Be Aware of Tax Scams this Tax Season

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced that the 2020 federal income tax filing deadline for individuals would be extended from April 15th to May 17th in response to the ongoing recovery efforts surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and to help provide taxpayers some ongoing relief.

In the midst of tax season, it’s important to be reminded that there is often an increase of fraud attempts and tax scams. Annually, the IRS shares and emphasizes certain scams that may be of risk to taxpayers. This year, scams related to Coronavirus tax relief continue to target taxpayers.

Here are a few things to be on the lookout for this tax season, as extensions can create confusion and make tax payers more susceptible to fraud attempts. The IRS recently announced the following to be aware of for the 2021 tax filing season:

  • Phishing Scams: Taxpayers should be alert to potential fake emails, texts, phone calls, or websites looking to steal their personal information.
  • Phone Scams (Vishing):  These scam phone calls work hard to instill a sense of urgency, and often threaten arrest, deportation, or some type of retaliation if a tax bill is left unpaid.  
  • Charity Scams: These schemes share bogus information about a charity to trick people into sending money or into providing personal information. This is often attempted with a fake website, using names similar to legitimate charities, or unsolicited communication. 
  • Social Media Scams: Social media scams frequently use events (lately COVID-19) to trick people into disclosing personal information. Typically, this involves convincing a potential victim they are dealing with a person they trust via email, text, or social media direct messaging.
  • Refund Theft Scams: Refund and Economic Impact Payments (EIP) as provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act have been targeted in recent scams with identity theft and filing false tax returns to divert funds to the wrong address or bank account.
  • Elder Fraud: Seniors are more likely to be targeted and victimized by scammers due to unfamiliarity or uncertainty on how to respond across digital channels. 
  • Offer in Compromise (OIC) Scams: Misleading tax debt resolution companies can exaggerate chances to settle tax debt through an Offer in Compromise (OIC) and submit false applications for candidates. OIC offers are available for a bill reduction, but taxpayers must typically meet very specific criteria under law to qualify.
  • Payroll and HR Scams: Phishing scams are designed to steal W-2 and other tax information. This scheme has increased with many businesses still closed and employees working from home due to COVID-19. W-2 forms contain sensitive information and are highly valuable for identity thieves.
  • Ransomware Scams: This cybercrime targets human and technical weaknesses to infect a potential victim’s computer, network, or server. Once infected, ransomware looks for and locks critical or sensitive data with its own encryption. 

Consider these preventative tips to keep your personal and financial information safe this tax season:

  • Be cautious of communication: Communication requesting personal or financial information – tax related or otherwise, should be treated with caution. The IRS and state tax authorities will never reach out by phone, email, text, or social media.
  • Pay attention to how money is requested: The IRS does not require that taxes or bills be paid with a prepaid/reloadable debit card, gift card, or money wires through services like Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • Report threatening messages: Calls demanding immediate payment or threatening legal action are more than likely scam attempts. The IRS or state of residence will not call to discuss taxes you owe without first mailing you an official bill.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links: This is especially true if you have suspicions about the communication source you received, which may contain a malicious code or virus that will infect your device. Cybercriminals will often use a phishing email to trick a potential victim into opening a link or an attachment containing ransomware.
  • Be wary of rejected file requests due to duplication: If an e-filed return is rejected because a duplicate EIN/SSN is already on file with the IRS, or an unexpected receipt of a tax transcript doesn’t correspond to anything previously submitted – it may be a warning sign of identity theft. 

If a tax scam is suspected, report it to your state authorities and/or the Federal Trade Commission here.

Find out more about tax scams from the IRS website here.

Think First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

Article Source: CUInsight.com

It’s National Credit Union Youth Month, Are Your Kids Money Savvy?

April is National Credit Union Youth Month, so we wanted to take a moment to highlight the importance of spending the time and energy to make sure your kids have some basic knowledge about money.

Did you know?

  • From 2004 to 2009, the median credit card debt among college students increased 74%
  • A report on the results of a financial literacy exam found that high school seniors scored on average only 48% correct.
  • A survey of 15 year old’s in the United States found that 18% of respondents did not learn fundamental financial skills that are often applied in everyday situations, such as building a simple budget, comparison shopping, and understanding an invoice.

With such a staggering knowledge gap, it’s easy for kids to grow up and fall victim to scams, high interest rate loans, and rack up an enormous amount of debt.

So, at what age is it right to start teaching your kids good financial habits? The short answer is – right now.

By age 3, your kids can grasp some basic money concepts. By age 7, many of their money habits are already forming. No matter what their age, let’s take this opportunity during National Credit Union Youth Month to start!

Does your child have a savings account or a safe place to deposit any money they receive?

Teaching your child the importance of saving money for a rainy day, should begin at an early age. If your kids don’t have a savings account, get them started with one as soon as possible.

First Financial offers a First Step Kids Savings Account for children up to 18 years of age. There are no minimum balance fees, and dividends are posted quarterly on balances $100 or greater.*

The moral of the story is the following: Take the time during National Credit Youth Month, to talk to your children about finances, budgeting, and saving money. It’s never too early (or too late)!

*As of 7/2/2020, the First Step Kids Account has an annual percentage yield of 0.03% on balances of $100.00 and more. The dividend rate may change after the account is opened. Parent or guardian must bring both the child’s birth certificate and social security card when opening a First Step Kids Account at any branch location.  Parent or guardian will be a joint owner and must also bring their identification. A First Financial Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Winter 2021 Newsletter

We hope all our members and their families are staying safe and healthy, as we begin a new year. Below is a digital copy of our Winter 2021 Quarterly Member Newsletter!

Please take note of the following upcoming important dates:

  • Monday, March 15thOnline Banking and Mobile App Upgrade
  • Monday, March 22ndCredit Card Conversion (* All current credit cardholders will be mailed a new credit card in early March and will need to activate it beginning on 3/22 regardless of if their old card has not expired. Previous credit cards will not work as of 3/22 at 6:45am EST and there will be new customer service numbers and a different billing address for sending monthly payments ).

In a continued effort to go green, we’re publishing our newsletter electronically – it can also be found on our website and social media sites. Paper copies will be available in our branch vestibule areas.

The Winter Newsletter features the following articles:

To view a copy of the newsletter, click here.

We hope your 2021 is off to a great start!

Valentine’s At Home and Virtual Date Night Ideas on a Budget

This Valentine’s Day looks to be a little different, as the global pandemic continues. If you are unable to get out for a Valentine’s date night this year, or feel safer celebrating at home – here are some low cost ways to enjoy Valentine’s Day at home or virtually.

If You’re Celebrating V-Day At Home:

Fine Dining. You can definitely recreate a restaurant experience at home, complete with dressing up for the occasion and actually sitting down and/or being waited on. Take it a step further by printing real menus, get dressed up, set a fancy table, and pick your own restaurant name. Have fun cooking something you typically don’t make together, or if you have children who will be home and want to participate – include them as well and make it a fun family affair.

Ballroom (or any kind of) Dancing. You might not make it out to your local dance studio or any Valentine’s Night Out Parties this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn how to dance or dance at home and still have fun! Find a YouTube video, clear out a spot on the living room floor, and give it a spin.

Game Night. Maybe it’s not the peak of romance for some, but sitting down to a game of Scrabble or Monopoly together is a great way to spend some quality time while also giving your brain a workout. Get dressed up, serve up some snacks and pour the wine to make it feel even more like a date night.

Virtual Hometown Tours. If you didn’t grow up in the same place as your love, Google Earth offers a great date night opportunity – a virtual tour of your hometown, complete with stops at all the most important places. Even if you are both from the same area, use Google Earth or Google Maps to show your sweetheart around your college campus — or explore a city you’re hoping to visit together someday.

At Home Spa Services. Treat yourself — and your significant other, to some DIY indulgence. Whether you give each other manicures, facials, or massages, it’s bound to be more affordable (and more fun) than it would be in a salon or day spa. Check out this list of spa treatments you can do at home.

If you can’t be with your love in person this Valentine’s Day, here are a few virtual ways to celebrate, or adapt some of these ideas to your at home February 14th plan:

Virtual Coffee (or Cocktails). Zoom and FaceTime make it easy to recreate classic first date ideas like grabbing a drink together, or a cup of coffee while chatting over your drink of choice.

Read to Each Other. This can be romantic whether you’re at home together or apart. If you’re not in the same location, you can read to each other via video chat or over the phone. The options are endless, choose a book neither of you have read before or revisit an old favorite.

Live Stream Concerts and Events. Since the pandemic began, many entertainers have transferred their live shows to streaming services or made them available on their websites. Many are even free! Re-create the concert experience at home with a drink and sport some concert attire. Not to mention the added bonus of being able to hear each other talk during the virtual show and not have to shout over the music.

Virtual Movie Nights. It’s always fun to snuggle up with your sweetheart for a movie, even if it’s on the couch at home. If you’re stuck apart this year, you can spend time in front of the screen together. A browser extension called Teleparty is able to sync Netflix, Disney, Hulu, and HBO videos for multiple viewers while also providing a scrolling text chat along the right side of the screen. Don’t forget the popcorn!

Arts and Crafts. A romantic idea for the daring: paint or draw each other while on a video chat application. If that’s a little too intimidating, you could also spend virtual time together being creative with a craft like knitting, cross-stitch, or something else entirely. Plan to gift each other the products of your art creation!

Some Other Tips: If you’re at home together – put away the phones and digital devices, and look for the joy in the little moments spent together. If you’re spending the holiday apart or virtually – get dressed up anyway, and remember this is only temporary.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Article Source: The Penny Hoarder

 

3 Reasons to File Your Taxes Sooner Rather Than Later

The Federal tax deadline has been extended to May 17, 2021. If you are planning on waiting until a lot closer to that day to get your taxes done, here are three reasons you should really get moving and file your taxes as soon as possible.

Sooner is better regardless of the outcome: The sooner you file, the sooner you’ll get money back if you are getting a refund. If 2020 hit you hard financially, that refund may be something you’ve been banking on. And if you get the opposite result and owe the government money, you’ll have more time to save up and pay. You can’t go wrong filing as early as possible.

You’ll reduce your stress: Filing tax paperwork was probably simple when you were in your 20s. Once life gets more complicated, it’s not quite as easy or quick to file. If you know your taxes will be more difficult than in past years, lessen the stress it might cause by getting started as soon as you have your W-2. Filing early can prevent Tax Day from being a source of stress.

It’ll be a smoother process: Not only is the IRS less busy at the beginning of the year, but tax professionals typically are as well. Keep this important detail in mind if you’re not filing on your own. If you file online it won’t be a big deal, but if you need a tax professional to help sort you out, you’ll be glad you got started earlier. The closer you get to the tax deadline, the longer the whole process will take (as well as you probably won’t be the only last minute client).

The moral of the story: Start preparing your tax documents and file as soon as possible!

Article Source: CUInsight.com

How to Shape Your Finances in a New Year

This is a good time to make sure your accounts are ready for whatever may come your way in these unprecedented times. Here are a few ways you can make sure your finances are in decent shape as we begin 2021.

Stop acting on impulse: Think about your spending habits. Do you make impulse buys whenever you want? No matter how big or small, impulse purchases can lead to trouble. If you have several entertainment subscriptions, do you know which ones you’d cut if your budget suddenly needed to be tightened? If last year taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Save as much money as you can, don’t overspend on unnecessary things, and try to keep a tight reign on your budget each month.

Know how to use a credit card: Enjoying the use of a credit card can be risky if not properly managed. Even if you find it easy to pay off your purchases each month and you love earning credit card rewards, what will you do if your financial situation takes an unexpected turn or you lose your job? Don’t spend above your means, and try to always pay your credit card bill off each month so you’re not racking up debt plus interest.

Look ahead to your future: Have you saved enough to enjoy retirement one day? Are you going to be able to leave something to your loved ones? There are often a lot of questions when it comes to your financial future and retirement. Even if you don’t have a child to be your beneficiary, most people are living longer than ever these days and you’ll want to make sure you don’t outlive your savings. If you haven’t checked in with your financial advisor lately, use the unpredictability of last year as an excuse to at least have a quick conversation with them.

Did you know First Financial has an Investment and Retirement Center which offers complimentary retirement consultations to our members?*

Contact one of our Financial Advisors today!

*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: CUInsight.com