How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Identity theft is scary and can be extremely costly if you fall victim to it. There are lots of companies that offer identity theft protection. Although these services are beneficial, they can be expensive. Luckily there are many low-cost ways that you can protect yourself from becoming a victim:

  1. Use strong passwords that include upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  2. Ensure that your electronic devices have updated antivirus software on them.
  3. Keep financial documents in a secure location.
  4. Don’t post personal information (i.e., address, mother’s maiden name, birthdate, etc.) on social media. Also, don’t send account information or social security numbers via email or text.
  5. Don’t give out your debit/credit card information unless absolutely necessary.
  6. Don’t click on links in emails and beware of email phishing scams. Don’t enter your account information online unless you know you are on a legitimate website.
  7. Use online banking to receive statements and review your accounts frequently (at least a few times a week) for fraudulent activity.
  8. Review your credit reports annually. You can request a free credit report from each credit reporting agency each year at annualcreditreport.com. It is a good idea to stagger the reports so that you review one from each bureau every 4 months.
  9. You can put a fraud alert on your credit report if you notice suspicious activity. You just have to contact one of the three credit bureaus (experian.com, www.equifax.com, www.transunion.com). You can also request a security freeze (for a small fee) on your credit report so that only institutions that you currently do business with can request your credit information.
  10. Opt out of unsolicited credit offers. You can opt out at www.optoutprescreen.com.

   -Kathryn M.

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Saving Money When You Shop

Everyone knows you can save quite a bit of money by using coupons but it can be very time consuming to clip coupons. Here are some less cumbersome ways that you can save money (and time) when shopping.

*When shopping online, use websites like Honey.com. Honey is free to join and automatically searches for the best discount codes for you to use on all your online purchases.

*When planning meals, look up recipes online. Some recipe sites like allrecipes.com will search local ads for sales on the ingredients included in the recipe.

*If you are going to be eating out or buying a specific item, do a google search for discount codes before shopping.

*If you have a product that you use frequently such as a certain type of coffee, write to the company that provides that product. Let them know you are a loyal customer who enjoys their product and ask for free samples or coupons. This is also good to do if there is a new thing you want to try.

*Sign up for emails from sites that search for daily deals like thekrazycouponlady.com, yipit.com, groupon.com, etc.

Getting the best deal may take a little planning ahead but the money saved is worth it!

-Kathryn M.

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Helping Your Kids Learn About Money Management

Here is an interesting article and video discussing how to help your children learn about money management: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/02/22/the-fab-mom-on-2-mistakes-parents-can-avoid-when-teaching-kids-about-money/

The video recommends: 1) Giving kids money for chores they perform rather than providing them with an allowance, 2) Replacing piggy banks with clear jars so kids can see how much money they are saving, and 3) Starting to teach your kids about money by the time they are 7 years old.  Kids start forming money management habits by kindergarden or first grade so starting to teach them about money early on is a great plan!

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Should You Try a Bi-Weekly Mortgage Payment Program?

You have probably seen mortgage lenders advertising biweekly mortgage payment programs. These are programs where you send mortgage payments to your bank once every two weeks instead of once a month. (You send half of your monthly amount every two weeks.) It sounds like a great and simple way to save money and even cut a few years off your mortgage but you should be sure to read the fine print. Before deciding to go with a company’s bi-weekly payment plan, be sure that:

  • The company will apply the partial payment to your mortgage on the day that it is received.
  • The payment plan is for a bi-weekly payment plan (a total of 26 payments per year) and not a bi-monthly plan (a total of 24 payments per year).
  • The company is not charging excessively high fees for their bi-weekly payment plan services. If the company wants to charge you for the bi-weekly payment plan, it is probably not worth it.

The real advantage to making bi-weekly payments is that you end up paying 13 full payments a year instead of 12. If the 13th payment goes directly toward your principal amount, then you are lowering the amount that you owe faster and can reduce your 30-year loan by up to 7 years. One way to accomplish the same thing as signing up for a biweekly mortgage payment program is to just send in an extra mortgage payment one time each year—consider doing this before setting up a bi-weekly mortgage payment plan.

 

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Tips for Keeping Your Gifts Safe This Holiday Season

It can be the worst feeling when you buy gifts for your loved ones and they wind up being stolen or broken.  Here are a few tips to prevent this:

1-If you buy something online, be sure to have it delivered when someone is home so it doesn’t linger on your porch for too long.

2-Don’t leave any shopping bags visible in your car–bury them in your trunk where potential thieves can’t see them.

3-Don’t mention any big purchases on social media or show pictures of any big ticket items there so potential thieves can’t target you.

4-Don’t keep your fragile gifts within reach of children–they like to shake their presents a little too much!

-Allison G.

 

 

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Smart Spending During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us and for many people, this means spending more money than any other time of the year. Yet, there are a few ways that you can make your dollar stretch even further during this time and prepare for future holiday seasons.

  1. Take advantage of “end of the season” clearance items. Buy summer and fall clothes and outdoor items on clearance. Just be sure that you are shopping around and buying quality items that will stay in style and last for a few years to come. Also, ask for additional discounts for items with blemishes or for floor models.
  2. Buy Halloween decorations and costumes after the holiday and store the items for the next year. This is a great way to save a significant amount of money on costly costumes especially for young children. Remember to account for your child’s growth and buy a size or two larger that will fit him/her in the next year. Buying Christmas decorations and wrapping paper after December 25 and storing them for next year is also a great way to save money.
  3. Make the most of the season’s biggest sales. Create a list of gifts or items that you want to buy this season and then research what stores sell the products, what their deals are, and compare to find the best price.
  4. Avoid impulse shopping. With all the great deals and lowered prices that are heavily advertised, it can be easy to be tempted to impulse buy and purchase items that you don’t need (and may regret buying later on). Stick to your list of needed items and gifts. It is also helpful to keep a close eye on your budget during this time so that you know exactly how much money you have to spend.
  5. Finally, stay organized. If you buy clothes to use next summer or decorations to use the following year, be sure to store them somewhere so you will remember you have them! Ignore the temptation to stash them in a closet or the garage with the intention to properly store them at a later date (you might forget you have them and buy them all over again the next year.)

-Kathryn M.

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Participating in Rewards Programs and How to Keep Track of All of Those Store Rewards Cards

A great way to save money on your daily purchases (and your larger, less frequent purchases) is to take advantage of a store or brand’s rewards program. Signing up for these programs is free and easy but keeping track of the cards and remembering to bring them with you when you shop can be a huge hassle. Luckily there are apps that help you do this. Mobile apps like Key Ring, Belly, Stocard, and Five Stars help keep your cards organized and in one place. Simply download the app to your iPhone or Android and then take pictures of your different rewards cards. The app stores and organizes the cards for you and you no longer have to remember to bring a particular store’s card with you when you shop- just remember your phone!

Some stores and brands like Walmart or Huggies offer a rewards program in a mobile app. Once you download their app, you scan your receipt or enter the receipt number into the app and the app records your points or, in the case of Walmart, your extra savings.

Other apps such as AwardWallet, TripIt, MileWise, and PointsBuzz help you keep track of frequent flyer miles and compare the best itineraries and ways to purchase airline tickets (e.g., using cash, miles, or points).

If you don’t have a smartphone, you can manage your different rewards cards by being sure to use the same phone number and/or email every time you sign up for a rewards program. That way, if you forget the card, the cashier can look up your account using your phone number or email. By always using the same phone number or email, you don’t have to remember which contact information you used for a particular rewards program. Be sure to do whatever you can to take advantage of free rewards programs so you can save money on items you buy regularly.

-Kathryn M.

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