Three Steps to Fixing Your Money Worries This Holiday Season

Worrying about money is natural. Almost everyone’s done it at some point. But worrying also could be a sign that there are serious problems you’re avoiding —a persistent little reminder that these problems are not going away. So if you’re finding yourself stressed about this holiday season, there are some simple things you can do to stop worrying and take back control.

Ask yourself, “What am I really worried about”? If it’s something you can’t control, like the state of the economy, then don’t waste time worrying about it. If you’re tracking your spending, saving regularly, and living within your income—that’s the foundation of financial peace of mind.

But if there’s a real problem, like too much credit card debt, then take action! There’s no quick fix, but make a plan. Simply doing something will make you feel better, and eventually your financials will start to look better, too. Here are three simple things anyone can do to reduce financial anxiety.

First, when you get your paycheck, do not immediately think about how you’ll spend it. Instead, think about ways to save it. Put a portion of it in a savings account for emergency use only–even if it’s a small amount. Add to it every month. The goal here is to be able to cover three months of expenses. Knowing you have a few bucks in a savings account is huge! For even more security, add another income stream. It doesn’t have to be a second job—sell your old stuff online or monetize a hobby, like freelance writing or photographing.

Second, schedule an appointment with a financial adviser. It is never too soon to make sure you’re on track for life goals! You can open a personal retirement account at your credit union. If your company offers a matching program for your 401(k), take advantage of it! Contribute the minimum to get your employer to kick in the same. You’ll be amazed at how that money will grow over time.

Third, did you know Hopewell Federal Credit Union is a not-for-profit financial cooperative? That means they offer the same services as other financial institutions, but their mission is to help their members. So you don’t have to tackle your problems alone, you have a team of professionals who can—and really want!—to help you. They can sit down with you, look at your financials, offer advice, and help you develop an action plan. They even offer education, so you can better understand money management.

Do these three things—build up your savings, have a financial adviser take a look at your whole financial picture, and visit your credit union for help—and you’ll be worry-free in no time.

 

Tips for Avoiding Credit Card Fraud

With nearly 38,000 complaints logged in 2015, credit card fraud ranks as the second most common form of identity theft, behind only tax- or wage-related fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

It can take many forms, including:

  • Scammers who try to sucker you into giving up credit card info over the phone.
  • E-mail phishing.
  • Skimmers – devices hidden in the mouths of card slots at gas pumps, ATMs and even restaurants to copy card information.

Nothing but healthy skepticism can save you from falling for a slick hustler. But advances in technology are designed to better protect consumers against credit card fraud when making purchases in person.

EMV cards

Though they’ve been used widely for years overseas, EMV cards are relatively new in the U.S. They still have the thick black band on the back, so they can continue to act like the “magstripe” cards that people have been carrying in their wallets and purses for decades. The brainy component is the chip embedded in the card, indicated by a gold- or silver-colored foil square on the front.

When inserted into an EMV reader, the chip generates a unique, encrypted transaction code, or token. When the token reaches your bank, it is decrypted to verify your account and authorize the payment. Since the token changes with every transaction, a stolen token can’t be reused.

By comparison, the information on a magstripe is unchanging, meaning it’s easily cloned. In the U.K., where EMV has been in use more than a decade, the switch cut in-person credit card fraud by more than two-thirds.

Bear in mind that EMV chips are no safer than magstripes when you’re buying online or giving credit card info to someone over the phone. And for now, most gas pump card readers aren’t EMV-ready.

Mobile payment services

“Mobile wallets” or “e-wallets” use the same kind of token technology as EMV cards. The difference is that instead of pulling out your card, you tap or scan your smartphone at retail checkout terminals.

Depending on the smartphone pay system, you may need to enter a PIN or scan your fingerprint to complete a transaction. With Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, you’re assigned a substitute card number that’s unique to the phone and tethered to your credit card number.

Using your smartphone or tablet adds another layer of security, because a hacker would need to have both the device and its password.

Monitor your credit card statements

It’s a good idea to check your accounts regularly. If you see charges you know you didn’t make or otherwise don’t recognize, contact the card issuer to clarify and, if necessary, dispute them. You may also want to set up a fraud alert or request a credit freeze.

Online transactions

If you’re buying online, make sure you’re on a secure site before you enter sensitive information. Look for the https:// or a padlock at the start of the web address.

It’s also wise to avoid accessing bank or personal finance sites using public Wi-Fi, which can are wide open to hackers.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

Don’t let holiday magic make your finances disappear

While the excitement of the holidays and gift-giving season can be a magical time for children, adults face a plethora of additional expenses during the last two months of the year. Whether its gifts, food, decorations, the perfect outfit for that holiday party, or airfare to visit family – there’s no denying the holidays can put a dent in the wallet.

According to a 2016 Mid-Year Consumer Survey, conducted by the Ohio Credit Union League, 22 percent of respondents spend more than $1,000 on holiday expenses, 35 percent between $500 and $1,000, and 28 percent between $300 and $500. During last year’s holiday season, the average American spent $734 on gifts, $120 on food, $78 on decorations, and $85 on flowers and cards, according to AOL Mass Media.

Traveling can be another major expense throughout November and December. AAA reports that due to low gas prices, 41.9 million people took a road trip last Thanksgiving, and another 36.1 million journeyed by plane. In Ohio, 21 percent of survey respondents said they plan to trek more than 100 miles this holiday season.

With so many additional expenses in a month, it’s surprising how few people set money aside throughout the year for year-end holiday expenses. With no additional income during the holidays, cutting costs may be necessary to stay financially afloat during November and December.

Tips to cut costs for the holidays:

  • Credit card rewards: Many credit cards offer reward points for using their card. These points can be used like cash to purchase merchandise such as gift cards or electronics. Try cashing in your points to cover the cost of someone’s gift. If you don’t have a rewards credit card, check with a credit union in your area about offerings.
  • Bargain shop: Check online sites such as slickdeals.net, Woot!, and Brad’sDeals to search for the best bargains. If you haven’t signed up for Amazon Prime yet, it may be worth it just for the free shipping, especially if you do a lot of online shopping for the holidays.
  • Shop early: The optimal time for holiday shopping is between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1. Spending a small amount on gifts each week before the holiday rush is a good way to avoid putting a large chunk of debt on a credit card at one time. Shopping early also relieves the feeling of rushed, last-minute shopping, which can result in purchasing gifts regardless of price.
  • Holiday Club Account: Although not applicable for this year, consider enrolling in a credit union Holiday Club account to start saving for next year’s holiday expenses. It’s basically a savings account that you stash money in all year, and have limited access to until the holiday season rolls around.

To learn more about how a credit union can help you save for the holidays, visit www.aSmarterChoice.org and find a credit union in your area.

How to Stay Safe When Shopping for Holiday Gifts Online

Want to avoid long lines and large crowds this holiday season? Shopping online lets you zip through your list with just a few clicks.

Before whipping out your plastic, however, you’ll want to make sure you’re shopping on a secure site. Use these tips to keep your data safe.

1. Look for the padlock symbol

Don’t check out at a website unless you see a padlock symbol on the browser bar of whatever device you’re using. This symbol means that the page has extra security to prevent others from viewing your sensitive information.

Another way to tell a website is secure is that it starts with “https” instead of just “http.” The “s” means the site is secure.

2. Be cautious around public Wi-Fi

If you need to check your online banking account while you’re away from home, avoid public Wi-Fi networks. Many retailers provide free Wi-Fi as a convenience to customers, but you can’t be sure who’s able to see the data you send on the network — including private information.

Instead, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, a service that lets you encrypt the information you send over the internet. That way, others won’t be able to access your data even if they can access the network. You can also send data over your personal cellular provider’s network, which bypasses Wi-Fi.

3. Use a credit card instead of a debit card

Credit cards offer better consumer protections than debit cards do. If someone steals your credit card information and uses it to make unauthorized purchases, you’ll be liable for $50 at most, depending on how quickly you report the loss.  If your debit card information is stolen, you could lose all the money linked to your checking account.

If you’re unhappy with an item you bought on a credit card — say it was damaged when you received it or it was never delivered — you don’t have to pay until the dispute is resolved. But if you’re unhappy with a debit card purchase, you’ll need to file a dispute with the retailer and possibly your bank to try to recover the money after the fact. That’s because debit card purchases automatically withdraw funds from your bank account.

4. Change passwords regularly

Even if you take steps to shop securely, a hacker could steal your user name, password or other sensitive information from a retailer’s database. Protect yourself by changing the passwords of your online accounts every three months or so. That way, if hackers do breach a retailer’s software, there’s a good chance they’ll have access only to an old password.

5. Update anti-virus software

If you shop from a home computer, keep your security software updated. Anti-virus software companies frequently release security updates to address newly discovered security loopholes.

Follow these tips and you can take advantage of the convenience of online shopping while also protecting yourself from online fraud.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved