Affordable Holiday Gift Ideas

holiday-shopping-womenWant to buy for everyone on your holiday list, but don’t want to go broke while doing so? Here are some tips to keep your holidays fun yet affordable!

  • Make a list. Many people spend as they go, buying presents when they see them and end up surprised when the bills arrive in January. You can avoid this problem by creating a list in advance of who you plan to buy gifts for, and you should budget for each. Then, check this total against your holiday savings to decide if you need to adjust your spending.
  • Be creative. As you begin your shopping, remember that thoughtfulness really does count. Instead of searching for one expensive present, you may be able to save money, and give the perfect gift, by putting together a number of small items that relate to a loved one’s special interest. Someone who truly loves chocolate, for example, might appreciate a small basket full of treats you’ve chosen for them. Anyone with an interest in sewing or crafts could probably use a gift bag with a fresh stock of supplies for the new year. By putting together a lot of inexpensive items, you may be able to save money and show how much you care.
  • Hit the kitchen. If you are a good cook, or you simply have a foolproof recipe, gifts of food are inexpensive and very popular. Whether you give a mixture of great holiday cookies or your grandmother’s prize-winning banana bread, your friends and family are sure to welcome the effort. In fact, you might not need to cook at all. If you’re fortunate enough to have some great family recipes that have received compliments over the years, write them out on attractive cards and tie them with a festive ribbon. These great gifts will spread the joy of delicious cooking throughout your circle of friends.
  • Good deeds are gifts, too. Many of the people on your list may value a favor done for them more than any expensive present. Couples with young children would probably be delighted if you offer to babysit so they can have some time together. You can surprise a friend with a very busy schedule by promising to do the weekly shopping for a month. Present each recipient with a beautiful card describing the good deed to be performed. Such efforts cost nothing more than a few hours of your time, but they are greatly appreciated.
  • Check your list twice. First, plan and purchase all you need for the lower-cost presents recommended here. Then, when you move on to higher-priced presents, keep an eye out for sales and comparison shop to get the best prices. You may find you can get the items on your list for less.
  • Consult your financial planner. These ideas will help limit your spending during the busy holiday season. Your local financial planner can offer great advice on how to manage your money throughout the year. Be sure to turn to him or her for answers to all your financial questions. Financial planners promote personal and professional financial security all year round. 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 732.312.1565 or stop in to see us!*

Click here to view the article source.

*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. Non-deposit 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.

Protecting Yourself From Holiday Fraudsters

HolidayMailTheftThe holiday season is here and you’re beginning to spend your hard-earned money while shopping online, by phone, or in stores—and fraudsters are on the prowl, ready to steal your cash and personal information. Don’t let these criminals get away with ruining your financial security.

We encourage you to protect yourself against fraud now before it’s too late. Below are some easy strategies you can use to help better detect and avoid falling victim to fraud and identity theft.

  • Review Credit Reports at Least Once a Year. This will help ensure fraudulent accounts have not been opened using your personal information. Additionally, the Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles consumers to a free credit report once a year from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. You can receive your report by contacting the credit reporting agencies directly or by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.
  • Shred Documents with Personal and Financial Information. Financial statements, credit card offers and billing statements are examples of documents you should be shredding. Consider going to a local shred day in your area so you can safely discard your personal and financial records.
  • Monitor Financial Statements and Online Banking Regularly. You should get into the routine of checking your statements and periodically reviewing your account transactions and online activities. This will help identify unauthorized account activities early, preventing potential losses to your personal accounts.
  • Ensure Children Understand What Information to Provide Online. Fraudsters will often use a game or a free offer that will request personal information, or will include spyware to track and steal information from your computer or mobile device. Protect yourself by encouraging your children to limit online contact to friends they actually know, setting privacy controls to restrict access to private information, and enabling parental controls that allow access to only trusted sites. It is also a good idea to talk to your children about not giving out their name, address, date of birth, or any other personal information online without talking to you first.
  • Beware of Downloading Sneaky Apps. Smartphone or social networking applications may provide application developers with access to your personal information, such as messages, contacts, emails and photos. Often, this information isn’t related to the application’s purpose. Instead developers may share the information with marketers or other third parties. Be sure to read the privacy policy of each application before downloading to understand what private information you’re sharing.
  • Look Out for Scams Involving Social Engineering. Fraudsters may impersonate a credit union (or other legitimate organizations) to trick you into giving out personal account information. This social engineering tactic is often utilized as part of an elaborate scheme involving phone calls, emails, text messages and other forms of communication. Keep in mind that you should never reply to unsolicited telephone, email, text or pop-up messages asking for personal account information. It is important to understand legitimate organizations never ask for sensitive information over unsecured communication channels. Click here to view some important articles with tips and advice about how you can protect yourself from fraud. Remember, a fraudster’s greatest advantage is your lack of knowledge and awareness – so get educated!
Check out our ID Theft Protection products – with Fully Managed Identity Recovery services from First Financial, 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 new ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!*

* 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.

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14 Tips to Avoid Cyber Monday Scams

cyber-monday-discountIn the frenzy of limited time offers, last minute sales and one-click shopping, it can be difficult to stay secure while you shop online, particularly on days like Cyber Monday (December 2nd, 2013).

Last year, consumers spent about 1.5 billion dollars on Cyber Monday, up 16% from 2011. Industry experts predict this season will see even more growth. Coupled with the boom in sales is a predicted increase in the amount and severity of online scamming and data theft.

Will Pelgrin, CEO of The Center for Internet Security (CIS), a non-profit organization focused on improving the cyber-security posture of both the private and public sector, shares a few helpful tips about staying secure online this season.

1. Don’t Click on Pop-up Ads

Though it may seem obvious, malicious pop-up ads still pose one of the largest threats to web shoppers. According to Pelgrin, studies have shown that a large amount of consumers will click on the “ad” regardless of its message. Be mindful of what pop-ups say, it could be evidence of a security threat.

2. Keep Software Up-To-Date

Though many systems automatically update your software as new features become available, it’s important to keep your programs as current as possible. To avoid security holes, update apps and software minimally once a week, as newer versions appear.

3. Use Strong Passwords

An essential part of online security in any sense is using strong passwords. This means no birthdays, dog names or variations of “1234″ for any of your accounts. For help making a strong password, check out this guide: How to Create a Secure Password.

4. Install Antivirus and Anti-Spyware software

When shopping, you don’t want others to be able to track what sites you’re visiting and what information you’re entering online. If you need help choosing, check out this guide here: 5 Best Free Antivirus Software Options.

5. Enable ‘Timeouts’ on Mobile

According to Pelgrin, more and more consumers are doing the bulk of their holiday shopping on mobile phones. If you’re one of those consumers, make sure to enable a lock screen password, in case your device is lost or stolen. “If your phone isn’t timed out, you’re leaving the keys to your kingdom to whoever picks it up,” says Pelgrin.

6. Use a Secure Connection

Pelgrin recommends that any and all online financial transactions take place through a secure, private Wi-Fi connection, as opposed to using the more vulnerable free Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or library.

7. Avoid Email Advertisements

Your inbox is likely swarming with holiday promotions from all of your favorite (and likely least favorite) brands. To avoid being hacked, the CIS recommends you always enter the shop’s URL in your browser, rather than following the links contained in an email.

8. Shop at Companies You Know

Before you buy from a merchant on Amazon, Etsy or Ebay, check their rating and number of sales. Make sure they have good return policies and clearly posted contact information. If worried, you can always check on a businesses legitimacy through the Better Business Bureau.

9. Use Credit, Not Debit

“There are more security protections on your credit card that may not exist while using your debit card, should your info be taken,” says Pelgrin.

10. Ensure Your Site Is Secure

If you are entering your financial information on a webpage, make sure the URL begins with “https” as opposed to “http” or has a lock in your browser’s search bar.

11. Be Wary of Charity Sites

Though the holidays are frequently the most popular time to make donations to charity, Pelgrin urges consumers to check the legitimacy of your charity’s website.

“Fraudulent sites pop up during disasters and holidays like clockwork. Be alert,” he says.

12. Check Your Location and Privacy Settings

Many apps and websites will automatically share your GPS location by default. Sometimes, apps will change your settings once downloaded. Check what services your downloads have access to in your phone’s privacy settings.

13. Check Your Statements Frequently

According to Pelgrin, some hackers will do very low level theft once obtaining your information, charging small amounts to your credit card to avoid detection. Stay on top of your account statements and keep a record of how much you spend and where.

14. Add Browser Extensions and Security Apps

Pop-up blockers and malware detection extensions will add an extra layer to your security this season. For some free Internet security tools, check out this other article: 8 Best Free Tools for Internet Security.

Are you aware of our latest ID Theft Protection Services? First Financial’s latest ID Theft Protection products can easily be set up, there are options for setting up a credit score tracker, as well as a virtual vault to store your important documents and passwords online, and should an ID Theft incident occur – you’ve got an advocate on your side assisting you every step of the way. Ask us how to get started today!*

Happy Safe Shopping!

Click here to view the article source by Max Knoblauch of Mashable.

*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.

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This Incredibly Common Practice Could Tank Your Credit

ccsRevolve a balance on your credit cards? It’s something many of us do, especially as the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear. But consider yourself warned: It could also be viewed as a red flag by lenders, especially if you’re paying down a smaller share of your debt each month.

Credit bureau TransUnion came out with a new product it calls CreditVision, which gives lenders a two-and-a-half year look back window at how much of your available credit you use and whether you revolve a balance from month to month.

The conventional wisdom is that as long as you keep your credit utilization — the ratio of your balance to your credit limit — under 30% and make your payments on time, it’s OK to roll over a balance from month to month. But TransUnion says people who don’t pay their balance in full every month, which it calls “revolvers,” are up to three times more likely to fall behind on a new loan within two years than people with otherwise similar risk profiles who pay off their credit cards entirely every month, which it calls “transactors.” Therefore, it might be a good idea to pay your balances in full more often than not if you’re looking to get some kind of loan in the future.

“Without the data available in CreditVision —historical balances and actual payment amount — it is very difficult, and inaccurate, to determine whether consumers are transactors or revolvers,” says Charlie Wise, vice president in the financial services business unit of TransUnion.  ”Our research has shown that consumers who are transactors are significantly lower risk on new loans than consumers who are revolvers and have lower subsequent delinquency rates on new loans.”

Although Wise says this doesn’t mean lenders avoid people who revolve balances, but serial balance-carriers should take note. “A consumer’s payment behavior on their credit cards and loan accounts may in fact impact their credit score,” Wise says, once TransUnion starts offering scoring models that incorporate this historical data later in the quarter.

With the introduction of CreditVision, all of the big three credit bureaus now give lenders the ability to take a deep dive into your past charging and payment history.

Equifax came out with a product called Dimensions in August that gives lenders a two-year look back. Among other uses, the company says lenders can pinpoint customers most receptive to balance-transfer pitches and determine how much more debt they can take on before they can’t keep up with their payments anymore.

Experian has offered something similar for a couple of years now as part of its TrendView product. It lets lenders see if people are paying off their cards in full every month, carrying balances or “rate surfing,” transferring balances from one teaser rate to another.

“It can be good or bad, depending on what they’ve been doing,” says Trevor Carone, Experian’s senior vice president of sciences and analytics. If they’ve been paying down their debt, lenders now have proof of that, which is particularly good for people who are wiping out a substantial debt quickly.

On the other hand, if your balances are growing from month to month or if your payments have dropped to just the minimum, “That’s a sign of risk, and lenders will take that into consideration,” Carone says.

It’s a double-edged sword if you’re trying to get a handle on your debt. While it’s great if you’re making strides towards knocking out a big balance, it also means you’re more likely to be targeted for new offers which could lead to temptation and we don’t need an invitation to rack up more debt.

Just over 38% of Americans revolve holiday credit card debt, according to Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of industry site CardHub.com, and we’re on track to end this year a collective $41.2 billion deeper in credit card debt this year. For the 13% of Americans surveyed by Consumer Reports last November who were still paying off their holiday shopping bills from 2011, this new visibility into their debt could be bad news.

“Short-term changes, if they’re seasonal — lenders expect that,” Carone says. ”If your behavior is persistent for six months or more, it becomes more predictive.”

If you run up a balance around the holidays and then pay it off over the course of a few months, a lender can predict that you’ll continue to behave that way in the future. But if the amount you’re paying on those bills drops as the months go by, or if you pile this year’s Black Friday splurges onto last year’s still-existing debt, it  might not be appealing to see that — even if you never miss a payment.

Don’t forget about our free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live. We also have our First Score Credit Counseling program; a low cost, interactive session ($30) with a First Financial expert, which simulates your credit score with various “what if” scenarios. You can email us at firstscore@firstffcu.com or call 866.750.0100, Option 2 to get started.

Click here to view the article source by Martha C. White of Time.com.

You Could Win a $75 VISA Gift Card in our 2013 Holiday Facebook Contest

HolidayFBContest

*To be entered, leave a comment about how you budget yourself for holiday shopping on our Facebook page on or before 12/6/13 at 11:59pm. The winner will be randomly selected from the entries and notified by the Marketing Department on 12/9/13. Winner will be able to pick up their gift card in a First Financial branch or receive it via mail. No purchase necessary to enter or claim prize. You must be 18 years or old to enter. One entry per person.

 

Learn Easy Steps to Organize Your Finances at this FREE Seminar in October 2013

eggsGet prepared for holiday shopping and learn ways to manage your finances without wrecking your budget. Join the experts at First Financial Federal Credit Union at our FREE budgeting seminar on Easy Steps to Organize Your Finances! 

Attendees will learn how to budget their finances in these four easy steps:

  1. Build an emergency fund to avoid money pitfalls.
  2. Create and maintain a simple budgeting worksheet.
  3. Pay bills on time.
  4. Pay yourself by saving money.

Join us on Wednesday, October 23rd at 6:00pm at our Neptune Branch at 783 Wayside Road (Off of Route 66) in Neptune. We invite you to bring a guest but space is limited, so make sure you sign up today!

Register Now!