09 Apr

The Low-down on Artificial Sweeteners

The holidays and all the sweet treats they bring may be a distant memory, but spring can bring on sugar shock, too. How many chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and King cakes will you try to resist this year?

You may wonder if there isn’t a better way to enjoy sweets without all the calories. Artificial sweeteners can seem like the logical choice. They’re sweet, readily available, have zero to few calories and don’t have an impact on your blood sugar. But are they too good to be true?

Sweetening Safely

There are so many artificial sweeteners on the market, you might feel overwhelmed by the choices. What’s the difference between those pink, blue and yellow packets, and which ones are safe?

Saccharin, commonly sold as Sweet ‘N Low®, has been around since 1879. It’s one of the more controversial artificial sweeteners, due to studies in the late 1950s that suggested it caused cancer in animals. While the Food and Drug Administration wanted to ban saccharin in 1977, the product was kept on the market with a safety warning. In 2000 a study by the National Toxicology Department found that saccharin did not cause cancer in humans, and the warning was removed from packaging.

Aspartame, such as NutraSweet® and Equal®, is added to many diet and sugarfree products. It was approved by the FDA in 1981. While it is approved as a safe food additive, people with phenylketonuria (or PKU) have trouble breaking down the phenylalanine in aspartame, and should not consume these products.

Sucralose, sold as Splenda®, is one of the newer artificial sweeteners, and was FDA approved in 1998. It is heat stable, and can be used for baking. Sucralose is made by combining table sugar with chlorine.

Xylitol, erythritol and sorbitol are sugar alcohols, and are recognized as generally safe by the FDA. Xylitol and sorbitol do contain some calories – two per serving – while erythritol does not. All sugar alcohols can cause a laxative effect if eaten in large doses. Studies show that gum and mints containing xylitol can help reduce cavities.

Enjoying Everything … in Moderation

If you like the taste of artificial sweeteners, they can be a safe addition to a healthy diet. However, just like fat and real sugar, they should be consumed in moderation. For more information on nutrition, contact your health care professional.

BAKING WITHOUT SUGAR

Baking without sugar can be a challenge, because sugar is often necessary to obtain the right texture of baked goods. You need to use a heat-stable artificial sweetener, such as saccharin or sucralose. Try the following sugar-free recipe for a sweet indulgence. Some other options for lower-sugar treats are substituting applesauce, maple syrup or fruit juice for some, or all, of the sugar.

SUGAR-FREE CHEESECAKE

INGREDIENTS
Crust:
1 cup crushed sugar-free cookies, such as Murray® Sugar Free Gingersnaps or Shortbread
2 tablespoons Splenda® granulated
2 tablespoons melted butter
Filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages regular or fat-free cream cheese
1¼ cup Splenda
4 eggs
1½ teaspoon lemon juice
1½ teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine crust ingredients in a bowl, and press into a spring form pan. Bake for 5-8 minutes, until crust is browned.

Beat cream cheese and sweetener with a mixer until smooth. Add eggs one at a time until combined. Slowly add lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Beat until well combined. Pour over crust and bake 60 minutes, or until center is set.

09 Apr

Organize Your Records and Save on Taxes

According to the Government Accountability Office, an estimated 2 million taxpayers each year overpay their taxes by failing to take all their entitled deductions.* If your tax records are disorganized, you could be missing out on ways to save on your tax bill.

In addition to helping you save money, getting your records organized can make tax filing quicker and easier. Just follow these steps:

Step 1. Label three folders. Can’t be easier, right? Just label one folder “income,” one “investments” and another “expenses and deductions.”

Step 2. Start sorting. Go through your pile of receipts and documents. Put everything that shows earnings (W-2 forms from your employer, dividend and interest statements from deposit accounts, tip statements, etc.) into your income folder.

Investment statements showing interest, dividends and investment purchases and sales, as well as information about capital gains and losses, should go in the investments folder.

Put receipts for charitable donations, unreimbursed medical expenses, mortgage interest statements, property tax statements and any other deductible expenses in your expenses and deductions folder. Not sure if it’s deductible? Visit www.irs.gov and search for Tax Topic 500 for more information on deductible expenses.

If you work from home, you may be eligible to deduct home office expenses. In that case, include copies of utility, phone and Internet service provider bills, as well as household repair bills and rent or mortgage payments. To learn more, download Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home, at www.irs.gov.

Tip: If you place receipts and documents in their corresponding folders as you receive them throughout the year, rather than waiting until tax season, you’ll save time.

Step 3. Compile any other information you will need to file your return, including:

  • Social Security number
  • Account number(s) for directly depositing your refund
  • Previous year’s tax return
  • Password if using online tax preparation software

E-File for Quicker Refunds

Once you have your information compiled, e-filing can help you complete your return, avoid common errors and get your refund faster, especially if you choose direct deposit. To learn more and find out if you are eligible for free e-filing, visit www.irs.gov/efile.

* Source: Government Accountability Office, www.gao.gov
Website not belonging to this organization is provided for information only. No endorsement is implied.

SPEED UP YOUR REFUND WITH DIRECT DEPOSIT

According to the IRS, taxpayers who use e-filing and direct deposit may receive their refunds as quickly as 10 days after filing. You can choose to have your refund directed to a maximum of three financial accounts. For direct deposit to your Navigator Credit Union account, please provide our routing number 265377950 and your 13-digit account number.

09 Apr

Avoid Major Headaches When Naming Minors as Beneficiaries

Naming children as beneficiaries or contingent beneficiaries of an insurance policy, retirement account or payable-on-death account seems a natural way to provide for those you love. But special care must be taken to ensure that, should the children inherit as minors, the money provides for them in the way you intend.

Minor Difficulties

Because minors cannot legally hold substantial assets in their own names, complications arise when they inherit large sums. The way the inheritance is handled in such cases depends on the type of account and the amount of the inheritance, but one of the most common solutions is the court appointment of a guardian to administer the inheritance for the minor. Unfortunately, in such cases problems may arise that work to the disadvantage of the child you are hoping to take care of.

  • Appointing a guardian may take months, delaying the time when the money becomes available for the minor’s support.
  • Court costs and attorneys’ fees will diminish the amount of the inheritance.
  • The appointed guardian may not be the person you would have chosen and the court’s choice may cause tension and quarrels within your family.
  • The guardian must get court approval for financial transactions and submit to annual accounting, which can make accessing the money cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive. Plus, the court’s decisions may result in the funds not being made available to your child as you would have wished.
  • At age 18 or 21, depending on state law, the child will gain full control over the inheritance regardless of their maturity and financial good sense.

Finding a Best Practices Solution

One of the most effective ways to ensure that a minor gets the most benefit from an inheritance is to create a trust for the child and name the trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, retirement account and the like. With a trust you can:

  • Avoid probate so that the money becomes available to the child with less delay.
  • Have a trustee of your choosing manage the assets for the minor. The trustee does not have to be the child’s legal guardian, or even a relative. And you can change your trustee selection at any time if circumstances change.
  • Establish the terms of use for the assets, such as a college education.
  • Choose to have the child gain control of the assets when they are older than the age of majority and may be more likely to have the good judgment necessary to handle the inheritance responsibly.

Keep in mind that tax considerations, family circumstances and creditor protection also play a role in choosing the best estate planning tools for you and your loved ones. To learn more about trusts or which estate planning tools are best for your situation, talk to one of our estate planning professionals. To make an appointment, call 228-474-3427 or visit www.navigatorcu.org.

09 Apr

Spotlight on … Spring Migrations

Every spring, 5 billion North American birds fly north to their summer breeding grounds. Most migrate at night, and can be disoriented by artificial light. You can help make their journey safer by turning off lights at night during peak migration, April to June.

A thrush can travel 3,000 miles from Panama to Canada, its wings beating more than 600 times per minute. It averages about 158 miles of flight per night.

Migration is dangerous. For some songbirds, more than 85% of annual deaths occur during migration.

The rare bristle-thighed curlew makes one of the fastest bird migrations, flying nonstop from islands and atolls across the South Pacific to Alaska in a matter of days.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is working to restore a migratory population of whooping cranes. They lead young cranes on their fall migration to wintering grounds in Florida with an ultralight aircraft. The birds make the return flight to their summering grounds on their own.

Sources: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and The Nature Conservancy
09 Apr

What Does Your Credit Score Say about You?

Whether you are looking to buy a car, refinance a mortgage or rent an apartment for the first time, your credit score can tell a lot about your financial history.

Your FICO® score is a number formulated based on your credit history. It helps lenders evaluate your credit risk. Several factors go into your score, including payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history and types of credit used.

What’s a Good Credit Score?

Your FICO score is rated on a scale of 300-850. You want a high score, because a good credit rating can help you obtain better rates on all of the major purchases that life brings, including a car, home and credit cards.

To improve your credit score, follow these tips:

  1. Keep current on all your payments. This is the biggest thing you can do to boost your credit score. Be sure to pay your bills on time each and every month.
  2. Avoid closing old accounts. It diminishes your total credit available and can raise your credit utilization ratio.
  3. Don’t open new accounts. This can look like you plan to borrow a lot of money, which could stretch your finances too thin.
  4. Settle all fines and tickets. An outstanding library fine or parking ticket can reduce your score if a collection agency gets involved
  5. Check your credit report for errors. Your credit score is based on the information included in your credit report, so it pays to review it for inaccuracies. Federal law entitles you to a free copy of your report once every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus. Your credit score is also available for an additional charge. Simply go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.

For more information on how Navigator Credit Union can help you with your financial needs, call 228-475-7300 or visit www.navigatorcu.org for more information.

Website not belonging to this organization is provided for information only. No endorsement is implied.
09 Apr

Hoping to Sell? How to Make Your Home “The One”

Are you trying to sell your home or thinking about selling it? It’s a tough real estate market out there for homeowners these days. In fact, a survey by Trulia.com and RealtyTrac suggests that Americans won’t see a housing market recovery until 2014.*

Although it’s a challenging time to put your home on the market, there are steps you can take to help change your “for sale” sign to “sold.” The key is to pay attention to every detail buyers will have their eyes and hands on. Try these tips from the National Association of Realtors® to make your home stand out among the competition.

Spruce Up the Curb Appeal

You don’t have a second chance to make a first impression, so it’s important to ensure the exterior is in excellent shape.

  • Keep the lawn cut and watered.
  • Trim hedges, weed lawns and flower gardens, prune trees.
  • Check the driveway and walkways for cracks or crumbling.
  • Fix peeling paint around doors and windows.
  • Clean and align gutters.
  • Repair loose shingles, siding and caulking.
  • Apply a fresh coat of paint to the door.
  • Keep the garage door closed.
  • Make sure front and back yards are free of clutter (bikes, toys, lawn ornaments).

Set the Stage Inside

A clean, well-polished interior appeals to buyers. Set up an inviting atmosphere (often referred to as “staging”) so buyers can picture themselves living in your home.

  • Put away personal items (including photos, trophies, children’s artwork).
  • Store furniture you don’t use off site to make rooms appear larger and brighter.
  • Consider hiring a professional cleaning service to make every room spotless.
  • Clean pet areas and make sure your guard dog is away during showings.
  • Organize cabinets and closets – buyers will peek inside.
  • Repair cracks, holes or damage to walls, wallpaper, paint and tiles.
  • Replace broken windows, woodwork and doorknobs.
  • Paint walls a neutral color.
  • Fix dripping faucets and showerheads.
  • Consider baking bread or cookies before a showing – the sense of smell is powerful!

Your One Source for Home Loans

Selling a home and buying a new one requires smart money management. Navigator’s welcome mat is always out – call us, stop by or click to learn about our home loans. You can check loan rates and apply for a mortgage online.

* Source: Trulia.com press release, May 18, 2011.
09 Apr

Hey Baby Boomers! We’re Here for You

At Navigator Credit Union, we make it our mission to serve your financial needs at every age and stage of life. If you belong to the baby boom generation (those born from 1946 to 1964), then you’re in good company.

While every credit union’s membership is different, research suggests that more than 40% of credit union members are baby boomers.* It’s fitting that many baby boomers have made credit unions their financial home, because this generation has a history of seeking alternatives to traditional ideas and institutions (such as big banking).

Credit union membership is appealing and empowering, because credit unions work for people – not for profits – and members have a say in how the credit union is run.

Financial Solutions Off the Beaten Path

Baby boomers’ financial plans may include borrowing, saving and investing – but not necessarily in that order. They may manage multiple goals with creative and unconventional financial planning, from saving for retirement and paying for college tuition to refinancing a mortgage or taking a new career path. Navigator is tuned in to your unique goals, and we’re ready with a lineup of products and services that are flexible to fit your needs.

Loans from credit unions – for your lifestyle. We offer competitive rates on home mortgages, auto loans, home equity loans and personal loans to help you get where you need to be. Our refinancing options can help you pay off a first or second home or vehicle faster, and/or lower your monthly payments so you can focus on other financial goals.

Best savings plan – for the unexpected. Our savings accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs) and money market accounts help keep your emergency funds afloat. Building up emergency savings is particularly important if you juggle multiple responsibilities – perhaps caring for aging parents or providing financial support to adult children.

Insurance – for your changing needs. Our insurance representatives can review your homeowners, auto and life insurance coverage in light of the moving pieces in your life – teenage drivers, home improvements, divorce/remarriage, empty nest, etc.

Investing – ask a financial advisor. Our financial advisors can help you plan your portfolio for a brighter future, whether that means supporting a comfortable retirement or continuing to work. And even though retirement is a top goal for many baby boomers, we understand that this generation won’t be retiring to the proverbial rocking chair anytime soon!

Banking online or at a branch. You don’t have to be 20-something to keep up with online and mobile banking services. In fact, online banking is becoming uniformly popular across all age groups, according to a survey of Internet users.** When you want the convenience of fast, friendly in-branch service or access to free ATMs, Navigator has you covered. Call 228-475-7300 to learn more about what we have to offer, or visit www.navigatorcu.org.

* Source: Credit Union Times, Dec. 1, 2010.
** Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project, Generations Online in 2010.