Borrowing Basics

Best Home Remodeling Advice - Early Spring 2015

Remodeling your home can help increase its value and put money in your pocket when it comes time to sell, but it’s important to be smart about what to remodel and how much to invest. The success on your remodel depends on setting a realistic budget, getting multiple estimates, choosing the right financing option, and potentially saving money by doing some basic tasks yourself.

  • Set a realistic budget:When setting a budget for your home remodel, you should consider how much it will add to the value of your home, how long you intend to remain in your home, and how important is the area you are remodeling. Weighing these factors can help you determine how much to invest.
  • Prepare for the unexpected: Set aside 10 to 20 percent of your total budget for any unexpected expenses or hurdles you may face during the remodel, such as electrical or plumbing issues. It’s better to be prepared for these beforehand to ensure you are able to stick to your budget.
  • Get contractor recommendations: Word of mouth is a great way to find reliable and affordable contractors. It’s important to trust your final choice as this person will be in and out of your home during the project.
  • Request multiple estimates: Evaluate all details and costs of the renovation, in writing, before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Choose the right financing: First National’s lending products can help you remodel your home in an easy and affordable way. Consider borrowing against the equity in your home with a Home Equity Loan. This type of loan offers much lower interest rates than credit cards and other forms of credit and payment terms to meet your needs.
  • Consider a DIY approach: You may save on portions of your remodel by doing the work yourself. Painting, adding new cabinet knobs, or replacing faucets are all simple DIY projects than can help you maximize your budget.

Top Tips for Managing Your Credit - Winter 2014

Your credit score and history are vital to your financial health. It's important to maintain a healthy credit score, so when it comes time for you to apply for a mortgage, auto or personal loan, or any other big purchases, you are able to get approved and secure a low interest rate. The following tips can help you make good credit decisions.

  • Monitor your credit report: Check your credit report on an ongoing basis for any errors and to monitor your progress. Castle Bank credit card holders can now keep tabs on their FICO® 8 Bankcard Score online 24/7 at no additional cost.
  • Take advantage of online billpay: Late payments will negatively impact your credit score and history. Castle Bank offers free online BillPay, allowing you to set up payments on a recurring basis and schedule payments up to 90 days in advance to ensure your bills are never paid late.
  • Be aware of your available credit: Using too much of your available credit will lower your credit score. Monitor your credit to debt ratio, otherwise known as your credit utilization ratio. Having a low ratio - less debt than less available credit - is good way to improve your credit score.
  • Avoid opening multiple new credit accounts: Apply for and open new credit accounts only as needed. Do not open a number of new accounts that you don't need just to increase your available credit, as this could actually lower your credit score.
  • Reduce your debt: You should always maintain minimum payments on your accounts each month, but more importantly, you should pay down your revolving debt (credit cards) as much as possible. Put together a payment plan to payoff your existing credit accounts and avoid accumulating additional debt in the meantime.

Which Debt Payoff Plan is Best for Me? - Fall 2014

There are different methods for paying off your debt depending on your personal goals and the type of debt you are carrying. Paying off your debt requires modifications to your spending habits and it’s important to choose a strategy and stick to it to help eliminate your debt. The following strategies can help you to decide which method is best for you.

Smallest Balances First

With this strategy, often referred to as the “snowball” method, you should make a list of all your accounts and balances and commit to making the minimum payment on all balances, except your smallest one. Then pay as much on the smallest balance each month as you can until you pay it off entirely. Then move up one-by-one and pay off each account until you get to the account with your largest balance. This method can allow you to have fewer bills and see continuous progress, continuing to motivate you to eliminate your debt as you are getting entire accounts paid off, one at a time. Those who are repaying revolving credit accounts, such as credit cards, and have enough income to pay the minimum on all accounts often use this strategy.

Highest Interest Rates First

Paying off your accounts with the highest interest rate can save you more in the long run than paying off your smallest balances first as you will likely pay less interest. If you pay off debt with higher interest rates, the money you would have been spending on that interest can go towards paying off other balances.

Debt Consolidation

Debt consolidation is a great way to pay down all of your debts at once by pulling them into one line of credit, such as a home equity loan or a personal loan. If you are paying on a variety of credit or loan accounts that have high interest, you may be able to secure a lower interest rate if you consolidate all payments into one. If you are struggling to meet your minimum payments and multiple due dates, debt consolidation may be a great option for you. Castle Bank offers a variety of home equity loans and personal lines of credit with competitive interest rates and payment terms to meet your needs. Learn more about our lending options.

The most important thing to remember about paying off your debt is that you should stick with your strategy from start to finish and avoid accumulating any additional or unnecessary debt. Choose the payment method that works best for you and your family and continue down the road to a secure financial future.

Advice for Protecting Your Identity - Summer 2014

With recent high-profile data thefts, protecting your identity has been top of mind for many. The following tips from the Federal Trade Commission will help you safeguard your personal information and your credit history as well as provide steps to take if your information has been compromised.

  • Safeguard your personal information offline: Lock your financial documents in a safe deposit box or a lock box in your home. Limit what you carry in your purse or wallet and always leave your Social Security card at home. Shred any financial documents, credit card or account statements, or insurance forms that are no longer needed. When possible, sign up for online statements. Castle Bank offers online statements to allow you to quickly and securely view your information.
  • Secure your information online: Be aware of any spam emails or other types of online message that may lead to an infringement of your privacy and theft of your personal data. Do not give out any personal information over the phone or through email unless you are 100% positive of who is on the other side. Keep your passwords private and do not share personal details on social networks. Information shared publicly can help identity thieves to gain access to your accounts.
  • Keep your devices secure: Use anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and set up a firewall to protect your device and personal information from being compromised. Always lock your laptop or device when finished using and do not save any automatic passwords or logins in your browser. Be aware of any information you are accessing over a public wireless network if it’s not secure and make sure websites you visit are encrypted.
  • Monitor your financial accounts and credit report: Check your online banking and other financial accounts on a regular basis to look for any suspicious or non-authorized transactions. Sign up for credit monitoring services to be sure you are aware of any inquiries or dramatic changes to your credit score. Castle Bank's Credit Card now helps you keep tabs on your FICO® 8 Bankcard Score. Just by logging in every month, you can view your FICO® Score 24/7 online and discover what Key Score Factors have affected your FICO® Score.

Benefits and Tips for Consolidating Your Debt - Early Spring 2014

If your debt is piling up, combining what you owe into one manageable payment may be a good option. Reducing debt is a great step towards financial stability. Before beginning the process, you should check your credit report and correct any potential errors to ensure your credit history is accurate when you apply for a consolidation loan.

Juggling multiple monthly payments can be a challenge. Consolidating your debt offers the following benefits:

  • Receive financial advice from a financial expert
  • Ability to focus on one manageable payment
  • Avoid potential late charges or fees from individual creditors
  • Eliminate confusion of the different repayment terms and payment amounts from multiple credit lines
  • Begin to get your budget and spending habits back on track to eliminate debt and reduce future debt

If you’ve decided consolidation is the best route to go to get your monthly payments under control, you should look for a flexible, low-interest loan that fits your individual needs. Taking out a home equity loan is a common way to consolidate your high-interest debt into one low monthly payment by using your home as collateral. Ensure you are comfortable with the monthly payment and confident that you will be able to pay the amount for the duration of the loan.

If you don’t own a home or have equity in your home, another option is to take out a personal debt consolidation loan. No collateral is required and you should look for a flexible loan with a fixed interest rate that allows you to pay off the loan early with no penalty charge.

Castle Bank offers home equity loans and personal debt consolidation loans to help get you on the path to financial success. Managing your debt and continuing to make your consolidation monthly payment on time until the loan is paid off will lead to a more secure future for you and your family. Learn more about lending options from Castle Bank.

Tips for Managing & Improving your Credit Score - Winter 2013

Whether you are considering a big purchase in the coming year or just want to ensure a secure financial future, it’s important to protect and manage your credit score. Use the following tips, including obtaining your credit score once a year, not canceling existing credit lines, carrying low balances, and tracking credit card purchases.

  • Monitor your credit score: Good financial health starts by knowing where you stand. This is why it’s important to monitor your credit report at least once per year to take control of your financial future, as well as safeguard against identity theft. Castle Bank credit card holders can now keep tabs on their FICO® credit score for free. Just by logging in every month you can view your credit score online 24/7, discover what key factors have affected your score, and find out what you can do to strengthen your financial heath. To learn more, visit
  • Do not cancel existing credit lines: You benefit from a long credit history, which is why it is important not to cancel any existing credit lines. Lenders also take a look at the ratio between the balances on your existing credit lines and your total available credit limit, so closing a credit line could negatively impact that ratio, causing your credit score to drop.
  • Pay your monthly balance in full: It is in your best interest to pay off your credit balance each month in order to maintain or improve your credit score. If you are unable to pay off the entire balance, always make your payment on time and always try to pay more than the minimum payments to limit your interest charges.
  • Reduce your overall debt: Eliminating your debt is the most effective way to improve your credit score. Pay off your accounts with the highest interest first and maintain at least minimum payments on your other accounts. To calculate how much it will take to pay off what you owe, visit Castle Bank’s online calculators.

For those who are not Castle Bank credit card holders, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows you to obtain a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company, including Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can request yours today at

Remodel on a Budget - Fall 2013

If you have plans to remain in your current home but still want to make improvements, you most likely have a budget you will want to stick to. The following tips will help you stick to that budget while still remodeling a space that your family will enjoy for years to come.

Getting Started

  • Determine what you can do yourself vs. contracting out. Major electrical, plumbing and structural work should be left to the professionals, but installing a simple tile backsplash or changing out a light fixture yourself can save you money.
  • If hiring a professional contractor, find someone who is familiar with the building codes in your area, as updating work that does not pass inspection can be costly. Also, ensure your contract includes the entire scope of your project to avoid unexpected expenses during the remodel.
  • Plan ahead by choosing everything you want to include in your new room design to prevent impulsive, expensive decisions later during the process.

Be Creative

  • Avoid structural changes if possible, and instead revamp the room through paint or other cosmetic changes.
  • During the remodel, look for inexpensive ways to achieve the look you want. Install crown molding and window and door trim accents to give the room a finished look. Swap out doorknobs, handles and hinges to upgrade older doors or windows instead of replacing them.
  • Upgrade instead of replace. Refinish your existing hardwood floors instead of laying new flooring. Paint your cabinets instead of building custom ones. Small, less expensive renovations can provide satisfying results if you give them a try.
  • Choose simple, classic designs to eliminate the need for another remodel a few years later.

Add Finishing Touches

  • Shop secondhand stores or estate sales to find quality and affordable furniture for your remodeled room. Look for pieces with solid construction and classic lines you can reupholster or refinish to make your own and to match the style of your space.
  • Add color to your room through rugs, art and a variety of throw pillows. This is an inexpensive and flexible way to change the tone and mood of a room.

When financing your remodel, consider utilizing the equity in your home. This may provide the perfect opportunity to make improvements and increase the value of your home. Contact Castle Bank today to learn more about our home equity loans, with competitive interest rates, payment terms to meet your needs and online access to view account information and make payments.