Outfoxing Big Retailers' Outlet Stores

There are many joys that come with discount shopping: scoring finds from your favorite designers, discovering trends you missed last season and snagging wardrobe staples at a steep price cut.

Most customers believe they are indeed finding gems—that what they're about to buy from a large retailer's outlet came from their favorite stores a couple of seasons ago, but was either returned, overstocked, or simply not a best-seller.

Not all that it seems
In reality, much of the merchandise at the outlets of major department stores is made or bought specifically for those outlets, with designers and vendors creating similar-looking pieces at a lower cost that often indicates inferior quality.

Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Barneys New York, and Saks Fifth Avenue all have their own outlets. And customers flock to these stores for the brand-name cachet and belief they're shopping last season's carefully curated inventory.

However, this isn't exactly the case. Nordstrom Rack, for example, confirmed to online retail website Racked that only 20 percent of what it sells is clearance merchandise from its stores and website, while the rest is bought expressly for the outlet.

"It is existing merchandise that we are able to purchase from our vendor partners," Nordstrom Rack's Naomi Tobis told Racked. "An example could be end-of-the-season closeouts or excess inventory that a brand has and wants to clear out."

Be cautious about merchandise
And don't assume every sweater, pair of slacks, or smartphone is a great bargain. Consumer Reports shopped the outlets, and though it did find significant savings on many items, some were actually cheaper in regular retail stores.

So, before you buy, make sure you do some homework to make sure the item you're interested in is really a good deal. Some merchandise, like clothing, can be made specifically for outlet malls, so you won't be able to compare prices on all the items you find. Manufacturers usually tweak construction details on their retail goods (using less expensive buttons, fewer stitches per square inch, or thinner materials, for example) to sell them for less at outlets.

The good news: Consumer Reports found very few seconds, irregulars, or returned items at outlet malls. Still, it's a good idea to inspect goods carefully before you head to the register to be sure they are in good condition.

Also, do some advance reconnaissance. It will help you to stay sane when you get to the outlet. Check the outlet's website before you go to find its hours. Study the outlet's map to find the best parking area and park close to the stores you want to visit, so you can get in and out before crowds become overwhelming.

Look for advantages
See whether the outlet malls near you have reward programs. These programs provide exclusive, personalized coupons and sale offers. For example, at Tanger, which operates 38 malls in the U.S., a one-time $10 fee gets you coupon books accessible on your mobile device, free gift cards once you hit certain spending levels, exclusive web offers, and more. And while you're on the website, look for printable coupons.

Another strategy is to shop the parent stores beforehand. If you see something you like at the more expensive store, there is the chance a replica, or something very similar, might be at the outlet. But take a very careful look. A $500 pair of jeans at Saks probably has a lot more going for it than that $150 pair you are holding at the outlet. Still, the lower costing pair may be all you need, and you'll go away with jeans very close in look and feel, with the added satisfaction of knowing you saved $350.

Resources: Racked, Consumer Reports

Why You Want to Review Your Car Insurance Policy

All U.S. drivers are required by law to carry vehicle insurance coverage. Most people only think about their policy if there's been a change, or after an accident. But a careful upfront policy review can catch oversights or coverage gaps that could be costing you money.

Your policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. It provides you with exactly what the insurance company agrees to do in exchange for your premium. This contract is divided into two sections: a Declarations Page and the policy itself (the Insurance Agreement).

Declarations Page This page (or pages) contains information about your basic policy. It summarizes what coverages you have elected to maintain or decline. It's unique to you, with details about your type of coverage, your dates of coverage and coverage levels, deductibles (the amount of money you have to pay toward repairs before your insurance covers the rest), all named drivers and the price you are paying for each coverage.

Your declaration page will also identify each vehicle you have insured by the VIN, year, make, model, and body type—as well as your specific policy number identifying your account. If you find any errors on your declarations, contact your agent immediately.

You can always reduce your insurance rates by raising your deductibles while still maintaining full coverage for your vehicle.

The Insuring Agreement This section outlines the coverage options and coverage limits that you purchased.

There are mandatory coverages you'll need. State laws dictate the minimum amount of car insurance for liability that you must carry—to cover injuries and property damage costs caused to others if you are at fault. Your lender will also most likely require that you have comprehensive coverage (for damage to your vehicle caused by events like fire, theft, vandalism, and falling objects), and collision coverage (to pay for repairs to your car if you've caused the accident). Collision coverage can be expensive. Once again, choose a deductible amount that you can afford to pay, before the insurance company pays.

NOTE: Be careful not to drop the required auto insurance coverages from a financed vehicle. It is a violation of your loan contract and may put your loan in jeopardy. Also, the lender could place single interest coverage (force placed insurance) on the vehicle and add the premium to the loan. This type of coverage is expensive and does not provide any coverage for you, just the lender. If you're not sure what coverage is required, check your loan documents or contact your lender.

The insuring agreement also lists any optional coverages you've selected—such as towing and labor, windshield damage, and coverage for rental reimbursement/transportation expenses.

Another way to save: Your carrier may offer a discount for bundling your auto insurance with other insurance products, or for being part of a select occupational group (doctors, RNs, dentists, teachers, police, firefighters, etc.), homeowners, good students, teens with parents who have safe driving records, cars with air bags, drivers who own two or more automobiles, and more. Check with your carrier to see if you qualify for these discounts.

When you take the time to thoroughly assess the protection offered by your current insurance policy, you may find gaps or discover you are underinsured. Like any business, insurance companies all have different rates, plus they can vary greatly in everything from their coverages, to their office hours, and the speed of their claims service. So, shopping around is essential to getting a good deal, and finding the proper coverage and service for you.


PROOF OF INSURANCE REQUIREMENT

If you have a vehicle loan with Tower, you will be required to provide us with proof of insurance.

Tower has partnered with Southwest Business Corporation (SWBC) to track and verify all vehicle loan insurance coverages. If you have received a letter from Tower/SWBC asking for proof of insurance, or if you have a new vehicle loan with Tower, or you have changed insurance carriers, please update your insurance information.

This site allows you to submit your insurance information in a quick, easy and secure manner. https://www.autopilotinsurance.com/tower Have ready: Your lender ID Number, your insurance carrier's name, and your agent's name. For any questions or concerns, call the Insurance Service Center at 866-647-9822, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time.




*Before submitting proof of insurance, please make sure that Tower is listed on your policy as Lienholder
/Loss Payee, with the address:

Tower Federal Credit Union
PO Box 19868
Portland, OR 97280

Resources: The Insurance Information Institute, The National Association of Insurance Commissioners

Boating: A Joy That Opens Horizons

Sailing, fishing, pontooning, zipping around on a jet ski.

These are all the pursuits of people with a passion for the water, and they traverse salty and fresh expanses all over the country. There is nothing like being on the water, with the freedom, joy and adventure it brings.

If you've got a penchant for some seafaring adventures, a new or used boat can help you realize your dream

Do you want a yacht or a sailboat?
Determining what size vessel you'll need is all about how you intend to use it. Prices range from $10,000 for a new 20-foot sailboat to $275 million for a 350-foot super luxury yacht. Annual insurance for the sailboat is around $195, and it's $240,000 for the yacht. And don't forget docking and mooring fees, which can range from nothing to thousands of dollars, depending on where the boat is kept, for how long and its size.

Although boat insurance is not required in all states, you should consider purchasing a policy to help protect against the risks of owning and operating your boat. As for your own choice of size, consider that 95 percent of U.S. boats on the water are 26 feet or less, NMMA says.

Still, take a tally of what exactly you plan for your boat. Do you want to sail the seas or just have a place to sit alone as you drop a fishing line into the bay?

Start your shopping online. Most boat brands have clubs where you can chat with people who have been, or are, owners. They might also offer tips on boats for sale. Check out online forums like iboats, BoaterEd and The Hull Truth. There are also sites for specific brands, such as Sea Ray and Bayliner.

Also, visit a boat show where you can examine each model and discuss your wants and needs with dealers and experts. When you are narrowing the search, consider the boat's safety, physical condition, options and accessories, look, performance and, of course, cost. And, of course, by the water you can always find warehouse-sized stores selling boats.

New or used?
Cost will be dictated by whether you buy a new or used boat. There can be advantages to both, depending on the amount of use you plan and just how good a deal you can get on a water-worthy craft.

When it comes to new boats, while they may look pristine, they can come with glitches like refrigeration that doesn't work. For used boats, become a detective. Look for mismatched paint—that means there was a repair. Waterlines inside the boat mean a repair is needed or has been done. Make sure the steering is easy and the boat has all the required equipment that makes it legal.

While shopping for the right vessel is a lot of work, remember owning and taking care of a boat can be a wonderful experience, as you enjoy the freedom the open water gives you. It can be a relaxing diversion from what is otherwise a hectic world. And it is something the whole family can delight in.

Plus, don't forget one of the more enjoyable parts about getting a boat---naming it, a sport in itself. Some designations that struck our fancy were: Seas The Day, What's Up Dock?, Reel Time, All My Sea-Sons and A-Wave-From-It-All.

Resources: Maryland DMV, All Things Boat, National Marine Manufacturers Association, MoneyTalksNews

Never Post These 8 Things to Social Media

Unless you live under a rock, you're aware of the obsession with social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have all become household names. In fact, over 2 billion of us are active on social media.

Living online can be entertaining, engaging; even educational. But it can also be dangerous. While we may like to think that the only people seeing our posts are well-meaning, that's often not true. Cybercriminals are also lurking, hiding behind computer screens, looking for posts that offer clues to your personal and financial information.

Here are some things to avoid posting on social media, no matter how tempting it may be to share them on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed.

  1. Your birthday
    It's fun to see who wishes you happy birthday on your Facebook timeline; however, it's not so fun knowing that having your birthdate posted on your profile offers up one of the key pieces of information scammers need to steal your identity and open up fraudulent accounts in your name.
  2. Your address and phone number
    Sure, you probably wouldn't just post your address, but what about if you just bought a new home? Your excitement over your new abode could also open the door for thieves to make an unwanted visit—not exactly the type of housewarming you're expecting. The same goes for your phone number. Maybe you're posting that you're selling that antique china hutch and you include your phone number so anyone who can contact you. Crooks can often locate your address through a reverse phone number lookup.
  3. Your current location
    Often, when we post a status update or photo, we may be unwittingly revealing our current location. This can be risky since it tells potential thieves that while we're busy sailing the Chesapeake, we're also not at home. That innocent tweet from the helm may be the signal crooks need to rob your house.
  4. Clues to your passwords
    We've all experienced setting up a password hint on websites that contain secure personal information. Typical security questions include: What was the name of your first pet? What's your mother's maiden name? What was your high school mascot? What's the name of the first street you lived on? Including any of these details on your wall or story may not seem like a big deal, but it could provide information needed to crack your logins and hack into your financial accounts.
  5. Your relationship status
    Posting that you're single on social media may be just the green light a stalker or criminal needs to know that most likely you live alone. If you're single and don't want to post that you're in a relationship when you're not, it's best just to leave it at "It's complicated."
  6. Pictures with geotags
    Geotagging in a picture is basically providing a roadmap to your location. This is especially important to remember for young children who post. Your fifth grader may be excited to post that picture of her winning exhibit at the science fair; however, geotagging can reveal the location of her school. Your phone might be recording the location of pictures you take without your knowledge. Be sure to turn off geotagging in your phone's settings, and tell your kids to do the same.
  7. Your vacation plans
    You may be saying "We're off to Hawaii, yay us!" but what crooks hear is, "We're leaving for vacation today, please come rob us!" Don't post that you'll be out of town, or post photos while you're on vacation. Wait until you get back home to share your photos on social media.
  8. Your embarrassing moments
    Before you post anything online, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, "Would I want my boss or family to see this?" If the answer is no, don't post it. You never know who will see your posting, and even if you delete it, someone could've taken a screenshot of it before you did. Educate your teens about this as well. It's best to assume that everything is public; don't post anything you wouldn't want the world to see.

Don't be a statistic
Most social networks allow you to control who sees your information, photos and posts. Set your accounts to private. Think about who will be seeing the information you post. If your privacy settings are not controlled, you will be giving information about yourself to anyone online.

Another way to keep personal information private: Don't download apps, take quizzes or sign up for coupons that ask for your date of birth, social security number or address. In fact, a study by the University of Virginia found that of the top 150 applications on Facebook, 90 percent were given access to information they didn't need for the app to function.

Also avoid accessing social media sites on public computers or free WiFi hot spots. Your login information can be captured and used to make false postings. Worse, because humans are creatures of habit and often tend to use the same password across multiple sites, scammers can use your logins to crack your passwords for secure sites. It's important to change your social media passwords often to help protect from getting hacked.

References: Lifewire, Howstuffworks.com., Brandwatch, Techlicious, University of Virginia

Can You Spot Me Some Cash?

"What's up Uncle Bob? Hey, my car won't start and it turns out I need $1,200 for repairs. I only have $200. Can you loan the rest to me? I'll pay you back."

For many of us, this is a pretty familiar scenario: a friend or family member who is faced with an unexpected expense asks to borrow money, resulting in an often uncomfortable situation. If I don't lend the money, what will my son do? Will he lose his job/car/house? And if do lend the money to him, what then? What if he doesn't pay me back?





The Golden Rules of lending
If you're thinking about whether or not to loan money to someone, here are some general rules of thumb to consider.

Don't lend more than you can afford
As the old gambling saying goes: "Never bet more than you can afford to lose." The same is true for lending money. It's also good practice to think about what would happen if the person doesn't pay you back. Even the most well-meaning person may fall on hard times and default on the loan. So if being out $6,000 would put you in a bad situation financially, don't lend it.

Consider the bigger picture
When you lend money to a family member, you impact just about everyone else you're related to. "He loaned money to John, why didn't he say yes to me?" Lending to one family member and not another can strain relationships. If you're loaning money to one of your children or grandchildren, it's a good idea to call a family meeting and discuss it openly to avoid any confusion or hurt feelings.

The devil is in the details
Ask what the loan is for and the circumstances behind the request. It's not being nosy; a financial institution wouldn't blindly hand over funds and neither should you. If the borrower becomes offended, or won't provide information, it's a red flag that you should turn down the request. Once you know what the loan is for, it's time to talk details. Clarify the amount being loaned, the repayment schedule, and the penalty fee for late/missed payments, if applicable.

The opposite is true after you dole out the loan. Don't micromanage the person's spending. Once you've agreed to and sealed the deal, distance yourself and accept that the money is no longer in your control. Focus on repayment, not on how the money's spent.

An interesting development
Charging interest to a relative or friend might seem extreme, but it's the fairest way to protect yourself and your money. A reasonable interest rate can help inspire the borrower to pay you back in a timely manner, and also protect you from being charged gift taxes. If you lend more than $13,000, you're liable to pay a gift tax on that amount if you don't set a loan with reasonable terms and get it in writing. For large loans, it's a good idea to consult with your attorney or accountant.

Get it in writing
Although a verbal agreement can be legally binding, it often comes down to he said, she said. Draw up an agreement stating the terms of the loan (called a promissory note), have both parties sign and get it notarized. Not only will having the details in writing help prevent misunderstandings, if it comes down to it, a written contract will protect you in court.

To co-sign or not to co-sign
Sometimes the request is not for money, but for you to co-sign a loan. Basically, a co-signer, or guarantor, is someone who agrees to pay the loan if the borrower defaults. This can be helpful if that someone is your son or daughter is and they are just starting out with little or no credit history. However, it can also hurt your credit.

The loan will show up on your credit report and increase your debt-to-income ratio. This could lower your credit score, and make it more difficult to obtain your own loan if you should need one. Also, any late or missed loan payments will be negative marks on your credit report. Keep in mind that you will be a co-signer for the life of the loan, unless the borrower refinances and removes you. Be sure to really think it through before signing on the dotted line.

If you do co-sign a loan, it's good practice to regularly review your credit report.

If the answer is "No"
If, after weighing the pros and cons, you decide you just don't want to lend the money, say no. If you have difficulty denying the request of a loved one or friend, try one of these softer, yet direct, approaches:

  • "Sorry, but I'm just not in the financial position to help right now." Or, "Sorry, it's not in my budget."
  • "I don't feel comfortable lending money to friends or family; I've lost/damaged too many relationships this way."
  • "I paid for your last house repair, and you haven't paid back the money. I can't do it again. Sorry."

You can offer to help out in other ways. Maybe you can buy groceries, give a gift card or cash gift, make meals, offer rides, help organize a fundraiser, donate items you're not using that can be resold, or help watch the kids to cut back on childcare costs.

References: Moneycrashers, Money Talks News, U.S. News & World Report

Tower Wants to Connect with You!

Tower is now on Facebook! Check out our new Facebook page, and visit our page often to increase your financial know-how and hear the latest news about your credit union. And, if you love Tower, be sure to "like" us while you're there!


Join Us for a Shredding Event

Protect yourself from identity theft. Visit us for a paper shredding event at our branches this spring. Confidential documents are shredded FREE!

  • Raffle for an Apple iPad®
  • Free On-Site Paper Shredding (Limit of 5 boxes of paper per car)
  • Free Food and Drink
  • Games and Prizes
  • Meet representatives from:
    Tower's Car Buying Service
    Tower Wealth Management®
    Tower's HomeAdvantage® Program

Clarksville - Saturday, April 1 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
          Register Today!

Owings Mills Saturday, May 6 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
          Register Today!

No purchase or account opening necessary to win. You do not need to be present to win raffle. Tower employees and family members are not eligible for prize drawings.


Home Buying and Selling Assistance

Tower is out to take the angst out of home buying and selling by holding free informational seminars. Home Buying Basics will be held at Tower's Laurel headquarters on March 21 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Home Buying & Selling Basics will be held at the Arundel Mills branch on April 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Receive insights about the current real estate market, hear about the home buying/selling process, get tips on working with a real estate agent, find out how to get cash back through Tower's HomeAdvantage® program, and more. All attendees will receive a certificate for $100 off closing costs off a Tower mortgage loan and will be entered in a Grand Prize drawing. Light refreshments will be served. Click here to register or call 301-497-7000 or 800-787-8328, ext. 7283.

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