are exploiting the virus by sending out phishing emails about free COVID-19 tests that promises to detect the new variant. The email also falsely claims that existing COVID-19 tests cannot detect the new Omicron variant and offers a new COVID-19 Omicron PCR test from the NHS. Some of these emails also indicate that the recipient has been exposed to the virus and should act immediately.

    Users who fall for these false claims will be taken to a copycat NHS site that asks for personal details and payment information that can then be used by the cybercriminals to steal you identity.

    Here are a couple of tips to help you avoid similar phishing attacks:

    • Although the scam is to impersonate the NHS, you may also see hackers from other countries using a similar scam. Watch out for suspicious emails from both local and global health organizations.
    • Never click on a link within an email that you weren’t expecting, even if the email appears to come from an organization you recognize.

    Stay informed about the Omicron variant by following trusted news sources. If you suspect you have been duped by one of these phishing scams, go to There you’ll see the specific steps to take based on the information that you lost. And be sure to contact your bank immediately.

    You can find additional helpful tips in our Security Center.

    Your security is our top priority.

    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • Better Banks Announces Scholarship Opportunity for 2022 Graduates

    Better Banks announces a scholarship competition that enables Illinois high school seniors to enter a statewide essay-writing contest. It is all part of a program sponsored by Illinois community banks and the CBAI Foundation for Community Banking to increase public awareness of locally owned banks and their contributions to the community.

    Better Banks is a member of the Community Bankers Association of Illinois (CBAI) which formed the Foundation in 1996. A monetary award in the amount of $1,000 a year for up to four years of higher education will be awarded to the author of the best essay submitted to the CBAI Foundation by a participating Illinois high school senior. Up to 11 additional first-place $1,000 awards and 12 second-place $500 awards are available in each of the regions of the state. An additional $500 will be awarded to the high school of the overall winner.

    The bank is working with all area High Schools to invite seniors to write one-page essay on the theme: How has the response of community banks differed from that of the megabanks during the global pandemic?

    Length of the essay is not to exceed one-page, double spaced, using Times New Roman font, and 10-12-point size. Information on the contest is available at the bank and on their website; essays must be submitted to the bank by February 24th. The bank will then submit selected entries to the CBAI Foundation to be eligible for the statewide competition.

    About the Community Bank Association of Illinois (CBAI)
    Based in Springfield, CBAI is a professional association that represents approximately 310 Illinois-chartered banks and thrifts throughout Illinois. For more information on CBAI, visit

    Tags: News
  • Better Banks Announces the Pending Addition of Glasford Bank

    Better Banks would like to announce that Glasford Bank, a member of the Better Bank Group for over 40 years, will become official branches of Better Banks in June of 2022. This pending internal merger combines two well-respected community banks as one, with both banks operating with the same shared vision and understanding of community banking. This merger will create greater convenience for both the bank’s customers and employees and both banks will continue serving the expanding and overlapping communities.

    “We will be able to enhance the banking experience for our Glasford customers by providing additional access to all of our Central Illinois locations,” states Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks. “The combination of our two banks, each with a rich history and complimentary core strengths, will allow Glasford Bank to continue providing the same excellence in customer service with enhanced products and services.”

    “We are excited to join the Better Banks family and look forward to years of continued growth,” added Bob Meyer, President of Glasford Bank. “We look forward to creating greater convenience for our customers, offering additional services to our Glasford customers, and continuing to serve our community.”

    Better Banks will remain a community bank, committed to doing what’s right for our customers and our local communities. With a history and commitment to customers that goes back almost 125 years, Better Banks will continue to offer customers personalized service and remain committed to the ideal of traditional community banking that has earned its reputation for exceeding expectations based on a consistent record of growth, performance, and trust. This is a very exciting time for our customers, shareholders and employees.

    About Better Banks and Glasford Bank

    Better Banks and Glasford Bank are part of Backlund Investment Company based in Peoria Heights, IL with additional banking operations throughout Illinois including Dunlap, Morton, Bartonville, Mapleton, Chillicothe, Wyoming, Astoria, Quincy, Payson; as well as online.

    Tags: News
  • Better Banks Offers Tips to Safeguard Sensitive Data

    As Americans continue to venture online in greater numbers, Better Banks is offering practical tips during Cybersecurity Awareness Month to help safeguard sensitive data and mitigate losses in the event of a data breach or compromise.

    Educating our customers about account safety and cyber threats is something Better Banks is always mindful about, particularly as criminals look for cracks in cybersecurity defenses to prey on unsuspecting victims. As financial stewards of our customers’ data, we’re taking great care to protect customers’ sensitive data and want to do our part to help strengthen our cybersecurity ecosystem by equipping Americans with the know how to shield themselves against a cyberattack or breach.

    An estimated 67 percent of data breaches resulted from credential theft, human error or social attacks. Better Banks encourages consumers to take the following proactive measures to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of identity theft and fraud:

    • Enable the strongest multi factor authentication offered by your bank. Popular authentication methods include biometrics and separate authenticator apps.
    • Use unique passphrases as passwords and remember length trumps complexity. A strong passphrase is a sentence that is at least 12 characters long.
    • Use unique passphrases that are different across multiple platforms. If you’re like most of us, it is difficult (or nearly impossible) to remember passwords for all your accounts. The use of a password manager can help provide unique and complex passwords with length.
    • Do a system check. Purge unused apps and outdated or sensitive information stored in old files and emails and ensure all software on internet-connected devices is current.
    • Manage social media settings and minimize information sharing. Just a few data points can create a pathway for exploitation by cybercriminals.
    • Use Wi-Fi judiciously. Limit the type of business conducted over public Wi-Fi connections, including logging in to key accounts like banking.

    Consumers can also make sure their account has not been compromised by taking the following steps:

    • Monitor account activity regularly for transaction irregularities and report discrepancies to your bank.
    • Back up intellectual property and other digital information and store it safely. In the unfortunate event of a ransomware or other cyber threats you’ll be able to retrieve your data.
    • Read the fine print when purchasing items online. Do not save credit and debit card credentials on a merchant’s website or app, if prompted.
    • Stay vigilant. Be mindful when shopping online and look for signs of illegitimate websites. Spelling or grammatical errors, missing contact information, and suspicious URLs or email addresses are all red flags.
    • Look for special indicators such as web addresses with https:// that denote extra measures taken to help secure your information.

    Together, we can work to prevent fraud.



    Better Banks is a proud participant in the AARP BankSafe financial-exploitation prevention training to educate employees how to protect consumers and fight exploitation.


    Better Banks is proud to announce that we have earned the AARP BankSafe Trained Seal for the second year in a row. This honor is in recognition of the training we have undergone and policies we have in place to better protect the assets of older Americans.

    The AARP Initiative has trained Better Banks employees to recognize the red flags, understand the appropriate steps to take, and feel empowered to put their knowledge and skills to work. So when you bank at Better Banks, you know your money is in good hands and we know how to identify fraud and exploitation to keep you safe.


    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • Better Banks Announces New Branch Managers in Bartonville

    Better Banks has a new leadership team at both Bartonville locations. Crystal Hartman recently joined the Better Banks team as the Branch Manager of the Garfield Avenue location. Crystal comes to Better Banks with over 10 years of experience in the banking industry. Crystal is well versed in all aspects of branch productivity, underwriting personal and auto loans, as well as developing team members.

    Crystal most recently worked at One Main Financial, for six years, as a Branch Manager (most recently at the Quincy, IL branch). Prior to this, she worked at Woodforest National Bank as a retail banker for two years. There, Crystal was responsible for managing client accounts, banking responsibilities, and collaborating with team members.

    Crystal is happy to be back in Pekin and closer to her family! She enjoys spending her free time with her family and dogs, and she also enjoys fishing.

    Earlier this year, Sarah Cummins was promoted to the role of Branch Manager at the Adams Street location. Sarah worked as a Universal Banker at the Adams Street location for the previous two years. Before joining Better Banks, Sarah worked at Bank One and Associated Bank as a teller, trainer and supervisor. In her free time, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and three sons. Sarah also lives in Pekin.

    We feel confident in the experience and leadership we have in place in both of our Bartonville locations. Please feel free to stop in either location and congratulate both of these Branch Managers on their new position.

    Tags: News
  • Tips for Identifying a Fraudulent Email or Text

    How To Recognize Phishing

    Scammers use email or text messages to trick you into giving them your personal information. Below are some helpful tips from the Federal Trade Commision to help you protect yourself.

    Scammers use email or text messages to try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could gain access to your email, bank, or other accounts. Scammers launch thousands of phishing attacks like these every day — and they’re often successful. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that people lost $57 million to phishing schemes in one year.

    Scammers often update their tactics, but there are some signs that will help you recognize a phishing email or text message.

    Check the Email ID
    When you receive an email from an unknown source, check the email domain. Be aware that phishing emails may appear to be coming from a company or person you trust.

    Check for Links
    Spam emails or texts often come with a link asking you to click it, usually to steal your data. Never click within an email or text coming from an unknown source or within an email or text containing any red flags.

    Check Spelling and Grammar
    One of the easiest ways to identify a phishing email or text is simply by the poor language used in the subject line and even in the body of the message. Read the message and check for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

    Check Email Subject
    Spammers will often try to panic you by including an urgent subject line. A missing subject line is also red flag.

    Check Attachments
    Fraudulent emails often contain an attachment. Never click on attachments from unknown sources unless you’re confident that it’s from some authentic person. Often attachments contain malicious files that could harm your computer.

    Phishing emails and text messages often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. They may:

    • say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts
    • claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information
    • say you must confirm some personal information
    • include a fake invoice
    • want you to click on a link to make a payment
    • say you’re eligible to register for a government refund
    • offer a coupon for free stuff

    Phishing emails can have real consequences for people who give scammers their information. And they can harm the reputation of the companies they’re spoofing.

    What To Do if You Suspect a Phishing Attack

    If you get an email or a text message that asks you to click on a link or open an attachment, answer this question: Do I have an account with the company or know the person that contacted me?

    If the answer is “No,” it could be a phishing scam. Go back and review the tips in How to recognize phishing and look for signs of a phishing scam. If you see them, report the message and then delete it.

    If the answer is “Yes,” contact the company using a phone number or website you know is real. Not the information in the email. Attachments and links can install harmful malware.

    What To Do if You Responded to a Phishing Email

    If you think a scammer has your information, like your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number, go to There you’ll see the specific steps to take based on the information that you lost.

    If you think you clicked on a link or opened an attachment that downloaded harmful software, update your computer’s security software. Then run a scan.

    How To Report Phishing

    If you got a phishing email or text message, report it to the FTC at The information you give can help fight the scammers.

    How To Protect Yourself From Phishing Attacks

    Your email spam filters may keep many phishing emails out of your inbox. But scammers are always trying to outsmart spam filters, so it’s a good idea to add extra layers of protection. 

    Four Steps To Protect Yourself From Phishing

    1. Protect your computer by using security software. Set the software to update automatically so it can deal with any new security threats.

    2. Protect your mobile phone by setting software to update automatically. These updates could give you critical protection against security threats.

    3. Protect your accounts by using multi-factor authentication. Some accounts offer extra security by requiring two or more credentials to log in to your account. This is called multi-factor authentication. The additional credentials you need to log in to your account fall into two categories:

    • Something you have — like a passcode you get via text message or an authentication app.
    • Something you are — like a scan of your fingerprint, your retina, or your face.

    Multi-factor authentication makes it harder for scammers to log in to your accounts if they do get your username and password.

    4. Protect your data by backing it up. Back up your data and make sure those backups aren’t connected to your home network. You can copy your computer files to an external hard drive or cloud storage. Back up the data on your phone, too.



    Tags: Fraud & Scams
  • Better Banks Kicks Off Fundraiser for Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament

    BWMT Piggy Bank for FundraiserBetter Banks is pleased to announce a fundraiser benefiting the Brad Wallin Memorial Baseball Tournament. During the month of May, Better Banks will be collecting cash donations at all branches for the Brad Wallin Tournament. For every donation received of $5 or more, Better Banks will give the donor a baseball piggy bank.

    The Tournament takes place June 1-5, 2022. 355 teams will participate in the tournament played on 47 fields throughout the Central IL area. Teams travel from all over Illinois and surrounding states to compete in eight different age divisions, and participate in one of the largest baseball tournaments in the nation in 2022!

    All funds collected will be given to St. Jude, on behalf of the Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament, in July at the annual St. Jude Telethon in Peoria. Better Banks is proud to support such a meaningful event, for one of our local families. Please stop by any of our branch locations to make your donation soon.

    About Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament
    The Brad Wallin Memorial Baseball Tournament is a competitive tournament that promotes youth baseball, sportsmanship and philanthropy. The tournament is a fundraiser for St. Jude started by Brad Wallin’s parents in his memory. Brad loved baseball and after his passing, his parents organized the Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament. 

    Tags: News
  • Better Banks Celebrates Community Banking Contributions That Help Local Communities Thrive

    Covid-19 Pandemic shines light on benefits of banking locally

    When asked to identify the quintessential ingredient that makes community banking special, the answer is clearly “relationships.” And it has never been more apparent than over the past few months during the coronavirus pandemic.

    “Better Banks is invested in our community’s success and works alongside our friends and neighbors to support our customers and help them plan for the unexpected, reach financial milestones, and establish a path to financial freedom,” said Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks. “It is what we’ve always done at Better Banks where our focus exclusively remains on delivering the products and services our customers’ want, while our local roots and accountability ensure our interests remain tied to our neighbors.”

    We work with our customers to help them realize their financial dreams, whether opening a business, purchasing a home, or planning for retirement. And we nurture our community by donating time and money to important causes and contributing tax dollars that help maintain local municipalities − all of which helps keep local neighborhoods viable and vibrant.

    But we don’t stop there. We work in a culture that supports that belief. Our team members donate countless hours volunteering with local charities, supporting organizations that make our communities better places for us all.

    As a community bank, we feel strongly that giving back to our local community is important, especially efforts aimed at improving overall economic well-being and making a positive difference in our local schools and communities.

    We work hard to stay attuned to the needs of this community and relevant to our customers. This dedication to creating healthy, strong communities has helped us flourish and maintained our well-earned reputation as a true relationship bank. Here are some facts:

    • Community banks are highly favored by small businesses, earning a 74 percent net satisfaction score compared to 60 percent for large banks, 46 percent for finance companies and just 25 percent for online lenders, according to a Federal Reserve study.
    • Community banks are committed lenders with loan growth that has outpaced noncommunity banks for eight years.
    • Community banks demonstrate safety and soundness with higher capital ratios and better loan quality than the largest institutions.
    • Community banks offer high-tech, high-touch service, giving consumers access to modern-day conveniences while maintaining the superior customer service for which community banks are known.
    • Community banks have a strong track record in helping underserved Americans by focusing a relatively large share of their resources in low- and moderate-income tracts.

    But it is not just about stats. Better Banks is a relationship bank that stands by our customers and communities, and the pandemic has only emphasized this vital role in our financial system. We are proud to serve as financial first responders who continue to demonstrate the flexibility to address unique financial needs while performing acts of community service that create healthy, resilient and vibrant communities, which benefit Americans nationwide.


    Tags: News
  • It’s America Saves Week!

    Each year we encourage our community to dedicate this week to pause and do a financial check-in, and this year is no different.

    Chances are that you are someone you love has experienced a loss of income since the onset of Covid-19 in America — so what better time to take this week to get a clear view of your finances, set your financial goals, and make a plan to achieve them?

    The easiest and most effective way to save is to SAVE AUTOMATICALLY.

    How do you save automatically?

    Splitting Your Direct Deposit: Have your employer direct a certain amount from your paycheck each pay period and transfer it to a retirement or savings account (or both). No amount is too small!

    Open a Savings Account

    Setting Up An Automatic Bank Transfer: At a chosen time, Better Banks can transfer a fixed amount from your checking account to a savings or investment account.

    For decades financial gurus have told us that we need to have 3 to 6 months of expenses saved to be financially secure. While the more you can have socked away for a rainy day, the better, but for most Americans, saving that amount is overwhelming and scary. Start small and make it automatic.

    Many Americans have expressed that the pandemic has helped them realize what matters most to them. Family, stability, creating memories, and travel were sentiments that we repeatedly heard when asked what was most meaningful to them.

    With so many Americans being affected financially by the pandemic, actively paying down your debt may not be a priority, and that’s okay. Be sure that you talk to your creditors and take advantage of any repayment options or arrangements that allow you to keep your credit score intact and avoid additional interest and late payment fees.

    Remember, saving is a HABIT, not a destination.

    Schedule an appointment to meet with your Branch Manager to get started.

  • Better Banks Participates in Cuddles for Kids Valentine’s Day Drive

    photo of tub of stuffed animalsBetter Banks is pleased to announce their participation in the 2021 Cuddles for Kids Valentine’s Day Teddy Bear Drive. Cuddles for Kids was founded by Taylor Larson after she spent two weeks in the Children’s Hospital of Illinois as a child. Now in its 12th year, Cuddles for Kids continues to provide stuffed animals to kids undergoing hard times while patients at OSF Children’s Hospital.

    "We are happy to support such a wonderful cause and assist as a drop off location at all of our branches throughout Central Illinois," said Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks. "Better Banks is proud to support such a meaningful drive, for the children in our communities."

    Better Banks strives to support local organizations which focus on community, education and youth. We contribute to the communities we serve through our time, talents and contributions and believe it is our responsibility to give back to the communities that trust us with their financial well-being.

    You can stop by any of our branch locations to make your donation by the deadline of February 5th. Donated stuffed animals must be new with tags.


    About Cuddles for Kids
    Cuddles for Kids is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing comfort to kids in need. Their mission is to provide cuddly stuffed animals to children undergoing rough times. Cuddles for Kids hopes to educate others on how easy it is to spread kindness no matter your age. They have proudly served approximately 5,000 children in Central Illinois. To learn more about their mission, visit

    Tags: News
  • Dick Peterson Retires from the Board of Directors

    Dick Peterson PhotoAfter a long and distinguished career, Dick Peterson has announced his retirement from the board of directors of Better Banks. Peterson began his career in 1967 as an Assistant Vice President at Dunlap Bank and rose to President in 1972. It was with that position he joined the board.

    "Dick's contributions to Better Banks have been significant and meaningful. His extensive knowledge of banking has helped guide our growing bank and our expanding footprint. We've relied on Dick's  financial expertise and have valued his leadership and insights in shaping and building Better Banks as a community leader. I am thankful for Dick's service and wish Dick and his family all the best following his retirement," said Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks. "We will miss Dick's leadership and collaboration on the board, and I am grateful for the contributions he has made."

    As a closely-held, community financial organization, Better Banks exists to serve the needs of customers, communities, employees, and investors. Committed to the ideal of traditional community banking, Better Banks has earned a reputation for exceeding expectations by maintaining a consistent record of growth, performance, and trust.

    Tags: News
  • Better Banks Donates Grant Funds to Local Organizations

    Through a partnership with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago (FHLBank Chicago), Better Banks received a $15,000 Targeted Impact Fund grant. The Targeted Impact Fund Grant was established to provide direct support to those most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis as well as organizations that promote equity and opportunity for underserved populations and low- and moderate-income communities. 

    Based on the eligibility criteria established by FHLBank Chicago, Better Banks distributed $5,000 each to Midwest Food Bank, We Care and The Children’s Home of Illinois. Better Banks has an ongoing relationship with these organizations through various partnerships and event sponsorships and was pleased to be able to provide additional support during this difficult time.

    “Better Banks is  committed to supporting our customers and communities, now more than ever. We are so fortunate that through our partnership with the FHLBank Chicago, we were able to provide extra support to these organizations that provide critical and important services to the residents of our communities,” stated Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks. “As a community bank, we know we are only as strong as the communities we serve.”

    Better Banks strives to support local organizations which focus on community, education and youth. We contribute to the communities we serve through our time, talents and contributions and believe it is our responsibility to give back to the communities that trust us with their financial well-being.








    About Midwest Food Bank
    Midwest Food Bank has 11 locations in the United States, Africa and Haiti. Their mission is to alleviate hunger by gathering and distributing food donations to not-for-profits and disaster sites at no cost to the recipients. Learn more at

    Mike presenting check to We Care







    About We Care
    We Care, Inc. is the only non-profit organization of its kind servicing Morton and rural Tazewell county. We Care was established in 1975 with the goal of providing services that help individuals maintain independence and improve the quality of life for those in need by offering assistance to members of the community by providing support services for the elderly, disabled, and those in need. 

    Mike Presenting check to Children's Home







    About the Children’s Home of Illinois
    Children’s Home has been caring for the children in our community for 150 years. Operating from six locations in the Peoria area, our staffs of 400+ professionals are committed to community-based, family-focused programs that provide counseling, education and support to more than 1,700 children and families each month. Programs for children and youth include: residential care, group homes, foster care and adoption, supervised independent living, private school, crisis intervention, mental health assessment, homeless services, in-home counseling and family preservation. For more information on the Children’s Home, visit


    Tags: News
  • Can You Spot a Phishing Scam?

    Every day, thousands of people fall victim to fraudulent emails, texts and calls from scammers pretending to be their bank. And in this time of expanded use of online banking, the problem is only growing worse. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission’s report on fraud estimates that American consumers lost a staggering $1.9 billion to these phishing schemes and other fraud in 2019 — and the ongoing pandemic has only increased the threat. Imagine where we are in 2020. 

    It’s time to put scammers in their place. 

    Online scams aren’t so scary when you know what to look for. And at Better Banks, we’re committed to helping you spot them as an extra layer of protection for your account. We’ve joined with banks across the country in a nationwide effort to fight phishing—one scam at a time. 

    We want every bank customer to become a pro at spotting a phishing scam—and stop bank impostors in their tracks. It starts with these four words: Banks Never Ask That. Because when you know what sounds suspicious, you’ll be less likely to be fooled.  

    These top 3 phishing scams are full of red flags: 

    •    Text Message: If you receive a text message from someone claiming to be your bank asking you to sign in, or offer up your personal information, it’s a scam. Banks never ask that.
    •    Email: Watch out for emails that ask you to click a suspicious link or provide personal information. The sender may claim to be someone from you bank, but it’s a scam. Banks never ask that.
    •    Phone Call: Would your bank ever call you to verify your account number. No! Banks never ask that. If you’re ever in doubt that the caller is legitimate, just hang up and call the bank directly at a number you trust.

    You’ve probably seen some of these scams before. But that doesn’t stop a scammer from trying. For more tips on how to keep phishing criminals at bay, including videos, an interactive quiz and more, visit And be sure to share the webpage with your friends and family. 

    What’s Your Scam Score? Win Big All Month Long! October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which means there’s no better time than now to boost your scamspotting knowledge. Take the five-minute quiz and become a scamspotter pro! Share your scam score on Twitter for a chance to win weekly prizes. Each Friday in October 15 winners will be drawn. One lucky grand-prize winner will receive $1,000—will it be you? 

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) Security Update

    Protect Yourself from Cybercriminals!

    Unfortunately during times of crisis, scams and criminal activity increase. It's important to be aware that some people will try to take advantage of COVID-19 by using fraudulent websites, phone calls, emails, and text messages claiming to offer help. However, they are actually trying to trick you into providing your Social Security number, bank account numbers, and other valuable details. Below are some examples of the various scams that are actively being used.  

    Malicious Websites

    Avoid sites such as or Since January, there have been thousands of websites registered containing the word 'corona' and many of those are suspicious and many of them distribute malware.

    Spam Emails

    Watch for emails trying to grab your curiosity by using catchphrases to try and sell information or goods that are now in high demand, such as masks, hand sanitizers or vitamins.

    Phishing Scams

    Be on the lookout for phishing emails that may appear to come from a trusted source. Never click on unknown attachments or links or provide personal information via an unsecure website. The scammers have crafted emails that appear to come from legitimate sources, but they actually contain malicious phishing links or dangerous attachments. There are also emails that claim to have a "new" or "updated" list of cases of Coronavirus in your area. These emails contain dangerous links - don't click on them.

    Fake Charities

    Use caution when making online donations. Go directly to a charity's website by independently confirming the address. Never click on a link in an e-mail or on a random website because it may lead to a fake site. Be especially cautious of emails and websites that ask for charity donations for studies, doctors, or victims that have been affected by the COVID-19 Coronavirus. 

    Here are some general guidelines you should always follow to keep your personal and financial information safe:

    • Never divulge your bank or credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the conversation with the other party and you know that it is a reputable organization.
    • Be on guard if someone contacts you claiming to be government employees or volunteers and who ask for personal financial information or money.
    • Reject offers to cash a check for someone in exchange for a fee, even if the bank makes the funds available to you right away, as it may later turn out that the check was fraudulent.
    • Never click on links or open attachments from an email that you weren't expecting.

    Stay safe, and alert Better Banks immediately if you have been a victim of any of these scams. 

    PLEASE NOTE: The safest location to find information regarding the coronavirus is the CDC's resource center.


  • New Board Member Announced by Better Banks

    Marci Shoff photoBetter Banks is pleased to announce the addition of Marci Shoff to its Board of Directors. Shoff is a Partner at Hasselberg, Rock, Bell & Kuppler LLP, where she concentrates her practice in the areas of estate planning, estate and probate administration (including estate and probate related litigation and taxation), guardianships, real estate transactions and corporate law. Shoff’s background will be a valuable asset to the Better Banks Board of Directors.

    “We are pleased to have Marci join the board and are confident her background will provide the knowledge and perspective we need as we continue our plan for growth and longevity,” commented President Mike Stratton. “Marci’s background will be a tremendous asset to the board and as a lifelong member of our local community, she understands the importance of building strong, community relationships.”

    Shoff obtained a B.A. in Finance at the University of Illinois, magna cum laude, and then a Juris Doctor at the University Of Illinois College Of Law, cum laude. After returning to Peoria, she joined the firm as an associate in September of 2002 and became a partner in 2014.

    Shoff is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Tax Court, and the United States District Court for the Northern, Central and Southern Districts of Illinois. In 2005, Shoff was named as the Peoria County Bar Association’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year, and served as the Chairperson of the Pro Bono Committee in 2008. Shoff is a frequent presenter on the topics of estate planning and estate and gift tax.

    Shoff also serves as the Chairperson of the Peoria Riverfront Museum Foundation and a sustaining member of the Junior League of Peoria.



    Tags: News
  • Better Banks Announces New Contest for Area Schools and Classrooms

    Better Banks has announced a partnership with Advanced Media Partners to kick-off the Better Your Classroom with Better Banks! Contest to honor local teachers in our area schools and classrooms.

    “The goal of the contest is to put a spotlight on those teachers that are leading the efforts to change the lives of our children, by encouraging them, challenging them and inspiring them to dream and achieve!” said Better Banks President, Mike Stratton. “As a community bank, we feel strongly that giving back to our local community is important, especially efforts aimed at improving overall economic well-being and making a positive difference in our local schools.”

    Teachers, students, parents and the community are encouraged to promote a deserving classroom by nominating a teacher or classroom associated with a school located in the Better Banks service area. Nominations can include classrooms in kindergarten through high school, and in public or private schools. The contest kicks off on February 1, 2020 and will continue through April 30, 2020, with the last winning classroom being selected on May 11, 2020. The classroom with the most votes during each month, will receive a check for $500 from Better Banks to use in their classroom.

    Better Banks is committed to helping teachers, parents and students make educated financial decisions by delivering the BEST financial education, products and services. To learn more about this contest and to review the complete rules, go to Better Banks or 98.5 KISS FM.

    About Advanced Media Partners
    AMP (Advanced Media Partners, LLC) is the only locally owned, independent media group in a large or medium sized market in all of Illinois. As such, all programming, promotion, marketing, community service, and business decisions are made right here in Central Illinois. For more information on AMP or 98.5 KISS FM, visit

    Tags: News
  • Better Banks Donates Personal Finance Curriculum to Hollis Grade School

    Better Banks is donating Ramsey Solutions’ Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum to Hollis Grade School. Foundations in Personal Finance is the premier curriculum for teaching financial literacy to students. 

    Personal finance expert Dave Ramsey created Foundations in Personal Finance, an easy to use, turn-key school curriculum that teaches students the value of saving, spending and giving to guide them down the path of financial literacy.

    “Better Banks is engaged in several philanthropic efforts aimed at improving overall economic well-being and making a positive difference in our local schools,” said Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks. “We are honored to sponsor the Dave Ramsey curriculum for Hollis Grade School and committed to helping teachers, parents and students make educated financial decisions.”

    More than four million students have taken Foundations in Personal Finance in middle schools, high schools and universities nationwide. Foundations in Personal Finance can be used as a resource to fulfill requirements in mathematics, economics, family and consumer sciences, business mathematics and personal finance.

    Ramsey Education is a division of Ramsey Solutions. For more information about the curriculum, go to

    About Ramsey Solutions
    Ramsey Solutions is committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development. The company’s success is defined by the number of people whose lives are changed by a message of hope. Through a variety of mediums including live events, publishing, syndicated columns and a nationally syndicated radio show, Ramsey Solutions uses common sense education to empower people to win at life and money. Millions of families have graduated from Financial Peace University classes across the country, and Ramsey Solutions’ world-class speakers have brought vision, inspiration, and encouragement to more than a million more. Voted among Nashville’s best places to work 11 times, Ramsey Solutions employs more than 900 team members focused and dedicated to doing work that matters.

    Tags: News
  • Better Banks Announces New Board Director

    Trent Scholl headshotBetter Banks is pleased to announce the addition of Trent Scholl to its Board of Directors. Mr. Scholl is a Principal at Ledgestone Insurance Group, where his responsibilities include corporate development through mergers and acquisitions, host-beneficiary relationships, developing strategic verticals, among other initiatives. His background will be a valuable asset to the Better Banks Board of Directors.

    “We are pleased to have Trent join the board and are confident he will provide us with knowledge and perspective as we plan for future growth,” commented President Mike Stratton.  “As a long term customer and a strong promoter of Better Banks, he understands the value of community banking and the importance of building strong, community relationships.”

    Mr. Scholl graduated from Monmouth College with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He competed collegiately as a member of the men’s basketball team and graduated with honors as a Presidential Scholarship recipient. Mr. Scholl started his career at Lighthouse Buick GMC in a managerial role in the organization, where he helped guide a strategic growth initiative resulting in significant growth in sales and service. Outside of his professional career, Mr. Scholl serves as a member of the Midwest Food Bank National Board as well as President of the MFB-Morton division.


    Tags: News
  • Short-Term Saving Tips for Summer Vacation

    With summer drawing closer, your vacation may arrive before you've got the money to pay for it. But there are some quick changes you can make now to save or raise money for your trip. Consider these tips:

    Open a designated savings account

    After estimating the overall cost of your vacation, set up a savings account just for the trip. This will help separate that money from your regular savings and make it easier to track progress toward your goal.

    Contribute weekly

    Look at last month's account statements from your financial institution to see what you spend in a given week. Then determine how much you can contribute to your vacation fund each week and make that part of your budget. Putting the money away weekly instead of monthly will make this more of a priority in your life.

    Track spending with a budgeting app

    To pinpoint what's going out of your account, let a budgeting app be your guide. Many popular apps let you categorize transactions and see overviews of your daily spending in a few taps or clicks.

    Create an automatic savings plan

    If you still find it difficult to save regularly, set up an automatic transfer from your checking balance to a savings account. This way you can allocate a percentage of your income and remove the temptation to spend money that should be going into vacation savings. You can do this in Online Banking or at any branch location.

    Reduce leisure spending

    If vacation is the time to splurge, make the weeks before you go more restrained in your lifestyle. Minimize your trips to coffee shops, restaurants and movie theaters. Instead, brew your own coffee, cook more meals and watch films in your living room.

    Get a side job

    If you find yourself with extra time in your week, consider taking on a part-time job. See if you can watch any neighbors' pets or homes while they're away, or baby-sit. If you're an avid writer or an academic, look into freelance writing or tutoring. Even a few hours of paid work a week can add up.

    Sell unwanted belongings

    To raise money more quickly than through a job, go through your home and collect anything you don't need, from old books to furniture. Then sell your stuff online or in a yard sale.

    Preparing for your summer vacation with these seven tactics can help ease the stress of funding all your travel expenses. This way you can stay in control of your finances and have no financial baggage when you return.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Saving
  • How to Save for Retirement

    It's never too early to start putting away money for your future. If you've ever wondered how to save for retirement when you're also dealing with day-to-day expenses, these easy tips can help.

    1. Get a rough estimate of retirement expenses

    It may seem difficult to know how much money you'll need in retirement, especially if it's several decades away. Experts say that to keep your same standard of living, you'll probably need at least 70% of your pre-retirement income.

    The reason you probably won't need 100 percent is because some costs, such as commuting expenses or child care, probably won't be necessary in retirement. If you already have a budget for your current expenses, then it's probably easy to get a rough idea of what you may need when you retire.

    2. Decide on a savings target

    Say you're 25 years old and your living expenses are about $50,000 a year. Take 70% of that, and it means you'd probably need about $35,000 to retire comfortably, assuming your income remains the same until retirement. So you'd want a nest egg that provides about $35,000 annually.

    Many financial experts suggest that you withdraw only about 4% of your retirement savings each year to help ensure that it lasts. That means to get $35,000 in income, you'd need a savings target of about $875,000.

    It's a lot of money, but by using a retirement calculator, you could find that there's a good chance you could reach your goal by age 61 if you start saving 10% of your income each year. This number assumes your savings earn 7% annually. If your income increases before retirement, you'd probably also need to increase your savings target.

    If you can't quite put away 10% — or whatever your goal percentage is — while also keeping up with your regular expenses, consider starting with a smaller amount and gradually increasing the percentage of income you save until you reach your goal.

    You may also have other income sources in retirement, such as Social Security or a pension plan. Look at the Social Security calculator to get an idea of what your monthly benefits might be when you retire and add that to your retirement calculations.

    Bear in mind that an income of $35,000 will probably have much less spending power in 40 years than it does today because of inflation, so it's smart to consider cost-of-living increases in your savings target. It may be a good idea to make an appointment with a certified financial planner to help you weigh your options.

    3. Contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan

    In addition to knowing what percentage of income you should save each year, you'll also want to decide where to put your money. If your employer offers a traditional or Roth 401(k), consider enrolling. This is especially important if your company offers an employer match, because a match is like adding free money to your retirement savings. You could also contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA.

    With traditional retirement plans, you receive an upfront tax deduction for the money you contribute. You then let that savings grow and allow the interest to compound. You'd pay income tax on any money you withdraw, and you'd also have additional early withdrawal penalties if you take money out before age 59½.

    With Roth plans, you pay tax on your contributions, but you don't have to pay tax on your withdrawals if you retire after age 59½.

    When you put your money in a retirement savings plan, you'll have a number of different investment options to consider, including stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

    4. Put your savings on autopilot

    Once you've established your retirement plan, consider setting up automatic withdrawals from your paycheck or bank account. It would be much easier to meet your savings goals when your money has a chance to grow uninterrupted over a period of years.

    Learning how to save for retirement is important, but it doesn't have to be hard. By coming up with a savings goal and contributing regularly to a retirement account, you can help make sure you'll be able to meet your financial goals for the long term.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Retirement
  • How to Plan and Finance Home Improvements

    Once the thrill of becoming a homeowner wears off, reality sets in. Your home is likely to be the biggest single investment you'll make in your lifetime. If you want to preserve its value over time, that means doing regular maintenance.

    Know what to expect

    Mortgage finance company Freddie Mac has a useful checklist to help you plan for regular upkeep, and you should also expect periodically to do larger home improvement projects like replacing the roof.

    Keep a budget

    Predicting maintenance costs is tricky, but some experts suggest setting an annual budget of 1% to 4% of your home's value for these expenses. Some homeowners divide that number by 12 to figure out how much they need to save each month to prepare for big maintenance bills when they crop up.

    Do it yourself

    Learning to do basic tasks such as landscaping, painting or fixing a toilet can save a lot of money over time. Some hardware stores and home improvement centers offer classes to boost your skills.

    Home equity financing

    Although you may be able to pay out of pocket for minor things such as gutter cleaning, perennials for the garden or a new kitchen faucet, you might not have the cash on hand for more costly repairs. It's only a matter of time before you get hit with something big, such as replacing the furnace, digging a new sewer line or repaving the driveway. If you want to finance repairs or improvements using equity you've built up in your home, here are some alternatives for tapping it.

    • Cash-out refinancing

    Some homeowners have paid for big repair bills by refinancing the mortgage and pulling money out of the property in the process. You may find a lower interest rate while you're at it, but beware of resetting the clock with a new 30-year loan late in your career. If possible, you want to pay off the mortgage before retirement.

    • Home equity line of credit

    Widely known as a HELOC, this provides a certain amount of credit secured by your home. Borrowers can withdraw funds when needed and pay interest only on the amount used. HELOCs generally have variable interest rates that can move up and down depending on market conditions. These are good for ongoing projects with unpredictable costs.

    • Home equity loan

    Unlike a HELOC, a home equity loan typically gives you a lump sum upfront at a fixed interest rate. The loan term generally ranges from 5 to 15 years, and the lender may require your equity in the house to be at least 20% of its market value. That means your primary mortgage plus your home equity loan can't add up to more than 80% of what the house would fetch in a sale.

    The upside of borrowing against home equity is that the interest on the debt can be tax deductible, like mortgage interest. The downsides are that it can be an expensive process, with fees for an appraisal and a title search, for instance, and it puts your home at risk of foreclosure if you fail to pay.

    Other types of financing

    Government lending programs may be available to help you pay for upkeep. The Federal Housing Administration insures Title 1 loans offered through banks and credit unions, for instance. Search the websites of your state and local government to see whether loans to homeowners facing pricey home improvement projects are offered.

    Try to save regularly so you'll be prepared for must-do home maintenance needs when they pop up. Diligent saving may let you take on optional renovations that make living in your house more enjoyable. But if your savings fall short, there are alternatives for financing home projects. However you choose to pay for it, take good care of your house so you can enjoy it for many years to come.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Home Improvement
  • What's a Good Use for a HELOC?

    When you take out a second mortgage, a name for a home equity line of credit, you're offering your house as collateral to secure another loan. The upside: You can gain access to up to 85% of your home's value, minus your current mortgage balance and adjusted based on your creditworthiness.

    The downside? If you can't make your payments, you could lose where you live.

    Because the stakes are high, you want to make sure you use a HELOC for the right reasons. Here are a few.

    Making home improvements

    Most people who take out a HELOC do so to make home improvements. Experts say you should only do this if the improvements you're considering will increase your home's value. This way, the money you're borrowing will be returned when you sell your house at a higher price.

    The National Association of Realtors' 2015 Remodeling Impact Report lists these six changes as the ones with the best return on investment:

    • Installing a new front door.
    • Installing new siding.
    • Upgrading your kitchen.
    • Adding on to your deck and patio.
    • Making an attic into a bedroom.
    • Installing a new garage door.

    These improvements can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, but they don't change the footprint of your home and tend to be what future buyers look for.

    Supplementing an emergency fund

    Everyone should have an emergency fund to cover events such as unexpected car repairs and appliance breakdowns. Most people keep these in savings accounts, but you might consider a home equity line of credit as another source of cash. You only pay interest on the amount you borrow, and you could pay the loan off quickly to save money. Still, it makes more sense to have an emergency fund that's earning a little interest rather than one that charges you interest.

    Paying off high-interest debt

    Because the average interest rate on a HELOC is much lower than the average credit card interest rate, many people think about using a HELOC to pay off their credit cards. This is a great strategy if you're committed to never carrying a balance again. Otherwise, you're just adding another debt at a lower rate.

    Regardless of how you use a HELOC, remember that the interest rate is variable and may change each time you tap it. And you'll have to repay the entire loan by the end of the payment period set by the lender. On the upside, the interest you pay on a HELOC is tax deductible, like your mortgage interest. If you use a HELOC for the right reason, that's just one more benefit.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Home Improvement
  • Better Banks Kicks Off Annual Socktober

    Better Banks announces the start of its annual Socktober Sock Drive benefitting the children of Children’s Home Association of Illinois in Peoria. The Sock Drive is a month long community event collecting new socks in any size for both girls and boys, of all ages.

    Socks are the most needed and the least donated item of clothing. While many people donate clothing to shelters and other non-profit organizations, very few people donate socks. Additionally, many organizations don’t accept gently used socks, so the need continues to grow.

    The Socktober sock drive was started a few years ago by Better Banks as a way to give back to the community, as well as a way to help raise awareness of the need within our local communities. The Children’s Home provides services for more than 1,700 children and families each month. To be able to provide new, clean socks to every child takes assistance from the area communities. With that goal in mind, Better Banks will collect socks at every location all month long. Donations will be presented to the Children’s Home in November.

    “We continue to collect more socks every year, and we’re honored to be a part of such a worthwhile drive. The children really appreciate the simple gift of a pair of fresh, new socks,” said Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks. “Seeing their joy in receiving a pair of socks really helps to put things in perspective for me.”

     "It is a great honor to work with everyone at Better Banks. Better Banks is community-minded and what they do for the kids at Children's Home through the Socktober Sock Drive is proof of that," said Matt George, CEO of Children's Home.

    Better Banks strives to support local organizations which focus on community, education and youth. We contribute to the communities we serve through our time, talents and contributions and believe it is our responsibility to give back to the communities that trust us with their financial well-being.

    All Better Banks locations have collection boxes for new packages of socks. All sizes, colors and textures are welcome!

    About the Children’s Home of Peoria
    Children’s Home has been caring for the children in our community for 150 years. Operating from six locations in the Peoria area, our staffs of 400+ professionals are committed to community-based, family-focused programs that provide counseling, education and support to more than 1,700 children and families each month. Programs for children and youth include: residential care, group homes, foster care and adoption, supervised independent living, private school, crisis intervention, mental health assessment, homeless services, in-home counseling and family preservation. For more information on the Children’s Home, visit


    Tags: News
  • How to Buy a New Car

    The number of decisions you have to make when buying a new car can be dizzying. And while many of them will depend on your individual needs and wants, there are some steps you should take no matter what to ensure you get the best deal.

    Assess your credit and financing options

    Unless you plan to pay cash, your credit will matter a great deal as you look for financing. Get your (free) credit report from and look for any errors. If you want to know your credit score, you can buy it at — but first look at your credit card's monthly statement, as some issuers include your score there.

    You can get financing through the dealer, but it's far from your only option. Inquire at your bank or credit union about its auto loans and ask to be preapproved. If you are, take the approval with you to the dealer. 

    If you are getting rid of an old car, you can sell it to someone or trade it in at the dealership, and put the proceeds toward a new car. Use the Kelley Blue Book to find estimates of your car's trade-in value and the price you can expect if you sell it. There are also a number of car-shopping apps you can check for competitive offers.

    Set a budget that makes sense

    Add up your preapproved loan, the value of your trade-in and any down payment you plan to make, then subtract about 10% for taxes and fees (rates vary by state). This will give you a good idea of what you can spend. If you want to go by how much you can afford to pay each month, use an affordability calculator to see where you stand.

    Buying the car isn't the last time you'll put money into it, of course. There's gas, maintenance and much more. At sites such as, and, use a metric called “five-year cost to own” to get a more complete view of how much your chosen vehicle will cost you.

    Do your research

    Look up dealerships on customer-review sites like Yelp (filtering out the nonsense, of course) and on auto websites such as (where the comments are moderated). Conduct research into your chosen make and model and options, too, so that you'll know when the dealer quotes a price that's just too much.

    When you're ready to get those quotes from dealers, shop around — from home. recommends calling at least three dealerships that carry the car you want and asking for the Internet sales manager. The idea is this person deals with savvier customers and so is more likely to go lower. And play the offers off one another to really get the best deal.

    Hold your ground

    Like the grocery store stocks goodies in the checkout aisle, the dealer may offer you an extended warranty or service deal just before you start signing the paperwork. The goal is the same: to get a last little bit of money from you. Resist.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • 0% Auto Loan Might Not Be the Best Deal

    In seeking the best deal on your next car, you might've stumbled upon advertisements or offers to get a 0% interest auto loan. As great as this sounds, you may not save as much as you expect with this type of incentive.

    Since auto loans can come through either a dealer or a lender, such as a bank or credit union, it's important to note that a 0% interest loan generally, if not always, is obtained through a dealer. Automakers offer them to attract buyers to certain car models, especially ones that aren't selling well. Here are a few things to consider about 0% financing and why it might not be in your best interest to use it.

    You might be forfeiting a better deal

    Typically, you can't receive both reduced rate financing and a cash rebate when you buy a car, so you may have to choose one. Manufacturers' cash rebates can range from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars. The well-known auto research website Edmunds found that the cost of incentives that automakers pay to attract customers was around $2,300 per car industrywide, which includes cash rebates and cost of reduced financing.

    While a 0% loan may sound appealing, a cash rebate might save you more money. If you buy a $20,000 car that has a $2,300 rebate, you are really paying $17,700 plus interest. If your interest rate for a five-year loan is 3%, a typical rate, you will pay a total of $1,383 in interest. That brings the cost of the car plus interest to $19,083, saving you $917 compared with what you'd pay with a 0% loan.

    You may want to check the auto loan rates at local lenders too, since you might be able to get a low rate and pick up a rebate when you negotiate with the dealer.

    Rate may not last as long as your loan

    Some car models may have 0% financing for a limited term, such as five years, which could be less than the length of your auto loan. In the third quarter of 2015, the average loan term for a new car was five years and seven months, and the term for used cars was five years and three months, according to Experian's State of the Automotive Finance Market report. These are the longest average terms calculated since the firm began collecting data in 2006.

    You may even receive a longer loan if you want lower monthly payments than you were offered initially. If your term is longer than the 0% financing deal, you generally pay interest on the remaining months or years.

    This offer can be limited

    A 0% rate might only be offered for a handful of models, especially newer cars, and less for used cars or older models. But even if this deal is available for the car you want, qualifying for it typically requires a high credit score. Check on the eligibility rules for getting this rate before stepping onto the dealer's lot if you can.

    As you sift through car prices and incentives, remember that trade-offs are part of the process when buying a car. Although a 0% interest rate may save you money in some cases, you might also be letting a better savings opportunity pass you by.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • Why You Should Get Preapproved for a Car Loan

    When shopping for a new car, many people overlook one important step: getting preapproved for an auto loan. It's a simple process that can make car-buying go more smoothly and save you money.

    Preapproval is a quick assessment of your ability to pay off a loan based on your credit history and current financial state. This is how it works: You visit a bank or credit union, in person or online, and provide proof of your identity — such as your driver's license or Social Security number — your household income, and perhaps your housing costs. The lender will likely run a credit check. Then you'll find out how much it would be willing to lend you and at what rate — sometimes on the spot.

    Here's why you should get preapproved.

    You can get a better interest rate

    If you haven't done your homework, your dealership might try to talk you into a loan at a not-so-great rate. But getting preapproved at a bank or credit union — or several of them — means you can assess the dealership's offer, and you don't have to accept it. Bringing your interest rate down just one or two percentage points can save you hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars over the life of your loan.

    You can set a true budget

    Once you're preapproved for a loan, you can plan your purchase. Use an auto loan calculator to factor in a down payment, the value of your trade-in — which you can find online — and your desired monthly payment. Add about 10% for sales tax and other fees. And don't forget about insurance and the other costs that come with owning a car.

    Adjust your dreams — and budget — accordingly. Then go shopping.

    You can better negotiate with the dealer

    Letting your dealer know that you're preapproved shows that you're a ready-to-buy customer who can walk away at any time. That curtails a lot of the early verbal dancing. Just announce you have your preapproval and will only talk price. Try something like this: “I'm looking for this model, in a deep blue with black leather interior and rear parking sensors. I just stopped in quickly to find out the price I would pay after you take my car as a trade-in.” If the salesman doesn't listen, say, "I just want to hear that one number." It's not rude to be assertive in this situation.

    And as you're signing all the papers in the finance office, if a salesperson tries tempting you with an extended warranty or other last-minute add-ons, you can use your preapproval to stick to your price.

    When you're preapproved for a loan, you have the competitive edge in car-buying. You can say no until they say yes.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • 3 Reasons You Need an Automatic Savings Plan

    “Save money” is a timeless bit of personal finance advice, but actually doing it can be another story. If you need a way to boost your savings and stay consistent with your goals, setting up an automatic funds transfer can help.

    There are two ways you might do this. You can set up a transfer from your checking to a savings or investment account at your financial institution. Another method can be having a portion of your paycheck directed into a retirement or other account by your employer, if possible. Here’s a closer look into why saving this way might help you reach your goals.


    Once you start automatic transfers, which might be made every week or two, you don’t have to give it another thought. This can be helpful if you tend to second-guess your saving decisions, such as whether you actually need to save 5% or 10% of your income this month. This way you can avoid doubting yourself and keep the savings flowing.


    Automating the process lets your savings grow unattended. If you schedule the transfer around the time that your earnings arrive, the money for savings never really mixes with your spending funds. Over time, you may get used to living on that smaller amount too, making it easier to let your savings build.


    Transferring funds this way can help you limit your spending based on what’s available in your checking account. Plus, if you want to tackle multiple savings goals at once, such as putting away funds for a vacation, retirement and emergencies, these transfers can help you contribute to them consistently. You can stay organized and not have to worry about forgetting a transfer one week or losing track of your goals.

    For these reasons, using automatic transfers can empower you to save without investing much time or energy. Think about it: You can achieve a goal simply by sitting back and letting your money grow.

    © Copyright 2019 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Saving
  • Strong Passwords Are Your First Line of Protection in a Cyber Attack

    It seems like every few weeks we hear of another data breach occurrence. In fact, in the first half of 2019 data breaches resulting in exposed records is up by 54% over 2018, according to USA Today. More than 3,800 data breaches were reported in the first six months of this year, and just eight of those exposed more than 3.2 billion records, nearly 80% of all records exposed so far in 2019.

    As a bank we are continually working to make sure we have the technology in place to keep your data safe. After an unprecedented number of data breaches the past few years, one thing remains clear: People need stronger passwords. The top two most popular passwords – “123456” and “password.” 

    How to Create Strong Passwords and Protect Your Accounts

    The most important takeaway with data breaches is that it’s important that you take every step possible to protect yourself. And your first step should be to create strong passwords. Below are the basic steps to follow when creating new passwords.

    1. Make your passwords complex. 

    a. Don’t use easy to guess passwords such as ‘password’, ‘123456’, any portion of your name or your friends’ and family members’ names.
    b. Do not use words in the dictionary or your username or a combination of adjacent keys on the keyboard such as qwert1.
    c. Use a mix of characters, including upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.

    2. Easy to remember passwords are not passwords at all but passphrases. Experts suggest creating passphrases of at least 12 characters. Complexity is nice but length is vital. For example, use a phrase from a favorite song, book or TV show and mix in upper/lower case with numbers and symbols. (i.e. Wr1teASymph0ny!)

    3. Be random. Avoid using easily obtained information like your birthday, Social Security number or phone number. As a general rule, the easier a password is to remember, the easier it is to crack.

    4. Don’t use the same password for multiple sites. If a hacker gets one password, he or she will be able to access multiple accounts.

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • Card Data Breaches

    Fraud comes in many forms. A card data breach is one form that can have a large impact on consumers, banks and credit card companies. Card data breaches occur when credit or debit card information is stolen by cyber thieves who have accessed card payment information without authorization. The purpose of stealing credit and debit card information is to use the card numbers to make unauthorized purchases. 

    If you’re ever the victim or target of credit or debit card theft or fraud, catching it fast and reporting it to your bank or card issuer is key to resolving the situation.

    Closely monitor your accounts daily or weekly with online banking.  Review your monthly bank statements and credit card bills. Look for any unauthorized transactions, large and small. It’s easy to spot large unauthorized transactions but oftentimes small transactions can be signs of fraud.  It’s important to be on the lookout and report unauthorized transactions immediately, no matter how small. 

    Periodically review your credit reports for warning signs of fraudulent activity. You are entitled to at least one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nation’s three major credit bureaus. To maximize your protection against fraud, some experts recommend getting one free report every four months instead of all three at the same time. To request your free report, go to or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.

    Pay attention to notices from retailers, credit card companies or your bank about a security breach. In the event of a large-scale breach, you may receive notice that your credit/debit card is being replaced with one that has a new card number.

    Be on guard against scams offering "help" after a data breach. Be very careful about responding to an unsolicited e-mail promoting credit monitoring services. Many of these offers are fraudulent. If you're interested in credit monitoring and it's not being offered for free by your retailer or bank, do your own independent research to find a reputable service.

    Staying vigilant and proactive can help protect your money!

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • Financial Literacy for Kids

    No matter how enthusiastic you are, trying to formally teach finance to kids is a tall order that is likely to make their eyes glaze over. Hold their attention by keeping money lessons relevant, age-appropriate and a bit playful.

    First finances

    Preschoolers can grasp that money is exchanged for stuff. Teach them the names of coins, and as their counting ability develops, explain their values. Playing “store” lets them gain skills as they “buy,” “sell” and even “price” household items.

    Begin giving your children a small allowance so they can experience money in the real world, and appoint them as valuable “assistants” on your shopping trips. They'll feel important while clipping coupons and helping you find items on the shelves.

    Grade-school growth

    Early grade school kids can understand goals, saving and budgeting. Have them create and decorate wish lists and give them four containers for allowance labeled “spending,” “saving,” “investing” and “giving.” The spending jar is for inexpensive things kids want, such as candy or stickers. The savings jar provides a place to save for wish-list items, while the investing jar builds overall savings. The giving jar can encourage compassion as kids contribute to charities that are meaningful to them, or save to buy presents for family members.

    Bring kids along when you visit a branch of a financial institution, explaining that the institutions keep your money safe and even pay you for letting it rest there. Make sure they understand the automated teller machine doesn't spew free money and only releases cash you've already put in your account. By the later grade-school years, kids should graduate to their own savings accounts. Look for those with no fees and full parental access.

    Middle-school money

    Middle schoolers are ready to be included in appropriate family financial discussions about basic living expenses and savings goals. Wish lists can be swapped for goal charts, and you may want to offer to match your children's savings as an incentive to help them make a special purchase.

    Most kids this age enjoy the experience of running a garage sale where they can set prices, make change and bargain with customers. They'll have fun earning extra cash while you clear out space at home.

    Teen finances

    In the teen years, introduce savings certificates, bonds and securities as investments. You may even want to give your teens a small amount of money and let them choose how to invest for a short-term or long-term goal. Encourage teens to work part-time and help them open a student checking account that has a debit card, mobile access and low or no minimum balance or maintenance fees. Consider downloading a mobile financial app to help them track spending and savings. When tax time comes, let them fill out their own return with your supervision and guidance.

    No matter what the age, odds are kids would still rather play computer games than listen to you discuss money. Rather than get discouraged, introduce some fun financial apps and games. The experience kids gain through your efforts and a little help from technology will pave the way for a lifetime of financial savvy and success.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • How Much Should You Have for a Car Down Payment?

    “No money down!” These words are nearly impossible to ignore when you're shopping for a car. What could be sweeter than not making a down payment? Believe it or not, paying 20% upfront.

    Here are a few good reasons to put down 20% on a car:

    You might receive a lower interest rate

    Making a sizable down payment means you're borrowing less. It also signals to lenders that you're a saver and probably a lower risk as a borrower. That means lenders are more likely to offer you a lower interest rate.

    You can counterbalance a low credit score

    If your score is below, say, 670, you might have a hard time getting financing. But a down payment of 15% or more can help bolster your credentials if you're looking for a loan at a credit union or a bank, according to car-buying website

    You'll qualify for lower monthly payments

    Putting more down upfront means paying less every month after, not to mention paying less in interest over the life of the loan.

    You'll build equity

    The value of a new car decreases in a hurry — typically 20% within the first year. In other words, if you put nothing down, you owe more than the vehicle is worth the instant you drive it off the lot. This is called being “upside down” on your loan.

    Being upside down can have real consequences. For example, if your vehicle is totaled, the insurance company will only pay its value before the crash. Your loan balance won't figure in its calculations. Then you'll need to make payments on a car you no longer have.

    A big down payment negates the first year of depreciation, which is even more important now that 72-month loans are becoming more common. Since the average car owner keeps a new vehicle for about 78 months, building equity early minimizes the likelihood you'll be shopping for a replacement while you still owe more on your current car than it's worth in the marketplace.

    Of course, coming up with several thousand dollars for a down payment isn't always easy. A trade-in and some savings may be able to get the job done. And if 20% isn't feasible, make the largest down payment you can afford, whether it's 15% or 10% — which is actually closer to the national average. Remember that every dollar you pay upfront cuts your monthly payment and saves you on interest.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • Financial Steps to Take Before Buying a Car

    Think about the effort it takes to search for the right new car and to negotiate the lowest price.

    Unless you plan to pay cash in full, the third leg of the stool is finding the best possible financing. Because loans typically come in 12-month increments, we're talking about a decision that will affect your household budget a minimum of two years and probably more like five or six.

    Here are a few things to consider while looking for the best financing option:

    Assess your credit

    Your credit score is likely the single biggest factor a lender will consider in determining what interest rate to offer you. Your score is based primarily on your credit reports, which you can get for free by visiting

    Check the reports for errors and take action to dispute any that you find, because a higher credit score usually leads to a lower interest rate on a loan.

    Get preapproved for a loan

    Borrowing options usually boil down to working with a financial institution or with the dealership. Too many people assume the latter is their only option. But you can find a loan at banks or credit unions as well.

    For customers with excellent credit, dealerships sometimes offer low- or even no-interest rates. On the other hand, dealers' rates can be markedly worse than those available elsewhere. Among financial institutions, credit unions typically offer better terms than banks.

    If you go through a bank or credit union, ask for a preapproval letter. Walking into the dealership with that in hand gives you more bargaining power to negotiate a better price.

    Decide what to do with your old car

    If you have a vehicle already, trading it in may be enough to cover a down payment or at least serve as a credit against the cost of your new ride. Sites such as Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds can help you appraise the trade-in value.

    The dealer may well offer less — sometimes substantially less — than you could get by selling your old car privately. The tradeoff is you'll have the inconvenience and uncertainty of dealing with strangers.

    Figure out how much you can afford

    Take a look at your financial situation to determine how much vehicle you can afford. What other living expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities and other recurring payments already have a claim on your income?

    When calculating costs, you might also check with your insurance agent about rates. Why? Because in addition to your driving record, insurance rates can vary depending on a vehicle's maintenance costs as well as the history of claims tied to your specific make and model.

    Buying a new car is a major financial commitment, typically second only to purchasing a home. Taking time to figure out how much car you can afford and finding the smartest financing are well worth the effort.


    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • Landscape Entry Prevents ATM Theft and Increases Debit Card Safety and Security

    It’s no longer enough to take measures to protect your physical safety and your cash after a transaction at the ATM – now you must be aware of cameras and skimming devices that secretly record (steal) your bank account numbers and PIN numbers.

    ATM skimming is a $2 billion problem globally and although skimmers are not a new problem, the technology that powers skimmers continues to improve. Previous incarnations were easy to spot, but the newer versions are all but invisible. And not only are the skimmers getting harder to spot — they are becoming easier to access remotely, thanks to built-in Bluetooth capacity.

    With these skimmers, comes an increased need for security and personal caution. This includes protecting your ATM card number, Debit Card number, Personal Identification Number (PIN), and cash, and being aware of the condition of the machine and your surroundings.

    At the same time, ATM manufacturers are developing new solutions to counter the threat. The new Better Banks ATM machines, developed by Diebold Nixdorf, are designed so you insert your card lengthwise instead of widthwise.

    By changing the direction of the card and how the magnetic strip is read, static skimming devices are left useless. These new machines are actually the safest ATMs available. Once the card is inside the machine, the chip on the card is used to complete the transaction. If the card does not have a chip, a magnetic reader runs across the mag strip, as if you swiped your card. This process allows the ATM to retrieve the data it normally would without the risk of an external skimming device stealing the information.

    ATMs remain the primary, most convenient and most reliable way to retrieve cash. However, with a few additional security measures, you can easily avoid skimmers and other security risks.

    Here are some other tips for safer transactions at the ATM:

    • Use your Better Banks ATM whenever possible to utilize the landscape card reader. 
    • Check your bank statements regularly. Report any unauthorized activity to your bank immediately.
    • Look for signs that the card reader at the gas pump may have been altered. Always check if the gas pump security tape has been altered in any way.
    • Wiggle the card reader, if it moves at all you should use a different machine. Report the machine to the store and notify the police.
    • Cover your pin number when entering it. It may seem old fashioned, but criminals will have a harder time accessing your bank account without the pin and often still use cameras aimed at the keypad.

    The most important safety and security measure you can take is to form a relationship with your bank. The better your bank knows you, the more likely they are to notice suspicious activity. 

    Our Branch Managers are available to answer any additional questions you may have regarding our new ATMs and debit card security.

    Tags: Banking
  • Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament

    Young Brad Wallin PitchingDuring the month of May, Better Banks will be collecting cash donations at all branches for the Brad Wallin Memorial Baseball Tournament. The tournament is a fundraiser for St. Jude started by Brad’s parents in his memory. Brad died in 2003 at the age of 10 after a courageous fight with a rare form of bone cancer that eventually metastasized in his lungs, killing him within a year of his original diagnosis. Brad loved baseball and after his death, his parents organized the Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament. The tournament officially became affiliated with St. Jude in 2008, and since that time they’ve donated more than $734,000 to St. Jude Kids. 

    The tournament takes place May 29 through June 2nd – at just about every ball field in the greater Peoria area. Teams come from Springfield, Champaign, Kewanee, Dixon, Astoria and every town in between. Last year 338 teams competed in the tournament.  

    For every donation received of $5 or more, Better Banks will give the donor a commemorative squishy baseball. All funds collected will be given to St. Jude, on behalf of the Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament, after the 2019 tournament.

    Better Banks is proud to support such a meaningful event, for one of our local families. Please stop by any of our branch locations to make your donation soon.

    Tags: News
  • Make Your Tax Refund Work for You!

    More than half of all Americans have no savings to help them cope with even small emergencies. Yet more than 100 million taxpayers get refunds from the IRS each year. For many individuals and families, that tax refund is the largest check that they will receive all year, the perfect windfall to start or grow an emergency fund.

    Every year, the middle of April marks the end of the federal tax return filing season. For many Americans, that can mean seemingly endless forms, paystubs and other paperwork. However, tax time can also be a unique opportunity to save for your future! You can maximize tax time in three easy ways and have your tax refund work for you.

    • Put your refund into a saving account 
      For people claiming some of the unique tax credits that benefit hardworking families around the country like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, their tax refund may be the largest sum of money received the entire year. By opening a savings account, you can deposit a portion or all of your refund and let the amount grow over time. Luckily, you can do this using the IRS Form 8888, which will divide your refund over multiple accounts.
    • Put your refund into a CD 
      Certificates of Deposits allow you to easily lock in your interest rate and terms to meet your needs! CDs give you the security of a fixed rate, on your terms. Stop by one of our Better Banks branches and speak with the Branch Manager or Customer Service Representative to get started.
    • Get your taxes prepared for free 
      If you make less than $54,000 a year, you can get your taxes prepared at no-cost by IRS-certified volunteers in your local community! The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program has served millions of Americans for more than 45 years. If you qualify, you can find your local VITA program here and gain access to expert information to help demystify the tax code and assistance so you can prepare your taxes.

    These three steps are only a small sample of how you can leverage this annual process! Tax time can be confusing but you can maximize your tax return to build for a more sustainable future.

    Don’t delay and be sure to start saving for your future today!

    Tags: Taxes
  • Where You Choose to Bank Matters

    Community banks make our community better, stronger

    Where you choose to bank matters. Consumers have the power to make change happen at the community level by aligning with their community bank and putting their money to work in the neighborhood that they call home. 

    Your choice of bank is your vote on where your money goes. When you deposit funds in your community bank, that money is redistributed back into the community in the form of loans to residents and entrepreneurs. 

    From local farms to small businesses, banking locally with a community bank connects you to your community and your neighbors and gives everyone a stake in its financial success. Here’s how: 

    • Community banks respect the communities they serve by doing right by their customers and community. Community banks and local communities have symbiotic relationships—one cannot thrive without the other. 
    • Community banks are relationship lenders. They know their customers and understand their financial needs, unlike larger institutions that take a transaction-based approach to banking.
    • Community banks understand and celebrate local economies. As small businesses themselves, community banks are an unequivocal resource for entrepreneurs looking to launch a local small business. A recent study found that small businesses that apply for loans with community banks are the most successful and most satisfied.
    • Community banks give back. Serving local communities is second nature to community banks.

    As a local community bank, we see the positive power of community banking play out every day. At Better Banks, we have the privilege of serving our local community residents and their families by making loans that help them buy a home, pay for a vehicle, or send a child to college—whatever it is, we’re there and happy to lend a hand. We also have the honor of serving many of our town’s small businesses through loans to help them get started, grow and succeed.

    We’ve also served many of the local farms and agricultural enterprises that have been part of our community for generations. And we’re working with the next generation of entrepreneurs to help launch their exciting ideas and bring our community into the future. This is local money at work—a symbiotic relationship between bank and community that makes sense. 

    Making our community better and stronger is something that we all have a stake in!

    Tags: News
  • 6 Fun Ways to Save as a Family

    Meeting financial goals as a family can be challenging. But inspiring your family to help and contribute to a financial goal doesn’t have to be a painful process, especially when the result is an exciting family vacation, a new family car, or college savings. In the spirit of America Saves Week, I’ll share some ideas on how to save as a family for all those items and bucket-list experiences.

    1. Gamify It!

    In my family, we often make a game of who contributes to a joint family pot for that month’s fun activity. A game of monopoly can turn into a real contest, as anyone who loses is asked to contribute a small amount to that month or week’s activity of choice (such as a meal out, or family movie). Of course, contributions should be proportional to earnings – teens might contribute $5 from their part-time job or allowance, while adults would be expected to contribute much more. Still, the spirit of the game is focused on sharing and enjoying together – and because everyone has a stake, we enjoy it all so much more.

    1. Making Money Can Be Fun

    Every year around the holidays, my entire extended family likes to take a vacation somewhere warm, so we start planning and saving a year in advance. By each contributing to the holiday vacation fund, our money goes much farther, and we’re often able to visit really cool places we might’ve not otherwise afforded. Of course, if we can easily afford to contribute our share, we do so, but when money is tight, we find fun ways to raise cash for our share of the contributions. Last year, for example, some of my cousins hosted a bake sale. Others sold items they’d knitted, art they’d produced, and so forth. All of the proceeds went straight into the family vacation fund.

    1. Sell, Sell, Sell!

    A family garage sale can be an enjoyable and rewarding way to raise extra cash for shared activities or purchases. If your family wants a new flat-screen TV, game console, or other piece of technology or furniture, why not start by selling what you already have and don’t need? A traditional garage sale is one good way to raise cash, as is selling unused items online (this tends to be the better option for selling electronics and gadgets).

    1. Match It!

    Often, children’s only way to save is to use their holiday or birthday gift money. It can be challenging for kids to save money they so badly want to spend and enjoy immediately, so it’s important to offer incentives for doing so. One idea is to match dollar for dollar every bit of money they save from their gifts. That ensures kids get the immediate gratification of knowing their saved gift money is being doubled, but also enables them to feel empowered by having chosen to save and contribute to family goals.

    1. The Envelope Method

    When saving for multiple goals, the envelope method is an excellent way of keeping all the monies separate for their intended uses. Simply mark each envelope with a stated goal, and contribute regularly to each until the goal amount is met. For small children, it can be rewarding to contribute to smaller family goals, such as ice cream or a movie rental. A $10 or $15 goal can mean a $1 or $2 monthly contribution from their allowance. This helps children learn the value of saving, and builds confidence in their ability to do so.

    1. Your Credit Union Can Help

    Your local bank can be an excellent resource for helping your family save together. From traditional savings accounts or CDs to holiday savings accounts, your bank can help you select a financial product that can help your family in reaching its shared goals faster. For larger goals, in particular, a shared family account can be an excellent resource for keeping your family on track to realizing your financial wishes.

    Happy saving!


    Tags: Saving
  • Marrying Finances

    Getting Hitched Doesn't Need to Mean Marrying Finances

    Marriage generally implies that two homes and lives become one. Should it also involve a complete merging of earnings, assets and expenses? With money arguments being one of the leading causes of failed marriages, combining finances can be scary. For some couples it's the right approach, but there are several other options.

    The traditional approach

    Just a few generations ago, one spouse was generally the breadwinner who paid all the bills. Although today most marriages involve two people who work, the traditional approach isn't entirely obsolete. It can be effective when one partner is a stay at home parent or full-time student, or one spouse earns much more than the other. It's also appropriate for couples choosing to bank one income to save for shared goals, such as a down payment for a home. Single breadwinner couples may merge assets or maintain separate accounts.

    This type of arrangement works best when both partners have similar financial styles so that no one ends up feeling like a child having to ask for spending money or resenting the other for spending too much.

    The share-everything approach

    With this option, couples completely merge financial assets and responsibilities. All investments and debts are in both names and bills are typically paid from one joint account. Sharing everything works particularly well for couples that enter marriage with similar incomes and limited assets. As with the traditional approach, it's vital that spouses have compatible styles to avoid feelings of resentment or deprivation.

    The four-accounts approach

    Sharing is beautiful but sometimes it's also nice to have a little something of your own. With this arrangement, both partners contribute equally to a joint checking account used to handle household expenses and joint savings to reach shared goals. Their remaining income is deposited to individual accounts to be saved or spent at each partner's discretion. This approach makes sense for couples with comparable incomes and debts, or when one partner is much more frugal than the other, since it lets both manage money as they see fit without straining the relationship. In cases where one spouse earns substantially more than the other, couples may want to contribute a percentage of their income as opposed to a fixed monthly amount to the joint accounts.

    The what's-mine-is-mine approach

    Some couples may simply be more comfortable maintaining totally separate assets and liabilities. With this approach responsibility for household expenses may be split equally, divided according to ability to pay, or each spouse may pick which bills to cover. Keeping finances separate may make sense if one partner has a much larger income, net worth or debt than the other. When entering into marriage with vastly different financial positions, it's also a good idea to consider a prenuptial agreement, whether or not separate or joint accounts are maintained.

    Which way is best?

    Whether and how completely to merge finances is ultimately a matter of individual style. With honest communication and trust, any of these vastly different approaches can work, giving those who choose what feels right a good chance at avoiding the bitter money conflicts that plague so many married couples.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Life Events
  • Detecting ATM Card Skimmers

    Card Skimming

    Thieves are always looking for new ways to steal your information and although Card Skimming is not a new practice it is on the rise. Card skimming is the illegal collection of personal and account information from the magnetic strip on a debit or credit card.

    How does skimming happen?
    The most common method for card skimming is to add a “skimmer” over the top of a card reader slot on an ATM or at a gas pump. The skimmer typically looks identical to the card reader making it hard to identify. The skimmer will record and store debit/credit card information, the thieves will then use the information recorded to create counterfeit cards. 

    How to detect a skimmer?
    Before inserting your card into an ATM or at the gas pump, check the card reader. Look at the machine for sign of tampering, touch the card reader and move it around to see if it comes loose or off. If the machine appears to have a skimmer, do not use it and report it to the business and local police immediately.  

    Ways to monitor and detect fraud?
    It is very important to monitor your accounts regularly for unauthorized transactions and immediately report any potential fraud. Sign up for debit card alerts through Brella, as well as online and mobile banking.

    Tags: Banking
  • The Tax Benefits of Owning a Home

    From building equity to giving you a chance to settle down and plant roots, homeownership comes with potential benefits that renting simply doesn't offer. Among them are several tax advantages worth knowing about.

    Here's a quick look at how to make the most of those tax deductions.

    Deducting mortgage interest

    Unless you recently won the lottery, chances are good that you took out a mortgage to pay for your home. If that's the case, then you already know that this type of loan is a big commitment that often spans up to 30 years. But you may be able to deduct the interest you pay on a mortgage that doesn't exceed $1 million. That limit shrinks to $500,000 if you're married but filing taxes separately from your spouse.

    As tax season approaches, your lender will send you a Form 1098, which states how much mortgage interest you've paid in the past year. Once you know that amount, you'll have to itemize your deduction using Form 1040's Schedule A. The amount of money you'll save depends on your taxable income. Generally speaking, the higher your earnings, the more money you can save.

    Property taxes also qualify for deductions

    Homeowners can also reduce their taxable income by deducting their property taxes. Your lender has probably set you up with an escrow account, which is used to pay for things such as homeowners insurance and property taxes. To figure out how much money to deduct, take a look at the escrow statement to see how much you paid in taxes. You'll generally be able to cut your taxable income by that amount.

    Other deductions worth noting

    Deducting mortgage interest and property taxes are the two biggest benefits when it comes to taxes. However, if you've taken out a home equity loan or line of credit, you may be able to deduct the interest up to $100,000, or $50,000 if you're married but filing separately. If you made upgrades to your home to curb energy use or related to medical care, those costs can also be deducted. That includes additions such as ramps, handrails and widened hallways.

    The takeaway

    Because financing and maintaining a house or apartment can put a real dent in your wallet, it's a good idea to take advantage of all the help you can get. Maximizing the tax breaks that homeowners qualify for is a great starting point. To do so, be sure to keep an eye out for Form 1098, as well as the escrow statement. Although filling out and filing these documents may take some getting used to, you'll be a veteran in no time, and it may be well worth the effort.


    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Mortgage
  • Debit or Credit Card: What's the Difference?

    When it comes to making purchases, not all plastic acts the same.

    Debit cards and credit cards both offer a convenient way to pay without cash or checks, and both are accepted in nearly all the same places. But that's where the similarities end.

    The fundamental differences are where the money comes from, and what it can cost.

    Debit cards typically pull funds from a checking account, while credit cards charge purchases using a line of credit. With a debit card, you're spending money from your own funds. Use a credit card and you're borrowing the money and eventually will have to pay it back to the card issuer, perhaps including interest.

    Debit card pros

    The biggest benefit of using a debit card to make purchases is that you're not creating debt and the interest it can accumulate. So if you're looking to stay (or become) debt-free, a debit card is probably the way to go.

    Using a debit card also helps  free you from the interest burden that can come with using credit card. Unless you're paying off the balance every month, whatever charges you make accrue interest. And that can end up costing you a lot.

    Debit card cons

    The biggest drawback to debit cards is the potential for spending more than you have in your account, which can result in overdraft fees. This can get expensive quickly. So it's important to keep track of your available funds and not spend what you don't have.

    Disputed charges can be more difficult to resolve when a debit card is used instead of a credit card. You also can't improve your credit score by using a debit card.

    Credit card pros

    Many credit cards provide rewards when they're used, like points that can be cashed in for store discounts or travel benefits. You can also employ this type of plastic practically everywhere, including abroad.

    Credit cards can also provide a financial backup in case of an emergency such as an unexpected job loss, hospitalization or car repair. Some consumers use them to pay bills, then pay off that balance every month. That can increase those rewards points, and using a credit card responsibly also helps boost your credit score. A better score can pay off in the long run by helping you qualify for lower interest rates on debt, including a mortgage or other loans and new credit card accounts.

    Credit card cons

    One of the biggest drawbacks of spending with a credit card is the interest on unpaid balances that can pile up if you don't pay it off each month. A high interest rate can drag you deeper and deeper into debt if you let the unpaid amount rise.

    Credit cards also make it easy to spend money you don't have and become detached from your spending. If you're not careful, it's easy to fall into suffocating debt, start missing payments and damage your credit rating. That can make it harder to borrow money in the future.

    If you miss a payment, you may be charged a late fee, and between that and interest on an unpaid balance, costs can add up quickly. Plus any missed payment can harm your credit.

    So when you're trying to decide which plastic to swipe at the checkout counter, keep in mind the costs and benefits of both, and make the appropriate choice.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Credit & Credit Cards
  • Manage Apple Pay

    Change your default card

    The first card that you add to Wallet is your default card. If you add more cards and want to change your default, use these steps.

    Go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay on your iPhone or iPad. Tap Default Card, then choose a new card.

    To change the default card for your iPhone, you can also open Wallet, touch and hold a card, then drag it to the front of your cards.

    Update your billing and contact information

    You can update the information for a card that you use with your iPhone or iPad at any time.

    • To change your billing information, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay, tap a card, then tap what you want to update.
    • To update your email address, phone number, and shipping address, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay, then choose what you want to update. 

    While you can't change your card's number or expiration date, it should update automatically when you get the new card. If it doesn't, you might need to remove the card, then add it again.

    Remove a card

    If you need to, you can remove a card from your device. You can keep up to eight cards on a device.  To remove a card that you use on your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay, tap the card that you want to remove, then tap Remove Card.

    You can also remove a card directly from your device. On your iPhone or iPad, open Wallet, tap a card, tap Info icon, then tap Remove Card. On your Apple Watch, tap Wallet on the Home screen, tap a card, press it firmly, and tap Delete. 


    Source: Apple Support

    Tags: Banking
  • Using Apple Pay

    Pay in stores

    With your iPhone or Apple Watch, you can pay in stores that accept contactless payments. Just look for one of the below symbols at checkout.

    contactless payment symbols

    To use your default card, rest your finger on Touch ID and hold your iPhone within an inch of the contactless reader until you see Done and a checkmark on the display.

    To switch cards on your iPhone, hold your device near the reader without resting your finger on Touch ID. When your default card appears, tap it, then tap the one that you want to use. Rest your finger on Touch ID to pay.

    On your Apple Watch, double-click the side button. When your default card appears, swipe left or right to switch cards. Hold your watch near the reader to pay.

    Pay within apps

    With your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch you can use Apple Pay to pay within apps when you see Apple Pay as a payment option. Look for one of the above buttons in apps.

    To pay with Apple Pay within an app:

    1. Tap the Buy with Apple Pay or Apple Pay button. Or choose Apple Pay as the payment method when checking out.
    2. Check your billing, shipping, and contact information to make sure that they're correct. If you want to pay with a different card, tap > next to your card.
    3. If you need to, enter your billing, shipping, and contact information on your iPhone or iPad. Apple Pay will store that information, so you won't need to enter it again.
    4. On your iPhone or iPad, place your finger on Touch ID. On your Apple Watch, double-click the side button. After your payment information sends successfully, you'll see Done and a checkmark on the screen.


    Source:Apple Support

    Tags: Banking
  • Refinance My Home

    Refinancing can be an opportunity to lower your monthly payments, pay off your loan quicker, reduce your overall interest expense or even get cash out. But be sure to weigh the costs and benefits first.

    Similar to when you first purchased your home, refinancing your mortgage comes with fees and closing costs that could add up to 1% or more of the new loan. Determining your break-even point—when your monthly savings will cover the cost of refinancing—can help you decide if it’s worth it.  Find out more about your different loan options here.

    Find your breakeven point.

    To calculate your breakeven point based upon monthly payment savings, estimate your savings based on your new monthly payment after the refinance.  Then divide the fees and costs of the refinance by your estimated monthly savings. Here’s an example:

    Cost to refinance: $1,800 

    • Monthly savings $100 = Breakeven point of 18 months
    • In this case, if you planned on staying in your home for more than 18 months, the cost of refinancing could be worth it. After reaching your breakeven point, your savings would total $1200 a year.
     Bottom line, while reaching your break-even point may take some time, if you’re in it for the long haul, you may be able to achieve some serious savings by refinancing. 

    Other benefits to consider.

    By refinancing your current loan at a lower interest rate, you may be able to realize interest savings over the lifetime of the loan.  By consulting with a Better Banks loan officer, you can explore the various options for refinancing and the possible benefits.

    Take the next step.

    Contact us to explore your loan options, ask questions, or get started on an application.

    Tags: Mortgage
  • Difference between secured and unsecured credit cards

    There are two primary types of credit cards — secured and unsecured. Secured credit cards are backed by a cash deposit, generally equal to the card’s limit. This acts as collateral and removes the risk of nonpayment for the card issuer. Secured credit cards are great options for those who haven’t built a solid credit history yet.

    Secured cards aren’t the same as prepaid cards. With a secured card, your cash deposit doesn’t run out as you spend, as it does with a prepaid card. You’ll make payments the same way as you would with an unsecured card, and you’ll pay interest if you don’t pay off your balance in full. Once you transition to an unsecured card or cancel your secured card, you’ll receive your deposit back, provided you’ve paid off the balance.

    Unsecured credit cards aren’t backed by a cash deposit or any other collateral. You’ll get a credit limit based on your income level and credit history, so most likely your first card’s limit will be low.

    Issuers take on more risk when they approve unsecured cards. Because of this, those without credit history generally need to start with a secured card, or get an unsecured card with a cosigner. Alternatively, you can ask to be added to a relative or friend’s credit account as an authorized user. As an authorized user, you’ll be able to use a credit card and will likely benefit from the primary cardholder’s good credit habits, but you won’t be legally obligated to pay the balance.


    Tags: Credit & Credit Cards
  • What is EMV?

    An EMV chip is a small microchip embedded in your credit card. Not all credit cards have EMV chips, but issuers will be strongly incentivized to issue cards with chips by October 2015, when a liability shift for fraudulent transactions will occur.

    EMV chips have two major card verification methods (CVMs) — chip-and-signature and chip-and-PIN. Chip-and-signature cards, which are most popular in the U.S., use signatures to verify ownership for purchases. Chip-and-PIN cards are more popular in Europe, and use a four- to six-digit PIN for verification.

    Chip-enabled cards are more secure than traditional magstripe cards. Instead of processing limited data that’s easy to duplicate, EMV chips transmit dozens of pieces of data between the card, the terminal and the acquiring bank’s host. In addition to the extra security, many overseas merchants won’t accept magstripe cards, so it’s a good idea to have a credit card with an EMV chip.

    Using credit cards with EMV chips is a bit different, too. Instead of swiping, you’ll insert your card into the EMV terminal chip first and leave it in until your receipt starts printing. In the meantime, you’ll follow the prompts on the terminal screen, which will include instructions to sign, if necessary.


    Tags: Credit & Credit Cards
  • What is a credit card?

    A credit card looks just like a debit card. However, instead of having the funds removed directly from your checking account when you make a purchase, you’ll essentially take on a short-term loan. This loan may or may not accrue interest, depending on when you pay it off.

    For the purchases made in any given billing cycle — which is around 30 days — you’ll have a small grace period before your payment is due. If you pay the balance in full by that date, you won’t have to pay interest. If you pay less than the entire balance by the due date, you’ll accrue interest on your average daily balance.


    Tags: Credit & Credit Cards
  • What Is Mobile Banking?

    Mobile banking allows you to perform many of the same activities as online banking using a smartphone or tablet instead of a desktop computer. However, simply accessing the bank’s website on a mobile device is not the only method of mobile banking. Mobile banking’s versatility includes:

    • Logging into a bank’s mobile website
    • Using a mobile banking app
    • Text message (SMS) banking

    While more banks are making their sites easier to use on mobile devices, mobile banking is more commonly associated with accessing your accounts through an app. Last year, mobile banking apps were used on 52% of smartphones in the US, according to a consumer and mobile financial services report by the Federal Reserve.

    Apps can offer a wide range of services that are not limited to account access and include the following:

    • Making mobile check deposits
    • Transferring money
    • Paying Bills
    • Locating ATMs

    Mobile and online banking provides convenience to customers who want to manage their finances while on-the-go; both options allow a person to conduct financial business from outside a banking facility. Customers interested in using either method of doing business should learn about both their bank’s mobile banking app and online banking website to better manage their finances.

    Tags: Banking
  • 5 Easy Money Saving Tips

    Although saving money can seem daunting, it doesn’t need to be overly complicated or time-consuming. A few simple changes might be all that’s needed to put money back in your wallet. Here are five money-saving tips that are easy to implement and can help now and in the future. 

    1. Use Energy Efficient Light Bulbs.

    According to, LED light bulbs use at least 75 percent less energy than incandescent light bulbs. LED bulbs also last up to 25 times longer. The small upfront investment in replacing your light bulbs can pay for itself in the long run.

    Some other great ways to save money on utility costs are to wash clothes with cold or warm water rather than hot, unplugging electronics when they’re not in use, and using a programmable or smart thermostat.

    2. Cancel unnecessary services.

    Another way to save money is to stop paying for services you don’t need or use.

    If you’re paying for a gym membership but only make it to the gym a few times a month, consider saving money by working out at home instead.

    Try lowering your monthly expenses by “cutting the cord.” You may be able to save by canceling your cable subscription and opting for getting entertainment from Netflix, Hulu, or another alternative source.

    3. Negotiate whenever you can.

    It’s common to negotiate when you’re buying a car, but negotiations aren’t just for the car lot. You can save by negotiating medical bills, insurance or mortgage rates, or your internet bill. Other big-ticket items that might be up for discussion include furniture or yard work contracts.

    Some negotiations are hard won, but that’s not always the case. If you don’t want to cut the cord, lowering your cable bill might be as easy as calling and asking if there are any promotions. Consider asking the cable company if they will give you the introductory rate new customers receive. This tactic may also work with internet providers.

    4. Avoid fees when traveling.

    Many airlines, hotels, and rental car companies tack on extra fees, but there may be ways around them. One of the best money saving tips when traveling is to do a little research and plan ahead of time. It may leave you with more money to enjoy your trip.

    Think about bringing your own snacks and a refillable water container rather than buying food or drinks at the airport or onboard the plane.

    Some hotels charge for Wi-Fi, but you may be able to get free access by joining the hotel’s rewards program or booking the room directly from the hotel’s website.

    Rental car agencies may charge more for vehicles rented at the airport. Compare prices with the agencies located nearby, but not within, the airport. You may find that with a short shuttle or taxi ride you can save money on the rental.

    5. Buy in bulk.

    Buying in bulk is an easy way to save on everyday household goods like paper towels and cleaning supplies, as well as non-perishable food products. Some grocery stores have bulk bins where you can load up on staples, and warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club offer big potential savings. You’ll also help the environment by using less packaging.

    If your home has limited space, or you don’t need such a large stockpile, shop with friends and split the purchase. Those without a vehicle can buy in bulk and have items shipped from warehouses’ online stores and e-commerce sites like Amazon or

    Put your savings to work.

    What could you do with all this extra money? If you might need the funds in the next few years, think about putting the money into a savings account. Consider setting up your account with a particular goal in mind, such as a vacation or rainy day fund, or learning how to budget your money better. The savings from these 5 simple tips may help you reach those goals even sooner.

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • Budget Basics

    Budget: It’s the word we love to hate. Most of us understand the importance of keeping a budget, but for a variety of reasons still haven’t found the time or energy to actually implement one. The purpose of a budget isn’t to create a complex and lengthy document, it’s to help control spending and maximize savings to ensure financial security. Keep in mind, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all budget; each individual and family is unique, and their budgets should be equally unique.

    Get started on your budget by following these four guidelines.

    1. Know What You Earn Vs. What You Spend

    It doesn’t matter if you’re new to budgeting because all budgets start with knowing how much money you earn as opposed to how much money you spend. All budgets are designed for the same reason: so you can live within your means on a month-to-month basis. Think of budgeting this way – if you spend more than you earn, you may end up in debt, or have to dip into your savings. Spend less than your income and you get to save money. Put a few months of savings together as a result of your budgeting efforts, and you may end up with a little extra cash.

    2. Create a “Zero-Based Budget” Plan

    Once you have a better understanding of how your income stacks up to your expenses, it’s time to establish your budget. One simple method is called “zero-based budgeting” in which every dollar earned and spent is tracked for an entire month. Add up all your expenses including your rent or mortgage, food, cell phone bill, cable and internet, and compare them with your income for the month. The goal of the “zero-based budget” is to have zero dollars left over. Keep in mind that the purpose of creating any budget is to help you reach your financial goals.

    3. Make Savings a Priority

    At first, making savings a priority may be the most difficult part of budgeting. However, it will also make the biggest difference down the road. A simple habit of putting away money before spending ensures you won’t spend more than you earn, and allows you to contribute to retirement funds, rainy day funds, future vacations, car purchases and a variety of other things.

    4. Be Flexible

    Your budget isn’t going to be perfect. Unexpected expenses and emergencies happen to all of us, more frequently than we’d like. So don’t be unrealistic with your expectations. Understand that changes in your budget will happen, and they’ll happen frequently. The important thing is that you remain flexible and maintain your “zero-based budget”. For example, let’s say your car is having problems and you need to take it to the mechanic; you may need to cut back on your recreational expenses in order to cover the repairs.

    This isn’t an exhaustive budgeting list, but it’s a good starting point. Remember that your budget is unique to you, so do what works best for you and your family. The most important thing is that you implement the budget; you won’t regret it.

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • How to Get Physically and Financially Fit

    Getting fit and saving money are two of the most frequently cited goals, no matter what time of year. But it doesn’t take making a resolution to get you motivated or help keep your spending in check. If you want to slim your waist while padding your savings account, we have four tips to get you started.


    • Skip the gym and save the money. Instead of signing up for a gym and getting locked into an expensive monthly contract, look for fun ways to workout outside the gym. Runner’s World suggests 27 free or cheap fitness apps that can help you track and improve your running. If it’s too cold outside or running isn’t your thing, there are plenty of indoor exercises that require little or no equipment. Low on time? Try the scientifically-backed, seven-minute workout from the New York Times, which you can access via a web browser or smartphone app.
    • Find inexpensive classes. If you enjoy working out alongside others in a class but want to avoid the costly fees, you have several options. Jump between classes with discount vouchers from daily deal sites like Groupon or Living Social. Ask the studio if they’ll trade you access to classes in exchange for working a few hours behind the counter or cleaning the facilities each month. You may be able to barter other services for studio time. Alternatively, look for free community center classes or other venues that offer sliding scale fees that vary depending on your income.
    • Make money a motivator. Several apps and websites tie health to wealth in a motivational way. Pact lets users place a wager on how many times they will workout, track their meals, or eat fruits and vegetables each week. If you miss a day you have to pay up, but if you succeed for the entire week you earn a share of the money others paid. In a similar manner, you can put money on the line and bet that you’ll lose weight using DietBet or HealthyWage.
    • Shop healthy and save. Regular exercise is part of getting and staying physically fit, but if you want to be healthy, maintaining a nutritious diet is important as well. Try to stay away from processed foods that are high in fats and sugars. One quick tip is to shop the outer ring of grocery stores, which is often where you find the fresh produce, dairy and meats. According to an analysis of 27 studies by the Harvard School of Public Health, a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish can cost about $1.50 more a day than less-healthy diets. The initial investment may pay off — the cost of treating chronic diseases is much more than the cost of healthy food, according to Dariush Mozafarrian, senior author of the analysis.

    Saving money and getting in shape can require desire, willpower and consistency. If you want to succeed, try some of these tips to work on both areas of your life at once. Keep with it and the long-term results may surprise you.

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • First Time Home Owner Basics

    For most of us, buying a first home is a dream come true. However, it can also be a lengthy process where potential — and sometimes very costly — pitfalls trap the unprepared buyer. This guide will help you get prepared.

    Decide If the Time Is Right

    How do you know if you’re ready? Making the leap from renter to homeowner is a big decision. For some, renting may be the right choice.  Because the “down payment” is most often limited to first and last month deposit, renting can be viewed as cheaper and more flexible in the short-term. Monthly rent payments are also generally “all in” and usually cover all property taxes, homeowners’ association fees and maintenance costs. Plus, renting can offer flexibility should circumstances unexpectedly change.

    For others, however, buying is the right move to make. They’ve reached the point where they feel confident about staying in one place for a while and are established in their jobs with a dependable income. Their debt obligations – such as car loans, student loans and credit card payments – are manageable, and they’re interested in exploring how the traditional benefits of homeownership, like favorable tax treatment* and equity appreciation, can enhance their long term financial prospects. If that sounds like you, this guide will help you assess your current situation and better prepare you for the home-buying process.

    Renting vs. Buying

    Before you buy your first home, there are important things to do and know. Consider which option is right for you. 

    Know how much you can afford
    Depending on the amount you have saved for a down payment, your mortgage payment should typically be no more than 28% of your monthly income, and your total debt shouldn’t be more than 36%.

    Maximize your credit score
    Generally, a better credit score will help you get a better interest rate on your mortgage. And even a small improvement in your score can have an impact on your monthly payment and save you thousands of dollars over the course of your loan. Learn more about how to improve your credit score.

    Save for extra costs
    Lastly, you’ll need to have some money tucked away for extra costs beyond your monthly mortgage payment. These costs include your down payment and closing costs. A down payment of 20% or more helps you avoid PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) and lowers your monthly payment. Contact your Better Banks lender for more information.

    Weighing the Costs and Benefits

     Home ownership brings a lot of added responsibilities. But it also has its advantages.


    • Monthly mortgage payment
    • Your down payment – as low as 5% of the sale price
    • Closing costs – (contact your Better Banks lender for  more information)
    • Taxes & insurance
    • Utilities
    • Repairs & maintenance
    • Homeowner association dues or assessments

    While these costs will vary from home to home, you’ll want to know what they are before making a final purchase offer.


    • Your home may appreciate in value over time
    • You can increase your net worth by building equity through monthly principal reduction payments
    • Your home is your own – you can do what you like with it to reflect your lifestyle
    • You may save money at tax time by deducting mortgage interest and property taxes*
    • A home offers stability, especially as your children grow up. It’s a place where you can live the life you want, and where you can create the memories of a lifetime.

    Getting Pre-Approved

    Getting pre-approved by a mortgage lender shows real estate agents and sellers that you are a serious, qualified buyer. And being “qualified” has its benefits. In fact, being pre-approved indicates that you are a serious buyer and may even put you ahead of other applicants once you make an offer!

     Pre-approval also has additional perks worth noting. For instance, it helps you determine how much house you can afford and how much money you can borrow. That way, your time won’t be wasted looking at out-of-reach properties.

     Part of the pre-approval process includes filling out a loan application. To establish your employment history and financial capabilities, you must provide the lender with the following income documentation:

    • Recent pay-stub with year to date figures
    • W-2 forms for the past 2 years
    • Most recent 3 months’ bank statements
    • All credit account and debt information

     After the mortgage loan officer receives these documents, he or she will then pull your credit report, assess your financial capabilities, and inform you of how much money you can borrow towards your home.

     Finding the Right Home

    Once you’re pre-approved, you can start looking at houses! Now’s the time to contact a reputable real estate agent who can show you homes you can afford.

    It’s important to find a real estate agent who will:

    • Help provide background information on properties of interest to you
    • Guide you through the buying process
    • Make it easier to work with the seller

    You might also consider hiring a real estate attorney to:

    • Be your advocate during negotiations with the seller
    • Review contracts and research liens and encumbrances
    • Make sure there are no legal surprises ahead

     Get a Home Appraisal & Title Search

    Found a home you like? Once the seller accepts your offer, you may strongly consider hiring a certified home inspector who can verify there are no structural problems, code violations or other undisclosed concerns. When your contract is final, your lender will have the property appraised by an independent, third-party appraiser who will confirm the fair market value of the home. In addition, a title search will typically be conducted to:

    • Discover any record claims on the property
    • Make sure you can get a clear title to your new home

    Closing the Sale

    At last – you’re ready to finalize the sale! During the closing, you’ll meet with all parties involved in the sale to make it official by signing documents, receiving the deed and paying your closing costs, which may include:

    • Attorney, broker, credit report and/or lender fees
    • Title search and insurance
    • Appraisal and inspection fees
    • Other costs depending on your particular loan

    Property insurance: Also called homeowner's insurance, property insurance protects the homeowner from losses to the property, as well as potential liability from events that occur on the property and elsewhere. Lenders require homeowner's insurance coverage to protect the collateral that secures their loan. Some homeowner's insurance policies do not cover catastrophic events such as tornadoes, hurricanes or floods. These kinds of events generally require a separate insurance policy. Sometimes additional insurance may be required for your loan.

    Property Taxes and Homeowner's Insurance: A typical monthly mortgage payment consists of amounts for loan principal, interest, taxes and homeowner's insurance. Taxes and insurance are usually paid from an escrow, or impound, account.

    *Consult your tax professional.

    Tags: Mortgage
  • All About Home Equity Loans

    If you own a home and are looking to borrow money, consider the benefits of a home equity loan or line of credit.

     Home Equity loans and lines can be used to pay for a variety of things including home renovations, consolidating debt, college tuition, major purchases and more. 

     Consider the benefits.

    A Home Equity loan or line of credit gives you cash that you can use any way you wish. You can:

    • Borrow up to 89.9% of the fair market value of your home.
    • Interest rates are typically lower than credit cards and other loans.
    • The interest paid may be tax-deductible; consult a tax professional to assess your situation

     Understand the risks. 

    Since a Home Equity loan uses your home as collateral, you also need to consider potential risks:

    • You can lose your home for missing payments.
    • The maximum amount borrowed is a portion of your home's value which is determined by the market so if the market takes a down turn you can owe more than your house is worth.

    Take the next step.

    To find out if a Home Equity loan or line of credit is right for your situation, contact one of our loan officers.

    Tags: Loans & Debt