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Welcome To The Insighter!

Explore the latest happenings at Kirtland FCU and learn about important topics from around the financial world. Here’s your insight!


Security Fraud

Ah, technology.

Our high-tech world moves at lightning speed, with communication and tasks often happening in real-time. In many ways, security has lagged behind innovation. Now, new security measures such as two-factor authentication  have emerged to protect the vast amounts of information and money that is exchanged online. But criminals are beginning to exploit those extra security measures and options, and you need to be on the lookout for this latest ploy to access your accounts.

Financial partner CO-OP, which owns and operates credit union ATMs nationwide, recently warned Kirtland FCU of a tactic called ‘SMishing’—phishing (posing as a legitimate company) via SMS text messaging. And it’s effective because of the popularity of texting. According to the Pew Research Center, 97% of Americans send at least one text every day. 

What The SMish?
SMishing, according to CO-OP, is a text is designed to look like an automated text communication from a legitimate company. There are two different methods of SMishing that we’ll discuss: the SMished text alert and the SMished two-factor. 

SMished Text Alert
Criminals in possession your debit card details and other forms of personally identifiable information (PII) are spoofing credit union phone numbers in an effort to fool credit union members into thinking that the text messages are actually from the fraud department of a particular credit union. Fraudsters are sending text messages under the guise of trying to validate recent card activity and are including hyperlinks within some text messages.
 
Fraudsters are also using text messaging to deceive credit union members into providing card-related data and login credentials. A typical SMishing occurrence can begin with a member receiving a text message inquiring about a suspicious transaction on an account. In reality, the fraudster is looking to obtain other information from members such as debit card numbers, CV2 codes, expiration dates, PINs and other web login credentials.

Before we go into how to spot one of these texts, you should know that there ARE legitimate texts that can come in from your credit union (especially if you’ve registered for Text Alerts  Online Banking login, transaction alerts for your cards, or use Text Banking. But there are key differences between a SMishing text and a valid text transaction alert).
 
SMishing Text Contains Legitimate Text Contains
A vague reference to a bank or no reference at all An abbreviated version of  your credit union's name
No specific card information The last 4 digits of the card number
No specific transaction information The amount of the transaction detail
No merchant information Merchant details
Hyperlinked phone numbers and/or web addresses No hyperlinks
Requests for card numbers, CV2 codes, passwords, PINs, expiration dates Reply options of: YES, NO or STOP (to opt out)

The SMished Two-Factor

Have you opted in to two-factor authentication for your financial accounts? Many companies and financial institutions are now offering two-factor authentication  as a way to make logging in faster and safer by requiring not only a username and password but the entry of a one-time code, sent through a different channel (usually e-mail, text, or voice call). Which means that if a fraudster obtained your username and password to a specific account, they would also need to have access to your e-mail account or phone to obtain the one-time code—an unlikely situation. Thieves are now calling members, posing as credit union employees, to get you to turn over the code while you’re on the phone with them!

While on the phone with a member, the fraudster logs into a credit union Online Banking site. When the one-time code is sent to the member’s phone, the fraudster asks the member to provide the code as a means to validate the member. When the information is shared with the person the member believes is a credit union employee, the fraudster uses the code to finalize access to Online Banking, which is typically followed by changing the Online Banking password and transferring funds from member accounts.

How To Miss The SMish
  • Be aware! By simply knowing of the possibility of a SMishing attack, you can keep an eye out for the signs
  • Never provide information via text. A legitimate credit union employee or alert text will never ask for personal information to be sent over unsecured channels, and you will NEVER be asked for your Online Banking password or two-factor code outside of your login attempt.
  • Never click hyperlinks in texts. Legitimate requests to validate card activity will request a simple response of YES or NO. They will not include hyperlinks to other websites or ask for any personal info.
  • Don’t believe the caller ID. It’s amazingly easy to spoof a phone number—to make it look like a call is coming from a legitimate source.
  • When in doubt, check! You can always call the credit union (Kirtland FCU member, call 1-800-880-5328) to check on the validity of a transaction alert or to report a request for information that seems, well, phishy.
 

Security Fraud

As cybercrime and identity theft continues its relentless increase in both prevalence and sophistication, are you taking advantage of all the ways you can increase security for your own accounts?

Passphrases > Passwords

‘Password’ is a terrible password. So is 123456 (alarmingly, the most common password in the nation). Why? Because these passwords are simple and easily guessed. And while an overly simple password is easy to remember, choosing one is the equivalent of installing a lock made of cotton balls on your front door—not what you want protecting your identity and your money. The problem is that long and complex passwords are not only difficult to guess (which is good) but difficult to remember (bad for the user).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has recently revised its recommendation of using complex passwords in favor of using a passphrase—a sequence of words and other text. Passphrases are naturally much longer than passwords, making them more secure (usually).  Longer passphrases result in more “randomness” generally, making it hard for computers to figure it out—shoot for 4-5 random words (not ones that form a sentence or borrow from quotes or sayings).

The difference between passwords and passphrases is eloquently illustrated by science comic blogger Randall Munroe (XKCD):



If you have the option to use a passphrase (no requirements for special characters and no limit on length) do so! You will likely find that many of your apps and websites have yet to implement this change in recommendation with their own password requirements, so if you cannot choose a passphrase, make the password as random and as long as possible and avoid these common pitfalls:
  • Don’t use family names, birthdays, or other information that could be found elsewhere. (Make it hard to guess.)
  • Don’t use the same password for every application. (Make it unique.)
  • Don’t use short or common passwords like QWERTY or 123456. (Make it strong.)
If you have access to a password protected computer, you can use a password manager like Dashlane or LastPass to generate and remember tough passwords for your logins. Some browsers will also generate and remember your passwords if you ask it to, but be careful about using this functionality if anyone else has access to your computer. And DON’T use this option if you’re on a public computer or connected to unsecured Wi-Fi. In fact, don’t log into any program while connected to an unsecured Wi-Fi. It’s scary easy to steal information over an unsecured Wi-Fi connection.

The Two-Factor Option

Have you set up two-factor authentication yet? Many programs now offer this secure method of login, and you should be taking advantage of it. Google, for example, offers two-factor authentication: when you type in your Google password to log into Gmail or another of Google’s apps, you’ll also be asked for a second entry of a six-digit code that is texted to your phone (or sent to you via the Google app on your phone). Once an account’s two-factor authentication is set up, a thief would not only have to possess your password but your physical phone to access your account


Don’t want to enter a six-digit password every time? You can set Google to remember a personal computer but require two-factor authentication on new devices. Or, if you have a security key like this Yubico, you’ll be prompted to plug it into your computer’s USB port or touch it to your phone to complete the two-factor authentication—literally a physical key for your account! And a physical security key is about as safe an option as you can find.

Many sites and apps offer two-factor authentication—Facebook, YouTube, Google, various password managers, and many financial institutions, including Kirtland FCU Online Banking!

Online—you should be here!

If you’re thinking, “Geez, it’s too risky to be online! I’m just going to do banking the old-fashioned way, with checks and branch visits,” you might want to reconsider. Most financial institutions offer some version of online banking options, and if you don’t claim yours and set up your own passwords and security, you leave the path clear for a thief to do it for you. And you won’t have any way of knowing something has gone wrong until you get your next banking statement a month later! Setting up Online Banking and checking your accounts often allow you to:
  • Catch fraud and theft early
  • Limit losses
  • Secure your accounts with your own passwords and options
Technology is changing and improving every day. Make sure to take advantage of the latest options offered by each account and login you set up.

To register for your Online Banking account with Kirtland FCU, give us a call at 1-800-880-5328.

 

Security Fraud

It’s a buzz term that gets thrown around during discussions of data breaches and identity theft— the “dark web”.

You may have even seen advertisements for services that are supposed to alert you—or even claim to be able to remove your information—when your information is discovered there. But what is the dark web, and how can you keep yourself safe if your information ends up on one of these sites?

The dark web is a network of websites that can only be accessed with a special browser that renders the user anonymous and untraceable. Sites on the dark web make up about 3% of all websites and while not every site accessible on the dark web deals in illicit activity, it’s easy to see the appeal for an identity thief. After a data breach, information often floods the dark web, offered up for sale as a bundle of information for as little as $10 per bundle.

Many services will offer to scan the dark web for your information. Finding it is one thing; eliminating it is another. The former will allow you to take action to protect yourself. The latter is all but impossible.

Beware any service offering to scan the entire dark web

Because that’s impossible. The ever-shifting landscape of the dark web makes it impossible to crawl every site. One of the major differences between the normal web and the dark web, besides the multiple re-routes built between a user and a site, is the suffix of the sites themselves: sites on the dark web often end in .onion and have an incomprehensible string of numbers and letters before it. The last count of onion sites according to a 2017 Vice article was 1,208,925,819,614,629,174,706,176. And it’s not unusual for a site to appear for 12 hours and then vanish. We can’t even count these sites accurately, never mind crawl them in any kind of reliable fashion.

What a site will do to “scan” for your information is likely to look at the latest data dumps: files of information that do often end up on the dark web.

If you do a scan, and your information is found on the dark web, here are a few things to remember.
  • No service can erase your information. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. You should be leery of any service offering to erase your information.
  • Consider account alerts. Early detection of fraudulent activity can help you limit losses.
  • Mitigation is the name of the game. If you are alerted that your information is on the dark web, the best idea is to freeze your credit to limit fraudulent activity with your social security number. You should also order new credit and debit cards.
  • Monitor your credit frequently. Look for any unusual activity so you can take swift action.
  • Practice good security hygiene. Keep your data and passwords as private as possible.  Read here to find out more

Home Loans

“The buyer is pre-approved!”

These words, given to a seller who is juggling multiple offers on their home, are really saying, “This buyer has money in hand and isn’t going to cause issues trying to secure the money later.” It’s gold to a seller and could very well tip the scales in your favor if you’ve put in an offer on a home with a lot of competition from other buyers.

A pre-approval means you’ve completed the most tedious parts of a mortgage loan application already and received approval from a lender. The documentation of your income and credit are done, so when you finally find your new home, the lender can go straight to work on appraisals, inspections and other house-specific tasks.

Can you apply for your loan after you’ve made an offer on a home? Of course, you can. But making an offer with your pre-approval in hand? Here are four reasons that’s a great idea for you as a buyer.
  1. Shop with confidence.  There’s no stress wondering if you’ll be approved for a mortgage for that house you just fell in love with. No one enjoys that rug-pulled-out-from-under-you sensation of a great home slipping away because the mortgage didn’t materialize. And when you’re pre-approved, you hold the negotiating power! You know how high of a price you can afford, and you know that your pre-approval is attractive to a seller.
  2. Spend more time seeing the RIGHT homes. If you have a solidified upper and lower cost limit, you and your real estate agent can focus in on only those homes you could potentially buy. That’ll save you time and frustration. Your real estate agent can use that information to narrow listings to only those in your price range, so you aren’t sent listings for homes that you will end up loving but not able to afford. And you won’t spend time touring a home that you can’t afford. It’s a more efficient way to shop!
  3. Gain an edge among other prospective buyers without pre-approved offers Compared to a buyer who hasn’t been pre-approved, your offer may seem more solid to a seller. A pre-approval shows a seller that you’re serious, committed, and they aren’t going to be let down after accepting your offer only to have to start from square one when your loan doesn’t come through. So, if it comes down to two similar offers, and yours is the one that’s pre-approved, you may have a better chance of the seller choosing your offer.
  4. Close faster when you’re pre-approved, a lot of the upfront paperwork and credit checks have already been completed, so you can get moving quicker. A pre-approval can shorten the time between offer acceptance and closing—something you AND the seller will appreciate.
Consider getting pre-approved as soon as you’re ready to start your home search. Getting approved is one of the longest (and most stressful) parts of getting a mortgage, so the more work you get done before shopping, the more you’re going to enjoy your shopping experience.

How do you get pre-approved? Just apply for your loan! The Kirtland FCU Home Loan team will collect the necessary documents and information, run credit checks, go over loan numbers with you and more. So, when you find your perfect home, all you need to do is make the offer!

And with Kirtland Federal Credit Union, you can apply for your mortgage loan any time, day or night, at KirtlandFCU.org/HomeLoan! Or, if you prefer, just swing by the Home Loan Center at 6700 Jefferson NE, Ste D-1 to get started in person.

Let’s move!
 

Security Fraud
 
2019 is sliding into fall, but the Social Security scam calls are still hot. And people are still losing scary amounts of money because of them.

NO, THAT’S NOT THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION CALLING

Consumer protection agencies call it the "Social Security impostor scam."

You get a call with a warning that your Social Security number has been suspended because of suspicious activity or because it’s been used in a crime. You are asked to confirm your number or told you need to withdraw money from the bank and buy gift cards in order to resolve the situation.

The phone call may be a robocaller with a message to "press 1" or dial a particular number to speak with a "support representative" from the government to reactivate your Social Security number. Or it could be a live person making threats against you for crimes committed with your Social Security Number unless you confirm certain information or send money to clear up the charges.

DON’T BELIEVE THE CALLER ID

The scammers may even use technology to spoof your caller ID to make it look like the Social Security Administration is really calling.

In the last 12 months, people filed more than 76,000 complaints about Social Security impostors, reporting $19 million in losses. The median reported loss last year was $1,500, the FTC said.

People are asked to give up the personal identification numbers (PINs) on the back of gift cards or use virtual currencies like Bitcoin to pay. (According to the FTC's consumer alert, people withdrew money and fed cash into Bitcoin automatic teller machines.)

After handing over the gift card numbers to the "Social Security office," one consumer interviewed by Fraud.org was told he would receive a refund equal to the amount he paid to unfreeze his account from the Federal Reserve. Of course, the refund never came, and the man lost nearly $20,000.

The scammers can be clever, and they will try new stories and new methods in order to keep their scam effective and claim the most amount of money they can. With numerous data breaches that have hit corporate America, fraudsters may already have accurate personal information about you, including your real Social Security number. The information is used to build trust and make the call seem more legitimate, he added.

How you can stay safe:

According to Fraud.org and the FTC, here are some important things to remember:
  • Social Security will never suspend your number, according to Fraud.org. If anyone tells you something different, you're being scammed.
  • Social Security will never call you and demand money. No government agency will demand you pay something using gift cards or Bitcoin either.
  • Don't trust your phone's caller ID. Scammers can make it look as if the Social Security Administration is calling and even use the agency's real number.
  • Don't give your Social Security number, birth date, home address, or any other personal information, to a caller on the phone.

If you have a question, check with the real Social Security Administration. The administration will never contact you out of the blue. The agency's number is 1-800-772-1213.

Talk about the scam with friends, family and neighbors. Report government impostor scams to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

No legitimate business will call you to request your Social Security number, including Kirtland Federal Credit Union. Feel free to hang up on these calls. If you would like to check the legitimacy of a call, you can always initiate a call to the business yourself to check.
 

Security Fraud

It’s errand day! Get some Social Security numbers, pick up the birth dates, and open the fraudulent accounts—it’s a busy day for a thief.

You’ve seen warnings to “protect your identity”. But what information is most dangerous in the hands of a thief. What are they looking for that you may not be thinking of?
  1. Your Social Security Number When the Social Security Administration began assigning to employees via post office “typing centers” in November of 1936, it would have been hard to visualize how integral that identifier would become in everyday life the following century. More than just a way to claim Social Security benefits, our Social Security number has been adopted as the primary piece of identifying information used to transact business with the government, with your employer, with your financial institutions, and more. And it’s GOLD for a thief, opening doors to other pieces of information that would make it easy for a thief to impersonate you while opening accounts and incurring debt under your number and your name.
  2. Your Birthplace and Birth Date Do you post your birth date on your social media pages? While it’s an easy way to keep friends in the loop, your birth date is often used as another personal identifier on government documents and with financial institutions. And coupled with other activity on social media such as joining a group for your high school class, a thief wouldn't have a hard time figuring out the month, day, and year of your birth. And having your birthday float around the internet, especially attached to your real name, can be dangerous should a thief come across the information. The same is true for your place of birth, a piece of information that’s often used as a secret question for online account access.
  3. Your Financial Account Numbers Your bank account numbers, your credit and debit card numbers, even account numbers for your healthcare are prime items for identity thieves. Your financial account numbers provide direct-line access to your money and your credit. Combined with other info like your PIN, full name, birth date, and Social Security number, an identity thief hits the jackpot with this information.
  4. Your Banking PINs Coupled with the account numbers we just talked about, your PIN is the key that unlocks the treasure for an identity thief. PINs can be swiped with equipment like cameras at an entry pad (like a gas station) or even just guessed. Despite warnings, many people continue to choose 1234 and other easy-to-guess combinations as PINs. And if a longer PIN is available, use the longer form. Longer is more secure.
  5. Your Card Expiration Dates and Security Codes If you’ve ever used your card online or over the phone, these are the two pieces of information that are required to process transactions in addition to the card number. You can prevent a thief from using your card online, even with the account number, by keeping this information out of a thief’s hands. Beware any phone call or e-mail that is asking you for this information—it isn’t harmless!
  6. Your Address (Home and E-mail) Phishing attacks  work because the thief dangles easy-to-look-up information about you, making their request for more information or money seem to legitimate. And your e-mail address is 50% of MANY online logins if you’re like many others. It may be impossible to keep this information entirely secret but avoid inserting it social media posts. No sense making it EASY for the thief, right?
  7. Your Driver’s License Number Frequently asked for on government documents, your driver’s license number can make it much easier for a thief to go to the motor vehicles department and get a copy of your ID printed (in combination with other pieces of information or forged documents). With a printed form of government-issued ID, a thief can wreak havoc on your credit and your life. It’s easier to mine other pieces of information and open fraudulent accounts in your name. This number should be treated with almost as much care as your Social Security Number. This also goes for passports, taking the theft international.
  8. Your Phone Number Another piece of information that can be almost impossible to keep private. But be aware that in a thief’s hands, your phone number is a line to you. In combination with a name, a simple phone call to you to gather more information or coerce you into sending money is all it would take for a big payday. Some phishing calls are sent to random number: the thief doesn’t know anything about you. But with a name and a number? The attack can be a lot more personalized and harder to detect.
  9. Your Full Name You may not think this is valuable information, but it sure makes opening fraudulent accounts easier! And since many online merchants ask for your name as it appears on your card to complete credit card transactions, it’s easier to guess how it appears with a full name.
  10. Your Affiliations, Members, and Employer Remember how little pieces of valid information can be used by a thief to turn a phishing call into a target spear phishing attack? These pieces of information are perfect for that use. For example, if a thief knows you work for ABC Corporation, he can do a little research to come up with a logo. Spoof an e-mail address from that company that looks legitimate with the ill-begotten logo, and he can send e-mails to you or that appear to be FROM you to others.
 

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Some of this information is really hard to keep secret; some is completely in your control. Here are a few tips to stay aware and safe.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card with you. This is not wallet material. Leave it at home in a secure place with other important documents.
  • Don’t write this information down. Leaving your Social Security number or other important information laying around, even without other identifying info, isn’t a great idea.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. If you’re asked for your Social Security number or other information to complete a transaction that you initiated, make sure there isn’t anyone around to eavesdrop. And if you are asked for that information during a phone call that you did not initiate, do not reveal it.
  • Don’t have your place of birth as a secret question if that information is available publicly.
  • Don't write any of this information down.
  • Keep track of scams. Many types of scams try to trick you into sending your financial information to a scammer, including dating site scams and IRS scams. Read about the most common types of scams to watch out for. 
  • Don’t write it down. It can be tempting to write down your bank card numbers to use online or lend your card to a family member to run an errand. But once your number is out of your hands, you have no control over who sees it.
  • Don’t post seemingly innocuous information online. Social media is a well-stocked pond of information for a thief. Using your full name, real birth date, posting photos with your address in them, or posting an e-mail address in a public area of the web are bad ideas.
  • Set hard-to-guess PINs and passwords. 1234 and 2580 and 4444 are all equally bad PINs. Make your PIN harder to guess with non-repeating and non-sequential digits. And ‘password’ is a bad password.

The key to staying safe is keeping as much information private as possible. And, if it’s not possible, be aware that others can gain that information and use it against you. Double check suspicious e-mails and unsolicited phone calls before revealing additional information or responding to requests.
 

Security Fraud

When it comes to the risk of identity theft, death isn’t the end—it can often be the beginning.

It’s called ghosting, according to the AARP, and every year, the estates of 2.5 million deceased individuals are victimized by this form of identity theft.

Ghosting is a form of digital grave robbing. Using the personal information of a deceased individual, a thief can do a lot of damage before the deceased’s family even notices something is amiss. This is because it can take six months for financial institutions and credit-reporting bureaus to receive, share, or register death records. And since the dead don’t monitor their own credit, and it’s likely their family isn’t monitoring it either, a thief often has an extended period of time to commit further fraud.

Most often, a thief will randomly choose a Social Security number (not a targeted attack), but often ghosting is a crime of opportunity. Nearly 800,000 of those 2.5 million victims each year represent targeted attacks.

Thieves can glean personal information from obituaries, hospitals and funeral homes—information like birth date, home address, and full name. And with those pieces of information, a thief may be able to purchase the deceased’s Social Security number illicitly online.

In many instances, thieves will use the information they’ve gained to file tax returns under the identity of the dead and collect refunds. In fact, in 2011, the IRS paid out $5.2 billion in fraudulent returns.

While surviving family members are not responsible for fraudulent charges and tax filings, a thief can leave quite a mess to untangle in a loved one’s estate.

PROTECT THE ESTATE
  • Don’t list specific birth dates, maiden name, or other personal identifiers in the obituary.
  • Don’t publish home addresses within the obituary. Thieves have even been known to plan home burglaries for the time of the funeral.
  • Use certified mail with “return receipt” to send copies of the death certificate to each credit reporting agency (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and ask them to place a “deceased alert” on the credit report. Certificates should also be sent to banks, insurers, brokerages, credit card companies, and mortgage companies where the deceased held an account. For join accounts, request the deceased’s name be removed.
  • Report the death to Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213
  • Contact the state department of motor vehicles to cancel their driver license (to prevent duplicates from being issues to a thief)
  • Monitor the deceased’s credit with AnnualCreditReport.com.  It’s free!
  • Let your loved one’s credit union or bank know as soon as possible! Kirtland FCU can help prevent a fraudster from calling in and doing business as a deceased individual if we’re aware of the passing.
In the midst of grief, protecting a loved one’s identity may be the last thing on a family’s mind. But adding these simple steps to the handling of an estate can help you avoid a lot of headaches and frustration.
 

Home Loans

Refinancing is the process of paying off an existing loan with the proceeds from a new loan and using the same property as collateral. Usually, the interest rate on the new mortgage will be less than the old, the loan will cost less, and you will save money. However, refinancing isn’t appropriate for every homeowner. To know if it’s right for you, here’s a look at the pros and cons of refinancing your home.

The benefits
Many people choose to refinance because the reduced interest rate decreases their monthly mortgage payment, freeing up cash for other expenses. Every percentage point makes a difference. For example, if you refinanced a $200,000, seven-percent interest loan to a loan with six-percent interest, you’d have about $130 more in your pocket each month.

Another reason to refinance is to repay your mortgage faster, which is done by switching a long-term loan for one with a shorter term. With it, your mortgage payment would be higher, but you’d pay much less in interest over the life of the loan while building equity more quickly.

Cash-out refinancing is yet another attractive option. With this type of loan, you’d refinance your current mortgage plus take out some cash from the equity you’ve built up. The benefit? Interest rates on the cashed-out portion are often lower than a home equity line of credit, home equity loan, or second mortgage.

The costs
To determine if refinancing will work in your favor, you’ve got to weigh the savings in interest against the fees associated with refinancing. A new loan means you’ll have to pay most of the same costs you paid the first time around. These may include points, appraisals, attorney’s fees (in Attorney-only states, which does NOT include New Mexico as of August 2019), settlement costs (such as fees for the loan application, title search, appraisal, loan origination, and credit check), recording fees or transfer taxes, and sometimes a pre-payment penalty. All totaled, these costs can be high, and some lenders require at least a portion of them be paid at the time of application.

Much of the loan’s price depends on points. One point equals one percent of a loan, and to get you the lowest rate, most lenders will charge several points. The total cost can run between three to six percent of the whole amount you borrow. Therefore, on a $100,000 mortgage, the lender might charge between $3,000 and $6,000.

Some lenders do offer zero points, but the loan will have a higher interest rate. So, while a “no points loan” may indeed reduce your initial outlay, your monthly payment will be higher.

To know what combination of rate and points is best for you, compare the amount you can pay up front with the amount you can pay monthly. The less time you keep the loan, the more expensive points (and other refinancing costs) become. For example, if your refinancing costs are $3,000 and your payments are $125 lower each month, it will take you 24 months just to break even.

The tax effect
One of the primary advantages of home ownership is the savings you receive on your income taxes—all that interest (up to a million dollars for the first loan, and $100,000 for the second) is tax deductible, after all. Yet if you refinance the loan with a lower interest rate, you’ll have less interest to deduct. The effect may increase your tax payments and decrease the total savings you might obtain from a new, lower-interest mortgage.

If, however, you are in the final years of your mortgage, your payments probably consist of more principal and less interest. In that case, refinancing your mortgage with a longer-term loan will mean you’ll again pay more in interest—and increase your tax deduction. Note: you must check with your tax advisor regarding the deductions of your mortgage interest based on your particular tax situation.)

The best deal
So where do you find the best refinancing deal? The best arrangement may be with your current lender, since some offer original mortgage customers the lowest rates and cut-rate closing costs. Before deciding, though, shop around by calling several lending institutions and ask each one what interest and fees they charge. If you have Internet access, research rates before speaking to a lender, so you’ll be armed with the knowledge of what is out there.

Consumer protection
If the idea of refinancing fills you with as much fear as it does excitement, you have reason. This is a major financial decision, and one not to be taken lightly. Thankfully, some powerful consumer laws protect you against lending abuses.

When you refinance, your lender must provide a written statement (the Loan Estimate) of the costs and terms of the financing before you become legally obligated for the loan. Review this statement carefully. If you refinance with a different lender, or if you borrow beyond your unpaid balance with your current lender, you also must be given the right to cancel within three business days following settlement, receipt of your disclosures, or receipt of your cancellation notice, whichever occurs last.

If your lender charges an application processing fee, ask how much it is and under what circumstances it is refundable. Some lenders do not offer refunds if you are not approved for the loan or if you decide against taking it.

So, is it time to refinance your mortgage? If you will come out ahead financially, then it is definitely worth considering. However, if the difference is minimal or nil, it may not be the answer.

Come visit the Home Loan specialists at the Kirtland FCU Home Loan Center. An experienced loan officer can sit with you and go over your options to help you make the best decision for your situation.


 
This article was prepared by Balance PRO, a partner financial fitness program available to all credit union members!

Home Loans

Do you dream of owning your own home but the thought of meeting with a lender frightens you? Perhaps you are afraid of being turned down, yet again, for a mortgage loan. Or maybe you are overwhelmed with the application process itself? After all, applying for a mortgage can often be complicated and frustrating.
 
But it doesn’t have to be. If you fear you will never realize your dream of home ownership, we have some tips that may help you take the next step to make it a reality. 

Here are five steps you can take now to get mortgage ready:

Step 1: Create a plan to save.
If you are serious about buying a home, figuring out a way to save money is essential, and it all starts with taking the time to create a plan. Your plan begins with a detailed budget, because it’s the most effective tool for achieving financial goals. It will allow you to track and control every dollar you earn every month. Start by paying yourself first. One of the best ways to grow your savings is to put aside money consistently—even if it’s a small amount. Next is identifying your expenses. Be mindful of spending leaks like dining out, soda or snack purchases, entertainment, late fees, etc. Subtract your total monthly expenses from your total monthly income. It’s a good practice to move any surplus to a separate savings account. On the other hand, if you have a shortage of cash at the end of the month, you may need to get creative. Look for ways to cut expenses, plug spending leaks, and maybe even explore ways to temporarily increase your income (overtime, a second job, or a side-hustle). 

Step 2: Review your credit report. 
Lenders begin the application process with a review of your credit report, so you need to know where you are starting. Access your free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com to ensure your creditors are sharing accurate information about your credit accounts. (Note:  www.annualcreditreport.com is the only source for free credit reports and is authorized by Federal law.)
Dispute any errors you find directly with the credit bureaus. Allow time for your report to be updated after the credit bureaus resolve your dispute (at least 30 days). Satisfy unpaid collections and charge-offs or negotiate with creditors for a less-than-owed payoff and then follow up to be sure your creditor updates. 

TIP: If you have never had credit before, you will need to find a lender that uses an alternative scoring model that takes into account your history of paying your rent, utilities, and insurance in a timely fashion. Lenders may also offer a secured loan option as a way to build credit.

Step 3: Bring your debts current, pay your bills on time and reduce your balances. 
Payment history is one of the primary factors in credit scoring, so start making timely payments on all of your accounts. Look for any late payments that may be dragging your score down that were reported in error. Next, pay close attention to your balances on your revolving accounts (credit cards or lines of credit). How much you charge compared to your extended limit affects your credit score negatively (credit utilization ratio). Reduce your balances or pay them off whenever possible. To avoid lower scores, keep balances low (below 30% of your limit) throughout the application process, and don’t take on any new credit. 

Step 4: Save money for upfront costs and down payment.
You will need money to cover upfront costs when you start the home buying process. Lenders typically collect an application fee or an appraisal fee when you begin the process. Plus, once you find the right home and decide to write an offer to purchase, the seller will likely require an earnest money deposit (amount varies). Finally, as you approach your closing date, you will need to provide funds for the down payment and closing costs which will depend on varying factors like your mortgage type, purchase price, loan amount, and so forth. We recommend you communicate regularly with your lender—the Kirtland FCU Home Loan Team will make sure you know ahead of the closing date exactly how much you will need to bring to closing. 

CAUTION: Upfront fees and earnest money deposits may not be refundable in certain situations. Since a closing involves several different companies, check with each party of your home buying team before entering into any contract to measure the risk of losing upfront fees in the event of cancellation or other issue that would prevent you from closing.

Step 5: Gather your income documentation. 
Before meeting with a Kirtland FCU Home Loan expert or another lender, gather your most recent 30 days of pay stubs, bank statements, and the past two years of federal tax returns. Most lenders will require a two-year employment history (in the same line of work) for each borrower. However, some lenders may make exceptions for recent graduates new to their line of work. Self-employed borrowers may need to provide a profit-and-loss statement and two years of tax returns, instead of pay-stubs. 

While the mortgage application process may seem daunting, being prepared ahead of time will help you breeze through the process. And the more you know, the better prepared you will be when you meet your lender for the first time. 
The Kirtland FCU Home Loan team is dedicated to making your home loan process as simple and transparent as it can be. And since we’re local, it’s easy to ask questions and get guidance. 

Learn more about Kirtland FCU’s great home loan options and the experienced team at KirtlandFCU/Mortgage.

 
This article was prepared by Balance PRO, a partner financial fitness program available to all credit union members!
Read more great articles to prepare for home ownership from Balance PRO.
Saving for Homeownership
Renting Versus Buying a Home
Eight First-Time Home-Buying Mistakes To Avoid

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