330,000 Possibly Affected by IRS Data Breach

data breachA breach of an IRS computer database reported in May 2015 affected as many as 330,000 taxpayers, reports said Monday, August 17th.

Reports this past May said that thieves used stolen Social Security Numbers and other information in an effort to access prior-year tax return information for about 225,000 U.S. households. This included about 114,000 successful and 111,000 unsuccessful attempts, the report said.

The IRS has now said a review going back to November 2014 shows that another 390,000 taxpayers may have been affected, new reports say – including some 220,000 households for which prior-year return data may have been accessed and another 170,000 instances where there were attempts that failed to clear the authentication process.

The breaches involved use of an online application, “Get Transcript,” that allowed taxpayers to get prior-year return information, the reports said. This application has reportedly been shut down.

The IRS reportedly also noted that while just a few thousand of affected taxpayer accounts were targeted in efforts to defraud, it thinks hackers may be gathering data to use for fraudulent purposes during the 2016 tax-filing season.

If you suspect that your identity has been compromised, you can place a fraud alert on your credit file by calling any one of the three major credit reporting agencies shown below. A fraud alert is a notation on your credit file to warn credit issuers that there may be a problem. The credit issuer is asked to contact you at the telephone number that you supply to validate that you are the person applying for the credit. This is not the same as credit monitoring.

TransUnion: 1.800.916.8800

Experian: 1.888.397.3742    

Equifax: 1.800.685.1111

In accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it is permissible for consumers to request a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax).

To order a free credit report: 

Online: www.annualcreditreport.com or by Telephone: 1.877.322.8228

First Financial would like to remind our 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’ accounts against unauthorized access and use. 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.

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!**

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.

*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.

 

Avoiding Money Wiring Scams

financial crookImposters. Impersonators. Fakes. Frauds. Phonies. You might call them by different names, but these scam artists have one thing in common: they pretend to be someone they aren’t and tell you a bogus story to con you into wiring them money.

The crooks will give you a pretty convincing reason to wire money. They might say you owe the IRS taxes and you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay up. Or that you won a federal grant and have to pay a processing fee to get your money. Some even tell you a loved one’s in trouble and needs your help.

They might tell you to use a money wiring service to add funds to a 16-digit account number they give you — they say it’s your case number or account number, but it’s not. Once the transfer goes through, the money’s gone and you can’t get it back.

Government agencies will never ask you to pay by wiring money. Neither will legitimate businesses. If someone insists you pay by wiring money, it’s a scam. Don’t do it. Instead, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-FTC-HELP.

 

Want to help the people you care about avoid a money wiring scam? Watch the short video: Money Wiring Scams

 

Article Source: Alvaro Puig for http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/avoiding-money-wiring-scams?utm_source=govdelivery

 

10 Ways to Save Money Before Labor Day

end of summer savingsLabor Day is only about a month away, which means summer is coming to an end. It also means your bank account might be bracing for a hit as you squeeze in a trip, start stocking up on back-to-school items for your children, or send a child off to college.

To prepare for these and other costs, you can take several steps to lower your expenses and save money on things you need to buy this month. Here are 10 ways you can save money before Labor Day:

1. Lower Your Cooling Costs.

If you’re cranking up your air conditioner to combat a heat wave, be prepared for a hefty electric bill. To keep costs low and stay cool, try the following tips:

  • Fans cost less to operate than air conditioners. You can raise your thermostat by four degrees and feel no reduction in comfort if you turn a fan on also.
  • You can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5% to 15% by replacing or cleaning dirty filters.
  • Cook outside using a grill to avoid heating your home with your oven.

2. Freeze Your Gym Membership.

If you’re not using your gym membership because you’re exercising outdoors or taking a summer trip, then freeze your membership. Putting your membership on hold can allow you to avoid any early termination fees if you have a year long contract, and save money on your membership fee during months when you’re not using the gym.

3. Save on School and Office Supplies.

Families are expected to spend an average of $97.94 on supplies such as notebooks, pencils and backpacks for school-age children this year, according to the National Retail Federation. You can keep the cost of school supplies under control by shopping back-to-school sales at retailers such as Target and Walmart, and office supply stores such as Staples.

Even if you don’t have kids, you can benefit from these sales – especially for office supplies.  Plus, you’ll find great deals on laptop computers in August as part of back-to-school sales, according to DealNews.com.

4. Take Advantage of Sales-Tax Holidays.

Seventeen states have back-to-school sales-tax holidays in August, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. These holidays offer consumers an opportunity to avoid sales tax on clothing, footwear and school supplies. Some states even waive the sales tax on computers.

5. Start Price-Shopping for Holiday Travel.

The winter holidays are months away but now is the time to start comparing airfares “so you can lock in a good price when you find one,” said Holly Johnson, a frugal travel expert who blogs at ClubThrifty.com. To get the best price on airline tickets, you need to book flights at least 27 to 114 days in advance, according to a study by CheapAir.com. Flights for holiday travel fill up quickly, so you’re better off booking sooner rather than later.

6. Sign Up for a Rewards Credit Card.

If you are going to do some back-to-school shopping, book holiday travel or take a trip before Labor Day, take some of the sting out of that extra spending by using a credit card rewards.

Here at First Financial we offer a Visa Platinum Credit Card* with no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, a 10 day grace period, and a CURewards program where you can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise items, travel, and so much more! PLUS, we’re currently offering an introductory rate of 2.9% APR for the first 6 months on all purchases and balance transfers.**

7. Get Freebies From the Library.

If you have kids, you’re likely hearing them complain by now that they have nothing to do. To fend off boredom, take them to the local library to pick out books and DVDs for free. Whether or not you have children, you also can take advantage of free programs at your library, such as writing workshops or lecture series, in an air-conditioned environment.

8. Watch Inexpensive or Free Flicks.

Another way to keep the kids entertained in the weeks before school starts — without spending a lot of money — is to take advantage of discounted family movies at theaters. For example, Regal Entertainment Group, which operates 569 theaters in 42 states, charges just $1 for tickets for family movies at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Additionally, plenty of communities offer free movies in parks. Check for listings on community calendars, the parks and recreation department, or local government websites.  Or check out our First Scoop Blog’s monthly things to do on a budget in Monmouth and Ocean Counties series!

9. Cut Food Costs With Seasonal Produce.

A great way to lower your grocery bill is to buy produce that is in season where you live, because the prices will be lower on those fruits and vegetables than ones shipped in from other areas of the country or other parts of the world. You should be able to take advantage of late summer fruit and vegetable harvests to save money this month.

10. Snag Summer Clothing on Clearance.

Retailers are making way for fall clothing in preparation for back-to-school shopping crowds, which means you can score serious savings on summer apparel. Expect discounts of 60% or more on summer staples, which you’ll still be able to wear for a few months and into colder months by layering. If you shop before Labor Day, you’ll have a better and bigger selection.

*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.

**The 2.9% promotional rate will apply to purchases and balance transfers only for six statement cycles from the new account holder’s initial balance and/or initial transfer to the First Financial VISA Platinum card. The balance transfer promotional rate does NOT apply to purchases or cash advances.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston, http://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/10-ways-save-money-before-labor-day/ 

10 Tips for Vacationing on a Budget

065_tropical_sunset_21. Avoid peak season.

It’s no secret that as summer or holidays approach – travel costs, such as airfare and hotel lodging often go up in price. Consider taking your trip during an off-season month, such as September or October, as opposed to summer or the peak holiday months. The prices associated with your vacation may be considerably less, and better yet, your destination might be less crowded. All of this will help you travel on a budget.

2. Consider alternative lodging locations.

If your vacation takes you to a large city, it could be more cost effective to stay outside the city limits. The hotel rates, in some cases, can be much lower. Consider smaller hotel chains or bed and breakfast accommodations with fewer amenities to save money during your time off.

3. Try public transportation.

One of the best ways to get the local flavor of your vacation spot is to take public transportation. Plus, taking public transportation is also an excellent way to save money. Whether you go by bus, subway or train, you’re not burdened with car rental, gas, or parking costs. Plus, you get to see more sights because you’re not behind the wheel driving.

4. Avoid the trendy eateries.

Food can eat up a large portion of your vacation budget. Avoid the cost of high-priced meals by seeking out and going to lesser-known restaurants. Read up on local spots and plan ahead to make reservations at restaurants that are within your budget.

5. Watch the currency.

When planning a trip abroad, look into the currency exchange rate of the country you will be visiting as compared to American dollars. Try to plan your trip when the dollar is trending strong. This will give you more bang for your buck with hotel accommodations, food and local events.

6. Limit the souvenirs.

It’s nice to have a reminder of your travels, whether in the form of a t-shirt or baseball cap. Just be mindful of places in your destination where these items can cost far more than their usual amount.

7. Seek out friendly advice.

Do you have a relative or friend who’s been to where you’re vacationing? If so, ask for some advice, such as are there any inexpensive accommodations or restaurants that are within your travel budget?

8. Stay closer to home on your vacation.

Instead of vacationing abroad, where you could be subject to higher airfare, and unpredictable currency fluctuations, consider staying in the U.S. There are many national attractions. Plus, if you travel within the U.S., you won’t have to budget for the expense of renewing or obtaining a passport!

9. Take a road trip.

If you do stay close to home, an entertaining and cost-effective vacation could simply entail getting in your car. You’ll be able to travel at your own pace without the hassle of hurrying to airports or connecting flights. Just remember to be mindful of the fluctuating price of fuel as that could affect your travel budget.

10. Consider a staycation.

How well do you know your own state, or even your own city? A cost-effective and fun vacation idea could simply be a trip around your own city. With all the money you save by not taking a flight or renting a car, you could stay in a fancy hotel with all the amenities and pampering imaginable — just a few miles from your own home.

First Financial’s Summer Savings Account is ideal for those who are looking to save up for summer expenses or a vacation as well as employees who get paid 10 months out of the year. This account allows you to have money available for summer expenses during July and August and you have the ability to choose the amount of money you’d would like to have deposited each pay period through direct deposit or payroll deduction.*

You can elect to have your money transferred into a First Financial Checking Account in two different ways: Either 100% of funds can be transferred on July 1st, or 50% will be transferred July 1st, and the other 50% August 1st. This account can be opened at anytime – stop into any branch, or call us at 866.750.0100.

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program. 

Article Source: David Dorion, http://www.cuinsight.com/10-tips-for-vacationing-on-a-budget.html 

Down to Business: Trending Businesses – Do you have or plan to start one of these?

ice_cream_cone_strawberry“After crossfit I’m going to uber to fro yo, do you want anything?”

Just a few years ago this statement would have made absolutely no sense, but thanks to several fast-track trending business ideas, vocabulary is born!  Let’s briefly examine some of the pros and cons of today’s top trending businesses.

Boutique gyms/CrossFit is the new craze in the fitness world.  The smaller setting combined with intense group workout, adds a social aspect to the traditional gym setting.  On the business side, start-up costs are minimal.  The average CrossFit franchise takes less than $50,000 to open and is usually profitable within the first year.  The CrossFit name is licensed to 7,000 gyms for an annual fee of $3,000!  Don’t quit your day job just yet; medical research surrounding the intense alternative workout craze is infant at best, and many new studies reveal that these workouts may not be as beneficial to your body as you think.

If you can find a taxi across town it will most likely run you $27 plus tip.  An Uber driver can pick you up on your schedule for $20 – tip included.  This sounds like a great idea right? Well … maybe not. Ask yourself, does the driver have insurance? Does his/her insurance cover using a personal vehicle as a commercial taxi? Has he/she passed a criminal background check or drug test?  Has he/she completed a driving skills assessment?  These are just some of the requirements that registered taxi drivers are required to pass before picking you up, making that extra $7 and 10 minutes not sound so bad!taxi

Self serve frozen yogurt shops with very creative names are seemingly opening on every corner lately too.  Health conscious consumers are attracted to the portion control and healthier yogurt options,  add in dozens of popular flavors and even more toppings – and you have a successful trend.  Market research has not yet found any major flaws in this industry.  Heavy market saturation has forced a few stores out of business, but overall sales are trending VERY well!  Before starting that franchise however, be sure to check out the past 40 years of market trends in the industry.  There was a frozen yogurt boom in the 80’s that fell hard in the mid 90’s spearheaded by TCBY, and who could forget Humfreeze Yogart?!

Each of these industries born or reborn in the last 10 years, may not make it another 10 – so if you are an entrepreneur, always err on the side of caution and really do your research.

If you are looking for stable help to grow and sustain your business, look no further than First Financial Federal Credit Union.  We have been helping businesses grow since 1936 and we plan to continue this trend by providing the best value in the industry for our business members. 

For more information about any of First Financial’s business accounts and services, contact Business Development at business@firstffcu.com, call 732.312.1421 or simply leave a comment below.

Article Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/in-the-cross-hairs-of-crossfit-local-businesses-find-niche-in-fitness-craze/2014/01/17/28e368b2-7c95-11e3-93c1-0e888170b723_story.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erin-simmons/why-i-dont-do-crossfit_b_5411771.html

https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/TaxiDriver.aspx

 http://smallbusiness.chron.com/potential-market-growth-frozen-yogurt-77121.html

12 Ideas to Help You Stick to Your Budget

Businessman holding a clipboard and writing signature

When cravings for pricey dinners out or new outfits hit, it can be hard to stick with your budgeting plan. Whether you’re trying to cut back on spending, or set aside major funds for a life goal like home ownership, it might be time to adopt some new money-savvy habits. These dozen ideas can help you become more disciplined about your spending.

1. Articulate your goals. 

For some people, there’s nothing more appealing than saving for a four-bedroom house with a white picket fence. Others dream of taking a trip around the world or purchasing a boat. Choosing your personal money goals makes it easier to work toward them. If you have a partner, then set aside some time to talk about your individual and joint goals to make sure you’re on the same page.

2. Create a spending plan.

Most people spend about 2/3 of their income on three essentials: food, housing, and transportation. Then there are debt payments, savings, household costs, and optional items like entertainment to consider. Create an annual budget by allocating spending goals for each category – and try to stick to it as best as you can.

3. Resist retailer advertisements.  

Stores are in the business of getting us to spend money, but if we know their tricks, we can better resist the temptation. Rewards cards, enticing smells (like cinnamon around the holidays) and short-term flash sales are a few techniques retailers use; being aware of them can make it easier to just say “no.”

4. Track your spending. ​

Keeping track of every expenditure over a two-week period can offer insight into unnecessary wastes, from restaurant meals to cab rides. You can use a pen and pencil or take advantage of free apps and online tools like Mint.com.

5. Negotiate prices. 

Prices are often a lot more negotiable than we think, even in department stores. If you’ve seen a lower price listed elsewhere, don’t hesitate to ask the store clerk if they can match it. The worst case scenario is getting a “no.”

6. Research big-ticket items online before visiting the store.

Product review sites, coupon code sites and online discount warehouses often provide information and insight into how (and where) to find the best deals. With the proliferation of free shipping codes, the lowest price is often online.

7. Don’t shy away from all debt.

While debt has earned a bad reputation in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, managing credit and even taking on some debt can be useful. Mortgages allow people to buy homes and student loans enable people to go to school. Evaluate your debt decisions by considering the pros and cons carefully.

8. Pay off high-interest rate debt quickly.

Credit card loans are among the highest interest rate debt around, averaging roughly 17%. Paying off credit cards as soon as possible can help reduce fees and interest rate charges that balloon over time.

9. Build a solid credit history. 

Lenders base their decisions on whether or not to loan consumers money, and at what rate – partially on their credit histories. That means consumers with a limited credit history (because they have few or no financial accounts) can have trouble taking on a mortgage. Pay bills on time, and be sure to have some accounts in your name.

10. Check your credit report.

Everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year; you can get yours at annualcreditreport.com. Reviewing it gives you the chance to fix any mistakes that could be hurting your credit score.

11. Review account statements.

An unfamiliar charge on a credit card is often the first sign of identity theft. Review all mail from financial institutions carefully to make sure your accounts aren’t being misused. If you see an erroneous charge, contact your financial institution immediately.

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. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!*

12. Choose the best credit card for you.  

Credit card benefits vary widely. If you tend to carry a balance, it pays to find the card with the lowest interest rate possible. If you’re a frequent traveler, you might want an airline card or a card that comes with travel insurance. Comparison websites such as NerdWallet.com or CreditCards.com can help you find the best card for you.

First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card has no balance transfer fees, rates are as low as 10.9% APR, and first time card approvals are eligible for 2.9% APR for the first 6 months on purchases and balance transfers!**

*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.

**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. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. 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. The 2.9% promotional rate will apply to purchases and balance transfers only for six statement cycles from the new account holder’s initial balance and/or initial transfer to the First Financial VISA Platinum card. The balance transfer promotional rate does NOT apply to cash advances.

Article Source: Kimberly Palmer for Money.USNews.com –

http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/06/16/12-ideas-to-help-you-stick-to-your-budget