Teachers, preachers and neighbors build their own homes Jan 26, 2015, 9:36 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

415 homes built, many jobs created through community reinvestment programs

Jane Farr was 64 years old when she and her husband decided to build their own home. They weren’t just designing the house and handing over plans to a contractor—they were going to be responsible for physical labor, including roofing, framing and more. Since their marriage a few years prior, the Farrs lived in a basement apartment and looked forward to one day being able to host family, especially when Farr’s children came to visit from the Philippines.

They applied for and were approved to participate in Self-Help Homes, an organization that coordinates funding and resources to help five to 12 individuals or families at a time in helping to build each others’ homes. Farr and her husband would be responsible for at least 35 hours of work a week and she was a little worried about how they would complete it, “in their old age.” Her husband, Ron Farr, was confident that they could do it together with the help of volunteers, family and friends.

Three days before they were going to break ground on the project, Ron passed away.

Farr wondered if she would be able to complete the project. Her husband was gone and she was still responsible for the same number of hours of work. Especially now, she wanted to have a home where her children and other family could visit. Inspired by Ron’s confidence in themselves, the Self-Help Homes process and the supportive community they were to be a part of, Farr moved forward.

“I was blessed with kind and supportive supervisors and four other families who were understanding of my limitations,” Farr said, less than a year later, during the open house for the four completed homes. “There were many times I felt protected during the program. I felt Ron was there for me. With my success in the Rural Housing Develop Corporation Mutual Self-Help Homes program, I could say to all that it is never too late to dream!”

Brad Bishop, the Utah director for Self-Help Homes, says it’s watching people like Jane Farr change over the course of the program that make it worthwhile for him. He’s been with Housing Authority of Utah County since 2000, and with Self-Help Homes since they started the program in Utah in 1998.

“The families that come in are different families than those that come out,” Bishop said. “I love seeing that change.

Bishop credits Self-Help Homes’ success in Utah to a commitment to building good, long-term homes that elevate the neighborhoods where they build. They use current plans and update them to make sure the style of the homes will fit in and be an enhancement to the neighborhood.

“Even if someone is a little resistant to new housing built through Self-Help Homes at first, by the end they realize that the people building homes in their neighborhood are their kids’ teachers, people they go to church with or are just like their own aging parents,” Bishop said.

In fact, an estimated 42 percent of Utah County would qualify for a program like this, according to Self-Help Homes.

With a high percentage of individuals and families who qualify for some type of aid in getting into a home that fits their needs and a home-buying landscape that has changed over the last 50 years, more and more people, businesses and organizations are coming together to help. In fact, one project by Self-Help Homes and the Provo City Housing Authority, the Maeser School and surrounding homes in Provo, brought together 17 different sources of funding to complete.

Bank of American Fork assists in programs like these by helping to obtain Affordable Housing Program (AHP) grant funds—for Self-Help Homes the grant funds are used to buy lots for upcoming neighborhood builds. The bank also donates time, tools and other equipment.

Self-Help Homes isn’t the only program benefitting from AHP grant funds. Bank of American Fork has helped other organiaztions like Northern Utah Neighborhood Improvement Project and Springville Senior Housing  to obtain grant funds and has participated in programs like the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle’s Homestart for more than a decade. Homestart provides grants to qualified home buyers to assist them with their down payment or closing costs.

All of these programs and organizations work in different ways to help individuals and families, but one thing is the same—people are helping their friends, family and neighbors.

Bill Swadley, a vice president and business development officer at Bank of American Fork, originally became involved in community reinvestment almost three decades ago. Along with others at the bank, most of his job is spent finding groups like Self-Help Homes, Habitat for Humanity, Homestart and more for the bank to help support. He then figures out what type of contribution will change lives—support in obtaining a grant, financial support from the bank, tools and equipment or something else. He also spends time matching up employees at the bank with specific skills to programs or organizations that need financial expertise on their committees or boards.

“These programs give people chances they may not have had otherwise. It allows more people to enter the free market system through homeownership or through starting a business. Individuals, families and our communities are strengthened,” Swadley said. “Bottom line, for me—it’s just the right thing to do.”

Swadley is just one of the many people at Bank of American Fork who are passionate about community reinvestment. Bill Swadley, Gary Sell, Richard Gray and Kelly Palmer are all involved in projects like Self-Help Homes. Their involvement includes a wide breadth of projects that help many segments of the communities the bank serves, including seniors, migrant workers, single-parent families, persons overcoming addiction, special-needs families and more.

“We exist to strengthen our communities,” said Swadley. “We live and work here, too, so we have a vested interest in seeing our neighbors, friends with small businesses and the economy thrive.”

More than 415 individuals or families are in homes partially funded by AHP grants that Bank of American Fork helped obtain. Another 63 are currently underway.

Sixteen of those in-process homes are part of a neighborhood in Elk Ridge. While some of the community was a little resistant to the idea of people building their own homes, they’ve quickly warmed up and now the city has even helped fund a playground in the neighborhood (that the new residents put in themselves, of course). The people that make up the Elk Ridge home-building group have proven that they are enhancing the neighborhood. They’ve proven that they’re just like their new neighbors. To celebrate, they had an open house to share stories from the building project and officially open their new community.

“There’s this electricity at the open houses,” said Gary Sell, vice president and mortgage loan officer at Bank of American Fork. “I love going because I get to hear two or three individuals talk about their experience. The whole neighborhood is made up of people who worked together to build their homes so there’s this energy between them.”

Bank of American Fork’s involvement in community reinvestment goes beyond community development loans for organizations like Self-Help Homes to help build houses. Bank of American Fork also makes more low-to-moderate-income mortgage loans than many of its peer banks. In making loans to small business owners, Bank of American Fork has helped create many jobs in our communities.

In addition to the many projects for which Bank of American Fork is the sole sponsor in obtaining grant funds, the employees at Bank of American Fork don’t hesitate to help obtain grant money for projects that are only partially supported by other banks. Sell describes his thought-process in taking on projects to nominate for AHP grants as, “whether it’s a new project or an existing one that needs support, let’s help wherever we can.”

In 2014 Bank of American Fork was one of only 41 banks in the country that received an “outstanding” rating for community reinvestment from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The examination included a thorough look at the bank’s involvement in community-development lending compared to peer banks, low-to-moderate income loans compared to peer banks, the amount of community-development contributions to qualified organizations and the number and volume of employee hours spent serving in community-development organizations.

These programs work because of the people. People are behind all of the mechanisms that are building our communities, piece by piece. The people building their own homes, who, like Jan Farr, might come in a little unsure of their abilities, but come out very able and confident. People like Brad Bishop and Karen Weatherspoon at Self-Help Homes who run the program, find potential homeowners and show them they can build a safe and beautiful home. And then there are people like Bill Swadley, Gary Sell and others at Bank of American Fork who are passionate about reinvesting in the community.

With so many people who want to see Utah’s communities grow and the people prosper, Jane Farr was right when she said, “With courage, persistence and determination, you can win.”

We’re excited about Apple Pay—here’s why. Jan 06, 2015, 6:10 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Near-field communication makes it difficult for fraudsters to exploit using debit and credit card numbers.

We are pursuing Apple Pay™ with our credit and debit card processors so we have the cards available to use with Apple Pay once Apple’s® upcoming roll-outs happen. We anticipate being able to offer Apple Pay processing during the first or second quarter of 2015.

This new technology aims to increase the layers of security in place to keep your money secure. Here’s how it works:

Apple Pay uses near-field communication (NFC), which is difficult to eavesdrop on, and debit and credit card numbers are not shared with merchants, lessening the risk of fraud using those numbers. Although fraudsters are always looking for new ways to exploit, we are also constantly looking for new and improved ways to protect our customers.

Users can pay by holding their iPhone® 6 near a merchant’s contactless reader. Users can also use Apple Pay to pay within apps. Near-field communication is a form of short-range wireless communication where the antenna used is much smaller than the wavelength of the carrier signal. The very short range of NFC is what makes it difficult to eavesdrop on.

iPhone’s Passbook® will store debit and credit card information for users. With Apple Pay, instead of using actual credit and debit card numbers when a card is added to Passbook, a unique device account number is assigned, encrypted and stored in a dedicated chip in iPhone. According to Apple, these numbers are never stored on Apple servers. When a purchase is made, the device account number and a transaction-specific dynamic security code are used to process the payment—instead of the actual credit and debit card numbers. This is one more layer of security for Apple Pay users.

We’re as excited as you are, so we’ll be sure to let you know when it’s available!

Are you a business owner who would like to offer customers the ability to make purchases using Apple Pay? We can offer the technology and the near-field communication (NFC) reader equipment you need to accept Apple Pay. Call 800-815-BANK for more information about accepting Apple Pay and for a quote on merchant services including Apple Pay.

Apple Pay is a trademark of Apple, Inc. The Apple logo, Apple, iPhone and Passbook are registered trademarks of Apple, Inc.

Saving for College: Ways to Minimize the Sticker Shock Jan 05, 2015, 8:10 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Courtesy of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

There’s no doubt that a college education can be costly, but according to U.S. Census Bureau data, someone with a college degree can earn, on average, 60 percent more than a person with only a high school diploma. Since the recession, more people are hesitant to take on debt—if that sounds like you, here are some ways to save for college.

Estimate how much you need to save to meet college expenses. Several online calculators can help, including one from the U.S. Department of Education (go to www.studentaid.ed.gov and click on “College Savings Calculator”).

Start planning and saving for college as early as possible. “Small, steady savings — ideally starting as soon as possible after a child is born — can help parents manage the sticker shock of a college education,” said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC’s Community Outreach Section.

Research your savings options. Some come with substantial tax benefits or other incentives. In each case, carefully consider the potential risks, costs and limitations before investing any money. Examples include:

Section 529 college savings plans. These programs, which are mostly offered by individual state governments, carry many of the same federal tax benefits as Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

There are two basic kinds of 529 plans: pre-paid tuition programs that allow savers to lock in today’s prices for future tuition payments at designated universities, and traditional savings plans that allow families to contribute money into investments or FDIC-insured deposit accounts.

Under the FDIC’s rules, in most cases, deposits that a 529-plan administrator places at a bank on behalf of different individuals are federally insured up to $250,000 for each participant.

U.S. Savings Bonds. “One of the great things about Savings Bonds is that parents can purchase them through regular, recurring deductions from their salary or a bank account,” said Elna Johns, an FDIC financial educator. Savings bonds are backed by the government, but one tradeoff for the safety is a moderate rate of return. For qualifying taxpayers, the interest earned is exempt from state or local income tax, and the bonds may be exempt from federal income tax when they are used for education expenses. Learn more at www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/indiv.htm.

Credit card rebates and incentives. Some programs allow parents to receive rebates and other incentives for purchases made with a credit card or for shopping at particular merchants, with the rewards deposited into a college savings account. Be careful, though, not to let these relatively small rewards induce you to make purchases outside of your budget. For guidance on how to maximize the benefits and minimize the problems with bank rewards programs in general, see Points, Cash Back and Other “Rewards” from Your Bank: How to Cash In on the Right Deal.

Special savings programs that may be offered in your area. For example, an increasing number of state and local government programs, often with assistance from nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, are providing incentives to help low-income families save for college. These initiatives typically involve grants or matching funds that go into a child’s college savings account. “Children’s savings accounts can be a way of encouraging early saving habits while accumulating needed financing for education,” said Sherrie Rhine, a Senior Economist at the FDIC who specializes in consumer finance issues.

For help finding an account so you can start saving, visit www.bankaf.com or call 800-815-BANK.

Increase your IRA contributions for a tax advantage Dec 29, 2014, 8:10 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

If you’re looking for a way to reduce your taxable income for your 2014 taxes, consider the advantages of increasing your contributions to your IRA. An IRA provides great tax advantages for long-term retirement savings (if you don’t have an IRA, here’s a quick guide to getting started).

Contributions to IRAs can be made as late as the first due date of a tax return, and can be considered retroactive to the previous tax year.

For the years 2013 and 2014, the dollar limits for IRA contributions are:

• $5,500 if you are age 49 or younger,

• $6,500 if you are age 50 or older

If you haven’t hit that IRA contribution limit and you have saved a little extra this year, make that money work for you by putting it into your IRA.

This year, according to a Gallup survey, there are more Americans who think they will have a comfortable retirement than those who think they won’t. Fifty percent reported expecting to have enough money to retire comfortably, with 45 percent who said they would not.

Confidence is highest among younger Americans. Fifty-two percent in the 18-29 age group and 51 percent in the 30-49 age group are positive about having enough money. In contrast, 48 percent of those closest to retirement, ages 50-64, say they will not have enough money.

If you want to be in that group that feels positive about retirement, do something to give yourself peace of mind. Make an extra contribution—you’ll decrease your taxable income and help ensure a comfortable and fun retirement.

Consult your tax advisor for details.

Bank of American Fork debit card tips: Limits and ATM access Dec 22, 2014, 9:00 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Although we like to think you read and re-read the contracts you signed and pamphlets we gave you when you signed up for a checking account at Bank of American Fork, we recognize that you probably didn’t have time to memorize it or frame it for the living room. Unless you’ve already done that, here’s a quick guide to your debit card limits and ATM access.

Debit card limits

• $300.00—Daily ATM withdrawal limit

• $3000.00—Daily total transaction limit

• 12—Daily total number of debit card transactions allowed

• These limits are set at the time the card was issued. Your limits may be different if you’ve requested limit changes in the past. You can contact Customer Service to verify or request a change to your debit card limits.

ATM Access

• Bank of American Fork is part of the MoneyPass® ATM network.  This means that in addition to the Bank of American Fork ATMs, you can use any ATM in the MoneyPass network within the United States without being charged an ATM fee.

• Your debit card will also work at nearly every other ATM across the globe.  Please note that for ATMs out of the MoneyPass network, or outside of the country, fees may be assessed by the ATM provider.

• To find ATMs in the MoneyPass network, you can visit www.moneypass.com or visit the App StoreSM on your iPhone® or Android MarketTM to download the free ATM locator app to your mobile device.

iPhone is a registered trademark of Apple Inc. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc. Android Market is a trademark  of Google Inc. MoneyPass is a federally registered service mark of Elan, Inc.

Opening an IRA may be easier than you think Dec 16, 2014, 8:30 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or discouraged when you start thinking about or reading about retirement savings. Even if you’re thinking this topic is a little heavy for what you want to focus on today, give it a chance. Opening an Individual Retirement Arrangement (or IRA) may be easier than you think. Read this short article for an overview of how to get started, with the tools to do it built right in.

First, decide which type of IRA you want to open. Here are the types Bank of American Fork offers:

• If you think you’ll be in the same tax bracket upon retirement and you want to pay taxes on the income later, consider: Traditional IRA. Allows contributions of pre-tax income. Taxes are paid upon distribution.

• If retirement isn’t in your near future but you want to save a little from each paycheck, and you anticipate an increase in your salary as you get closer to retirement, consider: Roth IRA. Allows contributions of after-tax income, if qualified. Qualified distributions of principal and interest are tax-free. After retirement, distributions are not required.

• If you’re the sole owner of your business, consider: SEP IRA. SEP stands for Simplified Employee Pension. It allows a business to make contributions toward its employees’ retirement using IRAs. These are especially popular with sole proprietors, where the business owner and the employee are the same person. SEPs allow a higher maximum contribution (25% of compensation up to $50,000) than a Traditional or ROTH IRA.

  • Then, decide how much you can afford to contribute right now and out of each paycheck. Variable-rate IRAs require only $10 to open, while fixed-rate IRAs can be opened with either a $500 or a $5,000 minimum opening deposit. Either way, Bank of American Fork’s IRAs are held in CDs, not in the stock market, so you’re guaranteed a steady return and are covered by FDIC insurance. Unlike some banks, we don’t charge you holding fees or an annual fee.

You can open your IRA by visiting one of our 14 branches or by calling 800-815-BANK.

Once you decide how much you can afford to contribute each month and set up an automatic payment (your banker can help you set that up), give yourself a few months to get used to living without that money in your pocket each month. Once it feels normal, increase your contribution.

Saving for retirement might feel overwhelming, but getting started by simply opening an IRA and setting up a contribution will put you on the right track. You’ll feel more prepared and be more prepared.

Traveling for the holidays? Debit card tips to help you out Dec 09, 2014, 11:06 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Your Bank of American Fork VISA® debit card is accepted worldwide—but we need to know your travel plans in order to help protect you. We’re happy to make a note on your account so your card will work when you’re using it out of the state or out of the country.

If you don’t notify the bank of your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily blocked card. When we see something suspicious or out-of-the-ordinary, like transactions in another part of the country or world, and don’t know you’re traveling, we may place a block for your safety.

Here are some other tips about debit cards to keep your holiday travel as smooth as possible:

• To ensure an uninterrupted trip, let us know what your travel plans are in advance. You can do this at any time in advance of your trip and it should only take five minutes. Call us at 800-815-BANK or log into your online banking and follow instructions for making a travel note there.

• Some states and some international destinations are automatically blocked for our cardholders’ security. By providing us with your travel details, we can allow transactions during the period of time you’ll be in another place and then resume the blocks once you return to protect your card.

• Your Bank of American Fork VISA® debit card will work regardless of the currency of the transaction. However, for transactions that are processed in currencies other than the US Dollar, VISA® will assess a 2% Foreign Currency Transaction Fee.

• Some hotels, car rental agencies and airlines will place a large hold on your debit card funds that may remain in place for three to five days the transaction—usually in case of damages that you might be responsible for. Keep this in mind, in case it affects travel funds you’re counting on having in your checking account.

• Consider keeping two forms of payment with you when you travel. In case of a lost or stolen card and an emergency, you won’t be left in a lurch.

• Consider applying for a free, low fixed-rate Bank of American Fork credit card that can be used for additional security and convenience with travel and other expenses. 

VISA® and the name VISA are federally registered trademarks of Visa.

7 Ways to Spread Holiday Cheer without Stretching Your Savings Dec 01, 2014, 9:08 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Spending tips for the holiday season

Courtesy of American Bankers Association

As the holiday shopping season begins, the American Bankers Association is encouraging consumers to plan ahead to avoid excessive debt in the New Year.

“Develop a plan in advance of the holidays, and be sure to check it twice,” said Gov. Frank Keating, CEO of the American Bankers Association. “Assessing your finances and spreading out your holiday spending are terrific ways to avoid starting the New Year with debt you’ll regret.”

Below are seven holiday spending tips from ABA to help consumers have a financially happy New Year:

Keep track of other costs. Don’t forget costs beyond gifts, like postage, gift wrap, decorations, greeting cards, food, travel and charitable contributions.

Make a list and check it twice. Keep your gift list limited to family and close friends, noting how much you want to spend on each.

Shop early, spend carefully. Avoid shopping while rushed or under pressure, which can lead to overspending. Make sure to comparison shop online first, or download an app that lets you compare prices before you buy anything in a store. Before you head to the cashier (or online checkout), make sure your purchase is within the budget you set.

Avoid traps. Finding a spectacular sale on something you’ve been wanting can easily throw you off course. Stay strong and stick to your budget. And don’t apply for store credit cards you don’t need just to get a one-time discount.

Use credit wisely. Limit the use of credit for holiday spending. If you must use credit, use only one card, preferably the one with the lowest interest rate, and leave the rest at home. Pick a date when you can pay off your holiday credit card bills, and commit to paying off the balance by that time. Be sure to check statements for unauthorized charges and report them immediately.

Save your receipts. Not only will you need them for possible returns, you’ll need them to keep track of what you’ve spent and to compare with your credit card statement. Knowing how much you spent will help you plan for next year, too. Bank of American Fork’s online money manager can also help you keep track of how much you spend in a certain budget category, like gifts or holiday food items.

Keating noted that banks are committed to helping consumers responsibly handle credit and save for the future.

“Banks offer a wide menu of options to help you save for the holidays and other expenses,” said Keating.  “Ask your banker about a customizable savings plan.”

The American Bankers Association is the voice of the nation’s $15 trillion banking industry, which is composed of small, regional and large banks that together employ more than 2 million people, safeguard $11 trillion in deposits and extend more than $8 trillion in loans.

Talking about elder financial abuse on Mountain Money Nov 17, 2014, 8:20 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

This summer, Tracey Larson, Bank of American Fork’s resident expert on age-friendly banking, talked to Doug and Larry on Mountain Money about the reality of elder financial abuse. The hosts talk about stories they’ve heard and ask, “Who can you trust?” Tracey talks about prevention, detection and checks and balances. Listen to the short segment here, with Tracey on at about 26:23.

Local strides in protecting seniors and caregivers sparking national push Nov 11, 2014, 9:47 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Today, on Veteran’s Day, we’re thinking of the many Utah seniors who are also veterans. Up to $1 million a day is stolen from Utah seniors (see here). Recently Bank of American Fork received the 2014 American Bankers Association Community Commitment Award for Protecting Older Americans, a national award with only one recipient. Bank of American Fork has a unique passion and five-part initiative designed to help support caregivers and protect seniors from fraud. Behind the initiative are employees that are passionate about helping the seniors and caregivers in the communities where they live and work.

Tracey Larson is one of those employees. Larson, a special projects manager at Bank of American Fork, is the head of the bank’s age-friendly initiative. Her passion stems from being a daughter of senior parents.

“There was a shift for me that caused me to become really passionate about supporting age-friendly banking,” said Larson. “It was when I started to hear the stories. I remember my first meeting on a committee that included hearing first-hand stories of elder and vulnerable adult abuse. I cried.”

Besides her passion for making banking and finance safe for seniors and their caregivers, Larson has the know-how and detailed eye that make it natural for her to move the initiative from words on paper to action in the community.

For example, Bank of American Fork has an age-friendly champion at each branch who receives extra training on how to spot fraud or a stressed caregiver. Although all Bank of American Fork employees are trained to look for and report suspected fraud, the training for age-friendly champions is more comprehensive and goes far beyond what regulators require.

Because of employees like Tracey Larson, Bank of American Fork is making strides in helping to prevent elder financial abuse. Because of the bank’s innovations like account tools to help protect seniors and education about how to protect loved ones, awareness of this widespread problem is growing. To move prevention beyond Bank of American Fork customers, the bank is collaborating with other organizations and financial institutions to make offerings like this nationwide.

If you are a senior who needs, or may soon need, help with your finances or a caregiver of a loved one, you are not alone. Visit blog.bankaf.com/seniors. Ask your banker about what resources are available to you.

Tracey Larson, vice president and special projects manager at Bank of American Fork, accepted the 2014 American Bankers Association Community Commitment Award for Protecting Older Americans, from John Ikard, American Bankers Association chairman, on behalf of Bank of American Fork in Dallas on October 21. Larson is also the financial representative for the Governor’s Commission on Aging and is also a member of Provo’s Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Coalition.

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