Tips to Avoid COVID-19 Stimulus Check Scams

As you know, the government will be sending out stimulus checks to aid with the Coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the nation.  As with most things involving money, you’ll often find scammers not too far behind who are looking for a way to take yours. Don’t become a victim!

Here are a few ways to protect your stimulus check from a fraudster:

You don’t need to do anything. As long as you filed taxes for 2018 and/or 2019, the federal government has the information it needs to send your money. If you haven’t filed taxes recently, you’ll need to submit a simple tax return to get your check. Who is eligible to receive a stimulus check? Get more information here.

Don’t give anyone your personal information to get your relief check. There is absolutely nothing to sign up for. Anyone calling to ask for your personal information such as your Social Security Number, PayPal account, or bank information is a scammer. Also be on the lookout for email phishing scams, where the fraudsters pretend to be from the government and ask for your information – stating that it’s part of the enrollment process for the checks.

To set up direct deposit of your check, communicate only with the IRS at irs.gov/coronavirus. You will only need to do this if you didn’t give the IRS your bank information on your 2018 or 2019 tax return. Otherwise, you will receive a check in the mail from the U.S. Treasury. The IRS also has an online form available through irs.gov/coronavirus. This is the only place to legitimately update your information – the IRS will never email, text, contact you through social media, or call you.

There is no early access to this money, and anyone who claims to get it to you earlier is a scammer. It looks like funds will start going out very soon. Scammers are using the lack of detail to try to trick people into giving out their personal information and stealing their money.

You will not be contacted through Facebook and there is no special grant to pay medical bills. Some older individuals reported they were contacted through Facebook about a special grant to pay medical bills called U.S. Emergency Grants Federation, and were asked to provide their SSNs. Some were also told they could receive up to $150,000 when a processing fee is paid. This is a bogus website and grant. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies can be found at www.grants.gov

To get official updates and more information, visit the IRS’s page on economic impact payments. And if you come across a scammer trying to take your check, report it at ftc.gov/complaint.

Article Sources: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/04/want-get-your-coronavirus-relief-check-scammers-do-too?utm_source=govdelivery and CUNA Mutual Risk Alert from 3.31.2020

 

What You Should Know About COVID-19 Stimulus Checks

President Donald Trump recently signed a $2 trillion economic relief plan set to provide aid to millions of Americans impacted by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. The package includes stimulus payments for individuals, additional unemployment coverage, student loan relief, and more. What does that mean for you?

Stimulus Payments

Most adults will receive a check in the mail or via direct deposit. The amount will vary based on adjusted gross income, filing status, and the number of dependents you claim. The break down is as follows:

  • Single adults who made $75,000 or less annually will receive $1,200. If you have qualifying children ages 16 or under, you will receive an additional $500 per child.
  • Married couples with no children who made $150,000 or less will receive $2,400.
  • Taxpayers who file as the head of household will get the full payment if they earned $112,500 or less.
  • For single adults who made more than $75,000, the payment gradually decreases until it stops all together at $99,000.
  • For married people with no children who made more than $150,000, the stimulus payment gradually decreases until it stops all together at $198,000.

If someone claims you as a dependent – even as an adult, you will not be eligible for a relief payment. To see your adjusted gross income, look at Line 8B on your 2019 1040 federal tax return. For those who did not get to file in time for tax year 2019 due to the pandemic, this number will be based on your 2018 federal return.

Most people will receive their payments within three weeks. According to the bill, you’ll also receive a paper notice in the mail a few weeks after your payment has been distributed. That notice will also contain information about where the payment ended up and in what form it was made, as a confirmation.

Additional Unemployment Coverage

Under the stimulus package, additional unemployment benefits will be extended to people who wouldn’t typically be eligible for unemployment.

Typically, self-employed and part-time workers, gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, but under the stimulus package – those groups will be protected. Benefits will be calculated based on previous income using a formula from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program.

Under the plan, eligible workers will get an extra $600 per week in addition to the state unemployment they are currently receiving. The state unemployment and extra coverage is designed to replace the paycheck that has been lost due to Coronavirus.

Student Loan Relief

The federal government has already waived two months of interest and payments for student borrowers. There will be an automatic payment suspension until August 30th for any student loans held by the federal government. Older Federal Family Educational Loans, Perkins Loans, or loans from state or private agencies are unfortunately not eligible. However, if you have a private student loan, it’s worth asking to see what options might be available to you.

Retirement Accounts

The stimulus package has also suspended certain retirement account rules for the calendar year 2020. No one will have to take a required minimum distribution from individual retirement accounts or workplace retirement savings plans.

If you have an IRA or workplace retirement plan, you can withdraw up to $100,000 without the usual 10 percent penalty, as long as the withdrawal is because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The withdrawal qualifies if you, a spouse, or a dependent tested positive for the virus, or you experienced other negative economic effects related to the pandemic. You’ll also be able to spread out any income taxes you owe as a result over a three-year time period from the date of the distribution.

You can also borrow from your 401(k) and can take out twice the usual amount. For 180 days after the bill passes, if you provide certification that you’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can withdraw up to $100,000. If you already have a loan and it’s supposed to be repaid before December 31st, you will get an extra year.

We’re facing unprecedented times, as the pandemic has touched everyone’s lives in some way. Please know, First Financial is here for you during this time. If you’re experiencing financial hardship due to the Coronavirus pandemic or you just have questions about your finances, reach out to us. We can get through this together, one step at a time.

 

How to Prioritize Bills During a Financial Crisis

Our vibrant, animated country has basically been put on pause. Busy streets are now empty and previously crowded malls are eerily vacant, as millions of Americans shelter in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

If you have been affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be getting worried about incoming bills and wondering where you’ll find the money to pay them. Let’s take a look at what financial experts are advising now so you can make a responsible, informed decision about your finances going forward.

Triage Your Bills

Financial expert Clark Howard urges cash-strapped Americans to look at their bills the way medical personnel view incoming patients during an emergency. “In medicine it’s called triage,” Howard says. “It’s exactly what’s happening in the hospitals right now as they decide who to treat when. You have to look at your bills the same way. You’ve got to think about what you must have.”

Times of emergency call for unconventional prioritizing. Clark recommends putting your most basic needs, including food and shelter, before any other bills. It’s best to make sure you can feed your family before using limited resources for other bills. Similarly, your family needs a place to live – so mortgage or rent payments should be next on your list. And continue down the line after that. If you are not sure that you can make full payments on your other bills, call that particular lender or company as soon as possible. Many are offering extended grace periods without penalties during this time.

Housing

It’s one thing to resolve to put your housing needs first and another to actually put that into practice when you’re working with a smaller or no paycheck. The good news is that some rules have changed in light of the financial fallout of the pandemic.

President Donald Trump announced he’s instructing the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to immediately halt “all foreclosures and evictions” for 60 days. This means Americans will have a roof over their heads for at least the next two months, no matter what.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency also offered payment forbearance to homeowners affected by COVID-19, allowing them to suspend mortgage payments for up to 12 months. These loans, provided by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, account for approximately 66 percent of all home loans in America. Some lenders are allowing delayed payments to be tacked onto the end of the home loan’s term, while others will collect the total of missed payments when the period of forbearance ends.

In the state of New Jersey, a 90-day grace period on mortgage payments should also be provided by most financial institutions. Details can be found here.

If you are having trouble making your mortgage payments right now, talk to your lender about your options before making a decision. Suspending your housing payments during an economic shutdown can be a lifesaver for your finances and help free up some of your money for essentials.

If you’re a renter, be open with your landlord. “Consumers who are the most proactive and say, ‘Here’s where I stand,’ will get a lot better response than those who do nothing,” says Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, CEO of AsktheMoneyCoach.com and author of “Zero Debt.” Your landlord should also be willing to work with you.

Transportation

When normal life resumes, many employees will need a way to get to work. Missing out on an auto loan payment can also mean risking repossession of your vehicle. This should put car payments next on your list of financial priorities. If meeting that monthly payment is impossible right now, communicate with your lender and see if they offer skip-a-payment or a deferment program during this time.

Household Bills

Utility and service bills may be another area of difficulty right now. First, don’t worry about shutoffs. Most states in the U.S. have outlawed utility shutoffs for the time being. Second, many providers are willing to work with their clients. Visit their websites or give them a call and check to see what kind of relief and financial consideration they’re offering to their consumers at this time.

Unsecured Debt

Unsecured debt includes credit cards, personal loans and any other loan that is not tied to a large asset, like a house or vehicle. When it comes to these loans as well, consumers are advised to communicate with their lenders about their current financial reality. Credit card companies and lenders may be able to extend payment deadlines, waive a late fee, or occasionally allow consumers to skip a payment without penalty.

Have you been affected by COVID-19 and are having trouble making your First Financial loan payments? We are here for you! Click here to learn more about your options and fill out an online request form.

Article Source: CUContent.com

Social Distancing on a Budget this April 2020

It’s April, and while many of our usual monthly activities in Monmouth & Ocean Counties have been cancelled due to the public health crisis, there are still some grab n’ go and virtual wellness happenings you can participate in while also maintaining social distancing. Here are some fun things you can still enjoy with your family this month. We hope you are staying safe and healthy!

Grab & Go At Home Kits

  • Julio’s Pizza Company (Atlantic Highlands) has a pizza kit ready for pick-up, complete with a ball of dough, tomato sauce, a pound of cheese, and cooking instructions – all for just $8. Learn more at https://www.heyitsjulios.com/ or call 848-300-2674 to place your order.
  • Beacon 70 (Brick) has a DIY at home pizza kit for the whole family for just $12! The kit includes dough, sauce, mozzarella cheese, an additional topping of your choice, and grated parmesan cheese. Call to order at 848-232-4235 and you can pick-up curbside or have the kit delivered. Find out more on their website at https://beacon70.com/
  • Jersey Freeze (Freehold) has a make your own ice cream sundae kit for pick-up, only $20! You’ll get two quarts of homemade soft serve ice cream, chocolate syrup, sprinkles, cherries, and your choice of a candy topping. Call 732-462-3008 to order and pick-up curbside 45 minutes later! For more information visit http://jerseyfreeze1952.com/
  • Sugarush (Red Bank) call 732-414-9044 to order and then pick-up an at home cupcake decorating kit for $25 or cookie decorating kit for $20! The cookie kit includes 6 sugar cookies, 2 royal icing colors, and sprinkles. The cupcake kit includes 6 cupcakes, 3 icing colors, sprinkles, and toppings. There are three themes available to choose for cupcakes: mermaid, unicorn, or lego. Find out more at experiencesugarush.com
  • Jersey Cookie Girl (Jackson) is offering cookie decorating kits for $35. The kit includes 12 sugar cookies, 3 piping bags of royal icing, and 3 colors of sparkle sugar. Cookie themes are Happy Birthday, unicorn princess, or puppies. Place your order at 732-213-0590, and curbside pick-up is available or free delivery if you are 10 miles or less from the store. Learn more at https://www.jerseycookiegirl.com/
  • Color Me Mine (Freehold) is shipping paint your own ceramic to-go kits. Simply choose the ceramic(s) you would like to paint, pick your paint colors, and check out online. The kits include instructions and a set of brushes for you to keep. For more information and to place your online order visit https://color-me-mine-freehold.myshopify.com/

Online Activities

  • Lunch Doodles: Online lunch doodles for kids will take place daily, and are free! New episodes will be posted every weekday at 1:00pm EST. Kids will learn to draw, doodle and explore new ways of writing. Grab your pencils, crayons and your imagination! Find out more information and join in on the fun here.
  • Snapology of Monmouth County: The usual STEAM classes are going virtual! For $10 register your child for one of these upcoming online classes: https://embed.snapology.com/licensee/50/events/calendar/2020/04/
  • Virtual Disney Rides: While the Disney parks are closed, you can still experience the wonders of Disney right at home. Thanks to some amazing Disney fans, your family can hop on a variety of Disney rides through YouTube. Get started here.
  • Google Arts & Culture: Check out virtual tours of museums, parks, and natural icons like the largest temple complex on Earth, Yellowstone National Park, and much more. Get started at https://artsandculture.google.com/

Virtual Wellness

  • Prime Cycle: Free gym classes are being offered for students during lunch on Instagram Live. A session for kids ages 6-10 years old runs from noon-12:30pm, kids 11 and up runs from 12:30pm -1pm. For more information visit https://www.instagram.com/p/B99GpRNndU6/
  • Planet Fitness: Hosting free live-stream fitness classes daily at 7pm. Join them on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/planetfitness/
  • Mindfulness Lessons: Mindful Schools is a non-profit organization which will be offering mindful classes online for kids at 1pm EST on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Kids will get to join in on mindful activities, movement, and read-a-longs. Join in here.

At Home Activities for Kids

  • Scavenger Hunt: If your kids are bouncing off the walls from being cooped up at home right now, get them to let off some steam with a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt. Set up hints around the house and have them race from clue to clue searching for the treasure you’ve hidden for them. If your kids are too young to read, this can work with picture clues as well. The “treasure” can be a special treat you have in the house, a new game or art supply you’ve been saving, or an item you know they’ll love. Get creative!
  • Balloon Ping-Pong: No need for a bulky ping-pong table! Just tape large popsicle sticks to the backs of paper plates, blow up a balloon, and have your preschoolers play ping-pong with their makeshift paddles over your empty kitchen table.
  • Scrapbook: Spend some quality time reliving precious memories by digging out scrapbooking supplies and old photos to create a timeless masterpiece together.
  • Teach a Household Skill: Enlist your child’s help! Even very small children can help sort laundry, load the washing machine, and press the buttons to turn it on (with your supervision, of course). Have the older ones help you bake, letting them put their math skills to use by adding fractions in recipes. And, of course everyone cleans up their own messes when the day is done!

More COVID-19 Scams Including Check Fraud and Medicare Theft

The Federal Trade Commission is taking extra measures to warn people of scammers that will use tactics to try and take your personal information, especially in light of the recent Coronavirus outbreak in this country. It’s important to remain aware of these current scams and schemes in order to protect yourself from fraudsters who are looking to take advantage of your vulnerability, and your money.

In the most current COVID-19 scam – fraudsters are trying to capitalize on the checks the U.S. government might be sending to American taxpayers. These scammers are looking to trap people into giving their information in order to take their money and capture sensitive information such as social security numbers and account information.

To help combat this, we’ve put together a few tips to help you identify fraud in relation to this check scam:

  1. Any money from the government will be in the form of a check and will not be immediate. Anyone who claims this money will be made immediately available is a scammer.
  2. If you have to pay anything upfront before you receive your payment, it is also not legitimate. There are no fees and no hidden charges. Anyone who says otherwise is a scammer.
  3. The government won’t call and ask for your social security number, bank account or credit card information. Anyone who asks for this information is a scammer.

If you receive any communication from someone with the above claims, The Federal Trade Commission urges you to report it through the FTC complaint center. The FTC is also an invaluable resource to stay informed and knowledgeable of current scams and schemes.

Additional scams surrounding Coronavirus to be on the lookout for:

  • Scammers going door to door claiming to be from health agencies such as the CDC or WHO, and offering at home COVID-19 testing. The victim may then be charged for the fictitious test or may become the victim of a robbery. Do not answer the door, pay for the “test,” or let this type of fraudster into your home.
  • Online sellers who contact you and claim they have in-demand products like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies. You then place an order, but you never get your shipment. Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name — including scammers. Be careful and check for legitimacy.
  • Scammers are targeting the elderly by posing as Medicare workers and in some cases, they might tell you they’ll send you a Coronavirus test, masks, or other items in exchange for your Medicare number, social security number or other personal information. Be wary of unsolicited requests for your Medicare number or other personal information. Only give your Medicare number to participating Medicare pharmacists, primary and specialty care doctors, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.

Your privacy and protection are important to us. Feel free to reach out to us if you suspect any of your First Financial accounts have been compromised due to one of the above scams.

THINK First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

Article Sources:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/coronavirus-scams-what-ftc-doing

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/03/checks-government

March 2020 CUNA Risk Alert

Should You Take Your Money Out of the Bank During COVID-19?

Along with the recent mad dash to buy all the toilet paper and disinfectant spray stores can stock, you may be wondering about your accounts and assessing whether it’s necessary to withdraw cash from your financial institution.

Fact: the need for withdrawing cash during the COVID-19 crisis has no basis. Unlike overextended banks that caused the Great Recession, the current financial situation in relation to this crisis was caused by a reaction to the Coronavirus outbreak in our country, not a systemic banking problem.

There are rumors circulating around social media that there could be an issue with credit or debit cards in the future, but rest assured – there is no validity to that concern. Right now it’s more practical to take your money out as you need it, but there is certainly no cause for alarm in terms of not having access to your funds.

During this time, please keep these things in mind when it comes to your money:

  1. First Financial (as well as other credit unions) is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration. All member deposits are insured up to $250,000. This means that you will not lose a dime of money that is federally insured.
  2. The Federal government has declared banks and credit unions as essential businesses. While we’ve had to adjust our standard operations and temporarily close our branch lobbies to walk in’s, our credit union is ready and able to assist you with whatever needs you may have. And if you’d like to make an appointment at your local branch to open an account or close on a loan, give us a call. It’s our priority to ensure you receive the level of service you’ve come to expect from us, even in an ever-evolving capacity.
  3. You may incur more risk if you withdraw your money from your financial institution. Cash is much harder to recover in the event of a loss, theft, or any other unfortunate circumstance. Withdrawing your money as needed is much safer than keeping it at home or in your wallet.
  4. Paying your bills through online banking and bill pay is often the fastest and safest way to make your monthly payments. With everything being done virtually – it will arrive faster, you won’t need to pay for postage, and you can do it all from the comfort of your own home.
  5. Lastly, you have access to your account 24/7 through First Financial online banking and our mobile app. Our mobile app provides a convenient, easy and secure way to monitor your account, pay bills, make transfers and deposit checks. Download our app from the Apple App Store or from the Google Play Store.

During this time of uncertainty, it’s natural to feel pressure to make quick decisions. We’re here to help you maintain a sense of peace regarding your money. It’s tough to know what is coming, but you can rest assured that we have your best interest in mind and will do anything we can to help you and your family during this time. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us. We wish good health and financial wellness to you and your loved ones as we navigate through these times together!