The Role of a Reliable Banker when Buying a Home

People shaking hands

Purchasing a home is one of the most significant financial decisions you’ll make in your lifetime. It’s a complex process that requires careful planning, precise financial management, and access to the right resources. One of the most crucial partners you’ll need in this journey is a reliable banker.

Expert Guidance on Financing Options

A reliable financial advisor like your American Federal Banker possesses a deep understanding of various mortgage products, interest rates, and financing options. They can help you navigate the complex landscape of home loans, explaining to you the pros and cons of each option. Whether you’re considering fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, or government-backed loans, a knowledgeable banker can guide you to the financing solution that best aligns with your financial goals.

Pre-Approval for Better Negotiation

Obtaining pre-approval for a mortgage is a critical step in the home buying process, and a reliable banker can assess your financial situation, including your credit score, income, and debt-to-income ratio, to determine how much you can afford. This pre-approval strengthens your position as a buyer, allows you to negotiate confidently, and demonstrates to sellers that you are a serious and financially capable buyer.

Personalized Financial Planning

At American Federal, we go beyond merely providing a mortgage. We’ll work with you to create a personalized financial plan that considers both your short-term and long-term goals. This might include discussing the impact of the mortgage on your overall financial health, advising you on down payment strategies, and helping you understand the costs associated with homeownership.

Problem Solving and Support

Sometimes, unexpected challenges can arise during the home buying process. Perhaps there are issues with the property appraisal, or your financial situation changes. Your American Federal Banker will be your advocate, helping you navigate these challenges and providing solutions to keep the purchase on track.

More than a Mortgage

Working with a reliable banker is not just about securing a mortgage – it’s about gaining a trusted partner who will guide you through the complexities of the home buying process, provide expert advice, and look out for your financial interests. As you embark on your home buying journey, count on your American Federal Banker to ensure that you make one of life’s most significant investments with confidence and peace of mind.

Making Informed Decisions as a First-Time Homebuyer

Woman holding house key

Buying your first home is a significant milestone in life, marking a transition from renting to homeownership. It’s an exciting journey, but it can also be overwhelming and filled with unfamiliar decisions to make. Making informed choices as a first-time homebuyer is crucial to ensure you find the right property while staying within your budget. Below are some key strategies to help you navigate the homebuying process effectively.

Define Your Budget

Before you start browsing listings or attending open houses, it’s essential to establish a clear budget. Consider your financial situation, including your income, savings, and outstanding debts. A general rule of thumb is that your monthly mortgage payment should not exceed 30% of your gross income. Create a realistic budget that includes not just the purchase price but also closing costs, maintenance, property taxes, and homeowners’ insurance. Your American Federal Banker can assist you with any budgeting questions you have.

Research Mortgage Options

Understanding your mortgage options is crucial. Consult with your American Federal Banker to explore various mortgage types, interest rates, and terms. Common mortgage options for first-time buyers include fixed-rate mortgages, adjustable-rate mortgages, and government-backed loans like FHA loans. Carefully compare the options to find the best fit for your financial situation.

Prioritize Your Needs and Wants

Make a list of your ‘must-have’ features and amenities in a home, as well as your ‘nice to have’ features. Prioritizing your needs will help you focus your search and make more informed decisions. Consider factors like location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, yard size, and proximity to schools, work, and essential services.

Likewise, think beyond your immediate needs and consider your long-term goals. Are you planning to start a family? Do you expect your career to take you elsewhere? Understanding how a potential home aligns with your long-term plans will help you make a more informed decision.

Work with a Real Estate Agent

Engaging the services of a qualified real estate agent is highly beneficial, especially for first-time homebuyers. A knowledgeable agent can guide you through the process, help you find suitable properties, negotiate on your behalf, and provide valuable insights into the local real estate market.

Research the Neighborhood

Beyond the property itself, research the neighborhood thoroughly. Visit the area at different times of the day and week to assess traffic, noise levels, and overall ambiance. Investigate crime rates, school quality, public transportation options, and nearby amenities such as grocery stores, parks, and healthcare facilities.

Get a Home Inspection

Never skip a home inspection. A qualified inspector will assess the property’s condition, identifying any potential issues that may not be visible during a casual viewing. A thorough inspection can save you from unexpected repair costs and provide leverage for negotiating with the seller.

Understand the Closing Process

Familiarize yourself with the closing process, which includes signing the final paperwork, transferring ownership, and paying closing costs. Ensure you review all documents carefully and ask questions if anything is unclear. Your real estate agent and your American Federal Banker can guide you through this stage.

Don’t Rush

While it’s natural to feel eager to become a homeowner, avoid rushing into a purchase. Take your time to thoroughly assess each property, weigh your options, and seek advice from professionals. A well-informed decision is more likely to result in a home that brings you joy and financial security for years to come.

Count on Us!

As with any major financial decision, your American Federal Banker is here to help you with any questions you have about your situation. We’re here to help, and are just a call or click away!

 

Choosing the Right Contractor for Your Home Improvement Project

Couple talking with a contractor

Undertaking a home improvement project is an exciting endeavor that can enhance your living space and increase your property value. However, choosing the right contractor to bring your vision to life is a critical decision that can make or break the success of your project. Thankfully, there are a few essential steps to help you select the best contractor for your home improvement needs.

Define Your Project Scope

Before you start searching for a contractor, it’s crucial to define the scope of your home improvement project. Determine the specific details of what you want to achieve, including design preferences, materials, and budget constraints. The more clarity you have about your project, the easier it will be to communicate your needs to potential contractors.

Ask for Recommendations

One of the most reliable ways to find a reputable contractor is to ask for recommendations from friends, family, and neighbors who have recently completed similar projects. Their firsthand experiences can provide valuable insights into the contractor’s work quality, communication, and professionalism.

Research and Check Credentials

Once you’ve gathered a list of potential contractors, conduct thorough research on each of them. Verify their credentials, such as licenses, insurance, and certifications. Check if they are a member of professional organizations like the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) or the Better Business Bureau (BBB). A legitimate contractor should have no reservations about providing this information.

Review Portfolios and References

Examine the contractor’s portfolio of past projects. This will give you an idea of their style and the quality of their work. Additionally, ask for references from previous clients and contact them to inquire about their experiences.

Questions to ask may include:

  • Did the contractor meet deadlines and stay within budget?
  • Was the communication with the contractor effective?
  • Were there any issues during the project, and how were they resolved?

Request Multiple Bids

Obtain detailed bids from multiple contractors to compare prices, project timelines, and materials. Three bids is a good place to star. Be wary of significantly lower bids, as they may indicate cutting corners or using subpar materials. The best value may not always be the lowest price, but a combination of quality and affordability.

Conduct Interviews

Arrange face-to-face or virtual interviews with your top candidates. Use this opportunity to discuss your project in detail and ask questions about their experience, process, and approach to problem-solving. Pay attention to their communication skills and whether they actively listen to your needs and concerns.

Check for Permits and Compliance

Ensure that the contractor understands local building codes and obtains the necessary permits for your project. This knowledge reflects their professionalism and commitment to complying with legal requirements.

Review the Contract Carefully

Before signing any contract, thoroughly review its terms and conditions. The contract should outline project milestones, payment schedules, warranties, and dispute resolution procedures. Do not hesitate to seek legal advice if you encounter any confusing or unfair terms.

Trust Your Instincts

In the end, trust your gut feeling about the contractor you choose. A contractor who makes you feel comfortable, listens to your ideas, and communicates effectively is more likely to deliver a successful project.

Choosing the right contractor for your home improvement project is a significant decision that requires careful consideration. By following these steps and conducting thorough research, you can increase the likelihood of finding a reputable, skilled contractor who will turn your vision into reality. Remember that a well-chosen contractor not only ensures the success of your project, but also provides peace of mind throughout the construction process.

If you’re interested in starting a home improvement project, contact your American Federal Banker for more information, or being the application process today!

Stay Safe When Shopping Online

Woman Shopping on Laptop

Online shopping has become an integral part of our lives, offering convenience and access to a wide range of products and services. However, with the growth of e-commerce, online shopping scams have also proliferated. These scams can result in financial loss and personal information theft. To ensure a safe and enjoyable online shopping experience, it’s crucial to be aware of potential pitfalls and take precautions. Below are some effective strategies to avoid falling victim to online shopping scams.

Shop from Reputable Websites

The first rule of safe online shopping is to stick with well-known and reputable websites. Established e-commerce platforms like Amazon, eBay, Walmart, and official brand websites typically have robust security measures in place. Avoid unfamiliar websites that offer unbelievable deals, as these are often a front for scams.

Read Reviews and Ratings

Customer reviews and ratings can provide valuable insights into a product’s quality and the credibility of a seller. If a product has consistently negative reviews or no reviews at all, it may be a red flag. Be wary of sellers with low ratings or questionable histories.

Beware of Too-Good-to-Be-True Deals

Scammers often lure victims with incredibly low prices on popular products. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Compare prices across multiple websites to ensure you’re getting a fair deal.

Use Secure Payment Methods

When making a purchase, use secure payment methods such as credit cards or trusted digital payment platforms. Avoid wiring money, using gift cards, or sending cash as these methods offer little to no recourse in case of fraud. Credit cards often have built-in fraud protection that can help you recover your funds in case of unauthorized transactions.

Protect Your Personal Information

Never share more personal information than necessary. Legitimate online stores will usually only require essential information like your name, shipping address, and payment details. Be cautious if a website asks for excessive personal information or irrelevant details.

Keep Your Devices Secure

Ensure that your computer or mobile device is protected with up-to-date antivirus software and a strong firewall. Regularly update your operating system and browser to fix security vulnerabilities. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks for shopping, as they can be less secure.

Verify Contact Information

Legitimate businesses provide clear and accessible contact information, including a physical address and a customer service phone number or email. Verify this information before making a purchase. Scammers often hide behind anonymity.

Be Cautious with Email Offers

Phishing emails often impersonate popular retailers and offer enticing deals to lure victims. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments from unknown senders. Instead, go directly to the retailer’s website by typing the URL in your browser.

Trust Your Instincts

If something feels off or too uncertain, trust your instincts and err on the side of caution. Online shopping scams rely on victims being in a hurry or making impulsive decisions. Take your time to research, verify, and make informed choices.

Conclusion

Online shopping scams are a real threat, but with vigilance and knowledge you can protect yourself from falling victim. By following these guidelines, you can enjoy the convenience of online shopping while safeguarding your financial and personal security. Stay safe, shop wisely, and enjoy the benefits of e-commerce while avoiding scams.

Tips for Building Your Financial Knowledge

Person on a Calculator

Financial literacy is crucial when navigating life and planning for your future. Whatever you do or don’t already know, below are some tips for building up your financial knowledge.

Commit Time to Financial Literacy

It’s important to set aside time to focus on personal finance. Better yet, choose a day and time you can stick to, such as when you have downtime in your schedule. During a commute or other time spent waiting can also present opportunities to beef up your financial knowledge. Even just five or ten minutes can be enough to get started.

Committing time to learn about finance is sort of like creating a good new habit. A powerful way to do that is by habit stacking or connecting a new habit to an existing one. For example, if you drink a cup of coffee every morning before you go to work, habit stacking could involve adding a new activity, like reading financial news while you drink your coffee.

Be a Sponge for Financial Information

Read up on finance with books, articles, magazines, newsletters, and other written materials. Look for content that’s conversational. Finance can get complicated, but the language we use to discuss it doesn’t have to be. So, scout out materials with accessible, plain language.

Bite-size material can be more welcoming and less intimidating to dive into and tackle, so look for resources that will let you dip in and out at your convenience, like chaptered books, serialized articles, or otherwise encapsulated content.

Take a financial literacy quiz to see what you don’t know, so you know where to focus your attention.

Take a Class or a Workshop

Sign up for a financial course or workshop online or in person. There are tons of free and paid options out there that are specifically geared toward the fundamentals of personal finance. Remember, if you’re handling money, it’s never too early or too late to take a course or try out any of these tips for improving your financial literacy.

Join a Financial Literacy Group

There’s no shortage of social media groups, forums, and other groups dedicated to financial education and learning. That can give you a ready-made support group with access to tons of knowledge and resources. It can also help you stay accountable and motivated.  

Talk to a Financial Professional

Meet with a financial professional to get one-on-one advice and answers tailored to your needs, concerns, and objectives. You don’t know what you don’t know, and life can get busy, stressful, and complicated, no matter how much you plan for the future.

Still, you don’t have to forge ahead in your financial life alone. Financial professionals, such as your American Federal banker, can offer essential support, education, and guidance, especially in uncertain times or when you’re at a significant financial crossroads. They can also help you improve your financial literacy. Call us today to discuss any of your questions or needs.

Avoiding Personal Finance Mistakes

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Managing personal finances can be a challenging task, and even the most well-intentioned individuals can make mistakes along the way. However, recognizing and learning from these mistakes is essential for building a solid financial foundation. Below are some common personal finance mistakes that individuals often make. By steering clear of these pitfalls, you can pave the way for a more secure and prosperous future.

Failing to Create a Budget

One of the biggest mistakes people make is not creating a budget. Without a budget, it’s easy to lose track of your expenses and overspend. Creating a detailed budget helps you understand your income, prioritize expenses, and save for future goals. By tracking and adjusting as needed, you can develop responsible financial habits and avoid unnecessary spending.

Not Having an Emergency Fund

Another critical mistake is failing to establish an emergency fund. Life is full of unexpected events like medical emergencies, car repairs, or sudden job loss. Without an emergency fund, you may find yourself relying on high interest debt to cover these expenses, leading to financial stress. Aim to save three to six months’ worth of living expenses in a separate account to provide a financial safety net during uncertain times.

Not Monitoring Your Credit

Credit often plays a role in several points in your life, such as buying a house or car, or obtaining financing a business. Your financial life is shaped by your credit score, and a significant change up or down in your credit score may translate to hundreds or thousands of dollars in savings or costs when obtaining financing. But one of the biggest reasons to monitor your credit is the ever-growing threat of identity theft and fraud. Try to make credit monitoring an integral part of your financial management.

Being Financially Uninformed

No matter how simple our financial lives seem, several forces may impact our futures. Be it the tax code, a growing number of financial products to choose from, to new credit rules, it’s important to stay informed so you are better equipped when making financial decisions. While a do-it-yourself approach to learning may be a start, you should also consider talking to a financial professional like your American Federal Banker. Their experience can help you put financial information in context so you can apply it to your reality, needs, and goals.

Avoiding personal finance mistakes requires awareness, discipline, and a proactive approach. By avoiding financial mistakes and aligning yourself with trusted financial experts, you can navigate the financial landscape more effectively. Remember, even small steps taken today can make a significant impact on your future financial well-being. Start making wise financial decisions now and pave the way for a secure and prosperous future.

Texting and Phishing Scams – Be Aware

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Every day, thousands of people fall for fraudulent emails, texts, and calls from scammers pretending to be a bank. These are commonly referred to as phishing scams and victims can lose hundreds, even thousands of dollars. At American Federal we (as well as other institutions) have seen an uptick in the number of instances of fraud attempts. In fact, below is an example of an actual Phishing text a customer received.

Phishing attempt

Often times, as in this case, the fraudster will use an actual financial institution’s name. It’s important that you never interact with a message unless you are expecting it and know exactly where it is from. If a message is suspect, always contact your local American Federal office.

Phishing scammers want you to click on a link or share personal information (like a password or social security number) so that they can use that information to steal your money and/or identity. Below is some additional information on phishing scams. 

The Bait

  • Scammers use familiar company names or pretend to be someone you know. They send a text or ‘spoofed’ email or even call you in a way that makes it appear to be from a friend, family member, or an employee of a trusted organization like your bank, credit card company, government agency or phone company.
  • The bait may look and sound like a legitimate request. The scammers might even have personal information about you, like your date of birth or password.
  • They often say they need your information now, to protect your account, to help a loved one in trouble, or to confirm login or password information and warn that something bad will happen if you do not act immediately.
  • They ask you to give sensitive information like passwords or bank account numbers or they ask you to click on a link. If you click on the link, they can install malicious programs that can lock you out of your computer or enable them to gain access to use your personal or financial information, even from outside of the country.

Avoid the Hook

  • Take a few minutes to check a request out. You wouldn’t give your house keys to someone you don’t know or trust. Don’t give someone the keys to your bank account before you know who that person is and are certain that person can be trusted.
  • If someone calls asking for information or wants you to act, tell the caller you will call back, then call the number on your billing statement or credit card to report the call. If the caller tries to convince you to stay on the phone, it’s a scam. Hang-up and call the trusted number.
  • If it’s an email, don’t click on it. Go to the company’s website using a bookmark or type it in and check for alerts on your account.
  • If you’re unsure, ask a friend, coworker, family member, or caregiver to help.

Look for Scam Tip-Offs

  • You don’t have an account with the company.
  • The email, text or caller is asking for account information, including passwords.
  • Grammatical errors or something just seems fishy or not right.

Protect Yourself

  • Keep your computer and mobile device security software up to date and regularly back up your data.
  • Change your security settings to enable multi-factor authentication—a second step to verify who you are, like a text with a code—for accounts that support it.
  • Change any compromised passwords right away and do not reuse those passwords for other accounts.
  • Use a cloud-based account such as Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive that can allow you to restore your data if your computer is comprised.
  • Don’t provide any information to anyone who calls, sends a text, or emails you out of the blue. Only do it if you’ve called or emailed them.

Protect Your Business and Employees from Email Compromise Scams

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Here at American Federal Bank, protecting our customers from fraud is a top priority and we want you to know about a threat that we have seen multiple businesses fall victim to.

Fraudsters know that many business owners and executives will be out of the office during the upcoming spring and summer seasons, and will use the opportunity to try and trick your employees. The fraudsters send email messages to your employees that appear to come from a company owner or executive, along with instructions to send money or sensitive information to them. This threat is very real and we’ve seen significant losses happen in our communities.

These attempts are especially deceitful because emails often make what appears to be a legitimate request, including sending an invoice with updated payment information. Employees believe they are just doing what their superiors or coworkers are asking them to do, and mistakenly comply.

Below are some steps to reduce the chances of an employee becoming a victim of business email compromise:

  • Educate and train employees to recognize, question, and independently authenticate changes in payment instructions, payment methods (e.g., ACH to wire), or when pressured to act quickly or secretively.
  • Be old-fashioned! Verbally authenticate any changes via phone call to a verified telephone number.
  • Review accounts frequently.
  • Initiate payments using dual controls.
  • Never provide passwords, usernames, authentication credentials or account information when contacted.
  • Don’t provide nonpublic business information on social media.
  • Avoid free web-based email accounts for business purposes. A company domain should always be used in business emails.
  • Consider registering domains that closely resemble the company’s actual domain to make impersonation harder.
  • Do not use the “reply” option when authenticating emails for payment requests. Instead, use the “forward” option and type in the correct email address or select from a known address book.

If you do fall victim to one of these fraud attempts, please reach out to American Federal Bank as soon as possible so we can assist.

Thinking of Home Improvement? Think American Federal!

homeowners remodeling their home

If you’re looking at making improvements or repairs to your home, an American Federal Home Improvement Loan could be a great option for you.

Our Home Improvement loans can be used to  fix up single-family homes, as well as manufactured homes, multifamily properties and nonresidential buildings. Borrowers can also use the proceeds for site improvements and historic preservation. Basically, the improvements must “protect or improve the basic livability of the property.” (Loans under this program are not allowed to be used for luxury improvements, such as swimming pools or elaborate landscaping, or for cosmetic upgrades.)

Loans of less than $7,500 typically are unsecured, though loans above that amount will use your property as collateral. You can make the improvements yourself or use contractors.

Some examples of qualifying projects include:

  • New flooring
  • New roof
  • Replacing home systems (HVAC, plumbing, etc.)
  • New appliances
  • Adding accessibility for someone with a disability
  • Energy-efficiency improvements

Equity requirements are not as stringent for our Home Improvement loans, which makes them a good choice for people who have recently purchased the property they want to improve. Also, with the added equity from the completed improvements you may also be able to refinance into long term financing, saving your even more in the long term and simplifying your monthly payments.

If you’re interested in learning more about Home Improvement loans, or any other mortgage products, contact your American Federal Banker.

The Importance of Small Business Security Check-Ups

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Cyber security remains a growing concern for small businesses. It’s a good idea for business owners to conduct periodic reviews of their data security program.

Security Check-Up Suggestions

The Small Business Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the American Bankers Association offer a number of suggestions aimed at helping businesses protect their files and devices and their company and customer information from cyberattacks.

Start with a Plan

Begin by understanding your business risk profile.  What are you trying to protect and where are you most vulnerable? Identify devices, servers and vendors that store company date and customer credit card and other information.  Know what vendors supply the software you use, and how secure their practices are.  Also, take a broader look at protecting your financial and bank data, personnel information and intellectual property.

Review Policies and Procedures

Re-evaluate your security policies and procedures that determine access controls to acceptable use. Have you added new products and services or entered new markets that altered the operations of your business?  Who has access to information in your company and the log-in credentials to conduct transactions?

Train Employees

The weakest link in a security plan is employees. From day one, explain the importance of your organization’s data security practices to employees. Conduct regular training that outlines your company’s practices and how to spot new risks, security vulnerabilities and identify theft.  Create a culture of security by demonstrating what you expect and making security an essential part of employees’ duties.  When employees leave, terminate access immediately.

Warn about Phishing

Educate employees on the dangers of spear phishing – emails containing information that makes them look legitimate. Require independent verification of emails requesting sensitive information.  Train employees not to reply to email when they do not recognize the sender, and not to use links, phone numbers or websites contained in the suspect email.

Cover the Basics

Implementing the basic steps of cyber hygiene will protect your business and reduce the risk of a cyberattack.

  • Update Software. Update and apply the latest patches to your operating systems and software, including anti-virus software and antispyware, apps and web browsers. Set updates to take place automatically.
  • Secure your Network and Files.   Safeguard your Internet connection by using a firewall. Back up files offline, on an external hard drive or in the cloud.  Control physical access, too. Make sure you also store your paper files securely.
  • Encrypt Devices. Encrypt devices and other media that contain confidential, sensitive and proprietary information.  This includes laptops, smartphones, inventory scanners, digital scanners, removable devices, backup tapes and cloud storage solutions.
  • Use Multi-Factor Authentication. Enable multi-factor authentication to access areas of your network and sensitive information.  This requires additional steps beyond logging in with a password.
  • Require Strong Passwords. Use passwords for all computer hardware, including routers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Require strong passwords of 8-12 characters that are a mix of UPPER and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.  Passwords must not contain personal information, like part of a TIN, or be easily cracked, like “password,” “qwerty” or “12345678.” Never leave devices unattended in public places and avoid pubic WiFi.

Secure Payment Processing

Work with your bank or credit card processor to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used.  Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and do not use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.

Develop an Incident Response Plan

Know what to do and who to call when a cyber incident occurs.

Resources

Report scams against a small business at FTC.gov/complaint.

These websites and publications also have information on securing sensitive data: