We’ve Changed Our Name!

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Group Health Credit Union is now Salal Credit Union. For more information, visit our new website at SalalCU.org or our new blog at SalalCUblog.org. This blog will be deleted shortly, so please bookmark or “favorite” our new website and blog.

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Ask the Experts

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Spring is springing out all over. And those of us who enjoy fresh flowers and produce and would like to have them growing in our own backyards (or on our own back balconies) are asking this very crucial question: What should I be doing in my garden right now? We put the question to our experts.

From Debbie Brandt, Operations Support Manager:

Spring is Sprung!

It’s time to hop in the gas guzzler, drive to the local Big Box Store and stock up on toxic chemicals to kill the weeds, bugs and slugs that threaten your garden.  Just kidding. 

A Garden for Everyone

Have you been wishing you could have a garden but you don’t have a yard? No worries! If you have a patio or deck, start a container garden! You will need 3 basic ingredients: a container, some potting soil and plants! If you’re starting from scratch, here are a few tips to consider.

Color – decide on several colors to include in your container garden. I’ve learned to avoid including too many colors in one container; instead I prefer to choose 2 or 3 colors that I think complement each other. If I’m planting a large container, I will buy several of the same plants (rather than all different plants).  

Variety  – I like to include different types of plants in a container: upright plants, trailing plants and medium-height plants. Another way to vary your plant selection is to choose different leaf and flower types, such as broad leaf and thin, needle-like leaves.

Location – when choosing your plants, consider the location of your container: will it be in a sunny spot or a shady spot?  Choose your plants according to the location of your container.  Plants that prefer shade may shrivel up in the sun; plants that love the sun may not thrive in a shady location.

The most important thing is to choose what you like. When you visit the nursery, browse around and see what plants look good together.  Many nurseries have container gardens ready to go – you can copy those plant combinations.  Or just buy their container!

Reduce Neighborhood Noise

A few years ago, I got a battery-powered lawn mower. It’s perfect for my West Seattle yard: one charge is more than enough to mow the entire lawn.  And it makes a pleasant whirring sound, rather than a roaring gas-motor sound.  Last week, the Seattle Times ran a short article by Ciscoe Morris on rechargeable lawn mowers.  Scroll down to the 3rd article.

From Cheryll Viele, Compliance Manager:

Right after the first of the year, I start to get very excited about changes I’ll be able to make to my garden. Although I don’t consider myself an expert (certainly not like Ciscoe Morris), I love the time I spend thinking about what I want to plant in my garden and then the actual planting. Of course, before planting there’s the preparation – pulling weeds, mulching, pruning, pulling out old plants, moving plants around: the list goes on and on. I have what most would consider a very eclectic garden, and because I’m also an avid garage sale shopper, I’m always looking for the special treasures I can place throughout my garden.

And oh, the garden sales! I always buy too many plants and then struggle to find places to plant them. For those of you that do garden though, you’ll understand that there’s always a place for that special plant. A great sale I try to attend every year is the FlorAbundance Plant Sale at Magnuson Park. I just Googled it and this year’s sale is on April 25th (Saturday) and April 26th (Sunday). Saturday is the better day so that you don’t miss out on some of the great plants.

My passion is plants of the flowering version – not because I don’t love fresh vegetables out of the garden but more from a time and space standpoint. Although I have a fairly good-sized back yard and front yard, I fill every possible space because I so enjoy the thrill of seeing the plants begin to emerge.

A lesson I learned a long time ago: don’t be afraid to prune. I remember being concerned that if I pruned, I would ruin my plants. Just the opposite, they come back bigger and better (well at least most of the time).

I love hummingbirds in my garden and here are a few plants they love – Crocosmia, Salvia, Butterfly Bush (I know the state of Washington considers this an invasive plant but I think they’re beautiful and I’ve had very good success in controlling them in my garden). 

If you have a lot of shade in your garden, Hosta’s are the plant for you. The beauty of this plant never fails to amaze me and there are so many varieties. Unfortunately, the slugs love them too.   

I could go on and on but space prevents me from doing so – happy gardening!

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Changes to Overdraft Protection

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

GHCU would like to remind all members to be on the lookout for announcements from GHCU regarding Overdraft Protection (Courtesy Pay). New regulations require that financial institutions who offer overdraft protection give members an opportunity to opt in to such programs. We will soon be providing our members with the opportunity to opt in, if you choose to do so and are eligible.

What does that mean for members?

Even if you currently have Courtesy Pay, you will need to contact GHCU and officially “opt in” in order to keep your Courtesy Pay privileges. The new regulations take effect on July 1, 2010, so if you have not expressed to GHCU a desire to retain Courtesy Pay before then, you will automatically be opted out.

These changes do not apply to ACH transactions (automatic payment by direct debit from your GHCU account, for example) or to checks—those will still be covered by other overdraft protection services you may already be using. These regulatory changes will only affect ATM transactions (withdrawing money at an ATM) or when you use your debit card to pay for everyday purchases such as groceries, gas or dinner at a restaurant. If you choose to not opt in to Courtesy Pay and you don’t have sufficient funds in your account, your debit card will be denied under these circumstances (including your ATM withdrawals).

How do I opt in?

Members will be given several opportunities to opt in. You may express an interest in opting in now by calling our Virtual Branch or by notifying a staff member at your GHCU branch—but please remember that you must be eligible for Courtesy Pay, and this new opt-in will not take effect until August 15, 2010. If you opt-in now, we will mail required disclosures to you in order to ensure you are making an informed decision. You may also wait until you receive further notification from us in your monthly statement or by mail.

Please be careful. Identity thieves are already taking advantage of the overdraft protection regulation changes and running scams to elicit personal information from the public. Do not supply your member number to anyone unless you’re absolutely certain they are an authorized GHCU employee.

You can read more about the federal government’s changes to overdraft protection programs at the website of the Federal Reserve.

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Need to Fund Renovations of Your Own?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Spring and summer are popular times to make changes around the house: now that the winter rains are tapering off, perhaps it’s time to work on the roof? Or is that bright sunlight showing off the faded paint and worn-out furniture in the living room? Spring is a great time for fresh starts, so what are some good ways to fund those important projects?

Home equity loans or home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) are great, low-interest ways to have the cash you need, when you need it. GHCU’s home equity rates are generally far lower than credit card rates, and with no annual fees or upfront closing costs, the money you borrow goes even farther.* Additionally, home equity loans can have tax benefits, though you’ll need to consult with your tax advisor to determine if you qualify.

The difference between a home equity loan and a line of credit

A home equity loan usually has a fixed-rate, meaning your interest rate doesn’t change over the life of the loan. Additionally, you receive the amount of the loan all at once and repay it over time, plus interest. The advantage of this type of loan is that you have the money you need upfront—which can be very convenient if you know how much your project is likely to cost.

A home equity line of credit is revolving credit, so you only take out—and pay interest on—as much of the available line as you need at any one time. This is a useful feature when you have several smaller projects strung out over time and you don’t need a large sum of cash all at once.

GHCU has made accessing your home equity funds very simple. With a home equity loan, borrowers receive the money in a single lump sum. Borrowers with HELOCs can access their money either through online banking with an Online Access HELOC or by using a special Visa card with a Visa Access HELOC.

Whatever you need the money for, whether it’s a new roof, repairs to your water heater or simply bringing outstanding debt under one, low-interest umbrella, a home equity loan or line of credit can be a smart, cost-effective solution. Call GHCU or visit a branch for more information: 800-562-5515 or 206-298-9394.

*All GHCU loans are subject to credit approval. Upfront closing costs may apply to some property types.

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Celebration and FREE Shredathon!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

The Northgate branch team and members spent the winter doing their financial business in temporary quarters while the branch building was being renovated. The branch has moved back home now, and it’s time to celebrate! Please join us April 23, from noon to 5 pm, for a Renovation Celebration at the Northgate branch, 11023 8th Avenue NE. And the good times don’t end there….

Is it time for a little spring cleaning? Don’t forget that GHCU’s Annual Shredathon is April 24, 10 am to 2 pm at our Northgate branch. Bring two shopping bags (the size of paper bags from the grocery store) full of sensitive documents and watch them go into the shredder. Old paystubs, credit union or bank statements, receipts, credit card applications: these are the documents identity thieves dream about. Shredding these documents can greatly reduce your risk of identity theft.

After your documents are securely shredded, step into the branch to say hello to the Northgate team and see the renovations. All those months of being a bit cramped in the temporary space were worth it—the branch is beautiful and we’re eager to show it off! There are also some special deals available, only in person and only during our Renovation Celebration, so stop by before May 31!

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Why Buy a Home?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Despite all the chaos in the housing market, a home is still a very smart investment, when done carefully. Unlike rent, mortgage payments actually help you build equity—equity which you can tap into when you need cash at a low interest rate (in the form of a home equity loan or line of credit) or which you can enjoy in a lump sum when you sell. Or both.

Of course, in order to realize value from a home purchase, it’s important to buy the right home with the right mortgage. Here are some questions to consider, when you’re preparing to buy:

1. How much home can I afford?  Many lenders and advisors will tell you that your monthly costs should not exceed 28% of your income—and that should include not only your mortgage but also insurance, upkeep, homeowner’s dues if you purchase a condo, and utilities. Don’t forget to add closing and moving costs into your initial purchase estimate. GHCU has an online calculator that can help you establish your home-buying budget.

2. How long am I planning to stay in this house? The answer to this question may help you determine what kind of mortgage will work best for you. If you’re in it for the long haul, a 30-year fixed rate offers stability and predictability; if you plan to sell in a few years, an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) with a low initial rate may save you money.

3. Where should I get my mortgage? Before you sign, shop around. Compare rates, but also consider closing costs as well. The amount you pay at closing can vary considerably from lender to lender, so be sure you get your Good Faith Estimate (GFE) and add that in when making your budget and choosing your lender. Feeling comfortable with and confident about your lender is important too; don’t hesitate to drop by and chat. Your home is likely to be the biggest investment you’ll make, so only deal with a lender you trust.

4. Is now the right time? Interest rates are still hovering at historical lows, and a fixed-rate mortgage at a low rate can save a homebuyer thousands of dollars in interest. There’s still a glut of homes on the market, and construction companies with idle workers may be willing to cut a deal on building you your new home. If your credit score is in good shape, and you have enough saved to make a solid down payment, now might just be an excellent time to buy.

If you’re considering buying a home, the more information you have, the better. You’re always welcome to stop by a GHCU branch to talk about your mortgage options.

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Please–NO member numbers!

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Lately I’ve been getting lots of comments, which is wonderful, but I need to remind everyone not to send any personal information. We don’t want to make anyone vulnerable to Identity Theft, so please do not include your member number on comments to the blog!

Your member number, like your Social Security number or Driver’s License number, is private information that could potentially be used to steal your identity. Please keep such numbers safe and secret and never reveal them on a public forum like a blog.

If you have any questions about identity theft, what it is and how it happens, the WA State Attorney General’s office has some excellent information.

We love your comments and questions, so please keep them coming–just be careful that you don’t reveal any personal information!

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Protect Yourself from Mortgage Fraud

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

As Americans continue to struggle with economic difficulties, more and more folks find themselves in real danger of losing their home. It’s natural that people in such a situation would look for information and assistance wherever they can find it. Unfortunately, scammers realize this and are finding new ways to prey on vulnerable homeowners.

According to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (a bureau of the US Department of Treasury), instances of mortgage modification and foreclosure rescue fraud have increased dramatically in the last year. The scams are usually perpetrated by scammers professing to be modification or foreclosure “specialists” and generally fall in one of two categories:


When a grantor signs a quit-claim deed, he or she renounces any interest in a piece of property. These deeds are perfectly legal, often used in cases of divorce, sale of property or the passing of property to the next generation. In instances of fraud, however, the owner of the home is persuaded to sign a quit-claim deed. Owners sign, believing this will release them from their mortgage repayment obligations, perhaps in exchange for the right to remain in their homes as renters. Sometime thereafter, the owners, who no longer have a legal right to remain in their own homes, are evicted. The scammers have sold the house, but the original mortgage is still unpaid and the responsibility of the evicted owners.

Foreclosure Rescue

In foreclosure rescue scams, the scammers claim to be loan-modification specialists, perhaps even  affiliated with the distressed homeowner’s lenders. They require a substantial upfront payment for loan modification assistance, then do nothing. Under the Obama Administration’s Making Home Affordable Program, loan modification counseling with a Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing counselor is free, so no homeowner should work with a counselor who demands pay for his or her services.

If you’re concerned about your ability to pay your mortgage, seek help from a reliable source that can offer genuine assistance. You can find a HUD-approved counselor on the Making Home Affordable website or by calling 888-995-4673. If your mortgage is with GHCU, call our Member Solutions Department at 800-562-5515 (206-298-9394 locally). You don’t have to struggle with possible foreclosure on your own. There’s help.

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Opt in to Stay Covered: New Rules on Overdraft Protection

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

No question, getting your denied debit card back from an apologetic cashier can be embarrassing. And in an emergency situation—you’re stranded and need a taxi or a tow, for example—having the funds you need may even help you stay safe. Overdraft protection can ensure you have the money you need when you need it, even when the cash in your account is a little low. However, new federal regulations are changing overdraft protection services, and action on your part may be necessary.

Overdraft protection—under GHCU’s “Courtesy Pay” program—is a discretionary service GHCU provides for eligible members. If, for example, a member makes a purchase for $100 but only has $50 in his or her checking account, GHCU may honor this purchase, allowing the checking account to go negative, to a maximum of $700. Overdraft fees may be levied for each occurrence. See our rates and fees schedule for more information on fees.

Currently, overdraft protection is automatic for eligible GHCU members who have not chosen to opt out of the program. Federal regulations take effect July 1, 2010, and prior to August 15, 2010, members who want and are eligible for overdraft protection will need to opt in to the program in order to be covered, even if they have been covered in the past.

GHCU has made no changes to its Courtesy Pay program at this point; however, to comply with the new regulation, we will soon be contacting eligible members who have a GHCU checking account with more information about this change and providing them with an opportunity to specify their overdraft protection preference. Those who opt in will continue to receive overdraft protection—at the discretion of the credit union—as long as they remain eligible. For eligibility requirements, please see our Membership & Account Agreement.

If a member elects not to opt-in for this overdraft protection, certain transactions may be denied: specifically, any time a member uses his or her debit card for day-to-day purchases (for example, buying groceries) and ATM transactions (for example, withdrawing cash) but does not have sufficient funds in his/her account. In this case, the request for funds may be denied. Checks and automatic bill payments are not covered by this regulatory change; however, such payments may still be covered through other overdraft protection services you have with us.

To ensure that your preference is recorded quickly and appropriately, if you have a GHCU checking account, please watch your GHCU account statements for your opportunity to opt in for overdraft protection. For more information on the new overdraft rules, you can visit the website of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

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Members are Welcome: GHCU’s Annual Meeting is March 17

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

One of the greatest advantages of credit union membership is the opportunity to take part in the Annual Meeting. John D. Iglesias, GHCU President and CEO, and Board Chair Alan Lederman will speak on the state of the credit union and plans for the future, and attendees will be able to ask questions and vote in elections for the Board of Directors and the Supervisory Committee. And we are honored to have as our guest speaker Sofia Aragon, JD, RN, Senior Governmental Affairs Advisor for the Washington State Nurses Association.

The Annual Meeting will take place on Wednesday, March 17 at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. The meeting will officially begin at 7 pm, but members are invited to come at any time during that day to tour the museum for free. Appetizers will be available starting at 6 pm. Parking is free and plentiful.

Every member of GHCU has a voice and a vote, so please join us and share in the cooperative effort that is Group Health Credit Union!

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