5 Steps to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

According to a survey done by Bankrate.com, 41 million Americans have been victims of identity theft. Most Americans aren’t taking the necessary steps to protect themselves until it’s too late. For those unfortunate enough to have had firsthand experience, it’s a scary experience that can take years to fix. And in the process, your finances can get destroyed. Before this happens to you, it’s important to take the steps to safeguard yourself from identity theft. Here’s what you should do:

Closely Monitor Your Bank Statements

Most people hardly ever check their credit card or bank statements. If your account information is compromised, you might not even know about it until it’s too late. Be proactive – it’s best to check your statement monthly. You should also make it a habit to log into your accounts at least once a week to review the transactions and see if anything looks off. The earlier you catch any unauthorized transactions, the easier it will be for you to dispute the discrepancies with your financial institution.

Check Your Credit Report Yearly

You are legally entitled to a free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Take advantage of this. Your credit report can change often so it’s important you know what’s going on, especially if you plan on making a large purchase or taking out a significant loan in the near future. AnnualCreditReport.com is a good place to get started. There are many other websites that offer free credit reports, but they may charge you fees after a period of time so be sure to always read the fine print.

Strengthen Your Passwords

We share so much on the internet. Most of us are on at least one social network, if not more. We also depend on the internet to do much of our shopping and banking. While it’s a great convenience, it’s also dangerous as well. Many hackers prey on unsuspecting internet users and shoppers. Before you post something on a social profile, be careful what you share – especially if it contains any personal information. Also, use strong passwords containing a mix of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. You should also periodically change your passwords as well, especially for sensitive accounts such as your email and bank account.

Secure Sensitive Documents

Paper trails can be just as dangerous as digital ones. Keep your sensitive documents in a safe place in your home, ideally in a locked cabinet or safe. If you need to get rid of any documents with sensitive information on it, be sure to shred them beforehand to prevent them from getting into the wrong hands.

Don’t Give Out Personal Information

If something sounds fishy or phishy, it probably is. Don’t fall victim to a phishing scam. If you receive any requests for personal information such as your social security number, don’t give it out – even if it comes from a company you recognize. Scammers disguise themselves as something or someone else all the time. Call the company and speak to a representative first before you give out any information.

The most important thing to remember is to be proactive and vigilant. Identity theft is a real concern but with the right steps, you can prevent it from happening to you.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Enroll in Sherpa identity theft protection from First Financial. The best part? You can enroll right online, 24/7. You can trust in First Financial and Sherpa to help keep your personal information protected. Packages begin at just $5.99 per month – so click here to enroll today!

Article Source: Connie Mei for moneyning.com

10 Simple Steps to Get Out of Debt Without Going into Bankruptcy

So you’re up to your neck in a massive pile of debt. There are many circumstances that could have led you here, but responsible financial planning is the one that will get you out. Most debt situations can be corrected with careful planning and intense effort over a period of one to three years.

You’ll need to be honest about the requirement for focused debt reduction efforts. You can do it if you follow these steps to achieve pay off all outstanding debt without filing for bankruptcy protection:

1. Save $500.

Figure out how to save $500 in an emergency fund that will be accessed in the event of an unexpected expense during the debt pay off period. Eliminate every discretionary expense possible and accumulate enough funds to meet the $500 goal.

2. Organize your debt.

Make a chart of every outstanding debt in order from smallest to largest without any concern for interest rates. Immediate feedback will be realized when smaller debt is paid off early in the process.

3. Stop all credit card use.

Cut up the credit cards and spend cash even at the grocery store. Take absolute control of your monthly expenditures by starting and sticking to a budget. Write checks to pay bills (or transfer directly from your checking account in online banking), and allocate cash for all other budget categories.

4. Trim the budget.

Make some difficult decisions and eliminate any expense that is not directly related to necessities for living (rent, mortgage, food, utilities). Consider disconnecting cable service until all your debt is repaid. Reduce the land line phone bill by removing unnecessary features, or do you even need a land line anymore? If not, it’s another unnecessary bill you can get rid of.  See if you can cut back on features or data usage within your cell phone plan to see if that bill can be reduced also.

5. Do not go shopping.

Avoid shopping for anything except for groceries. When shopping for groceries, buy items on sale and learn to cook from what is present in the kitchen. Reduce or eliminate eating at restaurants until all your debt is repaid.

6. Pay the minimum on all but the smallest credit card bill.

Every debt must be maintained in good standing to eliminate unnecessary fees. Pay the minimum payment amounts on all debt with the exception of the smallest on the list. Apply as much money as feasible within the budget to the smallest bill. Be realistic when setting this amount to prevent shortfalls in other budget areas. The idea here is to pay off the smallest bill first by continually hitting it with larger payment amounts, then moving onto the next smallest, and so on until all the credit cards are paid off.

7. Reward yourself.

When a debt is paid off completely, reward yourself. Order a pizza, purchase that Starbucks latte you’ve been missing out on for weeks, or purchase a new game for family game night. Celebrate your success (without going overboard of course).

8. Apply funds to the next debt.

Take the amount that was used to pay off the first debt and add it to the minimum payment that has been paid on the next debt on the list. This method will accelerate the amounts paid on the larger debts. The accumulation effect will cause faster progress in the later months of the process. Every time a debt is paid off all of the money is rolled into paying off the next debt.

9. Delay unnecessary purchases.

Throughout this process, the expense level must be reduced within your household. Spending cannot continue as usual if real progress is to be made on the debt repayment plan. Don’t go booking any vacations, or on any shopping sprees. The idea is to take back control of your debt instead of continually racking up more. And as you pay off debt, don’t tell yourself it’s okay to make additional purchases with what you’ve paid off already. This will just delay the debt repayment process even further (and is probably how you got into this situation in the first place).

10. Celebrate success!

When all of your debt has been repaid, immediately start a savings plan that will prevent the situation from repeating itself. Attempt to save half of the amount that has been applied to the debt from the previous months and years. Decide on a (realistic, financially responsible) reward for your achievement.

Financial spending habits must change to prevent a recurrence of debt overload. Live according to a budget and ensure that all your bills can be paid within the month they are incurred.

Evaluate the period of the debt repayment plan and determine what works for you and your family. Financial discipline is possible and you can do this!

If you need help with a debt repayment plan, make an appointment at your local First Financial branch or check our online event calendar at firstffcu.com for upcoming free seminars. Also, be sure to check out our credit management and debt reduction guide.

Article Source: David Ning for Moneyning.com 

5 Bad Money Habits to Break Today

When it comes to money, we all have some bad habits from time to time. Sometimes they’re learned early in life, and sometimes they’re picked up along the way. Here are 5 habits that you should kick ASAP.

1. Buying snacks at work

Getting hungry in the afternoon is totally normal. But if you find yourself feeding quarters into a vending machine or swiping your card at the convenience store every afternoon, you may have an issue. Just spending a couple dollars a day can really add up over the course of the year. You can probably buy the same snacks at the grocery store for a fraction of the price, and in larger quantity. And that’s without coupons. So next time you get that 2:30pm hunger pain, jot down a note to hit up your favorite grocer on the way home.

2. Making impulse buys

Whenever some people see something they like, they just have to have it. By taking time to think it over, you may eventually decide it wasn’t a wise purchase. Sometimes, all you need is a few minutes to let it simmer in your brain to realize it’s not worth it. Try out a “waiting period” next time you get the impulse to buy something, and see what happens.

3. Not saving money

We probably all started saving later than we should have – whether it’s for retirement, an emergency fund, or just a fun rainy day fund. If you save money first, and then budget the rest when you get a paycheck, you probably won’t even miss that money.

4. Carrying credit card balances

If you have a credit card you’ve probably heard about the evils of using it. While it can get out of control for some people, it can also be a valuable tool for others. If you regularly use your credit card, you’ve most likely carried a balance on occasion. Anyone who’s ever done this realizes how bad credit card interest can really be. Paying off credit card debt can take decades for some people. Don’t get trapped.

5. Paying big bucks for cable

There are plenty of other alternatives out there for entertainment. Cable can become very costly and sometimes that’s not your top priority in terms of bills. Netflix and Hulu provide hundreds of movies and TV shows at much lower rates. Do a price comparison and decide what’s best for your budget.

Article source: John Pettit for CUInsight

4 Financial Tips for Those in Their 40s

No matter your age, you’ll likely encounter a variety of financial challenges throughout your life. But, the obstacles you faced in your 20s and 30s are far different from those you’ll deal with while in your 40s. Instead of paying off student loan debt, buying your first home, or starting a family, your 40s will likely include a far different set of issues and experiences that will test your financial stability. Below are four money tips for 40-somethings and ways to secure your financial future ahead of retirement.

Refrain from lending to loved ones.

Chances are now that you’re in your 40s you have built a solid financial foundation. If a family member or friend comes to you and asks for a loan, although your heart will tell you to dole out the dough, listen instead to your head. The net worth you’ve worked so hard to accumulate, could quickly be at risk the minute you begin loaning out money to those in your life. Remember, although retirement is still years away, the time is now to save and plan. If you really want to help others out, only loan them an amount you know you’re comfortable with, so you don’t get behind on your expenses.

Travel now, rest later.

Because you have more money (hopefully) now than you did when you were straight out of college, it’s time to treat yourself and take trips with family. You always said once you were in financial order you’d spend money on travel, so stop procrastinating and book your next vacation. The longer you wait, the older you’ll be and the less likely you’ll want to get out of town. Now is the perfect time to use your hard-earned cash on family travel experiences that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Teach your children to be financially responsible.

Now that you’re in your 40s and your children are a little older, they probably have a better understanding of the value of money than they did when they were younger. This is the perfect time to instill in them the importance of financial literacy and responsibility. Teaching them to make smart money choices even from a young age, will help them to become more confident and independent. This is also a great time to encourage them to get a part-time job so they can learn to budget and save their own money for that brand new iPhone.

Set up an estate plan.

Estate planning is a critical part of planning for your financial future and it includes a variety of aspects, such as wills and trusts. It is always smart to make these arrangements while you are in good health and of sound mind. The first and very critical component of setting up an estate plan, is drafting a will. This detailed document ensures your finances are distributed how you see fit, and aims to curb any potential family disputes. For assistance with this process, find a trusted financial advisor to guide you toward safeguarding the income you’ve acquired over your lifetime.

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

*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: Wendy Moody for CUInsight.com

How to Get Married Financially

Getting married can be a whirlwind experience. Between venue searching, trying on dresses, renting tuxes, assembling the bridal party, booking a DJ, and cake tasting – it can be easy to forget all that getting married means. Underneath the ring exchange and sharing of vows, there is a potentially life-long financial contract which you should also be prepared for.

Before you marry the love of your life, you need to get financially engaged with one another. Right now, disagreements over money are a top reason for separation and divorce. You have already popped the big question, and now it is time to ask a few more.

Here is a list of financial questions you should ask before tying the knot:

  1. What does the ideal marriage look like and how does it fit into our career goals?
  2. What is our savings plan going to look like? Our budget?
  3. Should we keep our finances separate, or join them together?
  4. Who will be responsible for making sure which bills get paid?
  5. What types of insurance will we need and how will we pay it?
  6. Do you have any loans or debt that needs to be paid off?
  7. Do you want a family, and if so – how big do you want our family to be? When should we start saving for college?
  8. What does our ideal retirement look like and how do we get there?

There are many keys to a successful marriage, but together you can make sure you leave out the poorer in “for richer or poorer.” Openly discussing your finances can keep you happy, healthy, and wealthy in your marriage.

Article Source: Tyler Atwell for CUInsight.com