Don’t Miss Out: Avoid These 5 Common Checking Account Mistakes

From depositing checks to transferring cash to paying bills—your checking account is likely the primary method by which you control and monitor all of your finances. The right checking account can be one of the most important tools in your financial arsenal, but you need to ensure you pick the best account for you (and use it correctly) to reap all the possible benefits. With that in mind, here’s how we can help you avoid five common checking account mistakes.

1) Paying ATM Fees

ATM fees may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but they can certainly add up quickly. With us, you don’t need to go out of your way to find in-network ATMs because our RITE Checking Accounts will reimburse any charges you experience. Not only can we provide you with unlimited ATM surcharge reimbursements, but there are no minimum qualifications needed to automatically receive these rebates.

2) Not Taking Security Seriously

Almost everyone shops online, but not everyone does it safely. For example, you need to be careful when paying for a transaction online with your debit card. Make sure you’re on a network you trust, or use a secure third-party payment app

We can also help on our end: with Cornerstone Plus, you’ll receive ID Theft Aid1,2, which offers payment care fraud resolution, $2,500 in personal identity theft benefits, and identity resolution. Our website can help you learn more about safe banking practices, and these FTC videos can help you stay up to date on FTC laws and regulations.

3) Ignoring Your Balance

It’s always a good idea to stay on top of what payments are being deducted from your checking account. If you aren’t tracking your transactions on a regular basis, there is a decent chance you could miss duplicate or fraudulent transactions. To receive notifications when there are withdrawals from your account, set up a push notification, text, or email alert within online banking. To learn more about our online banking features, visit our online banking FAQs.

4) Not Understanding Checking vs. Savings

Do you manage all your finances through a single checking account? If so, you could be losing money. Checking accounts are great for daily use as well as a variety of transactions, but your money will grow at a faster rate if you set some aside in one of our savings accounts.

5) Not Using Special Banking Perks

You work hard for your money; your checking account should work hard for you. With Cornerstone Plus, a plethora of perks are available directly at your fingertips, including:

  • Roadside Assistance: available 24/7 and free to use, this benefit provides up to $80 in covered service charges.
  • Health Savings Card: usually an optional supplement to your employer’s health care plan, now you can make this must-have benefit part of your RITE Checking account. You’ll save on prescriptions, eye exams, lenses and frames, hearing services, and more.
  • Cell Phone Protection1,2: if you pay your cell phone bill with your RITE Checking account, we’ll pay to have it repaired or replaced if it’s damaged or stolen, up to $400 per claim (maximum of $800 per year).
  • Shop Local, Save Local*: you can experience a wide variety of discounts from local establishments and deals from national retailers.

Choose a Checking Account Today

We offer three distinct checking account options: RITE Premium Checking, RITE Extra Checking, or Basic Checking. Both of our RITE Checking options are accompanied by our Cornerstone Plus app, which provides the tools you need to avoid the common checking account mistakes listed above.

At Cornerstone Bank, we’re committed to helping you save money! That’s why our checking accounts offer an array of options and features to fit your specific needs. Contact us today to discover a better way to bank.

1Subject to the terms and conditions detailed in the Guide to Benefits.
2Insurance products are: NOT A DEPOSIT. NOT FDIC-INSURED. NOT INSURED BY ANY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY. NOT GUARANTEED BY THE BANK.

*Participating merchants on BaZing are not sponsors of the program, are subject to change without notice, may not be available in all regions, and may choose to limit deals.

Mortgage Rate 101: Financing Your Dream Home

In recognition of National Homeownership Month, we want to help you understand all of your available financing options. If you’re worried about rising mortgage rates or you’re unsure whether you should choose a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage, we can help! Think of this blog as a course on the basics—Mortgage Rate 101. We’ll explain the different types of mortgages, talk about which may be the best option for you, and share how our team of experienced Mortgage Loan Officers and our 120 Day Rate Lock and Shop Program can get you in your dream home at the lowest rate.

Available Financing Options

Fixed-Rate Mortgage

The fixed-rate mortgage is the most common type of housing loan. It has a rate that is determined at the beginning of the mortgage term and does not change throughout the life of the loan. This option is optimal if you are ready to make a steady payment for an extended period of time. This loan type is beneficial if you plan on staying in the home for at least five years, as it provides stability and an assurance that the loan will not change.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgage

An adjustable-rate mortgage usually has a lower starting rate than a fixed-rate mortgage, but comes with the possibility of rate increases. Generally, this loan type is a solid alternative if you initially need smaller monthly payments or do not plan to stay in the current home for an extended period of time.

Alternative Options

Other financing options include government-insured loans, which offer a variety of low down payment options. We offer a special program for first time homebuyers whose household income is at a low to moderate income level. This is a great program for those that have limited down payment funds. Interested in building a home? We can finance those as well. While less common than fixed- and adjustable-rate options, we can explain the pros and cons of each and decide the best solution for you.

The 120 Day Rate Lock and Shop Program

Amid the current concern over rising interest rates, we have instituted a program to provide you with peace of mind. It’s as easy as lock, search, and relax! Our 120 Day Rate Lock and Shop Program can help you get pre-approved for your loan and lock in your interest rate for 120 days*.

During this time period, your rate will not increase, leaving you more time to focus on your home search. If interest rates decrease during your search, we have options for you to lower your rate. It’s a win-win situation. Contact us today to get pre-approved, lock in your rate, and get started on the search for your dream home today.

Need More Reasons to Choose the ‘RITE’ Checking Account? We’ve Got You Covered

What is your current checking account doing for you? Chances are, you opened one when you were younger and never considered the benefits a checking account can provide. But your account can (and should) do so much more than hold money, especially in a time of mobile connectivity. Are you interested in unlimited ATM rebates? Cell phone protection? Discounts for shopping local? No matter what you want, we’ve got you covered. In this blog, we will help you choose the ‘RITE’ Checking Account and explore all the ways it pays.

Our Checking Accounts

With Cornerstone Bank, you can choose between three distinct checking account options: RITE Premium Checking, RITE Extra Checking, or Basic Checking. Each of these accounts provides the benefits of Cornerstone Early Pay, which allows you to receive your paycheck up to two days early through direct deposit. RITE Premium Checking also offers the additional benefit of providing interest on your account.

Cornerstone Plus Benefits

Both the RITE Premium Checking and RITE Extra Checking accounts come with the all-new Cornerstone Plus benefits app, instantly turning your account into a cost-saving, life-simplifying, all-around digital hero. Here’s a look at just some of the amazing offerings from Cornerstone Plus:

  • Buyer’s Protection and Extended Warranty1,2
    • A purchased item with your RITE account can be reimbursed or replaced if an accident or theft occurs within 180 days of purchase.
  • ID Theft Aid1,2
    • Receive $2,500 in personal identity theft benefits as well as identity restoration, including personal assistance from specialists in these areas.
  • Roadside Assistance
    • Available 24/7 and free to use, Roadside Assistance provides up to $80 in covered service charges.
  • Cell Phone Protection1,2
    • If you pay your cell phone bill with your RITE Checking account, we’ll pay to have it repaired or replaced, up to $400 per claim (maximum of $800 per year).
  • Shop Local, Save Local3
    • With discounts from local establishments and deals from national retailers, you can shop, dine, travel, and do what you love to do—for less.

We’ve Got You Covered

No matter what you’re looking for in a checking account, we can help. You can compare all our available options to see which is ‘RITE’ for you and your family. Contact us to get started.

1 Subject to the terms and conditions detailed in the Guide to Benefits.

2 Insurance products are: NOT A DEPOSIT. NOT FDIC-INSURED. NOT INSURED BY ANY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY. NOT GUARANTEED BY THE BANK.

3 Participating merchants on BaZing are not sponsors of the program, are subject to change without notice, may not be available in all regions, and may choose to limit deals.

Five Ways to Use Your Tax Refund to Improve Your Finances

It can be tempting to use your tax return on something fun like a vacation or shopping spree, but the money you get back from the government can be used to improve your financial situation. In this blog, we detail five ways to use your tax refund to get yourself in better financial shape.

Starting or Adding to an Emergency Fund

While putting your tax return into savings may sound like a drag, you will thank yourself down the road. Creating a savings account specifically for emergency situations can help when life starts throwing you lemons like a job loss, illness or accident. Putting some or all your tax return into an account like this will allow you to have the funds available when you need them. Ideally, you should work up to having enough savings in reserve to cover six months of living expenses if you are unable to work.

Paying Down Credit Card Debt or Other Loans

Carrying a balance on a credit card adds up quickly and affects your credit score long-term. If you have a balance on your card, use your tax return to pay it off or pay it down. This can be applied to other credit as well such as auto or student loans, potentially saving you a few payments at the end of the loan.

Add or Create a Retirement Account

Use the money to open or add to your retirement account. There are many options available to suit any budget or lifestyle. The Capstone Planning Group* can create a personalized plan made specifically for you and your family.

Seed the College Fund

Whether you are starting or adding to a college fund, saving for your child’s future is a great use of your refund. Some 529 plans also allow for a deduction on your state income taxes, helping make your refund even bigger the next year.

Kickstart Your Business

Whether you want to expand your business or start a new one, your refund can be the perfect seed money. While that may not be enough to fund everything you need, we can help with various lines of commercial lending.

*Securities and advisory services are offered through LPL Financial (LPL), a registered investment advisor and broker/dealer (member FINRA/SIPC). Insurance products are offered through LPL or its licensed affiliates. Cornerstone Bank and The Capstone Planning Group are not registered as broker/dealers or investment advisors. Registered Representatives of LPL offer products and services using the name The Capstone Planning Group, and may also be employees of Cornerstone Bank. These products and services are being offered through LPL or its affiliates, which are separate entities from and not affiliates of Cornerstone Bank or The Capstone Planning Group. Securities and insurance offered through LPL or its affiliates are:

Not Insured by FDIC or any other Government AgencyNot Bank GuaranteedNot Bank Deposits or ObligationsMay Lose Value

What We Look for When Lending to a Business

A commercial loan can be used for helping to start or grow a business. Many people looking to apply for their first loan often wonder, what do banks look for when lending to a business? While we love helping the businesses in our community thrive and succeed, we also need to make sure we are investing wisely.

“There are a lot of factors we will consider when it comes to deciding to offer a commercial loan,” said Michael J. Quink, executive vice president, senior commercial officer for Cornerstone Bank. “These can be broken down into the five ‘C’s’ of credit: capacity, capital, collateral, conditions and character. Through weighing all of these factors, we can determine the risk to the bank of offering a loan.”

The Five “C's” of Credit

Familiarizing yourself with these considerations can help you get a head start when presenting yourself to lenders as a potential borrower.

  1. Capacity. This may be the most important of all the factors as it looks into the ability of your business to repay loans. Be sure your business plan demonstrates steps for you to repay any loans you would have. We will take a hard look at the numbers here regarding revenue, expenses and cash flow to determine potential repayment timelines.
  2. Capital. The money put towards starting a business is called capital. It is unlikely you’ll be able to borrow 100 percent of your startup costs, so to get a loan you must also show that you can make an investment in your own business first.
  3. Collateral. We will look for a secondary source of repayment for the loan should the payments stop, so we can still recover what is owed through collateral. This could be equipment, vehicles, or inventory.
  4. Conditions. Be prepared to demonstrate the need for your business as well as your experience in the industry or running a business. This can also be affected by factors outside of your control such as an economic downturn.
  5. Character. This investigates who you are as a borrower rather than your business. We’ll look at your business experience as well as personal credit history. How you handle your personal credit is generally an indicator of how you will manage your business credit.

These five factors provide an objective framework that we can use to determine your eligibility for a loan.

How We Can Help

With expertise in many lines of commercial lending, we can help provide the influx of funding your business needs to keep growing. Contact us today to get started.

Be Aware: Fee Increases Set for Second Home and High-Balance Mortgages, but not at Cornerstone Bank.

Are you planning on securing a second home or high-balance mortgage in the coming months? If so, it’s important to know that early this year the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced an increase in the fees charged on these loans. Loans that are sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be subject to the fee increases. In this blog post, we are going to dive deep into what these fee increases might mean for you.

Loan-Level Price Adjustments

On Jan. 5, 2022, Fannie Mae sent out a letter to lenders announcing revised pricing for second-home and high-balance loans. According to the letter, these loan-level price adjustments (LLPAs) are effective for all whole loans purchased on or after April 1, 2022, as well as for loans delivered into mortgage-backed security (MBS) pools issued on or after the same date.

But what exactly does this mean for borrowers? If you are buying a second or vacation home, these loans may have higher interest rates. Especially those lenders that sell these types of loans to the secondary market. How much of the new fees lenders absorb and how much they pass to the borrower will be up to the lender?  On second homes the fees range from 1.125 percent to 4.125 percent price adjustment, depending on the loan-to-value ratio. Lenders will likely increase the interest rate to offset the increased costs passed on to the lender from the investor buying the loan.

Mortgages that have balances exceeding the limit of $647,200 are known as high-balance mortgages, according to The Mortgage Reports. For these loans, FHFA is issuing the following price adjustments, which also depends on the loan-to-value ratio and could affect costs:

  • High-balance (Purchase or limited cash-out refinance): 0.5 percent to one percent
  • High-balance (Cash-out refinance): 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent
  • High-balance (ARM): 0.75 percent to 1.75 percent
  • These fees are cumulative, meaning if the purpose is a cash-out refinance and the loan product is an adjustable rate mortgage, both fees will be factored into the resulting interest rate.

Fannie Mae also announced that they will not charge a high-balance price adjustment for first-time homebuyers with income less than or equal to 100 percent of their area’s median income.

Not Sure What to Do? We Can Help

One thing’s for sure—the homebuying and mortgage landscape can be a difficult one to grasp. Luckily, if you are thinking about obtaining a second home or high-balance mortgage in the upcoming months, our Mortgage Loan Officers are here to help you make the best financial decisions. Cornerstone Bank will not be passing on any of the newly announced fees for second homes or high-balanced mortgages onto our customers. Give us a call today at 800-939-9103 or reach out to us online to get started.

How to Spot Check Fraud

Check Washing

Check washing involves criminals stealing checks from mailboxes and changing the name of the payee to their own and often increasing the amount on the check. These scammers use chemicals found in most household cleaning products to erase the ink used to fill out the check and then rewrite whatever they want. We have a few tips for how to spot check fraud to help prevent becoming a victim of check washing:

  • Do not place outgoing mail in your mailbox with the flag up. Hand your mail to the mail carrier, place it in a secure USPS mailbox before the last pickup, or bring it into the Post Office.
  • Check your bank account on a regular basis for unusual activity. If you catch something quick enough, it can be helpful in restoring funds and potentially catching the criminal.
  • Use gel pens instead of ball point pens, as it is harder to wash this ink off. Also, place your numbers close together when writing, to avoid leaving space where a criminal could add in another digit easily.
  • Use security envelopes with patterned lining that prevents someone from seeing what is inside.
  • Use online bill pay when possible. This affords you the most security from check washing by eliminating the check entirely.

Other Types of Check Scams

Mystery shopping or personal assistant: Scammers will pretend to hire people as mystery shoppers or personal assistants. The criminals instruct their new hires to purchase gift cards. The shopper or assistant gets a check with instructions to use that to purchase gift cards to send to someone else or use that money to wire it to another account. Once the money is sent, the person on the other end disappears, essentially using you as a middleman to launder the money and being left with the loss.

Claiming prizes: Sweepstake’s “winners” are given fake checks and told to send money back to cover taxes or shipping and handling charges. However, that is not how legitimate sweepstakes work and you should never have to pay anything upfront for something you have won.
Overpayments: This is common when buying something online. A scammer will send you a check for more than the asking price and then ask you to refund the overpayment. Odds are the check is fake and you are repaying them with real money and will be left owing the loss when the check is returned as fraudulent.

Spotting a Fake Check and What to Do

  • Check for misspellings, if the company the check is coming from exists and if it resides in the city and town the check claims and the maker name makes sense for the reason you should be receiving the check (i.e. the maker of the check is a construction company from out of state when you believe you obtained a job being a secret shopper for a retail store).
  • Hold the check up to the light to see if you can see indentations from other writing, as this can be a sign of a washed check.
  • If logos are faded, that is a sign the check has been copied. Also, if there is no perforated edge on one side of the check, odds are it was printed and could be a fake.

If you are suspicious of a check you received, do not cash it. Call the bank from which the check was issued to verify it is valid. Get the number from a source you trust, rather than the website or phone number listed on the check as that could also be fake. You can also seek guidance from your financial institution as the staff is trained to detect counterfeit checks.

How We Can Help

Cornerstone Bank has solutions for both individuals and businesses to help deter check fraud. We offer online banking and bill pay, which can automatically pay bills online for you directly from your account. This eliminates the need to send checks in the mail. For our business customers, we offer Positive Pay, the leading fraud prevention solution that will help protect your business from fraudulent checks being presented for payment.

Contact us to learn more about how to spot check fraud.

Six College Banking Moves for Back to School

Are you or your child headed back to college? Getting finances in order to plan for the year ahead is an important part of the process. This could include changing banks, opening a new account or applying for a credit card. We have compiled six college banking moves to make before stepping foot on campus.

Research Banking Options

If you decide to find a new bank or open your own account for the first time, there are some things you should think about, including:

  • How you will use the account. Do you just need a simple checking account, or do you also want a savings account to grow your money? Figure out exactly what you’re looking to do with your money and then you can decide what kind of account works for you.
  • How you will move money in and out of your account. If you plan to transfer money back and forth between you and your parents, consider an account that that has zero transfer fees.
  • The banking products and services you need. Online banking access, through mobile and desktop, is important and something that college students should look for in a bank. Young bankers should also look for a bank that reimburses or partly covers ATM surcharges and provides overdraft protection.
  • Whether your parent or guardian will have access to the account. This is a necessary conversation to have, especially if you are transferring from an account set up by your parents to one set up by you. Having a parent on the account can be helpful should they need to quickly transfer money.

Create a Budget

College tuition is already expensive but things can get out of hand quickly when you tack on school supplies, food and extracurricular activities. Start with any monthly bills like rent or utilities and then work in other necessities like food and travel. Finally, factor in fun things like concerts, going out to eat and other activities. Figuring out how much you can spend each month will help you get in the habit of having a budget as well as potentially save you from begging mom and dad for more money mid-semester.

Learn about Overdrafts

Overdraft fees can make a small purchase turn into a very expensive venture. Some banks have fees related to overdrawing on your checking account and some also have a minimum amount you need to keep in your savings. Some banks will waive overdrafts fees a certain number of times or offer the option to not allow your account to overdraw, so your card would be declined to avoid the fee.

Explore Credit Cards

In irresponsible hands, credit cards can be a dangerous thing, but building credit while you are still in college can help after graduation. There are a few good options to consider for a first-time credit cardholder:

  • Looking into secured credit cards. These cards are perfect for a student looking to build credit who isn’t ready for the full responsibility of an unsecured card. If approved for a card, you will be asked to place a deposit down, which is kept in a savings account that can’t be touched until the card is closed.
  • Become an authorized user on a parent or family member’s card. Depending on the credit card, this could help you build credit if reported to the three credit bureaus. This does require a fair amount of trust on the part of the cardholder.
  • Research student credit cards. Many of these cards have less stringent income and credit requirements. However, these may come with much higher interest fees so be sure to do your research.

Start Building Savings

It may be difficult to save money while in college, but if you can put away a little each month by working while in school, it will greatly help you, in the long run, should any emergencies arise. Consider splitting your deposit into two, some going into checking and some going into savings every month.

Use Student Discounts

You can also try to build your savings by taking advantage of student discounts. Be a savvy shopper and flash that student ID or use your student email for your login whenever you can. There are more opportunities than you may realize to utilize your status as a student to get a discount.

We Can Help

With flexible savings and checking accounts, online banking and bill pay and our mobile app, we have all the features a college student needs in a bank, including conveniently located branches and ATMs across Central Massachusetts. Contact us to learn how we can make banking easy for you.

National Homeownership Month

It's National Homeownership Month, so we want to educate potential homebuyers about financing options. We know the past year has been challenging for many, with the COVID-19 pandemic increasing uncertainty and decreasing housing inventory. While we can’t alter the overall market trends, we can ensure you have the knowledge and the tools you need to take the necessary steps toward homeownership.

Housing Loans 101

Which housing loan will work best for you and your family? Here is a brief overview of some of the primary options we can provide:

  • Fixed-Rate Mortgage. The fixed rate is determined at the start of the mortgage term and does not change for the duration of the mortgage. This option provides stability and is optimal if you are ready to make steady payments for an extended period of time.
  • Adjustable-Rate Mortgage. This type usually has a lower starting rate than a fixed-rate mortgages, but is subject to change. This is a good alternativeif you initially need smaller monthly payments or if you haven’t yet moved up to your long-term dream home. We can provide various terms.
  • Construction Mortgage: This option covers costs as you build your own house, and can then be converted to a permanent, traditional financing option. We offer fixed-rate mortgages for all types of home construction.

Already a Homeowner?

If you’re already a homeowner and looking to upgrade, you can use the equity in your current home towards a new one. The more equity you have, the more you will profit from the sale, allowing you to lower your mortgage on a comparable house or purchase a more expensive one.

Cornerstone Bank Can Help

No matter what steps you’re looking to take, we can help make sure you’re making a good financial decision. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of homeownership for National Homeownership Month, contact us today. You can check our current rates and get connected to one of our mortgage loan officers who can answer your questions.

The Basics of Home Equity

One of the benefits of owning a home is the ability to build equity and tap into that to pay for major expenses like remodels, debt or tuition. But what exactly is home equity and how can you use it? We break down the basics of home equity to help you understand why it is so valuable.

What is Home Equity?

Equity is the difference between what you owe on your mortgage and what your home is currently worth. For example, if you owe $150,000 and your home is worth $250,000, you have $100,000 of equity in your home. To determine your equity at any one time, you will need to have an accurate assessment of the value of your home. Only a real estate appraiser can give you an official evaluation of your home’s everchanging worth, but you can estimate the value based on comparable home sales in your area.

How Do You Build Home Equity?

There are numerous ways to build equity in your home.

  • Make a big down payment. The larger amount you put down in the beginning, the more equity you will start out with.
  • Focus on paying off your mortgage. Your minimum monthly mortgage payment covers interest, taxes and insurance, with some of it going towards your principal balance. Paying a little more than the minimum each month will allow you to lower your principal balance faster, growing the equity in your home.
  • Stay in your home for at least five years. If your home increases in value, you will grow your home equity. One way to do that is to stay in your home for at least five years to see its value jump.
  • Add value to your home by renovating. Updating your kitchen or bathrooms or even adding on an addition can make your home more appealing.

How Do You Use Home Equity?

You can use the equity in your home to help you financially in several ways, including as a tool to help buy a new home. The more equity you have inside your current home, the more you will profit from the sale. This allows you to make a larger down payment on the next home, lowering your mortgage on a comparable house or allowing you to purchase a more expensive one.

You can also borrow against your home with a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). A home equity loan works like a second mortgage, allowing you to borrow a specified percentage of equity you have in your home in a lump sum you will then pay back monthly. A HELOC is more like a credit card, except the limit is tied to the equity in your home. You only have to pay back what you borrow.

How We Can Help

We can help you finance your next big project, help pay off other debt and dozens of other uses through a home equity loan or HELOC. Contact us today to learn more about our rates and be connected to a mortgage loan officer who can answer any of your questions.