Simple Steps Enhance Computer Privacy, Security

The significant consequences that can arise from connecting an unprotected computer to the Internet vary depending on whether a computer invader takes something, such as information that enables a thief to create a false identity, or whether the invader leaves something behind, such as a virus or program that allows the invader to return to take control of your computer for dubious purposes.

The first step to take in protecting your identity is developing an awareness of the type of information that identity thieves need to pretend to be you. Regard account numbers of any type as sensitive information. That goes beyond credit union/bank accounts to utility accounts and cell phone accounts. Hackers who sneak into your computer to “steal” your identity also are interested in any type of relationship that offers significant personal information, which can then be used to stage an impersonation.

Computer users with high-speed or broadband Internet connections carry additional risk, since hackers are drawn to their enhanced online capabilities. Fortunately, you can take simple steps to protect your home computer.

* Use antivirus software. Antivirus software identifies infected e-mail attachments and other virus carriers before they have a chance to damage your computer. Bundled software packages combine antivirus software and personal firewalls for $60 to $80.
* Regularly update antivirus software. Since new viruses emerge every day, the companies that make antivirus programs allow computer owners to subscribe to updates to catch the latest versions.
* Create strong passwords. Hackers easily can steal the information used to create common passwords such as your birthday or a pet’s name. They also have access to programs that will plug in every known word from the dictionary in an attempt to crack your passwords. Strong passwords avoid personal information, login names, or adjacent keyboard symbols. Instead, they combine numbers and letters in passwords that contain at least eight characters.
* If you have a high-speed connection, install a personal firewall. This hardware blocks hackers who attempt to locate your computer or access your files.
* Be wary of unsolicited e-mail. Viruses often are sent as attachments, and identity thieves may attempt to use e-mail to get personal information by masquerading as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or another vendor. Always confirm the identity of the e-mail’s author before opening attachments, never send sensitive personal information to anyone using e-mail, and always verify that an e-mail request for sensitive material is genuine before sharing personal information.

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Get Your 401(k) On Track

The median 401(k) balance for people nearing retirement is $149,400, enough to provide a mere $9,000 annually in retirement, according to the Wall Street Journal. Try living on that, even if you add Social Security.

Need to do better? Resolve to use your 401(k) benefit for all it’s worth. You’ll typically find 401(k) investments in these asset classes:

1. Bonds: short-, intermediate-, and long-term. Bonds also are classified by investment grade, such as “high-yield” investments in “lower-quality” bonds
2. Large cap equity funds: growth, value, or a blend of growth and value
3. Small cap companies: growth, value, or a blend
4. Mid cap companies: growth, value, or a blend
5. International companies: growth, value, or a blend. There also are “global funds” and “developing-market funds” internationally.
6. Real-estate funds
7. Socially responsible funds
8. Money market accounts (MMAs) and other fixed-return investments, such as guaranteed investment contracts (GICs)

Learn about your investment options by studying your 401(k) plan’s enrollment books and by looking at the past performance reports on investment funds within the plan. At the same time, always recognize that past performance is no predictor of future performance.

If you don’t have a lot of investment experience, target funds and lifestyle funds offer a quick way to invest in a diversified portfolio.

Once you choose a strategy and pick a mixture of stock funds, bonds, and fixed investments, it’s up to you to follow your 401(k) statements closely and reallocate your blend of funds every six months or at least yearly.

And if you need help planning for your retirement, talk to a Hopewell Federal Credit Union investment adviser to get on the right track.

 

Downsizing Offers Advantages

Is it time to sell that big family home and move to smaller quarters? Eleven percent of people age 55 to 64 are making plans to downsize within three years, according to a Forbes report on a MetLife Mature Market Institute study.

Sale prices are headed back up from the declines we saw between Dec. 1, 2005 and Aug. 1, 2010. The national average sales price increased 7.9% from $179,000 to $193,000 for the year ending December 1, 2010, according to Zillow.com.

Downsizing should help stretch retirement funds due to a smaller mortgage loan or no mortgage, lower taxes, lower insurance premiums, and lower utility bills. Adults-only communities usually provide yard and exterior home maintenance for a fee. Retirees also can save money by moving to an area with a lower cost of living. Visit Yahoo! Real Estate (realestate.yahoo.com/homevalues) to scout home prices in areas where you may want to resettle.

You also should research taxes in areas you are considering. The Retirement Living Information Center (retirementliving.com/RLtaxes.html) provides state comparisons for income tax, property tax, sales tax, and even fuel tax. Twenty-seven states do not tax Social Security income. Several states give tax breaks for military pensions and other retirement income. And some states provide property tax breaks aimed at helping retirees.

When it’s time to downsize, look at the floor plan for your new home and decide what fits and what doesn’t. Then decide what to keep, give, sell, donate, store, or toss. It may take some work, but downsizing can be rewarding—both personally and financially.

And remember, whether you stay or relocate, you can maintain all your familiar Hopewell Federal Credit Union services. Talk to us about how we can serve you no matter what your address is.

Yes, You Can Be a Member

If you thought you couldn’t join Hopewell Federal Credit Union, think again. Our credit union has a community charter, which means anyone living, worshiping or working in this community can join our credit union.

You might already know that there are many benefits to being a credit union member–such as low fees and loan rates, excellent member service, and democratic control.

Community-chartered credit unions offer those benefits and more: greater membership diversity, a wider variety of services, and larger pools of qualified volunteers.

We also offer encouragement and education about saving, and help in making sound personal financial decisions and habits. As a member-owner you’ll also have the opportunity for your opinion to be heard and to vote for the board that guides how your credit union should be managed.

If you’re interested in joining, stop in or call Hopewell Federal Credit Union at 740.522.8311.