Important Member Alert: Tax Scams

We are in the midst of tax season, and you guessed it – the fraudsters are at it again! Please be on the lookout for the following tax scams, where the scammers have been posing as the IRS via phone or email. The most important thing to remember here is that the IRS will never contact you via phone or email.

Click here to watch a short video from NBC Nightly News, which explains some of the recent tax scams.

In the first tax scam scenario, fraudsters will have already obtained an individual’s non-public personal information (name, SSN, date of birth) and bank account information. They may have obtained this information in many different ways (dumpster diving, computer hacking, stolen wallet, pretext calling). They will then file a false tax return using the individual’s name and information. Once they receive confirmation that the tax return has been deposited into the individual’s bank account, they will contact the individual via telephone posing as an employee of the IRS. They will state the funds were deposited to their account in error and order them to pay the funds back or suffer penalties.

In the second tax scam scenario, a fraudster will contact an individual via phone or email, again posing as a representative from the IRS. They will state that they owe back taxes and demand payment from the individual. They will attempt to obtain the individual’s checking account/bank routing number or credit card information to directly debit their account, or they may instruct them to mail a check.

Once again, the IRS will never contact anyone via phone or email – they will only use regular US postal mail. If you receive a phone call or email from the “IRS” – it is not the IRS.

Have you received a tax refund you didn’t file for yet?

  • Contact your financial institution immediately.
  • Have your financial institution return anything direct deposited into your account to the IRS, and then call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040
  • For an actual check received in the mail, write VOID across the front of the check and mail it to the IRS location closest to you by entering your zip code at
  • If you cashed the check, you will need to reimburse the IRS with a personal check.
  • For further instructions, visit the tax fraud section of the IRS’ website here.

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

Article Sources: NBC Nightly News and

The 50/20/30 Budgeting Rule and Downloadable Worksheet

There are dozens of choices when it comes to budget plans. If you’re still looking, or are completely new to the concept of budgeting, let’s introduce you to an age-old budgeting guideline: the 50/20/30 rule. Even though it’s a classic, it bears a fresh look, especially through the lens of the modern American’s financial viewpoint.

Three Categories and What They Contain

The 50/20/30 rule splits up take-home pay into three large spending categories — fixed costs, financial goals, and flexible spending. Here’s a list of what each contains.

  • Fixed Costs (50%) – These are the expenses most vital to your survival, which don’t vary from month to month: mortgage or rent, vehicle payments, and utilities.
  • Financial Goals (20%) – This category includes any monthly payments and contributions toward improved financial health: 401K and other retirement accounts (from post-taxed income), extra payments on credit card debt or student loans, building an emergency fund, and savings goals such as a down payment for a home or funding an education.
  • Flexible Spending (30%) – This category includes expenses that vary from month to month: groceries, gas, eating out, shopping, hobbies, and entertainment.

One of the best traits of the 50/20/30 guideline is its simplicity. There aren’t dozens of categories to micromanage, but it will still get the job done. This is a great starting point for everyone, especially if you’ve never stopped to look at the bigger picture of your spending balance.

Reduce Your Fixed Costs.

Financial experts recommend your fixed living costs not exceed 50% of your income, but — thanks to huge mortgages, multiple vehicles, and skyrocketing rent — many Americans will find themselves over this amount. Know what percentage of your income is consumed by fixed expenses, then identify ways to reduce them: refinance your home, negotiate lower interest rates, or choose not to buy new vehicles every few years.

Look for Ways to Spend More on Your Financial Goals.

Reducing your fixed costs will allow you to designate more income toward your savings and other financial goals. Maybe you’re barely saving 5% right now, but even small changes can make a difference. In our debt-burdened society, it can also be difficult to choose between paying off debt and saving for retirement, especially when you’re young and retirement is still far away. Remember that the more you contribute to retirement accounts when you’re young (both pre and post-tax), the more it will compound (that also goes for high-yield savings accounts). Even if your current focus is debt, continue to contribute as much as you can to retirement and savings. When you eliminate bad debt, use former payment funds to increase your retirement and savings contributions.

Be More Controlling with Flexible Spending.

You may never be able to completely predict all the categories under flex spending, but the more you can control, the closer you’ll get to flip-flopping that 30% with 20% and save more for future goals by spending less on immediate wants. Try limiting how much you eat out or go to the movies, and take advantage of rewards cards, fuel points, coupons, and rebates to reduce your grocery and gas bill on a regular basis.

It may be basic, but if you follow these tips, the 50/20/30 rule might just be the tool that helps you get out of debt and improve your financial outlook for good!

If you need a good starting point for setting your budget, check out our Budgeting guide and fillable PDF worksheet.

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for

Is Your Credit Score Affecting Your Quality of Life?

The American dream is usually characterized as working hard from the bottom up, making a good salary, buying a house, and having time to create and enjoy your family life. But the vision doesn’t always come together so neatly – despite strong buyer demand, the inventory of affordable, available starter homes is relatively low, and to secure a mortgage, you need a strong credit score (something that not all Americans have or understand).

Even in the face of this unfamiliarity, most people realize that your credit score is the main determining factor in whether you qualify for a loan, and what rate you’ll pay on that loan. However, your credit score has the power to affect your life in far more than just one area — it can make or break your vision of the American dream on all sides.


Though not all employers will check your credit score before hiring you, and most employers won’t rule out a candidate just because they have a bad credit score, your credit score could have an impact on how you’re seen by prospective employers. If they run a report and see that you’ve had a checkered financial history, and realize you’ll be handling financial responsibilities in the office, they may believe you’re underqualified, and move onto other candidates.

The good news is employers aren’t always allowed to view your credit report. According to Credit Karma, “The short answer is no, credit bureaus do not share your credit score with employers. Subject to restrictions in state law, employers may, however, ask to see your credit report. When your information is requested, credit bureaus will send over a variation of your credit report meant specifically for employers.”


Similarly, your credit score affects housing in more ways than solely influencing your mortgage rates and availability. Landlords will frequently check prospective tenants’ credit scores before choosing whether to rent the apartment to them. Obviously, if a tenant has a history of missing payments, or being late with payments, they’re going to be secondary options to tenants with strong financial backgrounds.


Your credit score could even affect how you’re expected to pay for utilities — especially when moving to a new location. When turning on utilities for the first time, a utility company may require you to leave an upfront deposit. If you have a high credit score, they may waive that deposit, but they may charge you more if your credit score is especially low. According to the FTC, “Like other creditors, utility companies ask for information like your Social Security Number so they can check your credit history — particularly your utility payment history. A good credit history makes it easier for you to get services. A poor credit history can make it more difficult.”


Your credit score can even affect the quality of your relationships. It’s no surprise that money and financial issues are the biggest causes of couples’ fights (and breakups). If your partner is fiscally responsible, but you’ve had a more questionable history, it could lead to bigger arguments. For example, will you be willing to buy a house together? Will your credit score negatively impact your joint mortgage rate? Will you be paying off your debt together? Even a little money-related stress can quickly escalate into a bigger problem.


If you’re reading all of this and feeling nervous about your own credit score, take a deep breath. Even if your credit score isn’t as strong as you’d like it to be, there’s always time to revise and improve it. Your first step is to know what your credit score is – and thankfully, you can check it for free. Once you know your credit score, you can take the following steps to improve it (and along with it, the quality of your life):

  • Understand your weak points. First, understand why your credit score is where it is. Is it because you’ve accumulated a lot of credit card debt? Is it because you missed several payments? There are many reasons here, but almost all of them can be corrected with better habits in the future.
  • Avoid new credit or debt. Don’t apply for any new loans or credit cards, this could tank your score even harder. Instead, focus on the lines of credit you already have.
  • Pay all your bills on time. This is the most important factor to focus on – from here on out, make sure you pay all your bills in full and on time. If you need to create a strict budget to do it, then do it. Without a steady history of on-time payments, you won’t be able to lower your score.
  • Start paying off your debt. Finally, work to start paying off your debt. Consider moving to a lower-cost area, taking on a second job, and cutting any unnecessary expenses. You can even call your credit card companies to negotiate for a lower rate. Once your debt totals start decreasing, you’ll feel happier and more optimistic as well.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for a bad credit score. It takes years to build an initial score, and months to years to make a significant change. You’ll have to be consistent and patient if you want to succeed, but as long as you stay committed to your financial future, it can be done.

Need a little help understanding your credit score or want to sit down with a First Financial representative to help with debt management strategies? Stop into your nearest branch location, email, or call 732-312-1500 to schedule an appointment.

Learn to manage your credit and reduce debt with our easy guide.

Article Source: Anna Johansson for

Scammers Impersonating the Social Security Administration

Your Social Security number is an important key for an identity thief. Scammers want it, and they think of all sorts of ways to trick you into giving it away.

The Federal Trade Commission has been getting reports about calls from scammers claiming to be from the Social Security Administration. They say there’s been a computer problem, and they need to confirm your Social Security number.

Others have come across spoof websites that look like the place where you would apply for a new Social Security card – but these websites are actually a setup to steal your personal information.

If you get a phone call or are directed to a website other than that is claiming to be associated with the Social Security Administration, don’t respond. It’s most likely a scam.

Here are some tips to deal with these government imposters:

  • Don’t give the caller your information. Never give out or confirm sensitive information – like your bank account, credit card, or Social Security Number – unless you know who you’re dealing with. If someone has contacted you, you can’t be sure who they are.
  • Don’t trust a name or number. Con artists use official-sounding names to make you trust them. To make their call seem legitimate, scammers use internet technology to spoof their area code – so although it may seem they are calling from Washington DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • Check with the Social Security Administration. The SSA has a warning about these scams and suggests you contact them directly at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the reason for the contact and the person’s identity prior to providing any information to the caller.

If you come across one of these scams, please report it to the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 and then tell the FTC about it.

Don’t become an ID Theft victim! Learn how to prevent identity theft with our ID theft protection guide.

Article Source: Ari Lazarus for the Federal Trade Commission


Debt and Dating: Can Poor Financial Habits Keep You in the Friend Zone?

It’s the month of love. And dating is all about discovery. It can be fun to open up and share a few personal details with someone we’re attracted to. In turn, learning more about the other person is a great way to spark conversations that go beyond polite formalities. But while we’re more than happy to show our highlight reels, we all have those things we’d rather not talk about. You know, things like misspelled tattoos. Failed relationships. An affinity for Nickelback. High school, in general. But what about our financial habits?

Is it possible that the way you manage money could have an impact on your relationship prospects? It’s a fair question, and a recent survey of 2,000 millennials uncovered some interesting opinions about debt and its impact on a person’s dating potential.

Does debt matter? Yes. And no.

In short, significant debt is frowned upon, but according to survey responses, it’s not viewed as negatively as being a workaholic. That’s the dating game in a nutshell, isn’t it? Don’t work too little and don’t work too much. Apparently, sensible moderation is attractive. So, what do you do if you’re interested in someone but your finances aren’t as solid as you’d like?

Before you start fumbling for the right words to confess your mountain of debt, don’t get ahead of yourself. Less than 10% of people thought that this kind of information should be shared early on. More than 87% thought it best to wait until the relationship becomes exclusive or moves to the point of sharing household expenses. So, if you’ve just started seeing someone and have more debt than you’d care to admit—relax.  You’ve got time.

To share or not to share, that is the question.

Maybe all this talk about debt and dating has you wondering whether you’d be willing to share your most intimate financial details with a potential partner. The survey designers wondered the same and posed an interesting question: Would you rather tell your partner about your large debt or a pre-existing medical condition? Not surprisingly, the majority of respondents said they’d rather spill the beans about bloated borrowing. But it’s worth noting that more than 39% said they’d find it easier to divulge their most personal medical details.

If almost 40% of people would rather reveal their personal medical history instead of discussing monetary struggles with a potential partner, it’s safe to say debt-related anxiety can impact us emotionally as well as financially. If there’s a takeaway from this survey, maybe it’s the fact that debt and relationships have something in common: Neither improves when ignored.

Three tips for navigating the debt discussion

  • Understand your debt. Rather than lumping everything you owe into one negative category, it’s important to remember not all debt is bad. Home mortgages and student loans are traditionally viewed as desirable, while credit card debt and payday loans can be roadblocks to financial success. Knowing the details of your debt is essential to managing it effectively. (It can also help you sound smarter if, and when, the topic comes up on a date).
  • Eliminate bad debt ASAP. High-interest credit cards, auto loans, and title loans can throw you into a tailspin of making minimum payments that never pay down the principle balance. Whether you cut frivolous spending or pick up a side job, find ways to pay off the accounts with the highest interest rates first.
  • Get a good wingman. When it comes to your finances, there’s no shame in admitting you need help. With debt management tools ranging from credit counseling to low-interest consolidation loans, your credit union can play a pivotal role in your financial success. And judging from many of the survey responses, a solid financial foundation may improve more than just your credit rating.

Need a little help managing your debt and want to sit down with a First Financial representative to help with debt management strategies? Stop into your nearest branch location, email, or call 732-312-1500 to schedule an appointment. We’ll help you get back on track!

Learn to manage your credit and reduce debt with our easy guide.

Article Source – Survey Data

4 Power Tips for Achieving Your 2018 Financial Goals

Power Tip #1: Harness the Power of Loss Aversion.

Loss aversion is the principle that we humans are often motivated (or discouraged) by the threat of negative outcomes. If positive motivation isn’t working, try negative motivation. Poor financial choices don’t always have an immediate negative impact, but you can create one. For example, you could bet on your ability to follow through with the necessary steps to reach a financial goal. Losing money — especially to something you dislike or someone you rival, can be powerfully motivating.

Power Tip #2: Bring in the Power of Accountability.

Accountability to ourselves isn’t as motivating as accountability to others — whether it’s a friend, sibling or member of a group you belong to. If you don’t have a personal network, use fitness and financial apps to draw on a more public social network. It’s amazing how much motivation can spring from “competing” with strangers trying to achieve the same goals!

Power Tip #3: Take Willpower Out of the Equation.

We often think willpower (or motivation) is integral to achieving financial goals. If we fail, we must not have enough of it. Some willpower is necessary for taking the first step and gaining momentum toward our goals, but its tendency to fluctuate (much like our emotions), means we can’t count on it to drive us to completion.

With other disciplines, such as healthy eating or exercising, willpower is more of a constant battle until new habits are formed. With finances, it’s easier to eliminate willpower because you can draw on the help of technology — through automation.

Automatic savings and payments aren’t exactly set-it-and-forget-it categories, because you should still check in on your finances – but they only require one dose of willpower to get them going. Try it. You’ll be surprised how much more you can achieve by just having an automated schedule.

Power Tip #4: Focus on the Power of One Goal.

Another reason we often fail to achieve our financial goals is that they’re goals (plural), versus a goal (singular). Pick the biggest area of opportunity, the easiest one to achieve, or the one you feel most excited about — whichever strategy works best for you. Having a singular focus for the year is less stressful and daunting while allowing you to dedicate more of your resources and attention to perfecting it, rather than just barely hitting the mark.

There are different kinds of power, and they play into the success or failure of our financial goals in surprising ways.

Need help setting your financial goals? Make an appointment at your nearest branch location, email, or call 732-312-1500.

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for