Lost Cell Phone? Here’s How to Keep Your Finances Safe

We depend on our cell phone for so many day-to-day tasks that go beyond communication. We keep track of our appointments, monitor our healthy lifestyle, and stay updated on breaking news. Additionally, our cell phones have become a hub for managing our finances.

The Federal Reserve reports that Americans use their smart phones or other mobile devices for a variety of monetary activities.

    • 51% of smartphone users had used mobile banking.
    • 24% of smartphone users had made a mobile payment.
    • 38% of mobile phone users had deposited a check using their phone.

Financial apps have made it faster and easier than ever to access your money on the go, and view all your financial information right from the palm of your hand.  But, what dangers could arise if you are one of the 5.2 million people who, in a year’s time, lose their smart phone or have their smart phones stolen? How can you protect your finances in the event that your cell phone ever goes missing?

Before your phone is ever compromised, take these precautions to prevent strangers from accessing your phone or the programs and apps it holds.

Passcode Protection: 62% of smartphone owners don’t have a passcode set to protect their phone. You should always set your phone or mobile device to lock when it’s not in use, and set a secure passcode or password for access to your phone. Some smartphones now let you take security even further and utilize your thumbprint or facial recognition to unlock your phone.

Activate Find My Phone: The Find My Phone feature on your smartphone allows you to quickly trace your phone’s location if it ends up missing. Your operating systems may also offer a lost mode. With this feature, you can send a message to your home screen asking anyone who finds your phone to call to you at a specified number.

If your smartphone is lost, quick action can be the difference between saving your financial information or months of headache if your accounts are accessed by a stranger. Take these actions as soon as you realize your phone is gone.

Contact Your Financial Institution: Let your financial institution, credit card companies, and lenders know your phone or device is missing and someone may have access to your account information. They can flag your account as “compromised,” freeze your accounts, or monitor suspicious activity.

Change Your Passwords: Use your desktop computer or another mobile device to reset the passwords for your online banking or payment tools. Also reset your email password. This way if someone uses the “Forgot My Password” feature on any financial app or website, they cannot access your email and reset your passwords themselves.

A Final Tip: Always log out of financial websites or apps before you close out of them. Keeping yourself logged in or enabling auto sign-in means that your information is easily accessible, even if you’re not the one holding your device.

If you feel that any of your First Financial accounts may have been compromised as a result of a lost or stolen cell phone, please contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 Monday through Friday 8am-6pm EST, or Saturday 8:30am-1pm.

Article Source: Kara Vincent for CUInsight.com

Watch Out for Card Skimming at Gas Pumps

The FTC is warning drivers about skimming scams at the pump. Typically, we New Jersey drivers don’t pump our own gas – but if you plan to take any Fall road trips to enjoy the foliage in another state, you might want to be on the lookout for the following gas pump scam.

Skimmers are illegal card readers attached to payment terminals. These card readers grab data off a credit or debit card’s magnetic stripe without your knowledge. Criminals then sell the stolen data or use it to buy items online. You won’t know your information has been stolen until you get your statement or an overdraft notice.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid a skimmer when you fuel up out of state:

Make sure the gas pump panel is closed and doesn’t show signs of tampering. Many stations now put security seals over the cabinet panel. If the pump panel is open, the label will read “void.”

Look at the card reader itself. Does it look different than other readers at the station? For example, the card reader on the left has a skimmer attached, the reader on the right does not.

Try to wiggle the card reader before you put your card in. If it moves, report it to the attendant. Then use a different pump.

  • If you use a debit card at the pump, run it as a credit card instead of entering your PIN. That way, the PIN is safe and the money isn’t deducted immediately from your account if there is a card skimmer attached. Better yet, if you have a credit card on you – use that instead.
  • If you’re really concerned about skimmers, pay inside rather than at the pump.
  • Monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges.

If you feel that any of your First Financial accounts may have been compromised as a result of a scam, please contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 Monday through Friday 8am-6pm EST, or Saturday 8:30am-1pm. Learn more about card skimming by reading our user guide.

Article source: Colleen Tressler for the Federal Trade Commission

How to Bounce Back from a Spending Spree

We’ve all been there. We intend to make a few purchases then suddenly we realize we’ve gone overboard with our spending. You may feel the urge to panic – but before you do, consider these tips for damage control after going on a spending spree.

Prioritize purchases
When the dust has settled and your panic begins to recede, start to look back over what you’ve bought. Are these things vital to your life, or are they all “extras” that you don’t necessarily have a need for? Sure, it’s fun to get new things, but if you’ve spent too much, you may need to think about returning some things to get your money back on track.

Get back on budget
Sure, you’ve gone over the limit, but it’s time to move forward and recover. Remember how you typically spend and if that’s been working for you, go back to your old ways. Don’t beat yourself up over what’s in the past. It’s time to regroup and remember your limits.

Plan to pay back
Stick to your original budget, but also consider ways you’re going to make up for the damage you’ve done to your wallet. If you’ve charged your purchases, now’s the time to dip into that debt repayment fund you’ve hopefully been saving up. If you shopped with cash, plan for ways you can trim your spending until your finances are where they were before your spending spree.

Reflect on patterns
Getting in this position every once in a blue moon is not cause for too much concern. But, if overspending and busting your budget is becoming a pattern, you need to stop and assess the issue. Is there a particular reason why you’re shopping/spending habits are getting out of control? Understanding why you’re behaving the way you are, will help you to make corrections and learn from your mistakes.

Need help with your budget? Check out our budgeting guide!

Article Source: Wendy Moody for CUInsight.com

3 Reasons Not to Pay Off Your Credit Cards Too Fast

When it comes to getting rid of debt, it seems like the best option is to pay it off as quickly as possible. This is especially true of credit card debt. It’s high interest, so you should just pay off what you can, as quickly as you can, right? Not so fast.

It’s actually possible to pay off your credit cards too fast. Wait, what?! Here are three reasons to take a step back and evaluate whether or not you should pay off your credit cards immediately.

1. You Don’t Want to Completely Drain Your Emergency Fund

If you have a chunk of change in your emergency fund, it might be tempting to just take the lump sum and pay off your debt.

The problem with this though, is that you open yourself to financial vulnerability if an emergency crops up. You might have to turn to your newly-paid-off credit card. When that happens, you wind up back in debt, and you’ve got no emergency fund on top of it.

There’s a reason financial experts suggest you keep at least $1,000 in an emergency fund before you start paying off debt. That way, if something happens, you can cover it without going further into debt. Don’t deplete your emergency fund in an effort to get rid of debt right now.

2. Watch Out for Cutting into Your Regular Expenses

You feel rich on payday. You feel like you can put $500 toward debt, and it makes sense. Pay it off faster and win right?

Unfortunately, you might not actually have $500 to put toward that debt. What about your regular expenses, like groceries and insurance premiums? Have you looked ahead to the bills you will need to pay in two or three weeks?

Your debt payment needs to be based on your budget and grounded in the reality of your regular monthly expenses. If you aren’t looking at all your monthly expenses, and just throwing money at your credit cards without a plan, there’s a good chance that you will need to turn to those credit cards in order to get through the rest of the month.

That means you take a step back for every step forward. Instead of getting excited and putting a large amount toward debt when you get paid, make it a point to map out your budget. Look at your income and expenses. Then make a debt payment plan that calls for an extra debt payment based on the money you have available.

3. Don’t Put Your Future at Risk

Finally, it can be tempting to take a loan out from your retirement account in order to pay off your debt more quickly. However, that can be a bad idea as well. Even though you are “paying yourself interest” on the loan, the reality is that you can’t replace the time the money is out of the market.

Another potentially dire consequence is that you could suddenly end up needing to pay the whole retirement account loan back at once. For instance, the entire loan comes due within a few months if you lose your job. The amount becomes an early withdrawal if you can’t pay it back — subjecting it to penalty and taxes. That could put you in an even worse position.

Just because it seems like you should pay off your credit card debt quickly, doesn’t mean that you should be so extreme that you put your overall finances at greater risk. If you are looking to pay off your credit card debt, ensure you have a budget and financial plan in place so that your daily expenses and emergency fund are covered first.

Article Source: Miranda Marquit for moneyning.com

4 Family Dates for $20 or Less

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to create memories for your little ones. September is a beautiful month for some outdoor family fun with gorgeous weather. There are plenty of options to enjoy a family date on a budget. Here are some great September weekend family fun ideas:

Beach Picnics and a Movie

In Monmouth and Ocean Counties, we all know the best kept secret once Labor Day has passed – local summer! Take some time to pack up and stick your toes in the sand. Bring some beach toys, get on Pinterest for some DIY beach games, and don’t forget the sunblock.

$15 for picnic fixings at the market
$5 for an Amazon or iTunes Rental

Playground and Frozen Yogurt

Watching your kids play tag with some new friends or bolster up their confidence on the “big kid slide” is completely free. For an added zing, check out Yelp or Google and search the best parks in your area and explore some new ones.

$10 for gas
$10 for frozen yogurt after the park

Secondhand Shops and Board Game Night

Thrift shops are a great spot to pick out an inexpensive “new to your kids” toy or two. After visiting a few shops, pick up a cheap board game, head home, and play a family game of Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders.

$10 for thrifty items
$10 for a board game

Book Store and a Walk

Reading to your children is one of the best ways to teach them to use cognitive skills. Book stores are typically happy to accommodate parents who enjoy taking their kids out for some reading (check out the local library too!).

Spend about 20-40 minutes reading together as a family. At the end of the date, buy a new book to take home and then head over to a beautiful setting (beach, park, etc.) to enjoy a walk.

$8 for a new book
$6 for snacks
$6 for gas

As you can see, you can create great family memories and save money on activities at the same time. Happy bonding!

Article Source: Jeremy Hartley for moneyning.com

3 Ways to Save Money and Simplify Your Life

We’re all busy, and life is pretty crazy. Juggling your personal life and a career can be quite stressful, and at times, very expensive. How often do you feel this way? If the answer is too often, it may be time to make a few changes. Here are three ways you can simplify your life and save money in the process.

Set it and forget it: Keeping up with all of your financial responsibilities can be a hassle and an unnecessary stress in your life. To make this process easier, create a budget, stick to it, and automate as many payments as you can. When you don’t have to think about bills and savings accounts, it’s a lot less stress in your life, plus you don’t have to worry about late fees and missed payments.

Stick to your household budget and learn how to create one with First Financial’s budgeting guide.

Get rid of your junk: After a long day, it’s nice to enjoy your home and all your “stuff.” But how much of that “stuff” are you really using? What’s important and what’s just clutter? You really think that kayak from college is going to ever be more than an artifact collecting dust? Getting rid of the clutter in your life can bring you peace and put a few extra dollars in your pocket. Have a garage sale, and donate whatever doesn’t sell to a local charity.

Downsize your life: Are you running yourself to death getting from Point A to Points B, C, and D? Slow down a little. Between baseball, soccer, cheerleading, and ballet, your family can get way too busy. Figure out what’s important and cut out the stuff that doesn’t really matter. Being on-the-go less means being at home more, relaxing, and spending less money on fast food and sporting goods.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com