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.

A Message for Members Regarding Account Security Following the Target Data Breach

alert-resized-600The recent data breach announced by Target at its stores in the U.S. between November 27 and December 15 has created a high number of inquiries 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:

  • We are aware of the accounts that are known to have been used at Target stores on the dates noted above and we are watching the activity on these accounts closely.
  • Our member service contact centers are experiencing unusually high call volume as a result of this breach and the coverage it has received in the media. Unless you see any suspect transactions on your First Financial credit or debit accounts, there is no need to call.
  • 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.

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.

3 Ways to Build Your Credit Score – Without Using Credit Cards

credit scoreYou’ve probably heard over and over that it’s important to have a credit card or two and to use them responsibly if you want a high credit score. No doubt you’ve also been told that making monthly, on-time payments on your mortgage and car are other ways to keep your credit score healthy. All true.

Your credit score — for young adults perhaps just joining the credit conversation — is the number credit bureaus offer up as a symbol of your ability to repay a loan. Generally, the credit score number everyone is concerned with is the FICO credit score, which ranges from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the more likely lenders will allow you to borrow money, and the better the rate you’ll qualify for.

But what if you would like to see your credit score climb — but you’re not crazy about having a credit card? What if you live in an apartment and aren’t making mortgage payments? What if you live in the city and take the subway? What then? Here are some somewhat under-the-radar ways to build credit for those who prefer the road less traveled.

1. Use Your Rent Payments to Build Credit.

For most of credit and rental history, on-time rent payments haven’t officially counted as a sign of someone who is responsible with money. Things are slowly changing, however. Since 2011, Experian has included rent payments in consumers’ credit histories. But it isn’t automatic. If you want your rent payments to be included, you need to be proactive and opt in.

There are a number of websites that will send rental-payment information to the credit bureaus. Consumers who visit WilliamPaid.com can register and pay their rent through the site, and it’ll be reported to Experian (it’s free if you opt for electronic withdrawal; if you pay with a credit or debit card, it’s 2.95% of the total payment; if you pay in cash, a $10 flat fee).

2. Get a CD Secured Loan.

CD secured loans are typically extended by credit unions, precisely to help members build or rebuild credit reports and credit scores. Some community banks also offer them.

“The loan is approved for some small amount, normally not much more than $1,000,” says John Ulzheimer of CreditSesame.com. “But instead of the consumer getting that $1,000 like they would with a normal loan, the money is placed into an interest-bearing account with the credit union. The consumer makes payments monthly, and after a year or two, the loan is paid off, and the funds, plus dividends, are released to the consumer.”

Ulzheimer adds that because the loan was an extension of credit, the credit union can report the loan to the credit bureaus. “Everyone wins,” he says. “The consumer gets the benefit of the account on their credit reports, plus the loan proceeds with dividends.”

At First Financial we know how your credit score can affect your ability to get a good rate or even approval for a loan. Do you know how you can improve your credit score? Our First Score Program is a low cost, interactive session ($30) with a First Financial expert, which simulates your credit score with various “what if” scenarios. Once you get your credit score, First Score will tell you what you need to do to reach all of your financial goals. First Score will also tell you what actions will help you increase and decrease your credit score. 

3. Self-Report.

“Credit reports only track money you’ve borrowed,” says James Miller, owner of Biltmore Wealth Advisors, LLC. That’s why credit reports don’t include information on whether you’ve been paying your utility bill and monthly rent on time, he adds.

Miller suggests consumers check out Payment Reporting Builds Credit, a national company that has been around since 2002 and allows consumers to sign up for free and self-report payments like rent, rent-to-own purchases and utilities like your water or electric bill.

“PRBC might not yet have the clout of the big three credit bureaus, but a solid report from PRBC might be enough to get your foot in the door with a lender,” Miller says. The PRBC site is free to use, but not all self-reporting third parties are free.

Keep in mind that none of these strategies will work if you don’t pay your bills on time. In fact, you could make things worse by self-reporting if the information being reported shows you’re always late with bills. But if you are paying without trouble, and you simply don’t own a house or credit cards and aren’t making payments on car or student loans, then getting lenders to see that you’re consistently paying bills on time may just lead to a higher credit score — eventually.

“The quickest way to build up a favorable credit score is to borrow and pay back the debt on time. There really is no way around that,” Miller says.

“It isn’t necessarily hard — it just takes discipline,” says Hitha Prabhakar, a retail and consumer analyst based in New York City and a spokesperson for Mint.com, a free and well-known money management website.

Having a well-paying job also helps. A good relationship with your bank or financial institution is another plus, Prabhakar adds. But above all, a long credit history without a lot of black marks is what will really make all the difference.

Click here to view the article source, from Dailyfinance.com.

ENGLISH insurance label

My Kid’s Drowning in Credit Card Debt! What Do I Do?

consumerismIf you trusted your son or daughter to keep track of their finances, and they slipped up, what in the world are you supposed to do?

Let’s say they’ve racked up a big, nasty credit card debt — to the tune of thousands of dollars. Should you pay off their debts to help keep their credit score above water? Or is it better to let them learn from their mistakes and suffer the consequences? Though each individual situation is different, here are your options, what’s at stake, and a few pointers to help you plot your course of action.

A Personal Loan, With a Contract

If you have the means, think about whether or not you want to loan your child the money. Sometimes the debt is manageable enough that you can pay it off in the form of a personal loan to your child. You can even decide to charge them interest as well, so they learn just how much a high APR can cost them.

But you have to examine the situation from a lender’s perspective, rather than simply write a check and expect your child will make payments. What is the child’s employment situation? Will he or she be able to make payments to you without the security blanket of your relationship making them complacent? Has your child typically been a responsible spender in the past, or does he or she impulsively purchase on a grand scale regularly? If you do decide to help protect their credit history, it’s a smart idea to sign a contract with your child to make your agreement more official and binding.

If You Co-Signed, You’re on the Hook

If you co-signed on your child’s account, you’re responsible for their debt. Because of regulations passed in the CARD Act of 2009, it’s more difficult for young adults to qualify for credit cards, so more and more parents are co-signing on accounts and acting as guarantors for their children. If you’ve already taken that step, you should hopefully have realized that your child’s purchases will affect your credit, regardless of your involvement.

In this case, it may be more prudent to pay off the debt if you can, cancel the account, and work together to come up with a payment plan to rectify the situation and make sure it never happens again. If you haven’t co-signed yet, sit down for a serious conversation with your child on your values and financial responsibility.

Lessons to Be Learned?

Bad credit now will impact their financial future later, but so will bad habits. If your child doesn’t learn from his or her mistakes now, there could be bigger and more damaging mistakes ahead. Will bailing your child out of their financial mess with creditors make them realize the gravity of their mistake? Or will you just end up fostering their sense of dependence on you? You won’t always be there, wallet in hand to save them, so if they can manage to take the credit hit, perhaps it’s best to let them learn the lesson this time, and give them some tough love.

Communication Is Key

Loaning money to someone you love is always, always messy. While your child should intellectually know that your love is unconditional (which is why your help comes so willingly), it’s emotionally very difficult to face your parents when you owe them money. Plenty of relationships have been ruined by debts of personal loans, both from neglected payments and feelings of shame. Be sure that if you choose to help your child, you commit to maintaining an open dialogue and doing your best to keep business and family separate.

Ultimately, each family and financial situation is different. But before you make a plan to tackle your son or daughter’s debt, you need to examine the situation from all angles. There are many factors in play, but above all, your relationship and your child’s sense of responsibility from this learning experience should be at the forefront of your mind.

Click here to view the article source, from DailyFinance.com.

Budget Tips for Planning for Life’s Unexpected Curve Balls

couple-worry-moneyLife doesn’t always go as planned, and many of life’s major events, like getting married, having a baby and buying a home can crowd your savings capability and even throw you into a financial tailspin.

When it comes to making ends meet, retirement is often left out of the savings equation. Eighty-four percent of people say saving for retirement has been undercut by a life event, according to this year’s HSBC Future of Retirement survey of more than 15,000 people. But people react differently when in crunch mode, the survey says, and in some cases, extreme measures are required to cover budget needs. Three tactics improve cash flow in a financial crunch: increase income, decrease expenses or a combination of both.

Time to Downsize?

In reality, you have more control on your spending side, particularly with flexible expenses like travel, entertainment, gifts and food. But if your financial woes seem irreversible, you may have to take a hammer to large expenses like housing.

In fact, 21% of women surveyed say they would downsize, compared to only 14% of men. And 31% of men say they would dip into their retirement savings to cover unexpected expenses.

Though experts concede downsizing may be extremely emotional, it’s more preferable than taking a chunk out of retirement savings. Actually, 29% of respondents say the financial strain of home ownership puts a real crimp in retirement savings.

If you have any questions about the home buying process, feel free to ask us! We know it can be an intimidating process at times, and we’re here for you. To apply for a 10, 15, or 30 year First Financial Mortgage – click here.* You might also want to subscribe to our mortgage rate text message service, by texting FIRSTRATE to 69302. When our mortgage rates change, you’ll be the first to know!**

Rethink Your Lifestyle.

Today’s lifestyle norms may have something to do with one-dimensional thinking. Items once seen as luxuries are now seen as necessities, says Ravi Dhar, director of the Yale Center for Customer Insights.

Plus, what people do with their money has more to do with psychological and emotional issues than it does with crunching the numbers, claims Marcee Yager, a retired certified financial planner. “It’s never just about the money.”

Because non-financial issues often dictate financial decisions and create a domino effect, consumers need to look at both quantitative (intellectual) and qualitative (emotional) issues when making life choices, says Yager. “Without shared thinking, people’s heads start spinning.”

The idea that emotional understanding must be factored into financial decisions has gained very little traction, claims Yager. “Big investment banks don’t tend to make things soft and fuzzy.”

Dhar even questions the effectiveness of some system resources like the many online investment tools available to consumers. Calculators project four, six, or eight million dollar targets for a retirement 30 years into the future. He says the timeframe seems intangible and the goals unattainable.

For consumers looking to navigate their way out or steer clear of the financial weeds, experts offer the following:

Take small steps to wealth. The only way to build up reserves is to do it gradually. Budget a realistic portion of your paycheck to start an emergency fund or return to the basics. “The best thing people raising families can do is go back to the old traditional practice of putting money in an envelope or a cookie jar,” adds Yager.

Be flexible. Think about what’s possible to mitigate a tight financial situation. Baby boomers tend to be fearful of change, particularly of moving to unknown places, says Yager. In fact, new locales both in and outside of U.S. borders can create wonderful opportunities that improve your quality of life.

Keep a minimum three-month reserve for savings. Learn to cut corners, live on less and shop in cheaper places.

Write it down. Take a financial fitness quiz then put your pencil to paper. You need to see the numbers then monitor your day-to-day situation.

For a FREE and anonymous online debt management tool, try 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!

If your credit score is not where you want it to be, try First Financial’s First Score Program, a low cost interactive session ($30) with a financial expert – which simulates your credit score using various scenarios.

First Financial also hosts free credit management and debt reduction seminars throughout the year, so be sure to check our online event calendar or subscribe to receive upcoming seminar alerts on your mobile phone by texting FFSeminar to 69302.**

Turn to professionals. Reviewing your savings situation and retirement potential with a professional financial advisor can help to ensure that all your future requirements are identified.

If you would like to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your brokerage, investments, and/or savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100 option #6 or stop in to see us!***

Click here to view the article source, from FoxBusiness.com.

*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. A First Financial Mortgage is subject to credit approval. See Credit Union for details. **Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.***Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC , a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

footer_equalhousing

What to Consider When Buying a Car for Your Teen

teen-driverParents spend years teaching their children the art of how to talk, how to walk, how to tie their shoes, how to ride a bike, and much, much more. As a parent, you’re overjoyed with each momentous milestone that passes. But with each step your child takes toward independence, you become keenly aware that you’re no longer able to protect them at every moment (and also that they’re growing up way too fast)!

The day your child gets their driver’s license and you send them off on their first solo drive, you may be tempted to trail behind from a safe distance just to make sure they arrive at their destination safely. Eventually though, you’ll relinquish control and trust that you’ve raised a responsible young adult who’ll behave accordingly behind the wheel, even in your absence. If you’ve taken that leap and now want to buy your teen a car, here are some things to ease your mind that they’re protected even without you there to hold their hand.

Should I buy a new or a used car? Ultimately, whether you buy new or used will boil down to your personal preference and how much money you’re willing to spend, but both have their advantages.

First Financial has great low Auto Loan rates – and they’re the same whether you plan to purchase a new or used vehicle!  You can view our current rates by clicking here.

A new car’s quality isn’t in question – it hasn’t been in any accidents and has no hidden flaws that a previous owner might’ve tried to disguise. Additionally, manufacturer’s warranties come standard on new vehicles, covering the car for at least three years. And New Jersey has a Lemon Law, which protects consumers if an authorized dealer is unable to repair or service the vehicle after a reasonable number of attempts.

Cars are built to last longer so a bit of mileage on the odometer need not be a deterrent or intimidating factor either. Used cars are a good option if you’re looking for more “bang for your buck.” It may not come equipped with the latest technology or gadgets, but will likely have a lot of the same features as a new car for less money. (The availability of fewer in-car distractions for an inexperienced driver isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either). An added bonus of purchasing a used car is they tend to be less expensive to insure.

Credit union members can enroll in Credit Union Auto Club, Invest in America’s newest discount program, which provides credit union members across the country with a wide range of roadside assistance services and other benefits at a significant savings compared to competing auto club plans. Click here to learn more and to sign-up today!

What are the best cars for the money? If value is a top priority, U.S. News and World Report publishes an annual list of the vehicles it has awarded “Best Cars for the Money.” Judging criteria include the average price paid and five-year total cost of ownership data, expert opinion on the car’s performance, interior features and comfort, and reliability and safety data.

What are the safest cars to drive? Each year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates vehicles based on how well they protect their occupants in a collision. The vehicles are rated good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on how they perform in five crash tests: moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, rollover and rear. The highest designation that can be awarded is Top Safety Pick+. These cars deserve extra consideration because, in addition to protecting your precious cargo, insurance companies will often offer discounts for car safety features.

Insurance costs. One thing many people forget to consider when purchasing a car is how much it will cost to insure. Young drivers generally have higher premiums because their inexperience can cause them to be labeled as high risk. Used cars tend to be less expensive to insure so purchasing one is a way to reduce your teen’s insurance premium. Mercury Insurance also offers good student discounts in New Jersey to unmarried high school and college students who maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher, which can further reduce the insurance premium.

Once you’ve decided which vehicle to buy, emphasize to your teen that driving is a privilege, not a right, and to do it responsibly.

Did you know that as a First Financial member – you may be eligible for a discount on auto insurance through Liberty Mutual? Click here to get started.*

If you need a handy tool to help you figure out those monthly auto loan payments to see what you can afford before you buy, try our free loan calculator application called AutoCalcubot. We also provide a free auto buying and research tool, AutoSMART – a great place to find new and used vehicles!

Remember, we’re here to help and with our First Time Auto Buyers Program we can offer an additional .25% APR rate reduction for qualifying members who are looking to purchase their first vehicle. If first time buyers don’t meet the criteria but still qualify for a First Financial Auto Loan, they will receive a $100 gas card – a win-win!**

Click here to view the article source written by Maryann Gowen, an independent insurance agent serving Wall, NJ.

*Discounts and savings are available where state laws and regulations allow, and may vary by state. Certain discounts apply to specific coverages only. To the extent permitted by law, applicants are individually underwritten; not all applicants may qualify. The descriptions of coverages are necessarily brief and are subject to policy provisions, limitations and exclusions that can only be expressed in the policy itself. Discounts and coverages vary by state and are not available in all states. For a complete explanation of coverages, please consult a sales representative. The TruStage™ Auto Insurance Program is provided and underwritten by leading insurance companies, including Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and affiliates, 175 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA.  A consumer report from a consumer reporting agency and/or motor vehicle report will be obtained on all drivers listed on your policy where state laws and regulations allow. Please consult your policy for specific coverages and limitations. The insurance offered is not a deposit and is not federally insured. This coverage is not sold or guaranteed by your credit union. First Financial Federal Credit Union Client #38361. **Subject to credit approval. Your credit worthiness determines your APR. Not all applicants will qualify.

equal%20housing%20lender%20logo-resized-600