7 Steps to Creating Lasting Financial Resolutions

New-Years-Resolution-for-Finances-300x221We all have more than a few well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions that never make it to February. We mean well, and we try hard to stick to our life-changing plans, but it seems inevitable that we’ll fail.

If you want to make lasting financial resolutions, you have to include a certain level of detail in your goals.

Try these 7 steps to help you create financial tips that will stick:

1. Make your goals specific.

In order to make realistic financial goals, you have to be very specific about what you want to attain. “I will save more money this year,” gives you lots of wiggle room to shirk your new goals. A more specific goal like, “I will save 7% of my income each month,” is very specific and helps keep you on target.

2. Make your goals measurable.

In order to determine if you’re meeting your goals or if you need to step up your efforts, you have to create a goal that includes measurable outcomes. If you set a goal to spend your grocery money more wisely this month, you have to include examples of what smart grocery shopping looks like. Are you buying items in bulk? Do you only buy groceries when they’re on sale? Are you shopping at discount food stores? Are you spending less on higher-priced processed and ready-to-eat foods?

3. Set a time limit.

Who says New Year’s resolutions have to be set in stone as of January 1st? Make a goal for the first thirty days and include a reminder to set another goal for the next month. Can’t make it through thirty days consistently? No problem. Set your goals for smaller periods of time.

4. Reward yourself.

One of the best ways to create a lasting habit is to make the experience pleasurable. Forget the guilt trip over not keeping your resolutions; just give yourself a break and start anew as soon as you realize you’re failing. Reward yourself often for meeting even the smallest aspects of your financial resolutions.

5. Be realistic.

While we’d all love to become millionaires overnight, setting a goal to become “rich” in a short period of time isn’t very realistic.Don’t set yourself up for failure by including unrealistic details in your financial goals. It’s completely acceptable (and encouraged!) to dream, but not to set goals that are impossible to achieve.

6. Get help.

When setting financial goals for the new year, don’t forget to include an accountability partner to help keep you on track. This person can be a trusted friend, family member, or professional that will check in periodically to see how you’re doing with your goals. When you have to answer to someone else, you’re more likely to curb your undesirable behavior.

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 savings and retirement goals, contact them at 732.312.1500.

7. Change your attitude.

One way to reinforce your desire to make lasting changes is to change the way you perceive your finances. Set a goal to read one book a month about finances, take a financial management class, or spend time with people who have a solid grip on their finances. Talk to people who are where you want to be at the end of the year. Surround yourself with information and encouragement to help make this year’s financial resolutions a success.

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

 

Tips for Recognizing and Avoiding Fake Check Scams

fraudFake check scams are clever ploys to steal your money and First Financial wants to make sure you know the ways you can avoid becoming a victim by simply recognizing how the scam process works. It is important that you understand that you are responsible for the checks you deposit to your account, even if they are fraudulent.

So, if someone you don’t know wants to pay you by check but wants you to wire some of the money back, beware! It’s a scam that could cost YOU thousands of dollars.

  • There are many variations of the fake check scam. It could start with someone offering to buy something you advertised, pay you to do work at home, give you an “advance” on a sweepstakes you’ve supposedly won, or pay the first installment on the millions that you’ll receive for agreeing to have money in a foreign country transferred to your bank account for safekeeping. Whatever the pitch, the person may sound quite believable.
  • Fake check scammers hunt for victims. They scan newspaper and online advertisements for people listing items for sale, and check postings on online job sites from people seeking employment. Scammers place their own ads with phone numbers or email addresses for people to contact them and they call, send emails, or faxes to people randomly knowing that some will take the bait.
  • They often claim to be in another country. The scammers say it’s too difficult and complicated to send you the money (i.e. they claim to be in the military or vacationing overseas) directly from their country, so they’ll arrange for someone in the U.S. to send you a check.
  • They tell you to wire money to them after you’ve deposited the check. If you’re selling something, they say they’ll pay you by having someone in the U.S. who owes them money send you a check. It will be for more than the sale price; you deposit the check, keep what you’re owed, and wire the rest to them. If it’s part of a work-at-home scheme, they may claim that you’ll be processing checks from their “clients.” You deposit the checks and then wire them the money minus your “pay.” Or they may send you a check for more than your pay “by mistake” and ask you to wire them the excess. In the sweepstakes and foreign money offer variations of the scam, they tell you to wire them money for taxes, customs, bonding, processing, legal fees, or other expenses that must be paid before you can get the rest of the money.
  • The checks are fake but they look real. In fact, they look so real that even bank tellers may be fooled. Some are phony cashier’s checks, others look like they’re from legitimate business accounts. The companies whose names appear may be real, but someone has dummied up the checks without their knowledge.
  • You don’t have to wait long to use the money, but that doesn’t mean the check is good. Under federal law, banks and financial institutions have to make the funds you deposit available quickly – usually within one to five days, depending on the type of check. But just because you can withdraw the money doesn’t mean the check is good, even if it’s a cashier’s check. It can take weeks for the forgery to be discovered and the check to bounce.That means it might be a month or more before they take the money out of your account.
  • You are responsible for the checks you deposit. That’s because you’re in the best position to determine the risk – you’re the one dealing directly with the person who is arranging for the check to be sent to you. When a check bounces, the bank or credit union deducts the amount that was originally credited to your account. If there isn’t enough to cover it, the bank or credit union may be able to take money from other accounts you have at that institution, or sue you to recover the funds. In some cases, law enforcement authorities could bring charges against the victims because it may look like they were involved in the scam and knew the check was counterfeit.
  • There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back. If a stranger wants to pay you for something, insist on a cashier’s check for the exact amount, preferably from a local financial institution or a financial insitution that has a branch in your area.
  • Don’t deposit it – report it! Report fake check scams immediately to NCL’s Fraud Center, at www.fraud.org. That information will be transmitted to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

Think this doesn’t happen close to home or at First Financial? Think again!

Here is an example of an incident that occurred in one of our branches: We received an HSBC check from a member who stated that he received the check in the mail from a person claiming to need a personal assistant located near Russia. After further investigating the check, one of our tellers realized that the routing number did not have the required 9 digits – it had 10, and the check number on the bottom of the check did not match the check number in the top right corner. The teller went on to the HSBC website and discovered that there is not a financial institution located at the address printed on the check. The teller then contacted HSBC’s fraud department and spoke with a representative to confirm that the check was indeed fake. We then contacted the member to explain the situation and what was to follow.

For video examples, visit FakeChecks.org a public education TV campaign and website that exposes six common cashier’s check scams: online seductions, over payments, renter schemes, fake lotteries, work-at-home scams, and foreign business partnerships. The site includes funny “Candid Camera” style videos of an actor getting members of the public to fall for fake check scams, and videos of real victims sharing their stories.

If you suspect you’ve received a fraudulent check, please contact us at 732.312.1500 or stop into any one of our branches and have a representative look at the check to try to help you confirm its validity. We also encourage you to visit our Online Fraud Help & Internet Crime Prevention page on our website in order to protect yourself and/or your business from crime.

Article Sources: www.fraud.org | www.redtape.nbcnews.com

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

 

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).

Four Credit Card Mistakes You’re Already Making

stock_money_credit-resized-600Using credit cards responsibly may not sound appealing at first, but being plagued with too much credit card debt is an ugly mess that can develop quickly and linger for years.

Making smart decisions about credit, on the other hand, isn’t difficult and can improve your credit score, help you when landing a job, and be welcome relief in the event of an emergency. Avoiding the following mistakes when using credit cards can leave you sitting pretty:

4 credit card mistakes that can cost you…

  1. Not keeping track of purchases: Sometimes when using a credit card it can seem like you have access to “free” money — you are not limited by the amount of money in your pocket and can go on making purchases without feeling any pain to your wallet. But although it may feel like you aren’t really spending much money, not keeping track of receipts can wreak havoc on your finances. Use a small notebook to write down credit card purchases when you make them so you won’t be surprised later when you get your monthly statement.
  2. Not shopping around for the best credit card deals: Don’t make the mistake of signing up for the first credit card offer that arrives in your mailbox. Go online and look for the best possible credit card terms you can find. Credit card rates can vary significantly depending upon the type of promotions that may be offered.
  3. Not paying credit card bills on time: Late credit card payments result in late fees and higher interest rates. Read through your credit card statement carefully so you know when the payment is due. Most credit card statements list the date and time that payments must be received to be credited on time. If you think a mailed payment won’t reach the company in time, consider making a payment online or by phone to get it processed faster.
  4. Running up too high of a balance: Credit card companies get concerned when you use up too much of your credit line — and so should you. Try not to use more than 30% of your credit line to keep your credit score from being affected. Keeping a low balance or paying it off each month also means you won’t run up a lot of credit card debt.

Credit cards can be useful financial tools when used responsibly. And with it being so important to protect your credit score these days, avoiding these costly mistakes can help keep your finances in good shape – and that can make for a beautiful financial future.

Article Source: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/10/03/5-credit-card-mistakes-youre-already-making/#ixzz29fPx7XUH

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

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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.