Monthly Archive: January 2018

Jan
15

The Best Credit Unions Anyone Can Join in 2018

When you’re looking for a financial institution to handle your money, it’s important you find the best place for you. There are hundreds and hundreds of options you can choose from.

When you’re looking around for the best choice, it’s important you toss credit unions into the mix.

Credit unions offer all of the same services and products as a traditional bank, except they tend to have much better rates. If you’re looking for a safe place to get a better rate than you’ll find with a bank savings account, then getting the higher rates at a credit union can be an excellent option.

Just like with banks, if you have your money in a credit union, it will be protected up to $250,000.

Another benefit of choosing a credit union over a bank is they have lower borrower rates. Big banks are notorious for their massive fees and charges.

This is yet another area where credit unions shine over banks. They have much lower monthly rates, fees, and charges.

The Best Credit Unions This Year

Below is a list of some of the best credit unions across the nation, but there are a few caveats to the list you should take note of when shopping around.

Two important factors which went on this list are availability and size, which means smaller, local credit unions were not included in the list (because it would have taken forever).

All of the credit unions on this list are great choices, but you should also look at credit unions in your own town.

When compiling the list of best credit unions, the requirements to join had to be universal. The vast majority of credit unions only allow members who “live, work, or worship” in the city limits of the union.

For this list, the unions don’t have any location restrictions for members.

The next thing you should consider is what’s important to you and your financial needs.

If you want a credit union who has lower fees, then one union will be better than others. On the other hand, if you want better loan rates, then another credit union will make a better choice. There is no one “best credit union,” which is why I broke them up into “best for” categories individually.

First Tech – Best for Members who Travel

One of the most common complaints of credit unions is they are smaller and less accessible than large banks. Some of the larger banks can have several thousand branch locations across the nation, while credit unions may only have a couple dozen.

If you want access to the most locations and branches, then First Tech is the union for you. First Tech has over 5,000 locations across the nation and you will have access to over 30,000 ATMs with no charges.

Their headquarters is in California, but you don’t have to live in-state to join. In fact, you can become a member online and it’s very simple to do.

If you want to become a member and open an account, you can do it in less than an hour.

They have several account types you can open.

They have a couple of checking options, including:

Carefree Checking
HAS Checking
Dividend Rewards Checking

As far as I can tell, none of these plans have any monthly fees, but if they do, they are very well hidden. Additionally, they don’t have a minimum opening balance (technically they do, but it’s $0.01).

For their Dividends Reward Checking account, you can earn a 1.57% rate if you qualify.

This is drastically higher than you’ll find with any other checking account on the market, but there are a few things you have to do to earn this rate every year.

If you want to enjoy the high-interest rate, you need to:

make at least 12 debit card transactions every month
sign up for e-statements
have at least one direct deposit or ACH withdrawal

One additional advantage of First Tech is their quality website and app, both of which are extremely easy to use, even if you don’t have much experience with banking apps. Their iOS app has 5 out of 5 stars, which is rare for most banking and credit union apps.

Alliant – Best for High-Interest Rate Seekers

There are several ways you can qualify to be a member of Alliant Credit Union.

They partner with tons of companies across the nation, but if your business isn’t on their list, all you have to do is donate to the Foster Care to Success (FCS) nonprofit, which Alliant partners with.

The FCS offers grants, mentoring, internships, and opportunities for teens in the United States who are “aging out” of foster care. By making a $10 donation (or more), you’ll become an FCS member, which allows you to become an Alliant member.

There are a couple of different accounts Alliant offers, but I’m going to focus on the High-Rate Checking and the High-Rate Savings account.

If you want a new checking account, Alliant offers a 0.65% APY with no monthly fees or minimum balance.
If you want a savings account, check out Alliant’s High-Rate Savings account, which has a 1.30% APY.

See how this compares to the top online savings accounts right now.

As long as you sign up for their eStatements, you won’t pay a monthly fee. They require you make a $5 initial deposit, but they reimburse you the $5.

Golden1 – Best for Parents of Teens and College Students

If you have a teen in your or college student in your house and you want to get them started with a credit union account, Golden1 has two different accounts you can open.

The New Generation Checking is available for teens between the ages of 13 and 17. There are no monthly fees or minimum deposit requirements, and when the teen turns 18, the account is automatically turned into a Free Checking account.

Another option for students is the Student Checking (appropriately named), and it’s available to students who are 17 or older, as long as they have proof of enrollment or attendance of a college. After five years, this plan also becomes a Free Checking account.

If you live in one of the 38 Californian counties, you can qualify to become a member.

The other way is to join the Financial Fitness Association, which will cost $8. Afterwards, you become a member.

Don’t worry parents, there are checking and savings account options for adults as well.

Their Premium Checking account earns dividends as long as you keep a balance of $1,000. Not only will this policy earn dividends if you keep $1,000 in the policy, but you will also be exempt from any monthly fees.

Honorable Mention – USAA

The reason USAA only receives an honorable mention is because it’s not available to everyone, like the other credit unions on our list.
To be eligible to join USAA, you have to be active or retired military or have an immediate family member or spouse who served in the military.

While the requirements are stricter than the other unions, if you qualify, it’s one of the best options out there.

If you join USAA, you have access to any of their dozens of financial products they offer. They sell just about every type of insurance product, credit card, or bank account you can imagine.

Their basic checking account has no monthly service fee and will earn interest if you hold over $1,000 in the account.

One drawback of their basic checking account is the APY is a meager 0.01%.

Their savings account, on the other hand, can net you a 0.05% to 0.30% APY if you open up a USAA Performance First, starting with $10,000.

Just like with their checking account, you won’t pay any monthly service fee, regardless of how much money you have in the account.

One of the unique benefits for members of USAA is they have access to 60,000 USAA-preferred ATMs without having to pay any fees. If you have to use a non-preferred ATM, they will refund the bank ATM fee.

Finding the Best Credit Union for You

These are only four of the hundreds of credit unions out there. If none of these work for you, don’t worry.

There are plenty of other options out there.

Take the time to decide what’s most important to you. As we mentioned early, make sure you compare the local credit unions close to you. The smaller, local credit unions can be on par with the larger ones we listed above.

The post The Best Credit Unions Anyone Can Join in 2018 appeared first on Good Financial Cents.

Jan
15

Federal Income Tax Guide For 2018

Jan
15

Mohammed Is Most Popular Name For Newborn Boys In Holland For 2nd Year Straight

Dutch mainstream media reported that Noah was the most popular baby name for boys in the Netherlands, but a little digging turned out a different finding.

 

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The name Noah was putatively considered the most popular boy’s name for 2017, having been given to 635 new-born boys in the Netherlands. But as VoE reports, a journalist from broadcaster Powned did some research into the database, however, and noticed that another name, a non-traditional Dutch name, was slightly more prevalent.

This journalist checked for Mohammed and its alternative spellings.

He thus counted:

Mohammed 221, Mohamed 211, Muhammed 110, Mohammad 51, Muhammad 43 and reached a total of 636. Other forms like Mohamad, Muhamed, Muhammet, Mouhamed, Muhamad and Mahamuud could not be checked for “privacy reasons”.

 

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Of course, other forms of Noah like Noa and Noach should be checked as well for the sake of fairness: both, however, were not listed according to the Dutch journalist.

The author says, it is the second year in a row that Mohammed is the most popular name for baby boys: In 2016 there were 724 baby’s named Mohammed (or one of it’s Arabic alternatives) in the Netherlands.

He also mentions that the same tendency was seen in England in 2016: It is not Oliver, but Mohammed (with all its permutations), that is the most popular name for baby boys.

Jan
14

Norway’s $1.1 Trillion Wealth Fund Goes All-In On Asset Bubbles, Seeks Permission To Invest In Private Equity

Just over a year ago we noted that, after being forced to withdraw at least $15 billion to fund 2017 budget deficits, the $860 billion Norwegian sovereign wealth fund announced that it was going all in on the global equity bubble to try to make up the difference.  The change resulted in 75% of the fund’s capital being allocated to global equities, up from the then current 60%.

The central bank’s board, which oversees the fund, on Thursday recommended an increase in the equity share to 75 percent from 60 percent. That will raise the expected average annual real return to 2.5 percent over 10 years and to 3.5 percent over 30 years, compared with 2.1 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, under the current setup.

The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund said that it expects an annual return of only 0.25 percent on bonds over the next decade and that the expected “equity risk premium,” or return on stocks over government bonds, will be just 3 percentage points in a cautious estimate.

“In our analyses, this is clearly evident in global data: internationally, growth in firms’ cash flows and equity returns are correlated with growth in the global economy,” Deputy Governor Egil Matsen said in a speech Thursday in Oslo. “Global economic growth in the coming years is expected to be below its historical level. This ‘pessimism’ is partly related to the driving forces behind the low level of the real interest rate.”

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Now, as the FT points out, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund has decided that even equities don’t provide quite enough risk and has appealed to the finance ministry to be allowed to invest in private equity.

To start with, Norway’s $1.1tn oil fund would consider investing in private equity funds or alongside them as part of a gradual approach, Norges Bank Investment Management said on Tuesday in a submission to the country’s finance ministry.

The fund is allowed to invest in listed companies only and buy stakes of less than 10 per cent. According to the advice, it should be given permission to own more than 10 per cent of an unlisted company, as it is allowed to do with unlisted property investments.

“The fund’s size, long-term horizon and limited liquidity needs may make it well-suited to investing in unlisted equity. A broader investment universe may also enable the fund to be invested in different types of company to those that are available in the public equity market,” NBIM said in its advice.

Of course, when you’re fund is so large that you could literally own 1.5% of ever single public stock on the planet, it only makes sense to find more places to stash cash.  But, as Bloomberg points out, there is just one tiny problem with turning to private equity…apparently they’re also sitting on a mountain of $1 trillion in un-invested capital due to a lack of attractive investment opportunities.

Private equity funds are, in turn, facing a struggle to spend all the money they’ve raised, something that threatens to depress returns. Globally, the firms raised a record $453 billion in 2017, boosting the total not yet invested to more than $1 trillion, according to figures compiled by alternative asset data company Preqin Ltd.”

With so much available capital competing for deals, this will only increase the challenge for fund managers looking to deploy capital in 2018,” Preqin said in a press release this month.

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Conclusion: It’s just a matter of time before Norway goes all-in on BitCoin…

Jan
14

Australia’s Hard Choice Between China And US

Authored by Lachlan Colquhoun via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

Canberra has always deftly balanced between Beijing and Washington but it may soon need to choose one over the other…

 

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Australia has always believed that it doesn’t have to choose between its economic relationship with China and its defense alliance with the United States. But 2018 is already shaping up to be the year of the hard choice.

It would be convenient for Australia if it was able to maintain its balancing act, but a confluence of global factors has stripped away the fiction that it can separate the economic benefits it gets from China and its post-World War II position as one of America’s closest strategic allies.

There is a lot at stake, including potentially Australia’s ongoing prosperity.

China is clearly not happy with Australia’s adherence to the US alliance and if it follows through on veiled threats to boycott Australian exports and limit investment, Canberra’s loyalty to Washington could come at the expense of significant economic pain.

China’s hawkish Global Times newspaper, widely viewed as a mouthpiece for the ruling Communist Party, spared no niceties in an op-ed last week that warned Australia against “interference” in the South China Sea (SCS) territorial disputes.

Australia was “kissing up” to the US and risked “poisoning” its relations with China, which could “adopt strong countermeasures which will seriously impact Australian economic development.” Australia hasn’t taken a position on SCS spats, but has said it favors “freedom of navigation” in the area, echoing the US’ position.

 

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US President Donald Trump with Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines November 13, 2017. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, taking around a third of Australia’s exports. The two countries signed a free trade agreement (FTA) which came into effect at the end of 2015 and two-way trade now exceeds US$110 billion a year.

Chinese students comprise 38% of foreign students in Australia and prop up the university sector with their fees, bringing in US$18 billion per year.

The number of Chinese tourists is also booming. In 2005, 4.9% of foreign visitors to Australia were Chinese, a number which had risen to 13% by 2016. Chinese investors are key players in commercial and residential property markets, and are major investors in sectors such as agriculture and mining.

So when Australia congratulates itself on avoiding a recession for the last 30 years, it owes a major vote of thanks to China.

Despite this, Australia’s position on China is often schizophrenic. While the business and financial community continue to see China as Australia’s future, the defense and intelligence establishment in Canberra take a different view.

They see China as manipulating its global networks, including via the Chinese diaspora in Australia, in support of its global ambitions which are at odds with Australia’s traditional alliance with the US.

 

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Ethnic Chinese wave China’s and Australia’s national flags in Canberra, Australia in a file photo. Photo: AFP

From these agencies comes innuendo about Chinese “interference” in Australia, a country which has for years hosted one of the most significant US surveillance facilities at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory.

A recent ban imposed on foreign donations to Australian political parties was squarely aimed at China, and friendships with Chinese donors cost a rising star of the opposition Labor Party, Sam Dasyari, his job in December.

Driven by fear of espionage and cyber-intelligence, successive Australian governments have blocked Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei from participating in the rollout of the country’s National Broadband Network.

In December, Canberra was also poised to kill a deal for Huawei Marine Networks to lay a 4,000-kilometer submarine cable from Sydney to the Solomon Islands.

Even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who as Communications Minister was expected to overturn the Huawei ban, referred to China as a “frenemy” in comments at a public dinner last year.

Such paranoia about Chinese telecommunication companies does not extend to New Zealand, where Huawei has been a big player in new national infrastructure or in the United Kingdom, where the company is a big player in rolling out 4G wireless networks and fixed rural phone connections.

Meanwhile, Australia has spent more than US$10 billion on weapons and military equipment from the US in the last four years, according to a recent Australian National Audit Office analysis.

With Australia set to spend around US$150 billion on defense in the next decade, with big outlays earmarked to build a next generation navy and air force, that figure can be expected to rise as it further integrates into the US military supply chain with projects like the J-35 Strike Fighter.

American foreign policy, however, is fast changing under US President Donald Trump. As the US appears to shrink from the region, including through its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, it is creating a vacuum which poses a major dilemma for Australia.

Does Australia fill that vacuum as a local enforcer of the US alliance and forge stronger alliances with other countries such as Japan and South Korea to counterbalance Chinese influence? Or does it accept China’s increased power in the world and recalibrate 70 years of foreign policy accordingly?

The fragmentation of late 20th century geopolitics is reconfiguring the world, and as a mid-ranking nation Australia is yet to find its new place.

Perhaps the only upside to this dilemma is that the US appears to be moving away from any direct confrontation with China in the Pacific as Trump looks to forge alliances against North Korea.

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US Aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk receives fuel from the Royal Australian Navy auxiliary oiler replenishment ship during a joint exercise. Photo: US Navy via AFP

If US-China tensions are heightened, including by allegations that China is not acting genuine in its stated intention to isolate North Korea, it would quickly bring the polarity of Australian policy into sharp focus.

The inconsistencies and contradictions, including in strategic areas, are already apparent. While Huawei is banned from major national infrastructure contracts, its handsets have been approved for use by top defense officials and diplomats, and several thousand have been distributed.

When a Chinese company, Landbridge Group, secured a 99-year lease on the strategic Port of Darwin in 2015, top US defense officials said they were “stunned” by the decision. Critics at the time contended it gave China a “front row seat” to spy on joint US-Australian naval operations.

Australian universities have received government grants to work on collaborative research with Chinese companies on technologies which could have military applications. The University of Adelaide, for example, is working with the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials, a company which is a part of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China.

All of this shows that Australia’s new hardline on China is and will inevitably be compromised by burgeoning economic relations. While the economic threats from China may simply be posturing at a tense juncture, they have called out and exposed the unresolved contradiction at the heart of Australia’s 21st century identity.

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