Month: March 2018

Protect Your Identity

In today's technology filled world, identity theft is at an all time high. Find out how to protect your self and your family from dangers unseen.

Identity theft is real, and with all the accounts affected by the Equifax breach, it is imperative that we as consumers protect our identity. Your personal information is a valuable resource for identity thieves, scammers, and even corporations. Data breaches of customer databases and payment processing systems at retailers highlight the importance of protecting your privacy and making sure companies with which you do business do the same.

Identity thieves steal your personal information to commit fraud. They can damage your credit status and cost you time and money to restore your good name. You may not know that you are a victim of identity theft until you experience a financial consequence (mystery bills, credit collections, denied loans) down the road from actions that the thief has taken with your identity. Some people may hire Security guards to ensure safety not just online but in person too, this is normally done for a reason, perhaps where they live or due to an event. Follow these tips to protect yourself.

  1. Secure your Social Security Card. Don’t carry it in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your social security number when absolutely necessary. In the industry, I work in, it amazes me how many people are ready and willing to give you their social security number versus their account number.
  2. Protect your pin. Never write a PIN on a credit or debit card or on a slip of paper in your wallet.
  3. Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” I have no problem telling the person behind me in line to please back up as I enter my card information, and you shouldn’t either. Yes, I have been met with some nasty words or looks, but at the end of the day, it is my responsibility to protect myself. Sheild the keypad when typing in your PIN number.
  4. Be skeptical. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, date of birth, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail or online.
  5. Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home more than a day or two.
  6. Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
  7. Keep your receipts. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.

Beware of synthetic identity theft

Synthetic identity theft is a more complicated version of identity theft. In traditional identity theft, the thief steals all of the personal information of one person to create a new identity. With synthetic identity theft, the thief steals pieces of information from different people to create a new identity. For example, the thief may steal one person’s name, and use someone else’s address to create a brand new identity. The thief can then use this fraudulent identity to apply for credit, rent an apartment, or make major purchases.

Unfortunately, synthetic identity theft is difficult to detect because the fraud isn’t directly tied to just one person. Fraud alerts and monitoring services would not be able to stop or prevent these scams. Also, children’s social security numbers are often targeted in these frauds, because no one would be checking their credit scores until they are much older.

While you cannot prevent synthetic identity theft, you should still get copies of your credit report to check for accounts you did not open. Also, contact the credit reporting agencies to ask if there is a fragmented file ( a sub-account that uses your social security number but not your name) attached to your main credit file. If this is the case, you may be the victim of synthetic identity theft. Report all cases of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is another version of phishing where the scammer already has some of your personal information, often a result of hacking another company’s network, The scammer will then send you an urgent email that seems to be from a company that you already do business. The message will require you to click on a link that directs you to a fake, but realistic, webpage to confirm an account number, or install malware on your computer. Remember, legitimate companies never ask for your password or account number via email. If you are not sure whether the email is trustworthy, call the company directly and forward the email to the spam@uce.gov.

Some other things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft is tear up or shred unwanted receipts, credit offers, account statements and expired cards to prevent dumpster divers from getting your personal information. Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work. Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer. Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Order your credit report once a year. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.

Report Identity Theft

If you are the victim of identity theft you should:

  • Report it to your financial institution. Call the phone number on your account statement or on the back of your credit or debit card.
  • Report the fraud to your local police. Keep a copy of the police report, which will make it easier to prove your case to creditors and retailers.
  • Contact the credit reporting agencies. Ask them to flag your account with a fraud alert, which asks merchants not to grant new credit without your approval.

The FTC recommends that you create an identity theft report if your ID is stolen. This report will help you deal with the credit reporting agencies and companies that extended credit to the identity thief using your name. First, report the crime to the FTC and print a copy of the details. This detailed report is also called an ID theft affidavit. Then file the crime with your local police department and get a copy of that report. Together, your ID theft affidavit and your police report make up your ID theft report.

Protect Your Privacy

Your personal data is always being shared. Companies, known as data brokers, compile information about your income, family size, email addresses, stores and websites you visit, the brands you buy, credit cards used, hobbies, and your demographic information to create a profile about you and your lifestyle.

Some of the information you give willingly, but other bits of your personal information are collected in ways you may not realize. Data brokers often collect location-based data from the GPS on your mobile phone, the fitness tracking bracelets that we wear, or from certain apps. These brokers then analyze all of your information, develop scoring and models to help them understand your behavior. Then they sell these consumer profiles to retailers and marketers.

Retailers use your information to offer targeted special promotions, customize the ads you see, and even the prices you are charged for items. While this can be a bonus and help you get good deals, it all comes at the cost of your personal privacy. Unlike credit reports or scores, you cannot access or review the data files that have been created about you, or even know the data brokerage companies you should contact to correct inaccuracies.

These data reports can also result in discrimination, where some consumers are only targeted with high-interest loans or inferior financial products. There are steps you can take to protect your privacy.

  • If you apply for store loyalty cards, do not include your full name so that it, and your purchase behavior, cannot be connected to your other consumer profiles.
  • Do you want to keep your purchase behavior private? Consider using cash rather than electronic payment options.
  • Maintain a separate email address for your coupons and promotions from retailers.
  • Be careful about what you post on social media. Data brokers may scrape information you post to enhance the information that they have on your consumer profile.
  • Disable cookies when shopping online, to prevent companies from tracking your online browsing behavior.
  • Beware of using cell phones in stores or using public Wi-Fi in a store. By using these networks, stores may know which items you looked at and which aisles you visited.
  • Look for privacy statements on websites, sales materials and forms you complete. If a website claims to follow a set of established voluntary standards, read the standards. Don’t assume it provides the level of privacy you want.
  • Ask how your personal information will be stored and used.
  • Only provide the purchase date, model and serial numbers, and your contact information on warranty registration forms.
  • Opt-out if you don’t want the company to share your email address with other companies.

Check with your state or local consumer agency to find out whether any state laws help protect your privacy. Some companies and industry groups have also adopted voluntary policies that address privacy concerns.

Finally, remember privacy is no longer private anymore. They, whoever they are, are watching. Take the necessary steps to protect your identity and your privacy.

 

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What Consumers Need To Know When Purchasing An Automobile

Purchasing an automobile is exciting. Make sure that you are informed of your rights when doing so and make sure you know what to look for.

During this time of year, there are many people buying cars. I have bought a lemon or two in my day, so I thought with this being  National Consumer Protection Week I would share some things consumers need to know when purchasing an automobile. I love my car like most people and want to take care of it. I’ve recently been gifted some winter car mats which will hopefully keep my cars carpet from getting snow and other dirty materials on it!

Tips for purchasing an automobile

Whether you are buying or leasing an automobile, these tips will help you get the best deal and avoid problems. As always, I heavily advise using a reputable company such as Britannia Cars to complete your car finance.

  • Decide what kind of vehicle best suits your needs and budget. That’s a no-brainer, right? No so. You would be surprised how many times slick talking car salesmen convince consumers to purchase a vehicle that may not be right for them.
  • Check out the seller. Research car dealers with your state or local consumer protection agency and Better Business Bureau. If you are buying from an individual, check the title to make sure you are dealing with the vehicle’s owner.
  • Take a test drive. Another no-brainer I am sure. Drive at different speeds and check for smooth right and left turns. On a straight stretch, make sure the vehicle does not pull to one side.
  • Handle trade-ins and financing separately. When trading in one vehicle to finance purchasing another, do it separately. This will ensure you get the best deal on each. Get a written price quote before you talk about a trade-in or dealer financing.
  • Shop in advance. Compare financing options at your credit union, bank or finance company. Look at the total finance charges and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) not just the monthly payment. It may also be worth checking out a website such as Auto Finance Online to give you help and advice.

Make sure to read and understand every document you are asked to sign. I had a car salesman ask me once why I was reading everything and asking all those questions. I told him because it is my right to be an informed consumer. This is my money we are talking about and I have the right to know and understand everything pertaining to it. Because of his question and what I felt was an underhanded rush tactic, I decided that I did not want to do business with this dealership and left that vehicle right there.

Buying new

When buying a new car, do your research first and compare vehicles. Research the dealer’s price for the vehicle and options available. It is easier to get the best price when you know what the dealer paid for the vehicle. The dealer invoice price is available on a number of websites and in printed pricing guides. Try to locate the wholesale price; this figure factors in dealer incentives from a manufacturer and is a more accurate estimate of what a dealer is paying for a vehicle.

Find out if the manufacturer is offering rebates that will lower the cost. Get price quotes from several dealers. Find out if the amounts quoted are the prices before or after the rebates are deducted. Avoid low-value extras such as credit insurance, extended warranties, auto club memberships, rust proofing, and upholstery finishes. You don’t have to purchase credit insurance to get a loan.

Buying used

When buying a used car, learn what rights you have by contacting your state or local consumer protection office. Contact your state’s motor vehicle department to find out what paperwork you will need to register a vehicle. Check prices of similar models using the NADA Official Used Car Guide, published by the National Automobile Dealers Association, or the Kelley Blue Book. These guides are usually available at your local library.

Research the history of the vehicle. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller for details concerning past owners, use, and maintenance. Find out whether the car has been damaged in a flood, crash, or labeled a “lemon.” Research the car’s title history with your state motor vehicle department. The Center for Auto Safety provides information on safety defect recalls, complaints, and technical service bulletins.

Make sure any mileage disclosures match the odometer reading on the car. Check the warranty. If a manufacturer’s warranty is still in effect, contact the manufacturer to make sure you can use the coverage. Ask about the dealer’s return policy. Get it in writing and read it carefully. Have your mechanic inspect the vehicle. Talk to the seller and agree in advance that you will pay for the examination if there is a charge for it, but the seller will pay if significant problems are discovered. A qualified mechanic should check the vehicle’s frame, tires, air bags, and undercarriage as well as the engine.

Examine dealer documents carefully. Make sure you are buying, not leasing the vehicle. Leases use terms such as “balloon payment” and “base mileage” disclosures.

Dealer vs Private Party Purchases

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires dealers to post a Buyer’s Guide in the window of each used car or truck on their lot. This guide specifies whether the vehicle is being sold “as is” (in the vehicle’s current condition, without a warranty) or with a warranty, and what percentage of repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty. When buying from a private party, this guide is not required. Private sellers generally have less responsibility than dealers do for defects or other problems. FTC rules do not apply to private-party sales.

You can expect to pay higher prices at a dealer than if you buy from an individual. Many dealers inspect their vehicles and provide an inspection report with each one. However, there is no substitute for your own inspection. Some dealers provide limited warranties, and most sell extended warranties. Steer clear of dealer warranties that are “power train” only warranties and not “bumper-to-bumper, ” full-coverage warranties. It is best to compare warranties that are available from other sources.

Some dealers sell “certified” cars. This generally means that the cars have had a more thorough inspection and come with a limited warranty. Prices for certified cars are generally higher. Be sure to get a list of what was inspected and what is covered under the warranty.

In general, buying a used car from a dealer is a safer option because you are dealing with an institution, which means you are better protected by law. Purchasing a vehicle from a private seller may save you money on the front end, but there are risks. The car could be stolen, damaged, or still under a finance agreement. If a private seller lies to you about the condition of a vehicle, you may sue the individual if you have evidence and you can find the seller. An individual is very unlikely to provide a warranty,

Recalls, “Lemon” Laws, and Secret Warranties  

Sometimes a manufacturer makes a design or production mistake on a vehicle. A technical service bulletin notifies the dealer of the problem and how to resolve it. Because these free repairs are not publicized, they are called “secret warranties.”

If you have a problem with a vehicle that is a safety hazard, check whether the manufacturer has recalled your vehicle. When a safety-related defect exists, the maker MUST fix it at no cost to you, even if your warranty has expired.

If you have a vehicle with a unique problem that just never seems to get fixed, you may have a “lemon.” If your car is declared a “lemon” you will have the right to return the car for a refund. The “lemon” law requirements vary from state to state, but the criteria to qualify as a lemon often depends on things like:

  • The defects must occur early within the cars first year or within the first 12,000 to 15,000 miles.
  • The car must have a substantial defect with parts like the engine, transmission, or steering controls.
  • You have to have given repair shops a reasonable number of attempts to fix the problem.
  • Your car was in a repair shop and you were unable to use it for a certain number of days within the year.

Contact your state or local consumer protection office to learn whether you have such protections and what steps you must take to get your problem solved.

If you believe your car is a “lemon” give the dealer a list of the problems every time you bring it in for repairs. Get and keep copies of the repair orders listing the problems, the work done, and the dates the car was in the shop. Contact the manufacturer as well as the dealer, to report the problem.

As you can see, making an automobile purchase is more than just walking onto a car lot and picking a car. Make sure as a consumer, you are informed before you drive off the lot.

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Save As A Family

Teaching your children to save can be fun. Saving as a family can be rewarding for all and helps teach children the all important lessons of financial literacy.

Good savings habits start at home. Whether you’re budgeting, saving, making retirement decisions, or assessing workplace benefits, share the choices you make with your children, no matter their age.

Take, for example, my two oldest grandchildren, T’Aliyah (10) and Tavarius (9), I am teaching them how to manage their allowance and any financial gifts they receive. They kick and scream, but when I pull up their accounts and show them their balances, they are pretty proud of themselves and what they have achieved.

Now Tevin (6) and A’Lona (5) are a little bit different. They don’t receive an allowance, but they do have money from time to time. I teach them to spend some and to put some in their piggy banks. They get to feel how heavy their banks are and they each have a picture of something they want, so when they reach the price of the toy they can take part of their savings and buy it. Little do they know they have the amount right now, but I don’t want them to use all of their savings to buy a toy, so that will be my secret.

I love to discuss saving with them and setting savings goals. I also tell them about mine and Pop Pops savings goals. Since they live in the home with me, it really gives them a sense that they are included in our financial well being. It also teaches them financial literacy. Here are some suggestions on how you can teach your little ones to save.

START WITH A PIGGY BANK

A piggy bank can be a great way to teach your kids the importance of saving while giving them an easy way to do it.  Tell your kids that the goal is to fill up the piggy bank with dollars and coins until there is no room.  Illustrate that the piggy bank is for saving money for the future and that the more they save, the more their money will grow.

OPEN UP A BANK ACCOUNT

Once the piggy bank is full, take your child to the bank to open up a savings account for them.  Have them count how much money is going to be deposited, so they can have a physical understanding of how much money they have.  Show them the final number and reinforce the idea of interest.

It can provide a great source of motivation for your kids if they understand that their money will grow over time as long as they don’t touch it.  A great example of compound interest is to show how doubling a penny once every day for 30 days will eventually generate $10 million dollars!

USE SAVINGS JARS

When your kids really want the latest and greatest toy or a new action figure, let them know they will have to save up for it.  Give them a jar for each of their desired purchases and offer them a small allowance each week in a denomination that encourages savings.

For example, if you give your child five dollars a week, give it to them in one dollar bills.  They can save all their cash for one purchase, or they can contribute to different “jars” for various savings goals.

To encourage saving up for their short-term goals, put a picture of their desired toy or item on the jar, so they have a visual reminder of what they are working towards.

CREATE A TIMELINE

As a kid, the concepts of money and time can be hard to grasp. Research has shown that the impact of a one-hour financial lesson wears off after about five months. In order to make the message stick, money education should be timely and ongoing.  If you know your child receives a $50 check for their birthday each year, the moment to talk about budgeting is right before receiving that check.

One way to keep money lessons ongoing is to create a timeline so that your child can visualize when they will reach their goal.

Let’s say you give them five dollars a week and they want to save up fifty dollars.  If they saved one hundred percent of their allowance, they’d reach their goal in ten weeks, or roughly three months.

Start by getting a long piece of paper and a marker.  Have $0 on one side and $50 (or whatever goal amount) on the other side.  Create checkpoints on the paper for when they reach 25%, 50% and 75% of their goal.

Every time an amount is saved, draw a line illustrating how much was saved.  Let your kids know that they will get small rewards at each checkpoint. Small rewards can encourage kids to keep going.  Visuals are also helpful in illustrating their savings goals and how their money is growing.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Children learn by example, so the best way to teach your child about saving money is to save money yourself.  Have your own jar of money that you put funds in regularly.  When you’re out shopping, show your children how to discern between various prices and explain why buying one item makes better sense than another.

Reiterate the message that every time you get paid, you save a portion of your check to help prepare for the future.

START A CONVERSATION

One of the most important things you can do is to start a conversation about money and the importance of saving. Money doesn’t have to be scary or a taboo.  Use financial discussions as teachable moments. An innocent question such as “Are we rich?” can be answered in a way that emphasizes family values, such as hard work and responsible spending.

Let your children know they can have an allowance, but it’s up to them to save up for things they really want.  In addition, illustrate how much their money can grow over time if they save.

Also, discuss the difference between needs and wants and tell your children you are always open to talking about money and new ways to save.  Ask them about what they want to save up for.  Ask them what they want their future to look like.

Asking good questions can get them to think long-term and have a positive relationship with money.  Letting them know you’re always open to having a conversation about money can encourage them to ask questions of their own to keep learning.

Teaching kids how to save money may seem like a tough task.  It has even been said that parents are more likely to talk to their children about sex than about money.  But using these tips, you can make your child’s understanding of money fun and accessible.  It’s an investment in knowledge which truly pays the best interest.

What methods do you use to teach your children to save? Pop them in the comments, I am always looking for new things to incorporate into my grandchildren’s financial literacy program.

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Save Your Extra Money

We all like receiving windfalls, but what we do with them is the difference in being financially responsible and financially irresponsible. Here are some things you can do with your windfalls that will allow you to have some fun and do some not so fun things.

We’re more likely to save a windfall than a small amount consistently over a long period of time. Hack that psychology by saving your bonuses, raises, and tax refunds. This tax season, get ahead of your financial goals by saving at least $50.

I’ve seen it all down my timeline on Facebook, and I know you have too. I’ve been on the same end of the windfall spending spectrum, so I am not judging, however, when I learned better I began to do better. Many people are talking about receiving their income tax checks. I have watched people ball till they fall. Then they get an attitude when someone with financial knowledge tries to share other options to set them up for the future.

I am not saying you have to take all of your windfalls, whether they be income tax, inheritances, bonuses from work, or some other type, take a portion of them and fund some type of savings account. You see, when you receive a windfall it’s like you’ve been given a second chance. Although you may have made money mistakes in the past, you now have a chance to fix those mistakes (or some of them, anyhow) and start down the path of smart money management.

It can be tempting (as I well know) to spend your windfall on toys, trips, and other things that you “deserve,” but doing so will leave you in the same place you were before you received the windfall. And if that place was chained to debt, you’ll be just as unhappy as you’ve always been.

I’ve received a few windfalls. With time, I’ve developed a system for handling these situations and I’d like to share this system with you.

If you receive a chunk of cash, I recommend that you:

  1. Keep 5 percent to treat yourself and your family. Let’s be realistic. If you receive $1,000 or $10,000 or $100,000 unexpectedly, you’re going to want to spend some of it. No problem. But don’t spend all of it. I suggest spending 5 percent on fun. That means $50 of a $1,000 windfall, $500 of a $10,000 windfall, or $5,000 of a $100,000 windfall. Don’t be tempted to spend more!
  2. Pay any taxes due. Depending on the source of your money, you might owe taxes on it at the end of the year. If you forget this fact and spend the money, you can end up in a bind when the taxes come due. Consult a tax professional. If needed, set aside enough to pay your taxes before you do anything else.
  3. Pay off debt. Doing so will generally provide the greatest possible return on your investment (a 20 percent return if your credit cards charge you 20 percent). It’ll also free up cash flow; if you pay off a card with a $50 minimum monthly payment, that’s $50 extra you’ll have available each month. Most of all, repaying debt will relieve the psychological weight you’ve been carrying for so long. Don’t underestimate the feeling of freedom that comes from no longer having creditors.
  4. Fix the things that are broken. After you’ve eliminated any existing debt, use your windfall to repair whatever is broken in your life. Start with your own health. If you’ve been putting off a trip to the dentist or a medical procedure, take care of it. Do the same for your family. Next, fix your car or the roof or the sidewalk. Use this opportunity to patch up the things you’ve been putting off.
  5. Deposit the rest of the money in a safe account. It can be tempting to spend the rest of your windfall on a new car or new furniture or new house. Don’t do it. Take some time to breathe. After attending to your immediate needs, deposit the remaining money in a new savings account separate from the rest of your bank accounts. Be sure that the account is as difficult to access as possible — no ATM card, no easy transfer to your other accounts, no nothing. (An online savings account is good for this. So is an account at a small, local bank in the next town over.)
  6. Make a wish list. Allow your initial emotion to pass, getting over the urge to spend the money now. Live as you were before. Meanwhile, spend some time learning how far your windfall could go. Most people have unrealistic expectations about how much $10,000 or $100,000 can buy. Resist the temptation to spend the money now, but do run the numbers to see what you could buy.

Saving a portion of your windfall will take you a long way to your savings goals. Tell me what you do with your windfalls.

For more creative way’s to save, book a consultation with me and we set up a savings plan.

Book with tracie

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Save For Your Childrens Retirement

Most people don't think about saving for retirement for their children or grandchildren. I was pleasantly surprised that I am able to not only save for my own retirement but for the retirement of my grandchildren.

Yes, you read that right, save for your children’s retirement. Now hear me out, because I am not crazy. As a matter of fact, I wish this tool had been around when my children were small. When you think about it, it’s nice that we as parents and grandparents can contribute to our future generations in such an amazing way.

As we continue with America Saves Week, most people are thinking about saving for their own retirement, and that’s good. But why not save for your children at the same time. I am all for giving my future generations a financial leg up. When my retirement fund provider began offering it, I had to jump on it. It’s called a Kiddie Roth (ROTH IRA for kids). Now doesn’t that just beat all!.

The Kiddie IRA works much like your own IRA. It’s funded by after tax savings and the account grows tax free. Keep in mind though, there are a couple of exceptions. The Kiddie Roth is a custodial account for children under 18. It is funded and controlled by an adult, usually a parent or a grandparent. Control is transferred to the child once they become an adult.

Just like a regular IRA, the saver must have earned the income to fund the account. Just think, if your child or grandchild has a  job you can have them take part of their earnings and start the Kiddie Roth for them, then match their contribution. In my case, none of my grandchildren are old enough to work, so it is up to me and their parents to fund their account. The good thing is that the money we put in will sit there tax free until they take it out.

You can contribute up to $5000 a year but no more than the amount of your taxable income. So it is quite possible that your child (if he/she is of age to work) could fund this account with your help. Most children aren’t disciplined enough to do it themselves, so as the custodian of the IRA, you are essentially teaching them savings habits that will hopefully last a lifetime.

The Kiddie Roth gives young savers those extra critical years of compound growth. An early starter who saves the maximum Roth IRA contribution per year from the age of 15, could end up with double the retirement account balance of a worker who starts saving the maximum at 25. Basically, your child could end up with $1,000,000 at age 70 vs $500, 000 just by getting this early head start. Hey tell your children let me hold something lol.

Finally, the additional savings is important for young people. They will have fewer sources of guaranteed lifetime income in their retirement years. So when we save for our own retirement, let’s think about the next generation and set them up for financial success.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

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