#FreedomToHelpChallenge 2020

 

#FreedomToHelpChallenge

Win $1,000 for your favorite local charity!

Freedom Federal Credit Union believes in people helping people and we are challenging Harford and Baltimore County volunteers, companies, and non-profits to participate in the award-winning 3rd annual #FreedomToHelpChallenge photo contest this holiday season. Showcase volunteerism in Harford or Baltimore County for the chance to win a $1,000 charitable donation for your local non-profit of choice and other weekly prizes.

HOW TO ENTER:

1. Like or Follow Freedom Federal Credit Union on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

2. Post public photos showcasing volunteerism in Harford or Baltimore County from November 2nd through December 10th, 2020

3. Include a description of the volunteer effort along with the searchable hashtag, #FreedomToHelpChallenge on every post

4. Visit us on Facebook every Friday to participate in public voting to increase your chances to win! (Every like equals a vote!)

On Instagram? Tag Freedom @FreedomFedCU or DM us to follow you if your account is private.

The #FreedomToHelpChallenge was recognized by CUNA in 2019 with The Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Community Service Award

 

Read Full Contest Rules and Details Here.

Grand Prize Info: The Final Showdown

Public Voting for finalists will be available on Freedom’s Facebook page on Tuesday, December 15, 2020 at 10:00 am for 24 hours from the start of the voting period. Every like equals a vote. Share with your friends to increase your votes. The Grand Prize Winner will be announced via Freedom’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram page on or before December 16th, 2020.

*Selected charity must be a registered 501(C)3 with a proven focus in Harford or Baltimore County.

Estate Planning Seminars

ESTATE PLANNING VIRTUAL SEMINAR SERIES

Presented By Freedom Federal Credit Union

Foundations of Estate PlanningFundamentals of Estate Planning
Learn from a panel of experts on how to get your Estate in order. Freedom Federal Credit Union, in partnership with The Kelly Group, is hosting this FREE virtual seminar covering what you need to start your Estate Planning, and how to confidently make a plan to care for your loved ones.

Wednesday, November 18th, 2020
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

 

In this seminar, we will cover:
· The importance of Estate Planning
· How to get your personal and financial affairs in order in case of incapacity or death
· How to preserve your property and investments for loved ones
· How to avoid family disputes
· Estate tax implications

Registration for this free virtual seminar is required, and can be done ONLINE.

We hope to see you there!

 

Next Seminar…

Beyond Estate Planning, How to Leave Your Greatest Legacy

Legacy Planning brings the human element into estate planning. What would happen to your loved ones if something should happen to you?  Would they have a process to follow, or would their world be engulfed in chaos? This seminar takes you beyond estate documents, discussing how you can convert chaos to clarity and closure. Legacy Planning follows a logical progression, and each participant will be given a workbook for planning purposes.  Legacy Planning is a dynamic process that is not hard—you just have to get started!   

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Registration for this free virtual seminar is required, and can be done ONLINE.

IS NOW A GOOD TIME TO OPEN A HELOC?

Is a HELOC a good idea

If you’re looking to fund a home improvement project, or if the economic devastation of COVID-19 has left you in need of cash, consider tapping into your home’s equity with a home equity line of credit, or ‘HELOC’.

What is a HELOC?

A HELOC is a revolving credit line allowing homeowners to borrow money against the equity of their home. Borrowers can withdraw money as needed during a set amount of time known as the “draw period,” which generally lasts 10 years. Some lenders place restrictions on HELOCs and require borrowers to withdraw a minimum amount of money each time they make a withdrawal, regardless of need. Other restrictions include the requirements to keep a fixed amount of money outstanding or to withdraw a specific sum when the HELOC is first established; however, borrowers are typically free to spend the money however they please.

Most homeowners are eligible for a HELOC with a debt-to-income ratio that is 40% or less, a credit score of 620 or higher and a home assessment that stands at a minimum of 15% more than what is owed.

How do I repay my HELOC?

Repayment of HELOCs varies but is generally flexible.

Many lenders collect interest-only payments during the draw period, with principal payments being strictly optional. Others require ongoing monthly payment toward both principal and interest.

When the draw period ends, some lenders require borrowers to pay back the entire loan “balloon” amount. Others allow borrowers to pay back the loan in monthly installments over a new time period, known as the “repayment period.” Repayment periods are generous, lasting as long as 20 years.

What are the disadvantages of a HELOC?

A HELOC places your home at risk of foreclosure if not repaid. Before opening a HELOC, it’s a good idea to run the numbers to ensure you can easily meet the payments.

Also, many lenders require the full payment of the HELOC after the draw period is over. This can prove to be challenging for many borrowers.

Finally, if you don’t plan to stay in your home for long, a HELOC may not be the right choice for you. When you sell your home, you’ll need to pay the full balance of the HELOC.

A HELOC can be a great option now

HELOCs have variable interest rates, which means the interest on the loan fluctuates along with the general interest rate, sometimes dramatically.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 has generated historically low interest rates. The average APR for fixed 30-year mortgages has hovered at the low 3% for months now, and experts predict it will continue falling. The low rates make it an excellent time to take out a HELOC with manageable payback terms.

The economic uncertainty the pandemic has generated also makes it a prime time to have extra cash available for any need that may arise.

Now may be the perfect time for you to refinance your current mortgage, from another loan provider, into a lower rate from Freedom Federal Credit Union! We offer a wide range of programs with low rates and great terms. Contact us about a refinance option that meet your needs today.

About Freedom Federal Credit Union

Freedom serves and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, attends school, volunteers, or has family in Harford or Baltimore County, MD. As a credit union, we are committed to putting you first, not shareholders, and helping you achieve your financial goals. Learn more at freedomfcu.org or call us 800-440-4120 to see how we can help.

Your Turn: Are you looking to sell your home? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. @FreedomFedCU

Millennials Hit Hardest by Coronavirus Recession

Millennials hit hardest by COVID-19

The coronavirus recession hasn’t been easy on anyone, but millennials may have been hit hardest.

According to many economic experts, the 73 million millennials in the U.S. could experience financial setbacks from COVID-19 that have a longer-reaching impact than those experienced by any other age group.

Here’s why the coronavirus pandemic has been especially hard for those in 25- to 39-year-old age bracket.

Another recession for millennials

Economic recessions are nothing new for this demographic. They already lived through the Great Recession of 2008, and for many, the impact of the last recession is still being felt today.

The Great Recession hit millennials when they were still in college or just starting out on their career paths. For some, it meant the choices for their first post-college job were very slim. For others, it meant dropping out of college when there was no longer a guarantee of a degree netting them a higher-paying job. Regardless of how they were impacted, many millennials are still playing catch-up from the recession of 2008.

“For this cohort, already indebted and a step behind on the career ladder, this second pummeling could keep them from accruing the wealth of older generations,” says Gray Kimbrough, Washington, D.C. economist and American University professor.

Job losses across the board

More than 40 million workers in the U.S. have filed for unemployment since the beginning of the pandemic, but this is another area where millennials have been hit harder than most.

According to a recent report by Data for Progress, 52% of respondents under age 45 have lost jobs, been furloughed or had their work hours cut due to COVID-19. In contrast, just 26% of respondents over age 45 have suffered a job loss of some kind during the coronavirus pandemic.

Millions of millennials have lost jobs that are impossible to do while adhering to social distancing mandates. At the height of the economic lockdowns in April, the economy shed a staggering 20.5 million jobs. Of these jobs, 7.7 million were in the leisure and hospitality sector — a sector that is dominated by millennials. An additional 1.4 million lost jobs were in health care, primarily in ambulatory services — another field that employs a disproportionately large number of millennials.

No nest egg

Many millennials who are still on the rebound from the Great Recession are carrying piles of debt and have minimal savings — or none at all.

According to surveys conducted in 2018 by the Federal Reserve, 1 in 4 millennial families have a negative net worth, or debts that outweigh their assets. One in six millennials would not be able to find the funds to cover a $400 emergency. For these young employees, a relatively mild setback from the coronavirus can be devastating to their finances.

Millennials also tend to neglect their retirements. A recent report by the National Institute on Retirement Security found that 66% of millennials in the workforce have nothing put away for their retirement.

Can millennials recover?

Millennials had still not fully recovered from the Great Recession when the coronavirus pummeled the economy. They have shouldered a large share of job losses and have little or no savings to fall back on.

But there is hope. Millennials may not be as young as they were during the Great Recession, but they still have time to bounce back. They can use the unique challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to reevaluate their career track and move onward toward a brighter future.

This age group, also known as Gen Y, is famous for its resilience and can-do attitude. They’ve gotten through the Great Recession of 2008 and they’ll beat the coronavirus recession, too. With hard work, perseverance and small steps toward a better future, millennials can pull themselves up and regain their financial health.

If you’re experiencing financial difficulties, we can help. Call, click or stop by Freedom FCU to speak to a member service representative today.

Your Turn: Are you a millennial who has been impacted by the coronavirus recession? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. @FreedomFedCU

 

Beware the Pending Package Scam

Package ScamEveryone loves a surprise package, and scammers are taking the excitement out of that experience by using bogus packages as a cover for a nefarious scam that tricks victims into sharing personal information.

Here’s all you need to know about the pending package scam:

How the scam plays out

In the pending package scam, the victim receives a text message from a contact who is an alleged mail carrier or represents a package-delivery service. The contact tells them that they were unable to deliver a package to the victim’s home. The victim is asked to reply to confirm their identity; however, as soon as they engage with the scammer, they are asked to share personal information or credit card details for scheduling delivery. This, of course, places the victim at risk for identity theft.

Red flags

There are two primary red flags that can warn you about the pending package scam.

First, the original text or email will generally not inform the victim of the identity of the company they represent. The scammer will only claim to be an employee of a mail or package-delivery service, but will not verify if they work for UPS, FedEx or another legitimate organization. However, this is not always the case.

Second, the scammers don’t always check if the victim actually has a package in transit. They’ll either assume the victim has recently ordered something online or they’ll claim a friend or family member has sent a surprise gift. If you know that neither of these is true, you can be on the alert for a possible scam.

Third, the text message may address you by the wrong name.  Scammers may try to take advantage of your good conscience by baiting you into clicking a malicious link to report that they have reached the wrong individual.

Don’t get scammed! 

Take these precautions to avoid being the next victim of a pending package scam:

  • Be wary of unsolicited communications. Your mail carrier and package delivery services will never contact you via text message. If a package cannot be delivered for any reason, they will usually leave a note on the door.
  • Track all incoming packages. After placing an order for an item, record the tracking number for the package so you can easily verify its whereabouts. This way, you can quickly confirm the authenticity of any suspicious texts, emails or phone calls about your package.
  • Never share personal information with an unverified contact. Be super-wary when asked to share sensitive information via text. If you suspect fraud, end the conversation immediately and do not engage further.
  • Never click on links in unsolicited text messages. Links in text messages can download malware onto your computer or device.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a pending package scam, it’s important not to engage with the scammer. Delete any suspicious text messages and block the number of the contact. You can also report the scam at FTC.gov .

Your turn: How do you determine if you’ve been targeted by a pending package scam? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. @FreedomFedCU

 

Selling Your Home During COVID-19

Home Selling During COVID-19

Selling a home is a move people generally plan years in advance, and 2020 was no different. For many homeowners, the hot real estate market of spring and summer of 2020 was going to be the season they put their homes up for sale. And then came the coronavirus — and the world turned upside down. With people struggling just to get by financially, and health and safety paramount, selling a home seemed like a dream from another lifetime. Records of home sales in the U.S. from the beginning of the outbreak reflect these feelings, with a sharp decline of 21% in total homes sold in March, and another decrease of 17.8% in April, according to data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) .

 

Now, though, the U.S. real estate market is looking very different. As the economy limps toward a recovery, many buyers are searching for a new place to call home and the housing market is thriving. In fact, national home sales climbed a record 20.7 percent in June compared with home sales from a year ago, global pandemic notwithstanding.

Despite the flourishing housing market, many homeowners who have planned to sell their homes this year are still reluctant to take that leap. And it is no wonder, with restrictions still in place and so much uncertainty still surrounding the economy.

If you have been thinking of selling your home, you still can. Here’s all you need to know about selling your house during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Are you really ready to sell?

Before putting your home on the market, it’s important to consider all the variables involved in this step and be sure it’s a financially responsible move. With the pandemic causing a slowdown of the economy and a likely recession, life circumstances you may have relied on, such as a steady job and salary, may not be dependable anymore. Before calling a real estate agent, it’s a good idea to review all the relevant numbers to be sure that selling your home now is in your best interest.

Stage your home to sell

Anyone selling their home knows they need to showcase it in the best possible light, and never has this been truer than now. With restrictions still in place in many states and lots of people stuck home in quarantine, many buyers will be doing their touring virtually. For sellers, this means that staging and photographing a home well is more important than ever.

Here are some general tips to follow when staging and photographing your home, as shared by Buddy Mountcastle,  a real estate photographer based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.:

  • Clean up the outside. Curb appeal is the first selling point for any home. Make sure there are no weeds, overgrown grass or kids’ toys ruining the first impression of your home.
  • Let the sunshine in. Aim to shoot mid-day. Scrub your windows clean, open the curtains and let the natural sunshine brighten up every room.
  • Undo the lived-in look. Remove all personal effects from your home before going camera-crazy. This includes stray shoes, family photos, piles of magazines, small kitchen appliances and more.
  • Shoot from the right spot. When capturing a room on camera, try to get as much of the space in the frame. Aim to include three walls, which can mean shooting from the corner or doorway. It’s also important to shoot straight and from chest height so as not to distort the room.

To make it easier for buyers to view your home, you can post a virtual tour on your online listing, and offer the option of scheduling a live tour with an agent through FaceTime or Zoom.

Play it safe

If you will be allowing potential buyers into your home, don’t forget to play it safe. Set up a box of disposable masks, shoe covers and sanitizing wipes at the door for all visitors who will be tramping through your home. If you will be hosting an open house, it’s best to allow a limited number of people inside at a time to make social distancing possible.

Price it right

Fewer homeowners are putting their houses up for sale this year, but the pool of buyers is also smaller than usual. This means you won’t be able to jack up the price of your home for way more than it’s worth. Work with an agent to look at comparable home sales in the area and to determine a fair asking price. Also, as always, list a selling price a bit higher than your actual desired price to allow for negotiations.

Closing during COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic will likely affect every aspect of selling your home, up until the closing. With many workers in the home-selling industry, from professional home inspectors, to mortgage lenders, to movers working with a smaller team now, be prepared for various steps of the home-selling process to be delayed. It’s best to be patient and to anticipate that things may take longer than usual. This is especially true with lenders, as low mortgage rates are triggering a spike in refinance applications across the country and lenders are busier than ever.

COVID-19 has wrecked all sorts of plans, but selling your home does not have to be one of them. With some adjustments and altered expectations, you can successfully sell your home during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Your Turn: Are you looking to sell your home? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. @FreedomFedCU

What Makes This Recession Different

The 2020 Recession

Unless you’ve been living in a bunker for the last several months, you’ve likely caught the term “recession” thrown around on the news more than once. Hearing this word being used to describe the state of the U.S. economy can trigger a range of reactions from mild anxiety to a full-blown stuffing-money-under-the-mattress panic.

For many people, though, part of their angst surrounding the state of the economy is the vast amount of unknown: What is the exact definition of a recession? How is it different from a depression? How long do recessions usually last? What causes a recession?

So many questions — but we’ve got answers! Here’s all you need to know about recessions, the current state of the U.S. economy and what all of this means to you as a private consumer.

What is a recession? 

A recession is a widespread economic decline in a designated region that lasts for several months or longer. In a recession, the gross domestic product (GDP), or the total value of all goods and services produced in the region, decreases for two consecutive quarters. A healthy economy is continually expanding, so a contracting GDP suggests that problems are brewing within the economy. In most recessions, the GDP growth will slow for several quarters before it turns negative.

What’s the difference between a recession and a depression?

A depression has criteria similar to that of a recession, but is much more severe. For example, in both a recession and a depression the unemployment rate rises; however, during the Great Recession of 2008, the worst recession in U.S. history to date, unemployment peaked at 10%, while during the Great Depression, unemployment levels soared to 25%. Similarly, during the Great Recession, the GDP contracted by 4.2%, while during the Great Depression it shrank by 30%.

Depressions also last a lot longer than recessions. The Great Depression officially lasted for four years but continued to impact the economy for more than a decade. In contrast, recessions generally last only 11 months, according to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

There have been 47 recessions in U.S. history, and a total of 13 recessions since the Great Depression. There has only been a single recorded depression in our country’s history.

What causes a recession? 

A recession can be triggered by a variety of factors:

  • A sudden economic shock that causes severe financial damage.
  • Excessive debt carried by consumers and businesses, leading to debt defaults and bankruptcies.
  • Asset bubbles, or when investors’ make irrational decisions, overbuy stocks and then rush to sell, causing a market crash.
  • Excessive inflation and rising interest rates, which triggers a decline in economic activity.
  • Excessive deflation, which sparks a decrease in wages, further depressing prices.
  • Technological changes, including outsourcing jobs to machines or other technological breakthroughs that alter the way entire industries operate.

Why the COVID-19 recession is unlike any other?

In June 2020, the NBER  announced that the U.S. economy had been in recession since February.

The COVID-19 recession, also known as the coronavirus recession, the Great Shutdown, the Great Lockdown or the Coronavirus Crash, is unique because it was sparked by an unforeseen pandemic and not by any inherent problem within the economy.

Another anomaly of the coronavirus recession is the super-healthy state of the economy before it hit. In February, unemployment levels were at a 50-year low, stock markets were at a record high and the U.S. economy had enjoyed 126 months of growth,  its longest period of uninterrupted expansion in history.

The unusual triggers and the explosive start of the current recession may be good news for its eventual end. Economists initially were hopeful that the recession could reverse itself quickly with a V-shaped recovery. Unfortunately, due to prolonged lockdowns and the nationwide failure to keep infection rates down, they have since declared that a rapid rebound is unlikely. There is still hope for a relatively fast recovery. An April Reuters poll  found that nearly half of 45 economists believed the U.S. recovery would be U-shaped: slower and more gradual than a V-shaped recovery, but still fairly quick.

How will this recession affect me?

The coronavirus recession can impact the average consumer in multiple ways.

First, many are struggling with sudden unemployment or will be facing joblessness in the coming months. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the unemployment rate at a staggering 10.2%.

Second, the economic uncertainty has triggered record-low interest rates, which in turn sparked a rush to refinance. If you are currently paying high interest rates on a long-term loan, you may want to consider refinancing and enjoying a lower monthly payment.

Finally, investments in stocks, bonds and real estate may lose value during a recession.

The good news is there’s no need to start stuffing money under your mattress. As a member of Freedom FCU, your funds are always safe. [Freedom FCU is federally insured up to $250,000 by the National Credit Union Administration] and independently insured up to [$250,000 by NCUA]. If you are experiencing financial difficulties of any kind, feel free to reach out to us at or to drop us a line at to see how we can help.

Your Turn: What do you think will be most impacted by the coronavirus recession?  Share your thoughts with us on Facebook.

How Can I Protect Myself from Payment App Scams?

Payments App Scams

Q: I love the convenience of payment apps, like Cash App and Venmo, but I’ve heard there’s been an increase in scams being pulled off within these apps. How can I continue to use my payment apps without compromising my safety?

A: Payment apps offer users the ability to effortlessly send payments to friends, making it easy to split the tab at a shared meal, buy a present for a mutual friend and quickly pay back a small loan. Unfortunately, though, scammers are using these apps to cheat people out of their money.

Here’s all you need to know about payment app scams and how to protect yourself from being the next victim.

How the scam plays out

There are several variations of the mobile payment app scam, most of which involve the scammer hijacking the victim’s linked checking account or credit card and using it to pay for their own purchases. Now, though, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing people’s attitudes toward money, there is another, more nefarious scam being played out through mobile payment apps.

In this trending scam, a payment app user is invited to participate in a contest on Twitter or another social media platform. The host of the contest is giving away a bundle of cash to one lucky winner as a way of helping them through the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

After entering the contest, the victim receives a message informing them that they’ve won the giveaway — but they need to pay a small fee to verify their account and, later, receive their cash prize. Thrilled to be the winner and suspecting nothing unusual, the victim will gladly pay the fee and wait for their big payday. Unfortunately, though, the money never lands in their account, and they won’t see the funds they used to pay the “fee” ever again.

In the above scenario, the contest the victim entered may actually be authentic, but the follow-up post they’ve received is the work of a scammer.

Sometimes, the victim has not entered any contests but receives a message appearing to be sent directly from the payment app informing them they’ve been randomly chosen to win a cash prize — with a small processing fee attached.

Other times, scammers take the ruse one step further. After asking the victim to send the fee via mobile payment app, the scammer hacks the victim’s linked account or credit card and uses it to make their own expensive purchases.

Scammers use keywords like #coronavirus and #emergencyfunds to make their social media posts appear authentic; their efforts often pay off.

“My goal is to help those in need,” one scammer in Florida wrote. “Your deposit allows us to immediately send you your payment.”

The scam can be pulled off through any payment app, but is especially popular with Cash App users who are familiar with the app’s “Cash App Fridays.”  To the unsuspecting victim, the new freebies seem like an extension of the app’s existing giveaways.

Likewise, the scam can be executed through several social media platforms, but is most commonly found on Twitter. The social media giant is a popular host for contests of this sort, and another cash giveaway hardly stands out. The “Retweet” culture on Twitter also makes it easy for scammers to pick up on a legitimate contest and choose a participant to target.

“This behavior is absolutely against our rules and outlined as such here,” Twitter spokesperson Lauren Alexander wrote in an email. “Users who see such scams should go to the ‘Suspicious and Spam’ category to report the scam.”

Protect yourself

Luckily, you don’t need to give up on the convenience of mobile payment apps just yet. Protect yourself from this scam by learning about the medium used to pull it off and how to recognize the scam’s red flags.

Here’s what you need to know about Cash App and other mobile payment apps:

  • Cash App will never ask customers to send it money as a “processing fee” or for “verification.”
  • Cash App will not ask users to share their PIN or sign-in code outside the app.
  • Cash App currently has only two official Twitter accounts, @cashapp and @cashsupport, both of which have blue, verified check marks. If you receive a tweet from another account appearing to be from the app, it is likely bogus.

If a post or tweet looks suspicious, don’t take any chances; ignore it and move on.

If you believe you have fallen victim to a mobile payment app scam, contact the app’s support through the app or website. If the scam is reported early enough, they may be able to reverse the transaction. You can also report the scam to the FTC at ftc.gov  and let your friends know about the circulating scam so they don’t fall victim to it themselves.

Mobile payment apps make transferring money easy, but they also make it easy for scammers to con victims out of their money. Stay alert and practice caution to keep your money safe.

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a payment app scam? Tell us about it on Facebook.