A Message for Members Regarding Account Security Following Home Depot Data Breach

??????????????Home Depot is officially the latest big retailer to suffer a payment data breach, the company confirmed on 9/8/14. It’s unclear how many customers were affected, but Home Depot said the breach could have hit customers who used debit or credit cards at its U.S. and Canadian stores from April 2014 forward.

The company released few other details in its statement as it continues to determine the full scope, scale and impact of the breach. At this point there is no evidence that debit PIN numbers were compromised, and the breach doesn’t appear to have affected physical stores in Mexico or HomeDepot.com.

Naturally, this latest data breach has created inquiry from First Financial members regarding the security of their credit and debit card accounts.

We want to assure members that your accounts with us are monitored 24/7 by an experienced team of security professionals for any suspicious or potentially fraudulent activity. First Financial employs the most advanced fraud detection and prevention technology to guard members’ credit and debit accounts against unauthorized access and use. Here’s a quick update for your peace of mind:

  • If our security team observes any unusual activity on member accounts, we will contact members immediately to determine whether the transaction activity is legitimate and authorized.
  • It is also a good practice for members to keep a watchful eye on their accounts and transactions and look for any unauthorized activity or purchases.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!*

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. **Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

We will continue to monitor all members’ accounts for suspicious activity. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please give us a call at 866.750.0100 or email us at info@firstffcu.com. Thank you for being a valued member of First Financial.

Article Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/security/home-depot-confirms-credit-card-data-breach-n198621

 

Is There Such a Thing as Good Debt?

3d man sitting sad with text 'debt'.Most of the time, the word “debt” has negative connotations. Debt costs you money and therefore takes money away from financial goals like saving and investing.
So could there ever be good debt? That’s no easy answer. How you use debt has a big impact on whether or not you can consider it “good.” If you have too much of a “good” thing — that’s when it can turn into bad debt. So let’s consider 3 types of debt: investing in a college education, buying a home, and starting a business.

1. Are Student Loans Always Good Debt?
Student loans aren’t always good debt, because most people don’t consider how long they’ll be paying back their student loans when they take them out. But that doesn’t make them bad. If you take them out to obtain a job that you could have only secured with a college education and earn enough to make your student loan repayments manageable, your student loan debt was a good debt.

Here are some tips for student loans:

  • Keep your total loans under your projected starting salary when you graduate. If you’re able to do that, you should be able to pay them off with the standard 10-year plan.
  • Cut down on the loan amount. Get college credits while you’re in high school, go to a community college for your first two years, stick to a state school, and apply for scholarships.
  • Get a job to pay for your living expenses while you’re in school so you don’t take out loans for living expenses.
  • Keep in mind that private student loans don’t offer the flexibility of federal loans, so try to apply for federal student loans first.

Check out our FREE student loan calculator here to help manage your student loan debt, which will show you how much you can save by consolidating multiple loans or how to pay off your high interest student loan debt as quickly as possible.

2. How Much Should I Borrow for a Mortgage?
Owning a home used to be considered the American dream, and for many people it still is. Most people need to take out a mortgage for their purchase. If you think you’ll be in the same area for several years and can put a 20% down payment on a home, a mortgage could be a good long-term investment. Interest rates on mortgages are historically low, and owning a home can also provide tax benefits. The nice thing about a home is that it’s an investment you can live in.

However, many people end up buying a home without thinking about how it will affect their lifestyle or how they’ll pay their mortgage if an emergency came up. To avoid this, here are a few rules of thumb:

  • Make a 20% down payment so you can avoid paying private mortgage insurance.
  • Don’t use your entire savings account for a down payment. Homes are a hotbed for dipping into your emergency savings, as there are far more unexpected expenses that come up than when you’re living in an apartment.
  • Boost your credit score before you buy. Make sure you have a score above 700 so you can qualify for the best mortgage rates available. This can save you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan.

Try First Financial’s First Score Credit Counseling program; a low cost, interactive session ($30) with a First Financial expert, which simulates your credit score with various “what if” scenarios. You can email us at firstscore@firstffcu.com or call 866.750.0100, Option 4 to get started.

  • If you think you might move in the next five years, you might want to rent so you don’t have to move during a down market and possibly sell your home for a loss.
  • In figuring out your monthly housing costs, the principal and interest on the mortgage loom large. But don’t forget property taxes, insurance, utilities, repairs, landscaping, snow removal and other factors. Make sure that your monthly housing expenses leave room for other expenses too.

We offer a number of great mortgage options, including refinancing – click here to learn about our 10, 15, and 30 year mortgage features and see what a good fit for your home is!*

To receive updates on our low mortgage rates straight to your mobile phone, text FIRSTRATE to 69302 and each time our mortgage rates change, we’ll send you a text message with the new rates.**

3. What About Using a Loan to Start a New Business?
Entrepreneurship seems to be the new job security for many people in this generation. Incurring debt to start a business can be good debt if the funds help you to build a sustainable livelihood that allows you to repay any money borrowed and improve your financial situation. Just be cautious of how much debt you’re taking on.

Follow these tips to be financially smart and successful in your business:

  • Self-fund your business venture with savings first.
  • The smaller the investment, the quicker you can make money.
  • Do your research and get experience in the field before your launch. Some business opportunities require much bigger up-front investments, which may lead to a small business loan.

Did you know First Financial offers Business accounts, loans, and services? We understand that not every business is the same and, therefore, not every loan need can be the same.  This is exactly why we look at each individual business and create a customized lending solution to meet your specific needs. Please contact us at business@firstffcu.com and we’ll be happy to provide you with more information on business loans and services.

Debt Costs Money, So Use it Wisely
Debt can be good, but only if it helps you leverage your assets to build wealth. Every good debt has the potential to turn bad, so do your research first. The fewer monthly obligations you have, the more money you have to fund a lifestyle that you love.

Don’t forget about our free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR.

 **Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

 Article Courtesy of Daily Finance Online by Sophia Bera

First Financial Foundation Announces Winners of 2014 Erma Dorrer Literary Scholarship

Press Release

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(L to R): 2014 scholarship winners Kimberly Rogers, Demonica Britt, Michael Perry, President/CEO Issa Stephan, and Carly Burrus.

WALL, N.J. – The First Financial Federal Credit Union Foundation (www.firstffcu.com) recently awarded $500 scholarships to four deserving undergraduate students.

This year’s winners included: Kimberly Rogers of Ocean Township, Georgian Court University; Demonica Britt of Freehold, Seton Hall University; Michael Perry of Freehold, Boston College; and Carly Burrus of Neptune, Coastal Carolina University.

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Pictured above: 2014 scholarship winner Kimberly Rogers with Issa Stephan and her parents.

This year, there was one scholarship topic for student applicants to respond to: In today’s world, identity theft, building credit and maintaining good credit are essential elements in our financial lives.  How will you address these essential financial elements during your college years, and how will you guide your friends and family to address the above elements?  Your response should include details about how to protect yourself and what others should do to protect themselves from ID theft, as well as how you plan to build credit and maintain credit for your financial future.

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Pictured above: 2014 scholarship winner Demonica Britt with Issa Stephan and her daughters.

Applicants submitted a written essay or video clip to answer the question, and had to be a member of the credit union by 12/31/13 and about to attend for fall 2014 or currently attending a 2 or 4 year college anywhere in the country.

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Pictured above: 2014 scholarship winner Michael Perry with Issa Stephan and his parents and grandmother.

“We are thrilled to be able to aid these admirable and bright students in their journey of success and education,” said First Financial President and CEO, Issa Stephan.  “Our credit union puts a high priority on education, after all – that’s how First Financial began 78 years ago, with a group of schoolteachers in Asbury Park.”

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Pictured above: 2014 scholarship winner Carly Burrus with Issa Stephan and her mother.

View more about this year’s scholarships and the First Financial Foundation on First Financial’s website.

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About the First Financial Foundation:

Since 1994, First Financial has supported the Monmouth & Ocean communities with the Erma Dorrer Scholarship Program. Today, that program has been extended into the First Financial Foundation to assist charitable organizations of the Monmouth & Ocean County Communities.  The First Financial Federal Credit Union Foundation is a non-profit working to support a variety of community programs and organizations throughout Monmouth and Ocean Counties.  We direct 100% of your contributions to programs because all administrative expenses are paid for by First Financial Federal Credit Union.  To learn more, visit www.firstffcu.com.

ID Theft Risks That Lurk in Your Child’s Backpack

Girl walking away from School Bus while texting on her phoneWhile you’re out searching for the perfect back-to-school backpack for your child, the more important consideration other than style, size, and color should be — what can happen if a dishonest person gets a hold of it? The things your child carries in his or her backpack can become a huge financial headache if they fall into the wrong hands.

With identity-related crimes at historic levels, the odds are better than ever that a dishonest person will know the basics of taking advantage of the kinds of personally identifiable information, sensitive data (like passwords and credit card numbers), and the many other keys to your household economy that can lurk in your child’s backpack.

Here’s a short list of what a relatively creative thief might find in your child’s backpack, and what you can do to prevent the worst from happening.

1. A Smartphone

While obvious to you (hopefully), does your child understand the serious potential for disaster that a walk-about smartphone can bring to your doorstep?

It can be as simple as a scammer dialing 611 and ordering new services. Chances are good that there’s enough information in your child’s backpack for a motivated thief to get your name and thus the keys to your telephonic kingdom.

But there are other identity indignities that can be done. Many people store user name and password information on the Notes app of their phones. The Notes may contain other informational cracks and crevices as well and open up unsuspecting third parties — relatives and friends — to scams. Email scams, grandparent scams, an iTunes or apps shopping spree, malware installation — so many tidbits to exploit.

What to do: Talk to your kids about the dangers of an unsecured phone and discuss basic data storage details with them — like what information shouldn’t be on their phones. Is the phone locked with a passcode? It should be! Also have them set strong (think creatively alpha-numeric) passwords, and a Find Me app to erase the contents should the device fall into the wrong hands.

2. Their Laptop

You don’t need to be a movie buff to know that a computer is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Most issues associated with a lost phone come to bear here as well. Emails can be sent to relatives or strangers in the service of stealing money or wreaking havoc.

Beyond the irresistible cornucopia of files that may well be saved on the device, email is a treasure trove of personally identifiable information — everything from credit card numbers to more data like name, address, email addresses and birthdays — pieces of a puzzle that can be assembled to present a believable story to a customer service representative and then steal valuable goods and services, or used as a fly trap to accumulate even more personally identifiable information.

Does your child have access to your Netflix account? How about Amazon or iTunes? Where else have they gone in cyberspace that might have their information — or yours? Open social media sites that are set to login automatically afford a wide vista of scamming opportunities too.

What to do: Make sure your child gets into the habit of logging out of all their online accounts, and that they don’t store sensitive information on their laptops. Talk to them about the wisdom of not saving user ID and password information, and how to make a good one. Finally, have your child set a password — shared with you — to protect their device against the wrong person accessing it.

3. Keys and Name Tags

So, this is pretty straightforward: If your child uses a karabiner to attach his or her keys to their backpack, you’ve got a potential robbery waiting to happen.

Additionally, there are apps that can allow a fraudster (as well as a person who might want to use the app to avoid unnecessary inconvenience) to make a copy of a key that a locksmith can duplicate.

What to do: Tell your child to keep the keys to your home in their pocket rather than on their back.

4. Gaming Device

Playstation Vita is a popular gaming device — and not the only device that could cause you a world of woe should it fall into the wrong hands — but we’ll single it out for the sake of illustration.

The good news: Your personally identifiable information is safe even if someone grabs the device, because it’s password-protected and associated with your gamer’s access to the network.

That doesn’t mean that a bad player can’t do some damage. First, they can play games and wreck your child’s sterling reputation in the community. Worse: Whoever has that device can buy games and run up a hefty bill. One-click purchased games are something any malicious third party can rack up in the way of a very expensive just-because crime.

What to do: Have your child set a passcode for access to the device and make sure they share it with you.

When it comes to data security, best practices are universal. It’s your job to pass on what your kids need to know to stay safe and keep your family out of the crosshairs of ID theft.

To cover all your financial bases, enroll in one of our First Financial’s ID Theft Protection product plans – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored.

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit.* To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and find out how you can enroll today – as well as get started with your first 90 days free!**

*Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

**Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program.

Article Source: Adam Levin for Credit.com, http://www.today.com/parents/identity-theft-risks-lurk-your-kids-backpack-1D80042370

How to Plan for Your Child’s Financial Future

Piggybank family isolatedIn this economy and time period, every parent shares a mutual fear. You think to yourself, “What if my son or daughter isn’t financially stable in their lifetime?” You may be nervous that your child will not be able to pay off college loans or purchase a home when they are older. You might also be worried that your child will struggle to meet car payments, or that they won’t be able to save up money in case of emergencies or for when they grow older.

Read the tips below to learn how you can relieve your fears and help prepare your children for their financial future.

  • Teach financial responsibility. It’s natural to fear that your children will take on too much debt or be unprepared for financial emergencies when they reach adulthood. But you don’t have to wait until they make a mistake to prepare them to be financially responsible. It’s important to remember that it’s never too early to start talking to kids about money and saving. When your kids are young, you’ll want to start with simple conversations about money (sharing tips about your purchase decisions with them when you shop), and as they get older introducing more complex money matters (such as the value of having an emergency fund and saving for unexpected events).
  • Use an allowance as an educational tool. An allowance is an ideal way to teach about responsible spending and saving. Provide your children with the opportunity to save and spend their allowance as they please (with some guidance). This flexibility will allow them to learn early on that spending money as fast as they earn it can have consequences. Depending on the age and maturity of your child, you may choose to share with them a financial mistake you made in the past and how you recovered from it.
  • Plan for college. As college tuition increases, many parents worry about how their children will afford to attend, or how you as a parent can possibly save enough to pay for your child’s college education. As parents, consider beginning to save into a 529 Plan early in your child’s life. When it comes time to make college decisions, help your child evaluate the tuition and other college expenses (travel home, club dues, entertainment costs, etc.) for each college he or she is considering. Make sure to educate yourself on current student loan lending practices and options and help your child determine a realistic amount of student loan debt he or she can take on if necessary.
  • Prepare for life’s big purchases. Even for young adults with a responsible mindset, a lack of financial knowledge can be detrimental for large purchases like a car or home. As a parent, you can offset this concern by being open to discuss these things as your child grows older and begins managing their own money.
  • Reframe your money mindset. Changing the way you think about money can go a long way to alleviating your financial fears for your children and, at the same time, help your children learn to make smart financial decisions. The real question you should ask isn’t, “Can we afford this?” but rather, “Do we need this, and if so, is this the best deal we can get on it, and should we wait and buy it when we have saved the money for it?” These may seem like small differences, but they aren’t. How our children think about money will make a huge difference in their ability to wisely manage it and consequentially will have a huge impact on their quality of life.

Visit First Financial’s website resources tab to view a list of free financial calculators and resources that you and your children can utilize to help save for college and future big ticket purchases like a car, home, and how to save money.

Join us on Thursday, August 7th, for First Financial’s free seminar on this very subject – teaching your children about finances. The seminar will be held at the credit union’s Wall Office on Route 34 at 6pm. Space is limited so we recommend that you register beforehand.

For more information and to register online, click here.

 Article courtesy of Daily Finance Online, by Michele Lerner

Summer Vacation Scams: Possible Hazards of Hoteling

Customers paying at the hotelBooking a hotel stay for a summer vacation? Before you check in, check out how scammers can try to take advantage of travelers.  Always be aware and on the lookout for possible scams!

The late night call from the front desk.

You think you’re getting a late night call from the front desk telling you there’s a problem with your credit card and they need to verify the number, so you read it to them over the phone. But it’s really a scammer on the line. If a hotel really had an issue with your card, they would ask you to come to the front desk.

The pizza delivery deal.

In another scam, you find a pizza delivery flyer slipped under your hotel door. You call to order, and they take your credit card number over the phone. But the flyer is a fake, and a scammer now has your info. Before you order, make sure you check out the business (ensure it’s a franchise or reputable), or get food recommendations from the front desk. 

The fake Wi-Fi network.

You search for Wi-Fi networks and find one with the hotel’s name. But it turns out it’s only a sound-alike and has nothing to do with the hotel. By using it, you could give a scammer access to your information. Check with the hotel to make sure you’re using the authorized network before you connect. Read more tips on using public Wi-Fi networks.

Other things to be cautious of when staying at or booking a hotel stay:

  • Always lock your car, and don’t leave anything valuable in your vehicle and/or visible.
  • Try to park your car as close to the front office of the hotel as possible.
  • Don’t leave anything valuable in your room unless there is a secure way to do it (like an in-room safe).
  • Check your credit card statement after your stay to make sure it’s accurate.
  • Be weary of hotel booking websites – there have been instances of advertisements claiming that for booking a hotel room you can receive a complimentary gift card from a known retailer. When clicked on, the scammers will oftentimes ask for a credit card number and more personal info.

Haven’t booked your trip yet? If you’re thinking of getting a vacation rental, take a moment to read up about rental listing scams. And check out these other travel tips, including tell-tale signs that a travel offer or prize might be a scam.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored.

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit.* To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and find out how you can enroll today – as well as get started with your first 90 days free!**

*Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

**Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program.

Article Source: Amy Herbert – Consumer Education Specialist for the FTC, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/hazards-hoteling.