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.

First Financial Holds Groundbreaking Ceremony for New Freehold/Howell Service Center

Press Release

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Pictured above, left photo: The First Financial Board of Directors and staff prepare to cut the ribbon to commence the groundbreaking of the credit union’s newest branch alongside Gordon Holder (Board Chair, center) and Issa Stephan (President/CEO, far right).

Pictured above, right photo: Howell Township officials attend the ceremony. From left to right: Paul Schneider (Howell Planning Board), Issa Stephan, Jeffrey Filiatreault (Township Manager), Town Councilman Robert Walsh, and Gordon Holder.

First Financial Federal Credit Union (http://www.firstffcu.com/) held a groundbreaking ceremony on June 24, 2014 at the site of the credit union’s soon to be newest branch at 389 Route 9 North (next to the Howell Park & Ride) in Freehold, NJ 07728.

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Pictured above: Some First Financial Corporate Office staff with Issa Stephan and Gordon Holder.

In attendance were several Howell Township officials including Township Manager Jeffrey Filiatreault, Councilman Robert Walsh, Paul Schneider of the Howell Planning Board, along with Howell Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Dominguez, the First Financial Board of Directors and Supervisory Committee, President/CEO Issa Stephan, realtor Marshall Kern, builder Mitch St. Lawrence, and members of the First Financial Corporate Office staff.

The ceremony kicked off the construction of the credit union’s newest branch, which will be a primary banking location for approximately a quarter of the credit union’s 20,000 members. First Financial’s newest branch will feature many important banking conveniences such as a drive thru, drive up and walk up ATMs, and more.

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Pictured above: Issa Stephan and Gordon Holder showcase the First Financial Member Experience.

Brief remarks were made by Issa Stephan and Gordon Holder at the ceremony. In regard to the building and future opening of the credit union’s latest branch location, Mr. Stephan stated, “We look forward to bringing the Howell and Freehold community a high-tech banking facility featuring modern convenience. Member experience is extremely important to us, and our first priority is achieving our members’ financial dreams by defining their financial goals and lifestyle, empowering them with financial education, helping them to plan their retirement, and more – and our newest branch will be a key vehicle in helping us to fulfill this promise with our membership.”

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Pictured above: Some of the First FInancial Board of Directors and Supervisory Committee from left to right – David Graf, Laurita Carr, Issa Stephan, Gordon Holder, Elizabeth White, Karen Fiore, and Catherine McLaughlin.

More photos from the ceremony are available by following First Financial on Facebook at www.facebook.com/firstfinancialnj.

Turn the Lights Out on Fake Utility Bill Collectors

Phone scamThe caller sounds convincing: If you don’t pay your utility bills immediately, your gas, electricity or water will be shut off, and then they ask you to pay using a specific and unusual method.

Be warned: The call probably is a scam.

The Federal Trade Commission, state and local consumer protection agencies, and utility companies have gotten a slew of complaints from consumers about utility bill scams.

 

Here are a few signs you may be dealing with a scammer:

  • You get a call or an email claiming your services will be cut off unless you call a number or click on a link and give your account information. Most utility companies don’t ask you to send your account information by email.
  • Someone calls demanding you wire the money or use a prepaid or reloadable debit or gift card to pay your bill. Legitimate companies don’t demand you use those methods to pay.  
  • The caller tells you to call a phone number and give your credit, debit, or prepaid card number. If you do that, the scammer can access the money from your credit, debit, or prepaid card, and you can’t trace where your money went. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

If you get a call from someone threatening to shut off your utility service:

  • Make sure you’re dealing with your utility company before you pay any amount. Call the company using a number you’ve looked up. Or go to their website to determine the status of your account. Confirm where and how to pay your bill. Don’t give out your account information on the phone unless you place or expect the call.
  • Never wire money to someone you don’t know, regardless of the situation. Once you wire money, you cannot get it back.
  • Do not click links or call numbers that appear in unexpected emails or texts, especially those asking for your account information. If you click on a link, your computer could become infected with malware, including viruses that can steal your information and ruin your computer.
  • If you are falling behind on your utility bill, contact the utility company and see if they can work with you to come up with a payment plan and a way to keep your service on

If you think a fake utility bill collector or any other scammer has contacted you, file a complaint with the FTC and your state consumer protection agency.

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: Lisa Lake – Consumer Education Specialist for the FTC, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/lights-out-fake-utility-bill-collectors

9 Steps to Drastically Reduce Your Spending

scissorsIf money is tight and you need to scale back your budget, here are some strategies to start saving right away. Putting even one of these ideas into practice should give your finances some breathing room, but if you adopt most or all of them, as long as your income remains steady, worrying about your budget will hopefully become a thing of the past.

1. Clip discretionary spending. Take a hard look at your budget. Can you cut back on cable or dining out? It sounds basic, but those expenses add up. A 2011 LivingSocial “Dining Out” survey of 4,000 Americans found that the average household frequents restaurants and fast food outlets 4.8 times a week. If that sounds like a lot, maybe it is. Last year, a Visa survey of 1,005 adults found that on average, American consumers are eating lunch at restaurants almost twice a week, spending about $10 each time. Either way, a moratorium on dining out may save you close to $100 a month – or perhaps much more, depending on your habits. Meanwhile, ditching cable could net you an extra $90 monthly – the average bill for a U.S. household, according to The NPD Group, a market research company.

2. Negotiate. If you don’t want to get rid of cable or your cell phone (another budget crusher), you might be able to talk down your current price, especially if you give your provider’s customer service representative the notion that you’re considering bolting for the competition. Even if you can’t leave your electric company for an alternate provider, ask if the utility has a program to help you lower your costs.

3. Grocery shop smarter. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average family of four with teens spent $1,258 at the grocery store in December 2013. An adult male or female spent between $300 and $400. So if you’re spending more than that, you could probably do a lot better. Strategies that are often cited (because they work) include: Don’t shop when you’re hungry, take a shopping list, look at the unit price as well as the actual price tag, bring coupons, and shop at deep-discount grocery stores.

4. Preplan your week. Much of what we spend is a result of not thinking about what will be coming up throughout the week. We often have no clue what to make for dinner, so we rush out and grab fast food. We forgot about the birthday party or wedding on Saturday and rush out to buy a gift, spending way more than intended. And when it comes to grocery shopping, preplanning meals and clipping coupons should save you money.

5. Lower your gas expenses. Sites like gasbuddy.com and gaspricewatch.com will find the most inexpensive gas in your neighborhood. And, of course, you can always combine errands, take public transportation or a bicycle, and drive less. According to the California Energy Commission, commuters would save an average of 30 percent on their fuel costs if, instead of driving alone to work, they carpooled, took a bus, rode a bicycle or walked. Considering that the average household spent $2,912 on gasoline in 2012, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a 30 percent savings could equate to more than $70 a month.

6. Reconsider your insurance. You may be in the market for a downgrade. For instance, if your car is getting up there in years and you’ve paid it off – and especially if it hasn’t retained anything close to its original value – both comprehensive and collision insurance may be a waste of money. Collision insurance protects your car if you’re in a wreck, liability protects you if you damage another driver’s car, and comprehensive insurance covers your car if it’s damaged by something other than an accident. Usually you buy collision and comprehensive insurance together, but you don’t have to. As your car’s value goes down, you may want to reexamine your policy.

First Financial and Liberty Mutual work together to bring our members a no-cost estimate on auto or home insurance, as well as have these insurance products available. For more information on how Liberty Mutual Insurance may be able to help you save on your auto and home insurance, feel free to contact our Liberty Mutual representative, Dan Ressegiue or visit our webpage.

7. Give up a vice. Sure, we’ve all heard the cliché about giving up your daily latte, but you may have a different vice. The average consumer spends more than $1,200 a year on beer, according to Survey Analytics. And according to the American Lung Association, the average retail price of a pack of cigarettes in the U.S. is $5.51. So do the math. If you’re a pack-a-day smoker, you’ll save $167 in one month if you give up this vice, and in a year, you’ll save a little over $2,000. Take an honest look to see if you have something, from a serious vice to a relatively innocuous habit (like soft drinks), that you can cut back on.

8. Pay down debt. True, your debt may be the reason you can’t save money. But according to the personal finance site nerdwallet.com, the average household has $7,123 in credit card debt. If you owe a lot and can pay off any revolving debt – without turning around a few weeks later and incurring more – you’ll eventually save money.

For instance, say you have $500 in debt, and just to make the numbers easy, you pay 10 percent interest on your credit card. If you don’t pay the balance off, you’ll accumulate $50 in interest, and the next month, you owe $550. And if you do nothing else, the next month, you’ll owe $605. The bottom line: Get rid of your debt, especially the fast accumulating kind, and you’ll have more money left over every month.

Want a free, anonymous way to get a handle on your debt? Try First Financial’s 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.

9. Get your finances better organized. This isn’t just budgeting – it’s looking at when your bills need to be paid and having a system for keeping your financial life on track.

Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, points out that we’d probably all save more money, pretty quickly, if we stayed on top of our finances. For example, a late credit card payment means you’ll pay a late fee, all because you misplaced the credit card statement.

“You get a late fee, a negative mark on your credit report, your credit score potentially goes down, and you become a greater risk in the lender’s eyes,” Cunningham says. “And then there’s the gym membership that’s on automatic pay and you haven’t seen the gym in six months. How about habitually picking up fast food on the way home from work because you’re too tired to cook? Buying snacks on break out of the vending machine and paying twice as much for the same thing you could have brought from home? All of these could add up to over $100 a month or over $1,000 a year. Now that’s real money.”

Article Source: Geoff Williams for Money.USNews.com, http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/03/07/9-steps-to-drastically-reduce-your-spending

How to Manage Money in Your 30s

Family giving dog a bath.Your 30s can be a pretty significant decade. You might be transitioning from the more carefree days of a post-collegiate lifestyle and hitting major life milestones, such as buying a home, getting married, or having kids. Or you could also be planning major life adventures, climbing up the career ladder, or all of the above. Whatever your path, you likely face some significant money decisions, and the choices you make can end up impacting your finances for years to come.

A recent report released from the Pew Research Center shows that millennials, the oldest of whom are just entering their 30s now, face higher student debt and unemployment levels along with lower income and wealth levels compared to previous generations at the same age. At the same time, they are optimistic about their economic futures, with most (80 percent) saying they have enough money now or will one day to “lead the lives they want.”

To increase the chances that such an optimistic outlook comes true, here are six money moves that financial experts say you should consider in your third decade:

1. Save when you can.

“If you’ve gotten your salary up to the point where student loan debt is not wreaking havoc in your life anymore, but before you have a lot of responsibilities, that’s a great opportunity to super-charge your savings,” says Jean Chatzky, financial editor of the Today Show and author of “Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security.” When parenting responsibilities and mortgage costs take off, for example, it can be hard to save more. “You want to take advantage of the opportunities you have to sock away some money so when the leaner years come around, you don’t beat yourself up,” she adds.

2. Create solid habits.

It’s also time to establish financial habits that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Kerry Hannon, personal finance expert and author of “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+,” says in her 30s, she maxed out her retirement savings accounts and even set aside a portion of her extra freelance income for retirement. “Those funds have served me well over the years as money to help pay for vacations and more. I still save outside of retirement accounts religiously in my 50s, too. It’s a habit I started back in my 30s,” she says.

3. Plan out your goals and priorities.

Trent Hamm, founder of the personal finance website “The Simple Dollar” and a U.S. News “My Money” blogger, says at age 35, he’s now reflecting on his career goals for the next 30 years. “What would I like to be doing with my time and my life? I don’t want the rest of my life to be a repetition of what I’m doing now and then an abrupt retirement. I have dreams and goals, and right now is the best time to get started on them,” he says.

For many people, a financial advisor helps with that. Bart Astor, author of “AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life,” says your 30s is the ideal time to sit down with a financial advisor and talk, which is what he started doing in his mid-30s. He says he and his advisor met once a year to review savings and other financial goals, especially since he and his wife were meeting their goals. “When I hit 40, the plan showed that we should have about $188,000 in assets based on our salaries, and we had over $200,000, and boy, did that make us feel good,” he says.

4. Talk about money with your partner.

If you have a spouse or partner, then getting on track together and working out any disputes can prevent conflicts later, open communication is key. Talk about your finances and life goals with your partner, and align on how you will get there – together.

5. Be a good role model.

For those 30-somethings who are already parents, Beth Kobliner, author of “Get a Financial Life” and member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, says it’s important to model smart financial choices for the little eyes watching you. “You lose all credibility lecturing your kids about not needing every new toy or tech gadget if you, behind closed doors, have loud arguments with your spouse about not being able to keep up with your credit card bills,” she says. You don’t have to be a money genius, she adds, but it’s important to talk about money – making financial discussions as commonplace as soccer practice or Sunday dinner.

6. Shore up your cash reserves.

While many experts emphasize long-term investing and retirement savings, it’s also important to give yourself a buffer for unexpected needs and expenses. Real estate can be a great way to build wealth and you should start saving as early as possible for retirement, it’s the unexpected changes in life that often derail 30-something households – and you need to be prepared for the short-term too or a financial emergency.

Article Source: Kimberly Palmer for Money.USNews.com, http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/03/19/how-to-manage-money-in-your-30s

How to Pay Down Credit Cards to Boost Your Credit Score

Dartboard with discountsIf you know anything about credit scores, you know carrying high credit card balances is a problem. In fact, your debt-to-credit ratio (how much you owe vs. your total available credit) makes up about 30% of your overall credit score. And revolving debt, like credit cards, weigh heavier than other outstanding debt – like your mortgage or a car loan. So if you’re carrying a bunch of maxed-out credit cards, your credit score is likely not great.

The most straightforward way to improve your debt-to-credit ratio is to simply pay down those balances. But chances are if you’re in a lot of debt, you can’t pay off all the balances right away.

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to pay your credit cards off to boost your credit score. But to get the most credit score traction out of every extra payment, you do need to come up with a plan for paying down your credit cards in a certain way.

The Snowball Method

The snowball method is excellent for paying off debt quickly and efficiently. Basically, you throw extra money at one debt, and when it’s paid off, put the extra plus the old debt’s minimum payment toward the next debt. Repeat this until you’re debt-free.

This is an excellent way to get out of debt, if just getting out of debt is your goal. But what if your goal is to get out of debt while also boosting your credit score as quickly as possible? Maybe you’re hoping to apply for a mortgage soon, or a car loan?

In this case, the snowball method probably isn’t how you want to start. Eventually, you might switch to that, but you may want to begin by evening out your credit card balances instead.

Lowering Your Debt-to-Credit Ratio

When your credit score is calculated, your overall debt-to-credit ratio is reviewed, but also the individual debt-to-credit ratios of your various credit cards and other revolving debt accounts.

Here’s an example:

•Card 1: $5,000 balance/$10,000 limit = 50% debt-to-credit ratio.

•Card 2: $4,500 balance/$5,000 limit = 90% debt-to-credit ratio.

•Card 3: $500 balance/$1,500 limit = 33% debt-to-credit ratio.

•Overall: $10,000 balance/$16,500 = 60% debt-to-credit ratio.

In this case, your overall 60% debt-to-credit ratio will ding your credit score pretty severely. A “good” debt-to-credit ratio is around 30%, and you’re nearly doubling that.

But since your score also accounts for individual credit cards, you can see that Card 2 is hurting you the most — it’s nearly maxed out, which is not good. Card 3 is posing the smallest problem, since it is nearly in that “good” range.

In a situation like this, you’ll boost your credit score if you focus on paying down Card 2 first. Depending on the interest rates of each of these cards, you might choose to pay that card down all the way.

Or if it’s a card with a lower APR, consider putting money toward the balance until it’s at or near $1,500 to reach the 30% debt-to-credit ratio. Then move on to Card 1 or whichever card has the highest interest rate.

Now, this strategy isn’t guaranteed to add hundreds of points to your credit score. But because you’re improving individual debt-to-credit ratios for each of your credit cards, you will make progress more quickly than if you just snowballed your debt in this situation.

Still, you need to combine this with some aspects of the debt snowball, including the intensity with which you pay down your debt. After all, the only way to try to achieve credit score perfection is to pay your credit cards off completely, and refuse to carry a balance again.

Why Not Just Spread It Around?

Why not just transfer some of the balance from Card 2 to Card 3? Or get another credit card to transfer some of that balance?

You could. In fact, moving balances to lower rate cards can be a good strategy for both boosting your credit score and getting out of debt. But just shifting your balances around isn’t going to help much here, partially because the credit limit on Card 3 is so low to begin with.

What if you do have a $0 balance card in the mix? In this case, you still don’t want to transfer another card’s balance. This is because one part of your credit utilization mix is the number of accounts that carry a balance. So having three accounts carrying a balance and one with no balance is better than having four accounts carrying a balance, even if that move improves one card’s debt-to-credit ratio.

Need to transfer a high rate credit card balance without any balance transfer fees, to a lower rate card? This is possible at First Financial, where our credit card rates are as low as 10.9% APR and we have no balance transfer fees!* And for a limited time – if you are approved for a balance transfer of $5,000 or more to our VISA Platinum Credit Card, you will receive 10,000 bonus CURewards Points! You can apply for the balance transfer by stopping into any branch or calling 866.750.0100 to be sent a balance transfer request form.**

You Can’t Game the System

In the long run, you need to focus on getting your credit card balances paid off. In the meantime, bringing cards below a 30% (or even 50%) debt-to-credit ratio may boost your credit score more quickly than simply snowballing your debt. This is especially true if your debt snowball would leave a maxed-out credit card in the mix for months to come.

Need to get your credit score in check? Try First Financial’s First Score 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 have a great deal of debt, we also have a free, anonymous online debt management tool called 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.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**Additional bonus points will be reflected within 30 days from the balance transfer approval and can be viewed when signed into your VISA Platinum Card Account online through Online Banking. In order to redeem bonus points, an offer reference must be made to a First Financial representative. Bonus points can only be redeemed one time per member, on an approved balance transfer of $5,000 or greater during the promotional period of 4/28/14 – 12/31/14.

Article Source: Abby Hayes for Dailyfinance.com, http://www.dailyfinance.com/2014/05/13/how-to-pay-down-credit-cards-boost-your-credit-score/#!slide=2594951