Credit and Lending

The blazing fast car-buying experience

When It’s Not Such a Good Idea to Borrow Money

7 Best Personalized DIY Presents You Can Make For Free (Or Almost Free)

When It’s A Good Idea To Borrow Money

Items Needed When Applying
For A Loan

Options For Members With Low Or No Credit Score

Blazing Fast Car Buying

blazing fast car

Blaze Check is the lightning-fast car-buying solution available now to HTFFFCU members.

The concept behind Blaze Check is not new in the financial market. It has been offered by lenders for a few years now under different trade names, and it has been growing in popularity ever since. The HTFFFCU management team has observed the trend for a while and ultimately decided to follow suit. Since June 2017, members can avail of it at their credit union. Why is this product so important? We spoke with Torrance Harris, former AVP of Lending at HTFFFCU, to tell us what the fuss has been all about.

Why is Blaze Check called the lightning-fast solution to buying a car? What’s so fast about it?

Blaze Check is a blank check pre-approved up to a certain amount. It makes your car shopping experience much smoother because it works as if you are handing over the cash. The sale can be made on the spot without going back and forth with your financial institution or accepting less favorable loan terms offered by the dealership. In fact, having Blaze Check ready means that you have the upper hand when negotiating the price with the dealership.

How would that work?

Let’s say you are told the car you want to buy costs $40,000. Since you have a blank check in your hand, you can use it to your advantage and say that you will buy the car for $37,000. You are prepared to hand the check right there and then. The salespeople do not have to deal with your credit union. The check is ready to be cashed. It is not easy for dealerships to walk away from such an offer.

So I can buy the car faster once I have Blaze Check. How do I obtain the check in the first place?

The process is the same as with applying for a car loan. You can apply in person, over the phone or online. If you get pre-approved, a loan officer will contact you and explain the process of using Blaze Check.

Do I have to make a lightning-fast decision about the type of car I am going to buy?

No (smiling). Your check is valid for 60 days from the date it has been issued.

And what happens if I do not purchase within 60 days?

Nothing. The check expires.

No penalty?


Can I buy any car with Blaze Check?

You can buy any car up to the amount you get pre-approved for but not higher than $60,000.

What if I want to buy a car that’s more expensive than that?

We can finance any car for you up to the amount you get pre-approved. The only difference is that you will not be able to use Blaze Check for that loan. If you are set on a luxury vehicle above $60,000, our regular car loan procedures will apply. The dealership sends us the purchase order once you make your decision. In this case, you are using Blaze Check as your pre-approval letter.

So is the value of the car the only condition why I would not use Blaze Check?

There are some other terms and conditions associated with using Blaze Check. If you are planning to look for a car outside of Texas, you will not be able to use Blaze Check. Also, you should know that it can be used only at franchised dealerships backed by major manufacturers and at CarMax and Texas Direct Auto. Moreover, if you are shopping for a pre-owned vehicle, the maximum age for a car purchased with Blaze Check is seven years from the current year while the maximum mileage is 75,000 miles.

If you find yourself looking at a car that doesn’t qualify for purchase with Blaze Check, you can still use that check as a preapproval letter. In both scenarios, having Blaze Check with you is going to help. So keep it in mind when shopping for your next vehicle.

Torrance Harris is the former AVP of Lending at HTFFFCU where he oversees the lending department. He is in charge of training, coaching, staff and product development, all to enhance the HTFFFCU member experience.

When It’s Not Such A Good Idea To Borrow Money


At HTFFFCU we put your circumstances, needs, fears and wants first. That’s why we’d like to tell you about all the times when you definitely shouldn’t consider taking on a loan, whether it’s with us or at any other financial institution. If you’re currently thinking about a loan, you should give these circumstances a second thought.

This might seem obvious but it’s always worth to reiterate: you shouldn’t take a loan…


At HTFFFCU, more than likely, we will not be in a position to approve a loan when we see that you might not be able to afford it. But there are plenty of lenders out there who don’t care. Taking a loan in a situation like this will ultimately cause a spiral of debt that you will have a very hard time untangling. So here’s the simple solution: if you know you cannot afford a loan, don’t take it.


For most people income stability means job security. If there is, however, a significant rotation in your workplace and you find yourself wondering whether you might be the next one to go, then your job situation is anything but stable. The same goes for when you are the one who is considering leaving your job without having another one lined up, or even within the first few months of a new role when anything can rapidly change.

If you’re self-employed or freelancing, income stability means that you have a sufficient client base who use (and pay for!) your products or services on a regular basis. If you’re only starting out or if your income doesn’t produce a steady flow, then no, your situation is not stable yet.

As an add-on, you can think about other income sources such as rent, pension or alimony. Are they stable and regular? Can you count on them?

In this case, the best way to proceed is to hold off on taking any loans until your circumstances change.


There might be an instance that you need a loan to consolidate existing debt and to lower your payments. Or there might be an instance that you just want to buy something you can’t afford to buy with cash so you take out a loan. Can you see the difference between those two statements? In the first case you actually need a loan, second – you want one.

Now, we’re not saying that wanting something and taking a loan to finance it is bad, in fact we’re far from saying this. But in the circumstances of already paying off many loans, you should consider focusing on “needs” and skipping “wants”.


If you know you are addicted to something (whatever it may be), you already have a problem. You don’t need a loan to fix it. More importantly, a loan will not only NOT fix the problem but can actually make it worse. So, just don’t finance a loan.

If you find yourself in any of the situations above, we strongly advise you to proceed with caution. Loans are useful and can help you a lot (check here to see when it actually is a good idea to take a loan) but taken under difficult circumstances, they might overwhelm you and put you under a lot of avoidable stress.

Still unsure if financing a loan is the right solution for you? Come and talk to one of our loan officers and we’ll try and tailor the best solution for your specific situation.

7 Best Personalized DIY Presents You Can Make For Free

(Or Almost Free)


If you are wondering where to get money for Christmas presents and you don’t like to borrow (who likes to anyway?) or you have already borrowed enough, you can stop worrying. You do have options! And they don’t include opting out of Christmas this year!

What can you do then? You can make presents yourself! Yes, that’s right! No, it’s not a children’s thing only. Adults may spread their creative wings too by creating unforgettable handmade gifts depending on their skills and how much time they have.

When DIY Presents Will and Won’t Work

DIY presents are fun to make and easy to enjoy. They will work if your family knows that your budget is stretched this year, if you can make a DIY gift for everyone around the Christmas table or if your friends or family have a tradition of spending little money on presents.

They won’t work, however, if there is an expectation to spend a certain amount of money on presents or if the budget has already been agreed upon. They won’t work either if you have already purchased expensive gifts for most people sitting around the same Christmas table except for just one person. In this case you probably should just buy a re-giftable present or a gift card. Surely you don’t want to make anyone feel like an oddball seeing all the other presents you gave away.

Are you lucky enough to be in the first group? Are DIY presents on your mind?



Making a calendar for a new year might seem like a cheesy idea, right? Good! A calendar is exactly that sort of gift but most of us know people whose hearts will melt upon receiving something cheesy. Plus you can make your calendar better than just cheesy – you can make it both sentimental and funny by adding important dates and reminders.

Best for: Grannies and granddads, moms and dads or aunties and uncles if you are close enough with them.

What you’ll need: It depends. To make it manually – you will need paper, pens, pencils, markers and crayons. You will also need a stapler or a hole puncher and a ribbon. If you prefer to work on your computer, you can make a calendar in Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint or even Paint. More advanced users can use graphic design software. Once your calendar is ready, the only thing you will need is a printer. (The example above was made using Calendar Wizard in Microsoft Office Word.)

Board Game or a Card Game

Board Game

A DIY board game is such a fun-filled gift! You can create your own version of any popular game such as Charades (where your family can act out various situations and people from their own lives), Monopoly (where players are encouraged to buy places in your family town) or Clue (where a board mimics your own house or town). You can also create a completely new game with your own set of rules, characters and objectives. It’s all up to you and your imagination!

For a step-by-step guide on how to make your own board game, click here.

Best for: all game lovers with a bit of sense of humor.

What you’ll need: you can make a board game manually using typical office supplies (although you should consider a thick paper sheet or even a cardboard for the board) or you can make it on your computer using either Word (for a simple card game) or a graphic design software.

Memory Stick Filled With Something Awesome

USB Drive

This particular gift idea requires you to actually purchase a memory stick. But once that’s done you can fill it up with any entertaining or meaningful content you want. How about your top ten comedy movies? How about a TV show the recipient has wanted to watch for a long time? How about a collection of vacation clips from your travels abroad? Just try to think what they might like, drag and drop and be merry!

Best for: anyone who knows what a memory stick is and knows how to use computers.

What you'll need: A memory stick and a library of movies/TV shows.


Cookies in a jar

There is no better homemade gift than food as long as it doesn’t go bad the day after Christmas. You can make anything from cookies, granola, jam, oatmeal bars, truffles or flavored spirits. Just pack them in a nice box or a jar, describe what’s inside and see the smile on recipients’ faces.

Best for: anyone who loves your cooking / baking skills or anyone who’s willing to be a guinea pig.

What you’ll need: Ingredients for whatever you’re planning to make and a container to pack your food gift in.

Photo Album or Photo Board

Empty book

Hardly anyone looks through photo albums these days, right? If you miss sitting on the sofa with something else than your electronic device on your lap, chances are someone else does too! A photo album or a photo board is a great present that lets people re-live all the funny and awkward memories they‘ve made. Just print your favorite (and relevant!) photos, stick them in the album or a sturdy notepad, (to a cork board or card board if you’re making a photo board) draw speech bubbles, stand back and enjoy.

Best for: older generation will undoubtedly appreciate the effort and the effect but you might try with children too. Chances are they have never seen anything like that before and they may love the novelty of it.

What you’ll need: Plenty of pictures to print, a photo album or a notepad, cork or a card board, glue, markers, imagination.


Empty Book

We keep the book near the end of our list because it may seem like a gift that’s too time consuming to make with only two weeks before Christmas. The truth is it may not be. A book doesn’t necessarily mean a novel!

You can give away a recipe book if you know someone who loves your cooking. You can prepare a comic book if you are a skilled doodler. You can write short stories or fairy tales if you are a story teller. You can even print your best blog entries for someone who has no access to the internet.

Best for: practically anyone (although it depends on the topic you’re going to pursue).

What you’ll need: A sturdy notepad and a bunch of pens.


Gift Voucher

The Voucher is the absolute king of DIY presents because it can be as personal as you wish it to be and it offers the most valuable thing – your time. Think about what the other person needs or wants, and make it happen! The best ideas include:

  • Voucher for cleaning the kitchen

  • Voucher for babysitting

  • Voucher for a week of gourmet homemade dinners made by you

  • Voucher for breakfast in bed

  • Voucher for cleaning the car

Are you ready to give away a bit of your time this Christmas?

Best for: everyone.

What you’ll need: Paper and office supplies, or Word processor and a printer.

Items Needed When Applying For A Loan

Loan Application

Most people tread applying for a loan very carefully. They put a lot of thought into whether they REALLY need the loan, how much they can truly afford, should the payments be monthly, bi-weekly or even weekly… The list of all the items to consider is pretty extensive.

To ease the process of applying for a loan here at HTFFFCU, we’ve prepared a list of items you need to bring with you if you apply in person at the credit union. Of course this list of must-haves depends on the type of loan you wish to apply for.

Consumer Loans

Applying for a car loan? Boat loan? Vacation loan? Any other secured or unsecured loan? Here are the items you need to bring with you:

  1. Verification of income
    This can include your two most recent paycheck stubs from each job you hold or your complete two years tax returns with schedule C attached for those who are self-employed. Other, less common sources of income may include retirement income (for example Awards Letter from Pension Verification Office, original W2s, signed tax returns or original bank statements) or Social Security income (either Social Security Awards letter or two of your most recent original account statements).

  2. A form of government-issued ID
    I.e. a driver’s license, ID card or passport.

  3. Two references
    We need contact details and names of two people that you’re close to; one of those must be a family member.

Real Estate Loans

Real Estate loans are a tad more complicated than consumer loans so the list of items needed to start your loan application is bit longer. Obviously, depending on the type of loan you’re thinking of applying for, the list of must-have items varies slightly. (Bear in mind that you will also need to complete an application form as well as bring the listed supportive documents)

If you’re applying for a new mortgage loan or you’d like to refinance your mortgage, you need to bring:

  1. Verification of income
    Let us know about all your income sources which may include:
    Salary income

    1. two most recent paycheck stubs from each job you hold and

    2. Original W2s for the past 2 years

    Commission income
    Tax returns for the past two years with Schedule A attached (signed by you as a confirmation of their legitimacy)

    Sole proprietorship income
    Tax returns for the past two years with Schedule C attached (signed by you as a confirmation of their legitimacy)

    Rent income

    1. Tax returns for the past two years with Schedule E attached (signed by you as a confirmation of their legitimacy) and

    2. Mortgage statement on each rent house you own (if applicable)

    If you cannot access the above, you’ll need to bring instead original, current, signed rent agreements for a rent property purchased within the same year you’re making an application.

    Retirement income

    1. Awards Letter from Pension Verification Office and

    2. Original W2s or 1099R

    If you cannot access the above, you’ll need to bring either signed tax returns from the last two years or original bank statements from the last three months.

    Social Security income

    1. Social Security awards letter or

    2. Last two original bank statements

    Child support income*

    1. Fully executed divorce decree and one of the following:

      1. Original printout from the Attorney General

      2. Last 12 original bank statements

    * Only if the payments are scheduled for more than 3 years. Child Support Income does not need to be disclosed unless the applicant wishes to include it for determining creditworthiness.

  2. Original bank statements (printed electronic or paper) for the last three months

  3. A credit report fee ($17.27 for an individual or $33.18 for joint report) paid by a check, debit to your account or cash

  4. Property purchase contract if you have one

  5. Mortgage statement on the mortgage that we will pay off **

  6. Copy of your deed**

  7. Original survey**

  8. Homeowner’s insurance policy**

** Only if applying for refinancing your existing mortgage

If you’re applying for a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC), here’s what you should bring:

  1. Verification of income (see above a comprehensive list of items)

  2. Tax statement on your property

  3. A copy of your deed

  4. Mortgage statement (if you still have a mortgage)

  5. Homeowner’s insurance policy

  6. Recent pictures of your property (inside and out) if it’s not located in Harris County

Thinking of a remodel or renovation? If you need a little help and planning to apply for home improvement loan, bring these:

  1. Verification of income (see above a comprehensive list of items)

  2. Tax statement on the subject property

  3. Your general contractor’s name and mailing address

  4. Your general contractor’s list of all suppliers and subcontractors

  5. A copy of your deed

  6. Mortgage statement (if you still have a mortgage on the subject property)

  7. A credit report fee ($17.27 for an individual or $33.18 for joint report) paid by a check, debit to your account or cash

  8. Recent pictures of your property (inside and out) if it’s not located in Harris County

And the other of real estate loans – unimproved property loan or refinancing unimproved property loan and the list of items needed to apply for it:

  1. Verification of income (see above a comprehensive list of items)

  2. Original bank statements for the last 2 months (either printed electronic or paper)

  3. Property contract if you have one

  4. A credit report fee ($17.27 for an individual or $33.18 for joint report) paid by a check, debit to your account or cash

  5. Mortgage statement**

  6. Copy of your deed**

  7. Original old survey**

** Only if applying for refinancing your existing unimproved property loan

Something still unclear? Let us know!

When It’s A Good Idea To Borrow Money

Borrow Money

Personally, I hate borrowing money. With small sums, I tend to forget that I had borrowed and I involuntarily put the lender in an awkward position of reminding me “Hey, do you have those five bucks I lent you three months ago?” With larger sums, it weighs so heavily on me that I live on scraps until I save up enough to return the money.

Having said that, I realize that sometimes borrowing is… well… necessary. I might hate it but it doesn’t mean I will always be in a position to NOT borrow. And since I like to think about myself as a rational person, I have decided to examine the possible benefits of borrowing in order to ease my anxiety. Below is what I have found out thanks to the patience from the HTFFFCU Lending Department.


Here’s the bad news…

Every time you apply for a loan, an inquiry is placed on your credit report showing that a lender has reviewed your credit report. If you apply for many loans in a short period of time, several inquiries are going to be placed on your report. To credit bureaus, this may mean that you are desperate for a loan and looking to bite off more than you can chew. As a result they will knock some points off your credit score. There is a little bit of leeway if you’re specifically applying for a mortgage or a car loan where all your inquiries are treated as one single loan application. However, you only have up to a certain amount of days to do your rate shopping.

… but here’s the good part…

Even though applying for any type of loan, including a credit card, might knock some points off your credit score, making regular payments in full will ultimately raise your credit score up. This simply means that getting some sort of credit (and paying it off!) ACTUALLY helps raise your credit score. And a high credit score helps you get better rates on future credit.

...which is good if you’re good too!

Sadly, simply paying off your credit in full and at regular intervals might not help much in raising your credit score if your credit utilization rate remains high. It is considered wisest to keep the credit card utilization below 30% at all times.


As the saying goes, fight fire with fire. So why not try the same method here? If the idea of borrowing gives you goose bumps, go ahead and take a loan for something you technically don’t need a loan for. Take a small furniture loan for example, pay it off within a few months and see how that went. Chances are you will realize that you can have control over your debt and that it’s just not that scary.


Imagine your family is getting bigger and you simply can’t stay in your lovely one bedroom apartment for much longer. Imagine your family income is steady and you’ve been dreaming all your life to move to the suburbs and have a backyard. But you think you can’t make this dream come true because you don’t have enough money on hand to buy a house. The truth is most people don’t have an extra $120,000 lying around and that’s what mortgages are for.

If saving up for a house means that you have to stay in the apartment for another 20 years, that’s considered an unreasonable amount of time and it means you’re in the market for a mortgage.


It might be a good idea to borrow money if you are faced with the chance of skipping your retirement savings contributions or missing out on an investment opportunity. Especially if the monetary value of the losses is significantly higher than the potential loan APR.

Having seen various arguments in favor of borrowing doesn’t really make it easier to borrow for me but I have found a silver lining here. Knowing that there are competent people at HTFFFCU who will tell me if borrowing money makes sense in my particular situation and how it might affect me is so relieving. And if you’re in the same boat and not sure if borrowing is a good idea for you, I’d say go ahead and talk to the loan officers at HTFFFCU. They will provide you with the most accurate information so that you can make an educated decision about which route you want to take.

Anita Tomczak works in the marketing department at HTFFFCU and she is responsible for social media, market research and a lot of promotional blitz. She loves reading, eating and cycling (in this order) and constantly tries to broaden her horizons, both at work and in her personal life.

Options For Members With Low Or No Credit Score

Coins in a glass jar

If you have a low credit score your financial options are vastly limited. But here at HTFFFCU we offer a range of products that will help you both, borrow money that you can use towards any financial goals or obligations you might have, and to build your credit score at the same time (if you make regular payments in full).

And the best part is: we don’t pull your credit history to approve any of them so if you have no credit score at all, you can still take advantage of them!

Certificate Secured Loan

Do you currently have a term share certificate with HTFFFCU? If so, the Term Share Certificate Secured Loan is available to you. With the interest rate only 2% over your existing Term Share Certificate rate, this loan allows you to borrow against 100% of the balance of your Term Share Certificate. And you are not losing any dividends you have already earned - you can continue to earn them.

Share Secured Loan

No term share certificate? That’s no problem. All HTFFFCU members must have savings accounts and you are allowed to borrow against 100% of the balance of your saving account (minus the initial $5 deposit) at only 3.25% APR. The funds are secured by the money in your savings account but you will continue to earn dividends.

Co-Maker Loan (up to $5,000 at 5.9% APR)

If you don’t have enough money saved up either in a term share certificate or in your savings account to make borrowing against them work for you, there is another option that might be just right up your alley. Co-Maker loans allow you to borrow between $1,000 and $5,000 at a competitive 5.9% APR. This signature loan must be co-signed by a minimum of 4 and up to 20 active or retired Houston Firefighters depending on the loan amount. Both you and your guarantors must be members of the credit union in good standing.

Secured Credit Card

Another option to help in building your credit score is applying for a secured credit card. Secured credit cards allow you to borrow money up to the limit you set for yourself by depositing the set amount into a dedicated HTFFFCU account. This sum essentially secures your future borrowing on the credit card. After some time (we recommend 12 months of perfect payment history) you can move to an unsecured credit card* and you will get your initial deposit back in full.

* Any unsecured credit limit you qualify for will depend on your ability to repay the periodic payments.

Any questions? Talk to a loan officer! Call us at (713) 864-0959!