Toms River Resident Wins $1,000 to Pay Off Holiday Bills in December 2012

Press Release???????????????????????????????Toms River, N.J. – Nicole Sharp, a Toms River resident, received a check for $1,000 as a winner in First Financial Federal Credit Union ( and 94.3 The Point’s “Helping Families First” sweepstakes at the credit union’s Toms River branch.

Throughout 2012, consumers age 18 years and older participated in the First Financial promotion at and were entered to win $1,000 in a monthly grand prize drawing.  A grand prize winner was randomly selected each month from all qualifying entries on or about the last day of each month.

As holiday spending incessantly rolled over into December’s contest theme, Ms. Sharp stated that she planned on utilizing coupons and purchasing sales items in order to stay out of debt during the holiday season. She also added, “This money will help me tremendously when I finish up my holiday shopping, I couldn’t be more grateful.”

This prize was the credit union’s final award in the 2012 Helping Families First campaign with 94.3 The Point.  All twelve winners from the entire year can be viewed on First Financial’s blog.

Online Shopping Tips to Prevent Fraud this Holiday Season

Xmas timeCyber Thieves are officially out these days to steal your credit card information or any other private personal information they can intercept as you shop online during the holiday season. Ongoing awareness of these scams is critical so that you are cautious and informed in order to protect your personal and financial information.

Take a few moments to read over these tips to ensure your financial and personal security:

  1. Be extremely careful when using free Wi-Fi hotspots to shop online, as you may be watched by data sniffers.
  2. Only shop on secure, reputable Web sites that: A. You know via other means (the press; you shop at their store) B. Look for “https” in the URL, C. The Web site has a small padlock icon in the bottom right corner of your browser or the URL turns green, signaling a “safe” site.
  3. Never offer more personal information to online stores than absolutely necessary (e.g., Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, PINs)
  4. Never use the same password across multiple Web sites, and do not use your name, pet’s name, birthdate, dictionary word or other easily guessed attribute as a password. Use a combination of letters, symbols and numbers and vary upper and lower case.
  5. Leave suspicious Web sites immediately (they ask for more information than normal or require you to double enter information).
  6. Do not respond to emails, text messages, and phone calls that advertise the sale of gift cards, holiday gifts, promotions, contests and jobs – unless it’s a reputable company or store you frquently shop at and you know it’s a legitimate advertisement.
  7. Log out of your online accounts when you are not actively shopping, and password protect your smartphone, iPad and laptop in case they do go missing.
  8. You should ensure your home computers are secured with a firewall and antivirus software before performing any online transactions. Operating system patches should be downloaded when made available by software vendors. Make sure you also protect mobile devices (mobile phones, tablets, etc.) used to conduct online transactions by installing antivirus software.
  9. Use automated account alerts and frequently monitor your credit card charges and bank balances, allowing you to catch fraud immediately.
  10. Only cyber shop on a non-public (e.g., not in a library) computer with a secure Internet connection, updated anti-virus software and up-to-date operating system.
  11. Try to avoid tempting holiday offers, such as free downloadable applications for smartphones, antivirus software, screen savers, ring-tones and electronic greeting cards, which may be infected with viruses and/or malware.
  12. Only donate to known charities and only when you have initiated the gift. Never send money (via check, cash or electronically) based solely on a wall post, email or phone call. Respond to such correspondence by contacting the charity on a reputable phone number or Web site.
  13. If you shop on auction sites like Craigslist or eBay you unfortunately you might purchase merchandise that will never be delivered. Be sure to follow the best practices published by Craigslist and other public auction websites to avoid scams.
  14. Fraudsters often place bogus advertisements for free prizes on social media like Facebook and Twitter. We urge you to not respond to these advertisements.

If you take these tips to heart, you will not only save yourself the stress of shopping in person, you won’t have to think twice about doing your holiday buying online. It is crucial that you immediately report any unauthorized transactions to First Financial if you notice any fradulent activity on your accounts. You can contact us by calling 866.750.0100, e-mailing or stopping into any one of our branches. You can also report scams to the Federal Trade Commission or call toll-free1.877.FTC.HELP (1.877.382.4357).

Take the Stress Out of the Holidays

reduce-stress-holiday-resized-600As soon as we put away our shorts and sandals, we start to feel the pressure of the holidays creeping in. After all, it will be here before we know it, right? But there are things you can do to have a more enjoyable holiday season, and it all comes down to advance planning.

First, put pen to paper and make a written plan, including gift recipients and a detailed budget – both a total budget and a breakdown of that budget by recipient. Once you have your budget, you can begin matching up gift ideas to that budget, and don’t forget to be creative! When you give yourself enough time, you can even plan to make gifts to save on gift expenses. Plus, people tend to overspend more when they shop at the last minute, making desperate purchases – so give yourself plenty of time to get the items on your list. By shopping early, you give yourself enough time to actually enjoy the holidays – and you can shop from a better selection and with fewer crowds.

As you shop, try to keep your distractions to a minimum. That means only go when you are not tired or hungry or have to keep up with family members. Start with the clearance racks and don’t let a salesperson talk you into something you don’t want. And remember, gift cards or charitable donations can offer a stress-free alternative for you, and can be a welcome gift to the hard-to-shop-for person on your list.

When paying for your purchases, try to use cash so you won’t be tempted to rack up credit card debt, and read any fine print involved with special promotions and offers. Always keep your receipts and ask about the return policy. When you get home with the receipts, include a gift receipt with the gift and keep the original receipt in a secure and organized location.

Get togethers can also be stressful at the holidays. Advanced preparation can help alleviate at least some of that stress. You can begin with a written plan, including dates, menus, travel arrangements and the like. Pin down and make arrangements for all the details of your travel as far in advance as possible, and if you are having house guests, start making preparations early for their arrival, such as any home repairs or other accommodations needed. You can even cook many dishes in advance and store them in the freezer, and you can also enlist the help of family members and friends who will be joining you as well.

When the holidays are done and gone, take a deep breath and relax. Treat yourself to something soothing – and then start saving and planning for next year.

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*First Financial is not responsible for the content listed on any external websites.


6 Ways to Stay Out of Debt this Holiday Season

creditcardspending1-resized-600Do you panic every January, about how you’re going to get back on track and recover your finances from holiday-related spending? Stop worrying and try something different this year. Start strategizingnow for ways to avoid running up those bills and starting 2013 with a mountain of debt in the first place.

1. Start saving now. Open up a savings account or a Holiday Club Account. The Holiday Club concept predates our credit card-centric era, first becoming popular during the Great Depression and coming back into favor during the last recession. Offered by a number of financial institutions across the country today, they instill savings discipline via tactics. You can even set up an automatic deposit so money can get funneled toward your holiday expenses without any additional effort on your part. Open up a Holiday Club account with First Financial to start budgeting yourself this holiday season.

2. Use credit card rewards. Have a cache of points or miles? Take a look at your redemption options to see if they can be turned into gifts. If you’re a First Financial VISA Platinum Credit Cardholder – be sure to check out your current rewards status at our CURewards website. You might be able to “buy” gift cards with your points that you can give or spend to buy presents, or even electronics. This is another way to purchase holiday gifts without dipping into your bank account.Thanks to Shop America’s Credit Union Member Discount, First Financial members also have access to more than 1,200 online stores, giving you major discounts when you shop online. And, every time you earn $10 or more in cash back from your purchases, you’ll get a check as a thank you! So whether you’re looking to do your online shopping with Target, Macy’s, Best Buy, Apple or hundreds of other stores, you can save and get paid to shop online. Don’t forget to take advantage of this opportunity for the holiday season!

3. Don’t open store credit cards. Yes, you’ll probably get 10% or 15% off, but retail cards can be trouble for a few reasons. First, opening new credit cards can deliver a hit to your credit score, especially if you open several within a short time period. The typically low credit limits of store cards also make it easier to max them out faster, another activity that looks bad on your credit report. This could cost you if you plan to take out a loan or try to refinance your home in the near future. But the more immediate problem with store cards is their high APRs. Some store credit cards charge as much as 25% or so in interest — just a few percentage points lower than many non-branded cards’ penalty rates. The stores and the banks that run their card programs count on large numbers of people not paying their balance in full, an especially likely scenario during the run up to the holidays, when many people adopt a buy now, pay later mentality. If you absolutely have to revolve a balance, use a card with the lowest APR you can find.

4. Start shopping now. Retailers would rather not spill the beans on this little secret, but Black Friday isn’t the savings bonanza it’s made out to be. Sure, there are all the ads, and the doorbusters, and crazy hours that seem to creep further into Thanksgiving dinner every year, but a recent survey foundthat several other shopping holidays including Labor Day, Memorial Day, July Fourth, New Year’s Day, Columbus Day and President’s Day all offer a higher overall percentage of discounts. A second survey found that electronics — one of the most popular categories, especially when it comes to those much-hyped doorbusters — are actually cheapest in early December.  So if you want to burn off that turkey and gravy shivering in a sleeping bag outside your local big-box outlet this Black Friday, be our guest — just don’t expect to score the best discounts.

5. Try gift card exchanges. Gift card markets like the one at and, are places where people list gift cards they’re willing to unload at a discount. So if you’re looking for a brand they’re trying to get rid of, you can essentially buy yourself a discount. Obviously, the offerings vary from day to day on these sites, but a quick check turned up discounts on retailers like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Ann Taylor, Gap Kids, and the Sports Authority. The percentage off any given retailer varies widely among sites and even among sellers on the same site, so it pays to do some comparison shopping. If you don’t mind taking a “haircut” on the value of an unwanted gift card, you can also use these sites to sell unwanted cards and earn a few extra bucks. And, if you’re looking to purchase a VISA Gift Card for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list – don’t forget to stop into your nearest First Financial branch and pick one up. Holiday themed gift cards are available in amounts ranging from $10 to $1,000 – with a low $2.50 activation fee

6. Hit the dollar store. No, you don’t need to buy gifts here, but savings experts say dollar stores are a great source for wrapping paper, greeting cards, and decorations. If you do a lot of entertaining around the holidays, dollar stores are also good for disposable flatware, plates, tablecloths, and the like.

Happy Shopping!

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