Important Member Alert: Tax Season Phishing Scams

It’s tax filing season, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state tax agencies have issued warnings related to a recent increase in sophisticated phishing emails. The emails appear to come from the IRS and demand a payment or threaten to seize tax refunds as a result of non-payment.

What is phishing? Phishing is a tactic cyber criminals use to collect an individual’s online banking, credit card, or other identifying account information. Once received, the cyber criminals can use your information and make transactions as you.

The tax refund season is the time of year in which the majority of tax related scams occur and there is increased vulnerability. This year, the IRS has reported a 60% increase in phishing emails attempting to steal taxpayer funds and tax-related information.

Phishing emails can be hard to detect. Often, intimidation tactics and urgent requests are commonly used by cyber criminals. The emails sent in a phishing attempt will appear to come from a trusted source, using a spoofed or compromised email address. Phishing emails usually contain stolen logos and often include hyperlinks to malicious websites, or contain attachments that are embedded with malware or viruses.

Targeted tax time victims have reported that their emails contained the following:

  • An email originating from IRS Online
  • Contained an attachment titled “Tax Account Transcript”
  • A subject line using the phrase “Tax Transcript”

In addition to email phishing scams, similar phone scams have also been reported. A common phishing phone attempt involved a caller claiming to be from the IRS and threatening victims with a lawsuit or arrest if a tax payment isn’t made immediately with a debit card.

To reduce your risk of falling victim to a phishing scam:

  • Remember that the IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text, or social media network to request personal or financial information.
  • The IRS also will never call a taxpayer and threaten a lawsuit or arrest.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from an unknown or suspicious source. Even if the email appears to be from someone you know, subtle variations will be present in the sender’s email address (for example: JohnSmith1@abc.com instead of JohnSmithI@abc.com).
  • Another red flag for email recipients includes grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Legitimate professional organizations and agencies typically do not contain such errors in their communications.
  • For more information on preventing and reporting tax scams to the IRS, click here.

Article Source: CUNA Risk Alert, December 2018

Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this February 2019

Love is in the air – and there’s so much to love this February with a ton of fantastic events happening in a town near you. Check out the list below of free or inexpensive activities to do with your loved ones all month long.

February 2: Ice at the Pier (Long Branch) from 10am to 10pm. Enjoy one of Pier Village’s most celebrated traditions. Lace up your skates and twirl away by-the-sea at their iconic Ice Rink. Here you’ll find residents and visitors alike skating in the heart of Pier Village’s beautifully decorated community, exciting shops and restaurants. Adult tickets are $14, kids under twelve are $10, and skate rentals are $4. For more information on skate times and other dates to skate, please visit https://www.iceatthepier.com/ or call 732.923.0100 x109

Cheap Thrills Motorcycle Show and Swap Meet (Convention Hall, Asbury Park) from 10am to 6pm. When you pay $10 admission for adults (kids under 12 are free), you’ll be able to check out 60 different vendors and over 60 beautiful custom motorcycles. There will also be great food and cold beer available. Learn more at https://cheapthrillsshow.com/

Glass Blowing Demo and Open House at The Hot Spot at Rainbow Art Glass (Wall) from 3-6pm. Watch experienced artists turn molten glass into colorful hearts, beautiful paperweights, one-of-a-kind cups, and more! Want to create your own piece of glass art? Sit one-on-one with a talented glassblower as they guide you through creating and blowing your own unique glass art project. Walk-ins welcome; reservations recommended. Please call (732) 681-6003 or visit hsrag.com to learn more.

February 3: Valentine’s Day Cookie Making Class (Pt. Pleasant) from 11am-2pm. Soule Culinary Art Studio is featuring a twist on rainbow cookies by making Valentine’s rainbow cookies with red, white, and pink layers. Learn how to make your own almond paste from scratch. The rainbow cookies will be filled with raspberry preserves and finished with chocolate ganache and a little heart for your sweetie. Everyone will go home with at least a dozen cookies. Reservations needed for this class and it is $40 a person. Learn more here.

February 8: An Evening with the Celebrity Housewives (Count Basie Theater, Red Bank) from 8-10pm. Enjoy a fun-filled evening with some of your favorite Television Housewives – on stage live in person! Hear all about these dazzling ladies, their cherished families, amazing businesses, and how fame has changed their lives forever. Don’t miss this outrageous evening with these fabulous Reality TV stars featuring: Teresa Giudice (New Jersey), Dorinda Medley (New York) and Kelly Dodd (Orange County). Learn more and purchase tickets here, or call 732.842.9000.

February 8 and 9: Family Date Night at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk (Pt. Pleasant) from 6-9pm. What better way to spend “Valentine’s Day” than with the ones you love the most? Package of Four = $54.95 and includes: Admission for (4) to Jenkinson’s Aquarium, a Plain Pizza & Pitcher of Soda at the Pavilion, a $10 PlayCard for the Pavilion Arcade and (4) treats from the Sweet Shop. Learn more here, or call 732.892.0600

February 9: Asbury Park Valentine’s Bazaar from 12-6pm. Come to the Grand Arcade of Convention Hall which features great local and regional vendors selling gifts made with love. There will be plenty of craft vendors, live music, a kissing photo booth, food, drinks, and more.  Get more information and see the complete list of vendors at https://www.asburyparkbazaar.com/valentines-bazaar-2019/

February 9 and 10: Wine and Chocolate at 4JG’s Vineyard in Colts Neck. From 12-5pm, enjoy a perfectly choreographed pairing of award winning wines and locally crafted chocolate. This is the Valentine’s Day event you won’t want to miss! For more information, visit https://www.4jgswinery.com/events-1/

Wine and Chocolate Weekend at Laurita Winery (New Egypt) starts at noon both Saturday and Sunday. Celebrate Valentine’s Day with lots of wine and plenty of chocolate, featuring 3 chocolate vendors, live music, and great food too. General admission is FREE! Call 609.758.8000 or visit www.lauritawinery.com for more details.

February 14: Valentine’s Day Horse and Carriage Rides (Pier Village, Long Branch) from 5-7pm. Enjoy an evening of dinner, shopping and ice skating, complimented by Horse and Carriage Rides through beautifully decorated Pier Village. Get more information here.

Valentine’s Day at iPlay America (Freehold) from 4-9pm. Share a fun-filled Valentine’s Day with friends, family or the one you love! Purchase the Ultimate Valentine’s Day Package for two at just $39.95 which includes: (2) Laser Tag, (2) 4D, (2) Go-Karts, (2) unlimited non-redemption video games, and (2) $10 game cards! Learn more at https://www.iplayamerica.com/events/upcoming-events/ or call 732.577.8200

February 19: Don’t miss the start of Pier Village’s Restaurant Week (Long Branch)! From 5:30-8:30pm each night through February 27th, Pier Village’s culinary scene will be heating up. Participating restaurants will feature a 3 course, prix fixe menu at a great price of either $25 or $35 per person. To see participating restaurants and make your reservations, visit here.

February 20: Wine, Chocolate and More at the English Manor (Ocean Township) from 5:30-7:30pm. Join the Greater Ocean Township Chamber of Commerce for their annual wine, cheese, and chocolate event!  Don’t miss this great night of fun. To learn more, click here or call 732.660.1888

February 24: Annual Chili Cookoff in The Highlands (3-7pm). At Bahrs Landing on Bay Ave, there will be two Chili Cook Off contests. There will be a “Professional” Cook Off (commercial) and an “Amateur” Cook Off (residents). Once the chili lovers have tasted all contestants’ chili, they will vote for their favorite and drop their ballot in the ballot box. Learn more here or call 732.291.4713

February 28: Yoga at Rinn Duin Brewing (Toms River) from 6:30-7:30pm. For just $12, take a yoga class and have a beer afterward. All yoga levels are welcome to attend, and the class is hosted by This is Yoga. Ages 21+ only. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door. Register online here, or call 732.569.3261

 

Small Business Spotlight: MOCEANS Center for Independent Living

I am pleased to present a monthly blog post which features one of our current businesses, how they got started, and how First Financial has helped them grow their business. If this inspires you to want to expand your business goals or see how First Financial can assist you further, feel free to reach out to me. Keep reading to learn more about our featured Business of the Month, MOCEANS Center for Independent Living in Long Branch and Toms River. — Matt Brazinski, Assistant Vice President of Business Development

Judyth Brown: Executive Director of MOCEANS Center for Independent Living

Tell us a bit about MOCEANS. We are the community hub for people who live with disability. We have a Monmouth County office in Long Branch, and an Ocean County office in Toms River. I used to say that we were like the guidance counselor for life after High School, but that metaphor only works if your guidance counselor is also a neighbor who has a disability. We’re the go-to place to find answers, solve problems, get access to support and services, peer support and advocacy. 50% of our staff are people who live with a disability, so we know about the obstacles and challenges that disability imposes on everyday living.

What are some of the keys to your success in growing the organization?
For me it’s really been about returning to our mission (providing information, instruction and support for people living with disability, their families, friends and allies in the community. Also promoting public awareness and barrier-free access in the community while supporting individual choice, advancing the independent living philosophy, promoting the civil rights and inclusion of all people living with disabilities). MOCEANS has been working for 30 years and the original need is just as pressing as it ever was. We’ve seen progress, sure, but we’ve also seen new challenges develop. So, we’ve turned back to our original mission to find ways to make our responses more relevant.

Tell me about your goals for MOCEANS, what does the future hold?
We’re dedicated to reaching people across the lifespan. We are primarily a resource for adults, but we want to be there at the times of life that make a difference. We’re looking to offer resources that make a lasting difference in people’s lives. So for the foreseeable future we’re looking to support young people in their transition to adult life, and we’re traveling to senior centers to support older caregivers too.

How can members of the local community help to support MOCEANS?
We have social and fundraising events, so we always need hands. We had our first annual Beach Bash this year, it was a fully accessible day at the beach in Long Branch. Volunteer help with events like that are priceless. Of course, we are a 501C3 and monetary donations keep us working in the community. But the most important support the community can render, is to be sure that anyone who needs assistance gets our number. Our services are free of charge and confidential.

What do you like most about First Financial FCU? I like the feel of a home town bank, First Financial is clearly invested in the welfare of the community. You support financial literacy with more than words, you go out to make sure that young and vulnerable people have the resources they need to manage their financial life, and that really speaks to me.

To learn more about MOCEANS and how you can help support the organization, visit their website at https://www.moceanscil.org/ 

Ready to grow your business? Call the Business Development Department at 732.312.1500, email business@firstffcu.com or stop by any branch location. Learn more about our Business Account products and services on our website.

How to Financially Prepare for a New Baby

A baby on the way is a very exciting time for any family. Whether you’re new parents or adding to your growing family, preparing for your new arrival can feel overwhelming. One of your biggest concerns is probably your finances. According to Parenting.com, the average middle class family will spend $12,000 on child-related expenses in the baby’s first year of life. That’s not a small chunk of change. So how do you prepare financially while trying to juggle all the new responsibilities that come with a new baby at the same time?

The earlier you start preparing, the better you’ll be able to set up for your baby’s future. Before your baby’s arrival, take a look at this checklist on easy things you can do to financially prepare now:

Redo Your Budget

With the arrival of your new bundle of joy, life as you know it will probably never be the same again. The same goes for your budget. It’s time to review and redo your budget, as baby expenses will now take up a large portion of your spending. Do your research and understand how much baby items really cost. From food to diapers, it’s probably more expensive than you think. You should also make a shopping list of everything you need once the baby arrives. Once you have an estimate, figure out how you can scale back your budget. Obvious areas to cut back on are entertainment and dining out (as new parents, you probably won’t have time for that anyway!).

Understand Your Health Insurance

One of the biggest costs to a new baby are medical costs. Not only does your baby need healthcare, which is especially crucial in his/her first year, but labor and delivery costs can be significant also. Well before your expected due date, take some time to understand your health insurance. Be sure to understand what is covered and what you will be paying for out-of-pocket. Also, once your child is born, make sure to add him/her to your own policy. Most health plans require you to do this within 30-60 days. Also consider choosing a pediatrician that is within your network to limit costs.

Shop Wisely for Baby Items

There are so many cute baby items on the market that you’ll probably want to spend a small fortune on. Try to prevent that from happening though. Yes, you’ll want to spoil your baby and that’s totally fine, but keep in mind that babies grow into toddlers very quickly. That also means they’ll grow out of those expensive clothes and toys you bought quickly, as well. There are a few items worth the cost, but learn to shop wisely for baby items and spend where it makes the most sense, like gear and food.

Plan for Childcare

Most companies in the United States offer new mothers 3 months of maternity leave and much less for dads. Eventually, you’ll have to go back to work and think about childcare. Having the help of grandparents or other friends and family will save you a ton, but if not – make sure to plan for childcare expenses financially and well ahead of time. You will also want to interview nannies or visit daycare centers to make sure you find the right fit for your family.

Start Thinking About College

Lastly, it’s never too early to start thinking about college. It may be 18 years away, but it’s also a huge expense so you want to start preparing for it now. You should start putting away money for your child’s education as soon as possible. Consider putting your money into a 529 college savings plan, where earnings will grow tax-free and won’t be taxed when taken out to pay for college.

Need help with a college savings plan? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, email mary.laferriere@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

Your finances will change drastically with a baby on the way, but you’ll be able to worry less and spend more quality time with your little one – with the right planning and preparing.

*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.

Article Source: Connie Mei for moneyning.com

How to Pay Off Your Holiday Credit Card Debt in 3 Months or Less

The holidays are a time for joy, family, giving … and racking up debt. More than a quarter of Americans have fallen into debt paying for holiday expenses — and it’s not a small amount of debt either. Overall, the average amount owed among those with holiday debt was more than $1,000. Of course, it’s easy to feel the pressure to spend during the holidays. But you don’t want to let overspending set you back financially in the new year. So if you ended up charging a little too much in 2018, here’s how to quickly pay off your holiday debt and start 2019 off on the right financial foot.

1. Figure Out How Much Debt You Have

To pay off your holiday debt quickly, you need to know what you’re dealing with. That means opening your credit card bills or checking your statements online. Add up all your balances to get a clear picture of how much holiday debt you have.

2. Develop the Right Debt Payoff Mindset

You might feel overwhelmed by how much you owe. But you can find the motivation to pay it off by focusing on the benefits of being debt free. Ask yourself why it is important to you to pay off your debt and what you’ll do with the extra money once your debt is paid. Having a specific goal will give you willpower to pay your debt off and not continue to charge. Maybe your goal is a vacation to Hawaii this summer. Print out a photo of your financial goal and keep it somewhere that you will be forced to look at it daily, and remind yourself that you’ll book the vacation once your holiday credit card debt is paid off and you start to save that money for your trip.

3. Create a Debt Payoff Plan

Another way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by your debt is breaking down the total you owe into manageable amounts. For example, if you have $1,000 of holiday debt and want to pay it off in three months, you’d need to make monthly payments of about $333. If you get paid twice a month, that’s about $166 per paycheck — or $11 a day. You could also make a chart showing how much you need to pay each week or month to eliminate your debt and track your progress.

4. Start as Soon as Possible

You don’t have to wait until you get your credit card bills to start making payments. The more frequently you make payments, the less interest you’ll end up paying and the more quickly you’ll be paid off. If you can, consider making weekly or biweekly payments.

5. Try Paying Off High-Rate Debt First

Focusing on your credit card or loan with the smallest balance first and making only minimum payments on other debt can help you feel a sense of accomplishment and build momentum to pay off bigger debt. However, you could actually pay off what you owe faster by prioritizing your debt with the highest interest rate.

6. Find Expenses You Can Temporarily Eliminate

To pay off your holiday debt quickly, take a look at what you might be able to live without for a few months. You could cancel some subscription services, eliminate lunches out and make coffee at home to free up extra cash for debt repayment.

7. Minimize Costs You Can’t Eliminate

You can’t eliminate all of your monthly expenses, but there are plenty you can reduce. For example, can you call and try to cut your phone or cable bill? Every little bit helps.

8. Make Extra Money for Debt Payments

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, take time to go through your stuff to find things you no longer need that you can sell for cash. You can sell DVDs, books, clothing, tech items and unwanted gift cards online. You also could pick up a side hustle in your free time to bring in extra money for debt repayment.

9. Make Use of Credit Card Rewards

If you have cash back or rewards credit cards, consider putting them to use to help pay off your holiday debt.

10. Stick to Cash

If you want to pay off holiday debt quickly, you have to avoid racking up more debt. Allot yourself a certain amount of cash each week. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Not only can using cash help reduce your reliance on credit, but also it might help reduce your overall spending.

11. Create an After-Action Plan

After paying off your holiday debt, you need to take steps to avoid racking up debt again next holiday season. Create a savings plan to have enough cash for the holidays in 2019. Just as you created a plan to pay off debt by breaking down what you owed into smaller payments, you can figure out what you need to save based on 2018 holiday spending. Then, divide that amount by the number of months left in the year until the holidays to know how much you need to set aside each month.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston for Gobankingrates.com

Brace Yourself: Santa Shock is Coming

Let’s talk about Santa Shock, shall we? No, not the “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus” kind. For this conversation, we will use “Santa Shock” to refer to that icy sense of regret that creeps in when you open those first post-holiday credit card bills. If you’ve ever blown past your self-imposed holiday spending limit, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

The realization that you racked up additional debt can be an isolating frustration—something you’d rather keep to yourself, but it might help to realize that roughly 77% of Americans admitted to crashing through their respective financial barriers just like you. We know, we know. You don’t want to celebrate other people’s bad decisions, but when it comes to financial challenges, misery may not love company, but it kind of likes having it around.

You overspent. Now what?

Let’s face the facts. Once the gifts have been opened, the holidays have passed, and the bills roll in, your budget may be a little tighter than you’d like. When you’re faced with those oversized balances, it can be tempting just to make minimum payments and figure out your finances later. But thanks to those pesky credit card interest rates, that approach not only makes the problem last longer, it also makes it more expensive. This year, why not get creative and recover from Santa Shock as quickly as possible?

3 Practical Tips for Paying Off Holiday Debt

If you want to pay off your holiday debt sooner rather than later, try these simple ideas to free up some funds and get your budget back on track:

Cut cable. Since the average cable bill is roughly $107 per month, this step doesn’t require much of an explanation. Unless you’re in the middle of a long-term contract with early termination charges, canceling your monthly cable subscription can save you more than $1,000 per year—more than enough to pay off all or most of your holiday debt. And with affordable streaming options like Netlflix and Hulu, you can still keep up with many of your favorite shows.

Closet clean out. If you got new clothes this past holiday season, you have to make room in the closet, right? Instead of packing them away, gather up your gently used items and try to sell them online. Apps like ThredUp, Poshmark, OfferUp, and Facebook Marketplace make it incredibly easy to reach thousands of potential buyers without leaving the comfort of your home.

Meal prep for a few months. Everybody has to eat. There’s no way around that. And while dining out is convenient, it can also end up costing you more than you realize. Depending on where you live, a single meal at a restaurant can set you back $10-12. If you go to a restaurant more than once a day, you may be spending far more than you need to. By planning ahead and preparing meals in advance, you can save on dining costs and redirect some of your food budget towards your credit card balance.

We’ve already established the fact that it’s fairly common to go over a holiday budget. However, sometimes we get carried away with the yuletide spending and wind up over our heads financially. If you find yourself deep in debt and unable to find a way out, don’t be afraid to ask for help by stopping into your local branch or making an appointment for an annual financial review. Our team can help you assess your current financial situation and recommend solutions for your specific needs. This may even help you avoid Santa Shock altogether next year!