Take advantage of $5K tax deduction Apr 02, 2015, 5:29 pm By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

If you’re looking for a way to reduce your taxable income for your 2014 taxes, consider the advantages of an IRA—you have about a week to make contributions to an IRA for last year. 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, so you can still make a qualifying IRA contribution and get the tax benefit if you qualify for your 2014 tax filing. For 2014 the dollar limits for IRA contributions are $5,500 if you are age 49 and younger, $6,500 if you are 50 and older.  If you don’t have an IRA, Bank of American Fork can help.

Bank of American Fork’s IRAs are held in CDs, not in the stock market, so you are guaranteed a safe return and you are covered by FDIC insurance. Unlike some banks, we don’t charge you holding fees or an annual fee. Depending on the type of IRA you choose and subject to IRS rules, you can earn tax-free or tax-deferred income. When you are eligible, you can receive distributions from the money in your IRA.

Here are the types of IRAs we offer:

Traditional IRA: Allows contributions of pre-tax income. Taxes are paid upon distribution.

• 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.

• 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 than a Traditional or ROTH IRA. (See IRS for eligibility requirements)

At Bank of American Fork, 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.

Don’t wait any longer to start your retirement savings and save on your taxes. Open an IRA today! At Bank of American Fork, our friendly staff can meet with you and show you firsthand how we can help you secure a strong financial future. Call 1-800-BANK to set an appointment. We look forward to speaking with you.

Consult your tax advisor for details.

Electronic payments to speed up this year and next Mar 16, 2015, 9:26 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Consumers will see a change in how quickly funds are available.

Stella calls her dad, Christopher, and asks him to send money for her housing payment, which she needs, like, yesterday. And yes, now, in 2015, Christopher drives over to the nearest branch of the national bank he uses and deposits a paper check that will go into her account so the funds are available to Stella the next day. Christopher isn’t afraid of sending electronic payments or unfamiliar with his bank’s person-to-person payment service, it’s just that sending an electronic payment could mean that it will be three days before Stella can use the funds Christopher sends.

The good news for Christopher and Stella? Electronic payments should speed up, nationally, this year and next.

The Federal Reserve System just released its next steps in developing an infrastructure to speed up electronic payments and settlements.

When you make a person-to-person payment or send an electronic payment for a utility bill, the time it takes for your payment to process is affected by the Federal Reserve’s system on the back end. For consumers, the coming change means faster and more secure payments.

The Fed is launching a task force to find practical approaches to speeding up the system and to get feedback from industries involved in payments systems to find additional ways to offer greater speed, security, efficiency and cross-border options.

This year and the beginning of 2016, the Fed is laying out a policy framework for the new system and with the feedback from the task force, will begin implementing the practical solutions. The Fed has already identified a couple of ways it will change to speed up payments and make it safer. To improve security, the Fed will also expand its anti-fraud and payments risk management offerings. Its longer-term goal is weekend or 24-hour service, and added that it would promote greater use of same-day ACH and expand its international payment services.

As the Federal Reserve successfully implements policy to speed up its end of the electronic payments process, Bank of American Fork customers can expect to see any electronic payments they make through online banking speed up, including electronic bill pay, person-to-person payments and transfers between accounts. We’re always looking for ways to offer you better service so we monitor national financial news with you in mind—this is a story we’re excited about.

Since Stella lives less than a few hours away from Christopher while she’s attending college, Christopher has even considered driving to where she lives to drop off cash. Soon, electronic payments will be faster than sending the money by Pony Express, and Stella and Christopher won’t have to worry about being robbed on the trail by outlaw Jesse James.

Make Your Tax Refund Work for You! Mar 09, 2015, 8:50 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Have you done your taxes? The article below can help you get started and is encouraging if you’re considering paying down debt and saving your refund this year. This year, I decided to save my entire refund as a nice chunk of cash to put towards a down payment on a house. To make it easier to stick to my decision and not tap into my refund, I set up a high-interest account, separate from my regular checking account, and had my refund directly deposited into that account. The article below has some interesting stats about Americans and savings if you’re thinking about doing something similar.

Guest post by Tammy Greynolds, America Saves                                                                                                       

It’s easy for us to think of this year’s tax refund as free money coming to us courtesy of Uncle Sam. However, the truth of the matter is that the check you receive is a return of your own hard earned money. And since you’re going to get your own money back, why not use it to get ahead of your financial goals?

In 2014, sixty-nine percent of those polled by American Consumer Credit Counseling indicated that they had used their tax refund to pay down debt and get ahead on monthly expenses, including rent, utilities, and car payments. In 2013, twenty-six percent indicated they would put their refund into savings, while forty-five percent said they would use it to pay down credit card debt. The National Retail Federation saw that forty-six percent of its 2014 survey respondents intended to cushion their emergency savings with their refunds, with nearly six in 10 young adults between 18 and 24 putting their refunds into savings.

The results of these surveys are indicative of a growing, budget-friendly and money-savvy trend: Americans are opting out of tax-time splurging and are focusing on getting ahead. Consider a few easy ways to help get yourself set up for success as tax season approaches:

Take advantage of a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA programs offer free tax help to those who generally make $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speakers. Qualified individuals can receive basic income tax return preparation assistance from IRS-certified volunteers

Form 8888 to split your refund.  Why rack up more debt on your credit card in an emergency when you can set aside savings to cover it interest-free? The IRS provides taxpayers with multiple avenues to receive and save their refunds. Take advantage of direct deposit to your checking account to pay off debts and automatically deposit a portion of your refund to your savings account.

We know that making smart financial decisions isn’t always easy. So whether you’re just starting to look at ways to get ahead in 2015 or are already planning to put your refund towards your goals, remember that your tax refund doesn’t have to go to one place. When you get your hard earned money back, consider putting a piece of it towards paying down debts AND save some for a rainy day. It really is that easy.

If you’re wondering what type of account to deposit your refund into or have other questions, get the conversation going below!

Tammy Greynolds works for America Saves, managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which seeks to motivate, encourage, and support low- to moderate-income households to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. Learn more at americasaves.org.

Consult your tax advisor for details.

FHA has lowered cost of mortgage insurance Feb 23, 2015, 10:56 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Homeowners and first-time homebuyers may be able to save hundreds through FHA loan program.

In an effort to make owning a home more affordable, the Federal Housing Administration has dramatically cut the costs associated with the mortgages it backs, from 1.35 percent of a loan’s value to 0.85 percent. A typical first-time homebuyer will save hundreds each year on mortgage payments, and even homeowners who already have a loan may be able to save.

The White House estimated that these new premiums will enable 250,000 new buyers to purchase a home. FHA loans are an important part of the economy; with smaller down payment requirements, an FHA loan may allow a lower-income borrower to obtain a home loan that would be difficult or impossible without this program. FHA mortgage insurance provides lenders with protection against losses as the result of homeowners defaulting on their mortgage loans. With lower premiums for mortgage insurance, the ability to own a home may become even more realistic for many borrowers.

Since new home sales have increased over the last couple of years[1], many first-time home buyers closed loans before the January 26, 2015 effective date for this change—meaning they’re paying the higher mortgage insurance premiums. These borrowers are not eligible for the new premiums unless they refinance. These homeowners may want to consider refinancing and should contact an FHA-approved lender to find out if refinancing now would produce savings.

For example, a borrower with a mortgage originated after April 1, 2011 with a balance of $150,000 at an interest rate of 4 percent may be able to save $105 per month with an FHA streamline refinance.*

There are other advantages to refinancing with an FHA streamline mortgage, including refinancing a mortgage without all of the paperwork, underwriting qualifications, appraisal, or time normally necessary when refinancing a home loan and with lower interest rates, lower monthly payments, the security of a fixed-rate mortgage and little or no cash due at closing.

If you have an FHA loan that was originated after April 1, 2011 and your current interest rate is at or above 3.5 percent, consider taking advantage of the FHA Streamline Refinance Program through Bank of American Fork by calling 800-815-BANK.

You can also find Frequently Asked Questions about the FHA reduction of annual insurance premiums here.

Bank of American Fork NMLS #: 410437

*Assumes a new 30-year fixed-rate term FHA loan at 3.5% interest with an APR of 4.91%. New monthly payment of $791.60 includes principal & interest of $685.35 and FHA mortgage insurance of $106.25. Payment does not include property taxes or homeowner’s insurance and actual payment will be greater as a result. Savings in monthly payment results from both reduced interest rate and reduced mortgage-insurance premium. Some restrictions apply due to FHA guidelines.

The raccoon that changed a little girl’s eyes Feb 17, 2015, 10:27 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Thanks for participating in Project Teddy Bear by donating 18,422 stuffed animals to abused and neglected children in Utah

A six-year-old little girl who visits the Utah Valley Family Support & Treatment Center saw the perfect stuffed animal, a raccoon, under the Christmas tree at the Pleasant Grove branch of Bank of American Fork as a part of the Project Teddy Bear. While her eyes are filled with sadness, this raccoon changed her eyes, if only for a moment.

“If you’ve ever seen the sadness in a child’s eyes, you’ll understand why these bears are so important,” Joy O’Banion, director of the Utah Valley Family Support & Treatment Center said. “Our eyes are the windows to our soul. So when you change a child’s eyes, you change their soul.”

The 15th annual 2014 Project Teddy Bear brought in 18,422 stuffed animals. Richard Beard, president and CEO of Bank of American Fork, presented these animals to the Salt Lake County Family Support Center, the Utah Valley Family Support & Treatment Center and the Family Connection Center in Clearfield during an emotional ceremony.

Bailey’s Moving & Storage, who generously donated boxes, moving supplies, trucks and labor to Project Teddy Bear, delivered the stuffed animals to several Utah crisis centers.

After asking the audience to help her with a Christmas miracle, O’Banion left Bank of American Fork’s Project Teddy Bear donation ceremony, Thursday, with her arms full of raccoons.

The staff at Utah Valley Family Support and Treatment Center has worked with this little girl’s mom and have found the raccoon she connected with at Bank of American Fork. For Christmas, this little girl will get her miracle – a raccoon that changed her eyes and warmed her heart.

“For the kids receiving these critters and for those who see the joy in the children’s faces – thank you so much,” Bonnie Peters, executive director of the Salt Lake County Family Support Center said. “Through these bears, we are able to disseminate love to children who need it most. Just think of all the love that these animals hold from the people who brought them in.”

The record number of stuffed animals were donated by customers and community members, and will benefit children who have been abused, are at risk of being abused or have experienced other traumatic situations.  Children will receive the stuffed animals when they’re taken from their homes or will use them in play therapy. 

“An important mission of community banks is caring for those among us who are most vulnerable,” said Beard. “I want to thank the people in our communities, especially the kids. They get it. They want to give and want it to be about more than the money.”

The Project Teddy Bear presentation ceremony ended with Beard welcoming a familiar face to Bank of American Fork, Santa Claus. “70 years ago I had a bear that I’ll never forget,” Santa said. “The kids at the centers who are in need will be getting a bear that they’ll never forget this Christmas.”

From first-graders to high school students, the community gave generously this year, with the total number of stuffed animals donated to Project Teddy Bear reaching 91,304 this year. During the presentation, groups were highlighted for their support and donations to Project Teddy Bear.

Sage Elementary School donated 566 bears. “It’s amazing to see children want to participate and give to other children who are less fortunate,” Jory Schmidt said.

Jessica Madsen and her three daughters donated 1,607 bears. Madsen described her daughters as “typical sisters” who often disagree on many things. However, she said, “The one thing they didn’t fight about all year was the bears for Project Teddy Bear. It brought so much love to our family.”

Bank of American Fork employees and American Fork High School students boxed the 18,422 bears up for delivery to the three centers. Friday at 9:00 am, Bailey’s Moving & Storage drivers arrived at the Bank of American Fork offices to pick up the dozens of boxes for delivery.

Center employees anxiously awaited the arrival of the animals and began cheering when the trucks pulled into their parking lot. Drivers unloaded the wardrobe-sized boxes filled with stuffed animals from the trucks and moved them into each center.

The various stuffed animals will be sorted by center employees and be prepared for children and adults to use them during therapy sessions or to take home.

“We get all types of critters through Project Teddy Bear,” Paul Ricks, treatment coordinator at Salt Lake County Family Support Center said. “We sort them by size, holiday and type. This way it’s easier to have the holiday appropriate animals out for the kids.”

Stuffed animals donated to Project Teddy Bear will be given to those in need throughout the coming year.

“I love these stuffed animals,” Eric Wilson, volunteer coordinator and adoption respite at Utah Valley Family Support and Treatment Center said. “They represent the light and life in these children and sometimes the light and life becomes dim. It is our responsibility to bring back the light within them. With these stuffed animals, we are able to bring back the light.”

Debit card tips: Protect yourself from fraud Feb 10, 2015, 8:53 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

While we have many layers of protection to help keep your money and accounts safe, we know you also want to know what you can do to help protect yourself from fraud. Here are some good, solid tips and information worth considering:

• Get into the habit of reviewing your transactions regularly for any unauthorized activity. Try setting a weekly time to quickly check in on your account to help you make it a habit. Or, make it a habit to check it after you check Facebook® or Instagram™ (since most of us are good at keeping that habit).

• If you notice a fraudulent transaction on your debit card, or your card is lost or stolen, contact the bank immediately at 800-815-BANK. Even if it’s after our call center hours, you can follow the instructions on the phone system to report and block your card. You can also do this through online banking. If you’re with another financial institution, make sure you contact them immediately.

• Make sure you let your bank know as soon as you notice—the more quickly you report it, the easier it may be to resolve.

• When using your debit card with your PIN (find out why and how to use “credit” versus “debit” here) make sure that no one is peering over your shoulder or getting suspiciously close to you. Attempt to cover your PIN with your other hand while you enter it into the keypad. Never share your PIN with anyone over the phone or in person.

• Did you know that your PIN should only be asked for if you and the card are both present at the time of the transaction?

• To receive timely alerts on certain types of suspicious activity, you can enroll your Bank of American Fork debit card in the text alert service smsGuardian™. Find details here or by calling 800-815-BANK. If you’re with another financial institution, ask about any services they may have to help you be alerted of suspicious activity.

Armed with some of the tips and information above, you can help protect yourself from fraud. Have you heard any other good ideas to protect yourself from fraud when using a debit card?

Facebook is a registered trademark of Facebook, Inc. Instagram is a trademark of Instagram. smsGuardian is a trademark of JHA Payment Processing Solutions, Inc.

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.

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This blog includes articles, information, tips and advice on all things money by the financial experts at Bank of American Fork. But this blog is not one-sided; we want to hear what you think. Share your ideas, experiences and comments to get the dialogue going.

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