Disaster Recovery for Small Business

It’s a good idea for any small business to take a look at what can potentially happen & how to plan for a disaster at any time. Follow the steps below to make sure your business is prepared for any emergency.

 Start by minimizing the risks:

  • Develop a sound Disaster Recovery Plan – review and test it annually. This will help insure that systems are in place to help minimize the interruption in service that you provide to your clients and also providing valuable information to your employees that will give them both direction and peace of mind during a crisis.
  • Go out of your way to take care of employees
  • Make deposits in the bank of good will
  • Monitor industry news coverage, conditions and situations
  • Set up systems for early detection and warnings about crises
  • Identification and/or reduction of eventual risks
  • Establish good contacts with media and community
  • Conduct a vulnerability audit

When and if a crisis occurs, carefully evaluate the damage and prioritize your responses to employees, vendors, media and the community at large (or any other critical audiences).

What can we learn in terms of planning?

  • Create employee and business evacuation plans
  • Review remote office resources
  • Consider cloud-based client and project management systems
  • Make employees a first priority
  • Ensure an uninterrupted payroll
  • Establish a mobile work environment

What should we consider in regard to technology?

  • What tools are best for communicating? For example, cell vs. satellite vs. text messaging
  • Phone system: do we have voice activation, an 800 #, forwarding, online voicemail?
  • Do we have remote-access to an e-mail server?
  • What if we need to transition to a virtual office?

Some other advice:

  • Be proactive and routinely discuss, practice and implement your plans ahead of time
  • Ensure you have established clear, defined tasks and functions for everyone
  • Prepare strategic messages for every problematic, hard question imaginable
  • Be able to track and communicate with employees, clients and vendors
  • Realize planning is a best case scenario: what you least expect will happen, and most often what you think may happen may not.

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 Websites that: A. You know via other means (the press; you shop at their store) B. Look for “https” in the URL, C. The Website 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 Websites, 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 Websites immediately (that 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 frequently 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, tablet 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 anti-virus 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, anti-virus 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 Website.
  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 fraudulent activity on your accounts. You can contact us by calling 732.312.1500, e-mailing info@firstffcu.com or stopping into any one of our branches. You can also report scams to the Federal Trade Commission or call toll-free 1.877.FTC.HELP (1.877.382.4357).

Credit Management Seminar Summary

Recently we held a seminar filled with information on the importance of credit, what makes up your credit score, rates and fees and ways to improve your credit score.

Taking the information below and applying it will strengthen and increase your credit score and we promise it will make your life that much easier.

  • Importance of credit: Good credit helps you build personal financial wealth, allows you to secure goods and services now but pay for them later and also increases the confidence of lenders and creditors. Your score even affects interest rates and the fees you pay and helps you achieve short and long term goals.
  • What makes up your credit score: Your credit score is actually a mathematical equation that evaluates different information that is on your credit report in order to identify your future credit risk. Your credit report does not contain information about your income. Visit this site for additional credit score information. If you would like to see your credit report, you can go to EquifaxExperian or Trans Union Corp.
  • Ways to improve your credit score: Make sure you pay your bills on time and try to keep your credit card balances low and pay them off when possible. You want to get your bills current and stay current. You also don’t want to close unused credit cards to try and boost your score. It will actually raise your balance to limit ratio and can lower your score. So try to not open unnecessary credit card accounts if you can avoid it.

How long does information remain on your credit report?

  • Bankruptcy: 10 years
  • Judgment, Suit: 7 years
  • Tax Lien: 7 years
  • Collection, Charge-off: 7 years
  • Inquires/Late Payments: 2 years

In order to obtain loans after a derogatory credit, you will first need time. You will then need to write a letter to accompany your request to explain the discrepancies. It’s very important to be honest and provide documentation that supports settlements or credit correction.

If you still have questions, please call us at 732.312.1500 or email info@firstffcu.com.

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.

Contributing sources: http://missourifamilies.org/features/financearticles/holidays.htm;http://voices.yahoo.com/why-shopping-christmas-early-good-idea-9914129.html?cat=74

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


Terrible Financial Advice: Top 10 Tips You Shouldn’t Follow

77746129-resized-600It seems like everyone from bloggers to your next-door neighbors dishes out financial advice these days. It can be difficult figuring out who to believe, and bad tips can pop up as frequently as thunderstorms in the summertime. In fact, some seemingly sensible advice can turn out to be a bad idea of the highest magnitude, and some “conventional wisdom” really isn’t. Even widely held beliefs can turn out to be clunkers, as this roundup from financial experts illustrates.

1. Don’t Use a Debt Settlement Company: Debt settlement firms make an appealing pitch: Contract with us and we’ll chop your debts for you. Just funnel monthly payments to them instead of your creditors and they’ll battle the banks on your behalf, they promise. Debt settlement companies also collect and hold onto payments for a period that can be as long as several months before they start the actual settlement process, which means borrowers have to endure months’ worth of phone calls from bill collectors and run the risk of being sued for nonpayment in the interim.

2. Don’t Just Pay Whatever You Can: A lot of people think that paying any amount owed on a debt acts as a good-faith effort and that creditors are obligated to work with you if you pay a nominal sum of, say, $5. This isn’t true. There’s no such thing as getting an A for effort when it comes to delinquent debt. Borrowers who get in over their heads need to reach out to the creditor and work out a payment plan both parties agree to — and get it in writing.

3. Don’t Carry a Credit Card Balance to Improve Your Credit Score: Although it is important to use your credit cards regularly so that timely payment activity gets recorded on your credit report, many people mistakenly interpret that to mean that they have to revolve a balance from month to month for this usage to count on their credit score. While carrying a balance doesn’t hurt your credit, it can be an expensive mistake, because it costs you money every month in the form of interest on those borrowed dollars. If you carry a balance of greater than 30% of your credit limit on any one card, your utilization ratio may be too high and your credit could suffer.

4. Don’t Drain Your 401(k) to Pay Bills: Tapping retirement funds to pay off unsecured debt should be a last resort that comes only after a borrower has considered all other options, including bankruptcy. It’s deceptively easy to view retirement funds as a piggy bank that will solve a debt problem. Consumers are not prepared for the future tax liability based on the fund withdrawal. In addition, without an overhaul to a borrower’s spending behavior, the underlying financial problems are unlikely to be resolved.

5. Don’t Close Unused Credit Card Accounts: Many people believe that keeping credit cards they don’t use is a liability to their credit score, so they close them. In fact, hanging onto cards that you rarely or never use can boost your score. A key component of your score is to practice self-control from tapping into all of your available credit. Lenders want to see that you have access to credit but the financial discipline not to exploit it. Closing open accounts will actually hurt your score by skewing your credit utilization ratio, which is the percentage of your available credit being used at any given point. The exception to this, is if you’re unable to control the urge to splurge. Leave accounts open and use each one at least once a year for the highest score effect.

6. Don’t Stop Paying Your Mortgage: Some people claim that defaulting on a mortgage will put homeowners in the express lane for mortgage modifications. This is a horrible, horribly expensive misconception. While it’s true that some government-backed mortgage modification programs are available only to people who are delinquent on their mortgage payments, it’s still a bad idea, similar to wrecking a perfectly good car because you want 0% financing on a new vehicle. Skipping mortgage payments torches your credit score and lets the creditor pile on the penalties — which you’ll still be stuck with even if you do get a modification.

The biggest risk is that you’ll fail to get a modification; many foreclosed-on homeowners tried in vain to get a modification and wound up losing their house anyway. What’s more, most modification programs available to delinquent borrowers only affect interest rates and loan terms rather than lowering the principal, which mitigates the financial relief.

7. Don’t Tap Home Equity to Pay Unsecured Debt: People who are hounded by credit card or medical bill collectors might think that taking out a home equity loan to pay those debts is an easy way to stop the annoying phone calls. Be warned: This is very dangerous to do unless you have a good spending plan in place, and determination to keep it. Otherwise, you may end up with a home equity loan and credit card debt, and could find yourself in a place where you can’t pay it all. Think this sounds bad? That’s not the worst of it – you are taking unsecured debt and making it secured, which means you could lose your house if you can’t pay it.

8. Don’t Buy a Car Based on the Monthly Payment Cost: It’s dangerous to think about a big purchase, like a house or a car, in monthly terms. It doesn’t illustrate how much of your total wealth has to be surrendered in order to own that house or car. It’s also easier to swallow $200 a month instead of a five-figure number, so salespeople are trained to go after the monthly number. Whenever a salesperson is giving you financial advice step back and evaluate whose best interest they have at heart, yours or theirs. Always do the math on what the purchase will cost you in the long run. Focusing on the monthly price of anything, and ignoring all else, is terrible advice. While it’s important to look at that number for the purposes of budgeting, you always want to know how much you’d be paying in total.

9. Don’t Take Investment Advice from Friends: “I took a stock tip from a good friend of mine who was a stockbroker,” says Stacy Johnson, publisher of MoneyTalksNews.com, who says his friend assured him this investment was a “sure thing.” Johnson says he invested $30,000 based on the advice and wound up losing everything.

“If there’s anyone who should have known better, it was me,” says Johnson, who had been a stockbroker for a decade before acting on the ill-fated tip.

Any ‘investment’ a friend or family member recommends that could possibly earn the money back is likely way too risky to get involved in — and possibly not legal. No matter how attractive an offer sounds, keep the following in mind: “If somebody knows how to make a quick buck, they’ll be making it, not telling you about it.”

10. Don’t Borrow the Maximum on Student Loans: Student loan providers often approve borrowers for an amount that’s higher than the cost of tuition and associated costs like books. This can seem like found money, especially for financially strapped students, but using student loans for living expenses can give you a financial headache that lasts well beyond graduation. Take out loans on only what you need for books and tuition.

By some indication, college students are fairly likely to use student loan money for beer and clothes rather than their education. Unlike other unsecured loans like credit card debt, student loans are extremely difficult to discharge in bankruptcy, which means you could be paying off — and paying interest on — those trips to the mall and late nights of partying long after graduating. (Assuming you manage to graduate, that is.) Borrowing more than you need — especially when it comes to private student loans, which have come under fire from advocacy groups for high costs and poor terms — can cause problems for decades.

If you have questions or would like to discuss any of the items in this blog post with one of the experts at First Financial – be sure to stop into any branch and make an appointment with a representative, or call 732.312.1500.

Read the entire article at: http://moneyland.time.com/2012/08/23/terrible-financial-advice-top-10-tips-you-shouldnt-follow/#ixzz253ysFLBX

7 Ways to Stop Eating Out and Start Saving Money

family%20eating%20at%20dinner%20tableCut back on the amount you spend on take-out and restaurant dining. Although it may be the easier way out to dine out, it will become hard once you realize how much money you actually spend per year at restaurants and fast food venues. The average American household spends almost half of its food budget on eating out — out of about $6,000 spent on food a year, about $2,700 goes to eating out. Alcoholic beverages alone contribute almost $500 to that budget. Eating at home is not only cheaper, but it’s most often a lot healthier too. Here are some ways you can avoid the temptations and cravings of fast food:

1. Grab and eat foods rule. One of the reasons we love fast food is because it’s fast. In just a few minutes, we’re chowing on hot, tasty foods that satisfy our need for immediate gratification. Healthy foods to keep on hand are trail mix, fresh fruits and veggies (precut for easier consumption), granola bars (yes, you can make your own at home), pudding or Jello, pretzels, cottage cheese, salads, and sweet treats like miniature candy bars or Hershey’s kisses. Packaging foods in individual bags makes it easy to take snacks with you when you leave the house, too.

2. Money saved is money earned. Start a special savings fund for something you’ve always wanted, like that new fishing boat motor, an iPad, or an exotic vacation. Every time you’re tempted to eat out, take the money you would have spent on take-out food and add it to your dream fund. The knowledge of saving for something worthwhile is often enough of a motivator to keep you from turning into McDonald’s after work.

3. Make cooking at home enjoyable. Turn up your favorite music, involve the whole family, or splurge on a nice set of spices. Whatever it takes to make cooking enjoyable for you is a worthwhile investment. Trying out new recipes, creating your own dishes, and filling your home with the smells of home cooked food can all be great starting points for fostering a love of cooking. If it’s enjoyable, cooking at home can be healthy and relaxing, making it an ideal hobby.

4. Planning ahead helps you avoid temptation. Menu planning and preparing foods in advance can really help out when you’re feeling unmotivated to cook, and tempted to eat out. You can make your own Hot Pockets and freeze them for later, or keep a prepared menu every week to take the pain out of deciding what’s for supper.

5. Learn to make your favorite fast foods at home. If you simply can’t live without that Big Mac, or you get a weekly hankering for KFC chicken, you can learn to recreate your favorite fast food recipes at home.

6. Make meals a social occasion. Another way to take the pain out of eating at home is to create a meal rotation plan with your neighbors and friends. You rotate meeting at everybody’s homes one day a week to showcase everyone’s cooking skills and to enjoy some fun times. Quite often, the company makes even the most mundane meals exciting.

7. Spruce up your kitchen and dining area. If you take time to make your kitchen and dining area appealing, you will be extra motivated to spend time in those areas of your home. If your kitchen features brightly colored dishes and your favorite framed prints, you might be more likely to be drawn to your own kitchen rather than a fast food restaurant.

Article Source: http://moneyning.com/frugality/7-ways-to-stop-eating-out/