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Save Smarter

Six Tips for Keeping your Smartphone Secure

How your device could be just as vulnerable to hackers as your computer. Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union

What’s shiny, contains some of your most precious memories, and is rarely out of sight? No, it’s not your child after being slathered in sunscreen at the beach. It’s your smartphone. You hear about the importance of securing your computer from hackers, but are you aware of how vulnerable your smartphone could be too? In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, we’ve rounded up tips to help keep the sensitive data on your device safe. 

1. Set a personal identification number (PIN) on the lock screen. While it may be more convenient to keep your phone unlocked, setting up a PIN is one of your first lines of defense against fraudsters in the event your phone is lost or stolen. Many devices prompt you to complete this step upon setup. Pick a PIN that’s difficult for a criminal to guess but easy for you to remember. 

2. Make sure your software and apps are up to date.  Many devices will send a push notification when a software, app, or security update is ready to install. When you receive those notices, install them. It’s also a good idea to occasionally visit your phone’s settings to look for any updates you may have missed. 

3. Log out of applications when you’re done using them.  If you access mobile banking, email, social media, or websites that contain personal data with your phone, get in the habit of logging out when you’re done. You’ll be thankful that fraudsters won’t have easy access to your personal information in case your phone is lost, stolen, or hacked. 

4. Understand what apps you’re downloading.  Before installing an app, consider reviews from previous customers and look over the permissions before downloading it onto your device. Try to stick to only downloading apps from the mainstream app stores or from developers that are well-known and have high ratings. 

5. Be cautious about public wireless networks.  As a rule of thumb, never connect to an unknown wireless network. Cybercriminals may set up a network name that looks very similar to one established by a legitimate venue, so it’s best to ask staff for the network name and password. Avoid opening apps or visiting links that contain your personal information while connected to a public network. 

6. Don’t click on suspicious links.  This includes links sent through email or text messages. If it’s an email, flag it as spam or junk. If it’s a text informing you that you’ve won a prize or have a special offer awaiting you, delete it right away. Unless you’ve opted in to receive notifications by text, a legitimate company will typically not contact you with important information this way.

Taking a few simple precautions now to protect the data on your smartphone could mean fewer headaches and heartbreaks if your phone is ever lost, stolen, or hacked. Our smartphones aren’t nearly as precious as our children, but they contain plenty of sensitive data that needs to be secured. 

Join Member One here each month for more money-saving tips and financial advice! Be sure to visit their website, www.memberonefcu.com, for more info on their products and services. Member One Federal Credit Union is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration.

 

Save Smarter: Spring Clean Your Finances

Put the shivering cold behind you and look ahead to warmer temperatures. Spring is coming! But this time of year isn’t just about rain showers and blooming flowers—it’s time for some spring cleaning, which includes tidying up your finances. Follow these tips to de-clutter your financial life and give you a fresh start for spring.

Close dormant accounts. A financial institution will typically send you a notification if you have an open account that hasn’t been accessed for a set amount of time. If you don’t plan on using the account, close it as soon as possible. This ensures that you’ll avoid any dormant account fees and recoup any remaining funds. It also helps simplify your finances by reducing the number of accounts you have to monitor, which makes maintaining your household budget easier.

Check your credit report and fix any discrepancies. By law, you’re entitled to one free credit report each year, which can be accessed by visiting annualcreditreport.com. You’ll receive a report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Review them to make sure the information looks familiar. If you see something you don’t recognize, like an account you didn’t open, contact the bureau directly to address the discrepancy.

Go paperless and set up automatic bill pay. If you find yourself tossing aside paper account statements, opt to receive electronic statements instead. Not only is it better for the environment, you’ll reduce clutter and receive your account information faster. Another way to reduce clutter and increase efficiency is to set up automatic bill pay, which can typically be done through your financial institution’s online banking system. This will help eliminate your chances of missing a payment and being charged a late fee.

Organize and shred financial documents. Save it or shred it? Experts recommend keeping tax-related documents for seven years, which should cover you in case of an audit. If you’re a homeowner, keep documents related to the purchase of your home, records from any major improvements, and mortgage paperwork. Things like receipts and bills can be safely shred once they clear your account. Rather than piling financial paperwork in one place to deal with later, set up a filing system so you can quickly store what you need to keep and shred what you don’t.

Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union

 

Transitioning from Double to Single-Income

Planned or unexpected, major life changes that result in less income like job loss, illness, or becoming a stay-at-home-parent, bring about many challenges. Not only can they throw you emotionally and even physically for a loop, they also have a big impact on your finances. We’re here to offer tips for handling your finances during this sometimes-inevitable life transition.

Review your household budget. Having an established budget while transitioning from a double- to single-income household is crucial. You need to be acutely aware of how much money is coming in and going out (and to where). This is the perfect time to find every way possible to cut down on extra expenses, like eating out or gym memberships, and truly focus on paying down debts or building up savings.

Consider the extras. If the loss of an income means losing benefits from a former employer, such as health or life insurance, you’ll have to consider the cost of taking on these expenses and add that to your household budget. On the other hand, you can also count on saving money on gas for your vehicle or a workplace wardrobe, for example, since you won’t be traveling to an office every day.

Reevaluate your savings strategy. If your former employer offered retirement savings, it’s in your best interest to figure out alternative ways to contribute to some kind of savings account or investment fund. Even contributing a small amount is better than nothing. And you’ll still want to ensure you have money put away in an emergency fund for unexpected expenses like home repairs or medical emergencies.

Forget about the Joneses. Keeping up with the latest fashion, home décor, and lifestyle trends is expensive! Reducing your household income means making sacrifices, which could include driving older cars, taking cheaper vacations, and searching for free entertainment. If you focus on putting your needs before your wants, you’ll be in much better shape financially.

Supplement your income. If you find that you still can’t make ends meet after cutting every expense possible, consider picking up a side job like tutoring or pet and/or house sitting. You could sell unwanted items at a yard sale or on Ebay, sell crafts on Etsy, or teach online courses. Every bit helps, and it could result in just enough extra funds to make transitioning from a double- to single-income household a little more affordable.

Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union

Six Ways to Optimize Your Tax Refund

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the average taxpayer received a $3,000 refund in 2017. This chunk of change—depending on how you allocate it—could make a big impact on your bottom line. Before you’re tempted to spend it on impulse buys, consider these options for maximizing your tax refund.

Boost your emergency fund. Financial experts say you should have three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund to protect yourself in case of a job loss or another unexpected financial hardship. Stashing your tax refund into an emergency fund could get you well on your way to reaching that dollar goal.

Pay off high-interest debt. Doing this results in an instant return on your investment because you’re saving yourself from paying interest to the lender. If you have several debts to tackle, aim for the one with the highest interest rate first. If you can’t pay off the entire balance, look into transferring the remaining debt onto something with a lower interest rate, like a credit card or personal loan.

Prepay your mortgage. Putting extra money toward your mortgage payment is a great way to save money over time. Use your tax refund to make one additional, full mortgage payment. If you do this every year, you could shave off thousands in interest, shorten your repayment years, and build equity faster.

Fund an investment account. If you’re new to investing, a great place to start is at your local financial institution. Many offer competitive, low-risk investment options like money market or share certificate accounts. You could also consider putting your tax refund toward a Roth or traditional IRA, which can be great ways to save for retirement.

Save for the future. The IRS allows you to split up your refund into several accounts. Consider putting some, or all, into a special savings account to help fund a future purchase, like a vacation or next year’s holiday gifts. This is also a great opportunity to jump-start a college savings fund for your child.

Make home improvements. While your refund won’t cover an entire kitchen or bathroom remodel, you could make minor improvements such as painting cabinets, updating hardware, or installing a new backsplash. Look into replacing old appliances for more energy-efficient models or installing new windows to save on heating and cooling bills.

 

Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union

 

 

 

Avoiding a Financial Doomsday

A major car repair, job loss, or medical emergency—all are scary realities and could lead to financial ruin unless you’re prepared. While these misfortunes are often unpredictable, there are things you can do to prevent financial catastrophes. With a new year on the horizon, now is the perfect time to get your emergency fund in place.

Build up your emergency fund. According to financial experts, you should have three to six months worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund. This should protect you in case of a job loss or another unexpected financial hardship. While that amount might seem daunting, you can start small. Make a goal of saving one month’s worth of living expenses in six months or a year. This will help boost confidence in your saving abilities while getting you to your goal.

Determine where to store your money. Your emergency fund needs to be readily available, so don’t tie it up in things like investment accounts. A high-yield savings account or a money market account is a good place to start. If it has checks or a debit card, it’s a safe bet. Set up an account that’s separate from your regular savings. Some even recommend getting an account at a different financial institution altogether. Consider setting up automatic deductions into that account so you don’t even need to think about it.

Find extra money. If you find it difficult to build up your emergency fund, look for other ways to contribute like putting your tax return toward your fund or selling items you no longer need or use. Closely examine your household budget and discover ways to save. Maybe it’s time to cancel subscriptions you don’t need (cable, magazines, or the gym), or cut down on eating out. And if you haven’t done this yet, make a household budget so you know exactly where every dollar you earn and spend is going.

Maintain your fund. It’s recommended that you visit the dentist every six months for a cleaning and to spot any problems before they become major issues. The same attention should be paid to your finances. Commit to regular check-ins to make sure you’re on track with building up your emergency fund. If you do and a financial disaster occurs, the impact will be much less devastating.

 

Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union

Home Equity Basics from Member One

Your home improvement to-do list is a mile long, but you’re lacking the funds to get anything done. Sound familiar? Since the likelihood of stumbling upon a pot of gold is none, consider tapping into your home equity—the difference between what your property is worth and what you still owe on your mortgage. Read on to learn more about how to leverage your home’s hidden value.

Do the math. Home equity is calculated by looking at the value of your home and subtracting the amount you owe on any mortgages. Let’s say your home is valued at $200,000, and you owe $150,000 on your mortgage. That means you have $50,000 in equity you could potentially use to fund a renovation.

Know the difference. With a home equity loan, you receive the money you’re borrowing in a lump sum payment. It usually has a fixed rate and is often best for large, one-time expenses like a new roof. A home equity line of credit (HELOC) operates more like a credit card in that you can draw money as needed from an available maximum amount. This is best for ongoing expenses that require spending flexibility.

Shop around. You have to apply for a home equity loan or line of credit through a financial institution that offers it. As with any loan, shop around for the rate and features that fit your financial situation. It’s important to understand that committing to a home equity loan or line of credit means you’re using your home as collateral—if you don’t repay the loan, it could go into default, and you could risk losing your home. Make sure you understand the terms and only borrow the amount you can afford.

Budget accordingly. One of the most common ways to use a loan or line of credit is for renovations because they add even more value to your home. You can also use it for things you might not expect like college tuition, debt consolidation, or unexpected medical costs. Whatever you decide to fund, make sure it fits your budget. If your income is unstable and you can’t keep up with the payments, it’s probably not a good idea to incur more debt. If you don’t need to borrow much money or you’re just going to use this for basic day-to-day expenses, it might be wise to consider different options—such as a credit card—or reevaluate your spending habits.

Member One: Credit Score Quick Guide

It’s one of the most important numbers linked to your identity: your credit score. But are you fully aware of why it’s so significant, and what constitutes a good credit score? Read on for a brief explanation of what it is and tips for improving it.

What is it? Your credit score is a number that ranges from 300 to 850 and, along with repayment history, is an indication of your creditworthiness. Anything above 700 is generally viewed as good credit and signals to potential lenders that you’re more likely to pay back your debts on time.

Why should I care? A credit score helps determine whether you’re approved or denied for a credit card or loan and your interest rate. On-time payments have a big impact on your score, and just one or two late payments can significantly lower it. If you’ve ever had a bill go to collections, declared bankruptcy, or had a foreclosure, your score will go down. The number of loans in your name matter and the more accounts you have (in good standing), the better, because it shows that multiple lenders have approved you.

How do I find out my score? The three major credit-reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—are required by law to provide you with a free credit report every 12 months. Keep in mind that this is just the report and not the actual score. In order to receive your score, you typically have to purchase it. Visit MyFICO.com to buy your official FICO score. Also, check your monthly credit card statement as some lenders now include your credit score as an added service.

What are some quick ways to improve it? One of the best ways is to consistently pay your bills on time. Other ways include paying down a credit card balance to improve your utilization rate, and keeping lines of credit open with zero balances. Both of these strategies show lenders that you’re able to manage debt and aren’t biting off more than you can chew.

As a general rule of thumb, you should review your credit report along with your score at least once a year. Not only is it beneficial to keep yourself informed and aware, it could help protect against fraud or identity theft.

Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union

 

Warm Up to Responsible Spending

With warm, sunny days upon us, it’s time to plan for more than just your tan: summer spending. Vacations, airline tickets, dining out, and entertainment—it adds up. If you haven’t budgeted for these expenses in advance, a quick swipe of your credit card takes care of it. But if responsible credit card use isn’t your strength (or you just need a refresher), these tips could help curb the temptation to overspend this summer.

Be selective. There are several factors to look at when picking a credit card. First, you’ll want to see what your limit is. If you don’t think you can handle the freedom of a credit card, start with one that has a lower limit, like $1,000. Additionally, look at the credit card’s annual percentage rate or APR. That interest will add up if you’re not planning on paying off the total each month, so shop around for a low APR. Finally, look out for cards that charge annual fees just for keeping them open.

Monitor your balance. You should keep credit card payments to 10 percent of your monthly take-home income. For example, if your monthly income is $2,000, your monthly credit card payment should not be more than $200. This doesn’t mean your balance should not exceed $200, but make sure your minimum payment is no more than that. Keep in mind, however, that paying off the entire balance each month is in your best interest financially.

Know the benefits. By making purchases with your credit card and paying the balance off each month, you’re proving to lenders that you’re a responsible, creditworthy consumer. It boosts your credit score and will help you in the future if you ever want to get a loan—or another credit card.

Stick to a budget. It’s important to set parameters for yourself when using a credit card. One simple way to do this is to use the credit card for one specific purpose, like gas or groceries, so it’s easier to keep your spending in check. Another way is to get a card with a low limit. This forces you to keep your spending under a certain amount.

Smart credit card use doesn’t have to be a mystery or limit your fun this summer. Follow these simple tips and your poolside lounge session (while possibly chasing the kids) will be that much more relaxing.

Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union