Are You Who You Say You Are?

Computer hacker stealing information with laptopA challenge for any business involves proving the person they are dealing with is actually their customer. The business needs to gain assurance that the person is authorized to access account information and perform transactions. To assist, businesses use identity credentials to authenticate their customers, as a means to prove they are who they say they are. However, the challenge is complicated by the fact that criminals have access to much personal consumer information.

Everyone is familiar with passwords which are used to protect accounts. Unfortunately, passwords have been long-losing their effectiveness as the sole means for authenticating consumers. As a result, businesses often choose from many other factors to authenticate consumers. Those factors fall within three categories: something you know; something you have; and something you are.

“Something you know” is typically a password. It may also be a personal identification number (PIN), the last four digits of your social security number, your date of birth or some account-specific information such as your most recent debit card transaction. “Something you have” could be a cell phone, to which a special code (“out-of-band”) is sent by text message or email. “Something you are” involves using methods such as fingerprint biometrics, eye biometrics, facial recognition, or a voice sample that a system compares to a stored reference.

Members 1st employs many of the above layers of security to help protect your confidential information. Understand that at times you may only be required to provide a single factor to authenticate yourself. But other times, we may ask you to provide multiple pieces of information or use a combination of authentication factors in the above categories. Such “two-factor” authentication adds an extra layer of protection by requiring information beyond simply your username and password.  For example, in addition to your password, you may also be required to enter a one-time code which is texted to your mobile device. Such practices are more common when we do not have the opportunity to conduct your transaction in-person, like we would at one of our branch locations. Or, when we deem that your transaction is higher-risk and as a result, requires a higher level of security.

Our goal is to ensure your experience is properly balanced in terms of protecting your information and providing convenient, efficient service. We want our security to work for, not against our members. That often provides a challenge as members are not always comfortable or willing to learn new security procedures, or consider the security procedures to be inconvenient.

So how can you help?

One of the most important ways to help is by keeping your online and mobile banking login credentials (usernames, passwords, PINs, etc.) private. It’s quite frustrating to hear the weekly stories from the fraud and anti-money laundering team. Those stories involve members who relinquished their personal login credentials. Stories of the financial losses which resulted because members were involved in romance scams, work-from home “opportunities,” or lottery or inheritance scams. Simple fix. Do not share your online and mobile banking login credentials with anyone. Because if you do, you will likely be the individual directly responsible for the fraudulent transactions on your account.

In addition to securing your online and mobile banking login credentials, changing your password on a regular basis and keeping it secure will also help to protect your account. Establishing a Personal Identification Number (PIN) for transactions conducted through TeleBranch and other call centers provides comfort to us that you’ve met a certain security level. And maintaining up-to-date telephone and email contact information is critical to ensure you have the ability to receive a security code. That security code may be necessary to help authenticate you before processing your transaction.

Finally, we ask for your patience when we require multiple pieces of information to authenticate you. While it may take a bit longer, know that our relationship with you is built on your trust in us. For that reason, we view strong security as part of the exceptional service which we provide.

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Face your fears, open your statements.

As we shop for the perfect gifts this holiday season it is easy to swipe your card and be on your way.  Whether it’s a debit or credit card you’re swiping, it can be scary to see how quickly the amounts add up.  Don’t let yourself become a victim of overdraft fees, empty accounts and charges that you didn’t authorize.

Multicolored and beribboned gift boxes in pile

With eStatements and online banking you are just a few clicks away from seeing your card activity. Routinely checking these can help you decide if your neighbor around the corner really needs that candle you picked up for them or if a friendly holiday greeting card would be sufficient. These routine checks can also help you be on top of a compromise to your credit/debit card or account. The longer an issue has been going on the more difficult it can be to resolve.

If you notice unauthorized charges to your account you should contact your financial institution immediately and they can help you take the proper steps to protect your accounts.



Save Money this Holiday Season!

woman shopping‘Tis the season to start trimming – your budget, that is, and not just your tree. Before you hit the mall or organize a big party, it can help to have a comprehensive plan in place so you know exactly where your money is going this holiday season – that way, you can ring in the New Year with celebration rather than panic. Here are several ways to keep your spending under control this season.

  1. Make a Budget

There are a couple different ways to set a holiday budget. You might want to establish a general spending cap, or try allocating a specific amount to each person on your gift list. Be aware, though, that while making a holiday budget is great, it can go sour in one of two ways:

  • Setting a Budget That’s Too Tight. While setting a tight budget always starts with good intentions, an unrealistic one can do more harm than good. Without a little wiggle room for last-minute purchases or enough cash allocated for your mom’s gift, you can end up very frustrated.
  • Forgetting the Little Things. Don’t forget the other costs you incur throughout the season. Parties, travel expenses, charitable donations and holiday-themed activities can all add up to destroy a budget.
  1. Track Your Spending

Your budget does no good if you don’t effectively track your spending. Try keeping separate holiday funds in an additional account. This makes it easier to separate holiday spending from regular, day-to-day expenses. Also check your account through an app on your phone, so you can check your balance and track spending anytime, anywhere – even in line for the cashier. Spreadsheets are also an excellent and accurate way to track your holiday expenditures.

  1. Cut Back on Extras

Getting lattes piled sky-high with whipped cream, splurging on a pair of shoes for yourself, paying for a photo with Santa – we’re all guilty of indulging a little more than we should simply because it’s the holiday season. Cutting back on those extras can have a big impact on your bottom line. Before you splurge on a little treat or “extra” for yourself, be sure it’s really worth the price.

  1. Use the “Secret Santa” Method

Instead of buying presents for your various family members, you could choose to purchase gifts for the anonymous beneficiaries.  Not only does a Secret Santa experience help relieve some of the stress and financial burden of exchanging gifts with every member of your family, it gives you a chance to talk about the importance of service and giving during the holidays.

Funneling what you would have spent on family gifts to those in need is a great way to give back, have a charitable experience with your loved ones, and relieve holiday stress.

  1. Choose Cheaper Traditions

Traditions are what make the holidays so special, but they can be a financial burden. If your traditions include holiday travel, paying for a special attraction, or surprising your kids with extravagant gifts, you might find yourself going significantly over budget in the name of family.

While traditions are important and admirable, they don’t have to be expensive to be memorable. In fact, you might find that your kids prefer the cheap stuff to the grander gestures. So many activities and traditions are inexpensive, or even free – you just have to know where to look. By making cheaper events and traditions part of your celebration, you can save money without skimping on the festivities and memories.

  1. Embrace Potluck

If you’re hosting an event, embrace the idea of potluck assignments. Let everyone know you’re going to make the main dish, but that you’d appreciate help on sides, appetizers, desserts, and drinks. Simply send out an email a few weeks in advance letting everyone know what their assignments are to ensure you don’t end up with five vegetable trays and no dessert.

You could also assign games and activities to some of your younger family members. They kids enjoy being involved, and you don’t have to stress about keeping guests entertained.

  1. Take Care Around Sales

Holiday sales can be an epic opportunity to save money – but be careful. Not all deals are created equal, and some may not even be truly discounted, as some stores keep prices the same but simply mark items with a “sale” sign.

Always comparison shop before you purchase an item during a sale. Of course, you never save money by spending, no matter how significant the discount. Sales are great, but they don’t mean much if the money isn’t in your budget. If necessary, bring a printout of your budget so you can check your spending in real-time and avoid being swayed by a great deal.

  1. Know When to Stop

When your list is finished and you’ve checked it twice, it’s time to stop shopping. Know when you’re finished, and avoid stopping by the mall “just to see what they have” – this can lead to making poorly planned purchases and blowing your budget. By planning purchases and stopping when you’re done, you can be spared that holiday hangover come January.

  1. Get a Head Start

The period right after the holidays is the perfect time to check over your budget and make plans for the new year. How did you do? Did you stay within budget? Were there places you could have cut back?

This is also the time to start a credit card payoff strategy if you used plastic to finance your festivities. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have put anything on your credit card that you couldn’t pay off  in a month, but if you went overboard, commit to a payment plan that reduces your balances within the next three or four months.

If you’re really savvy and have the storage, the days following Christmas are also ideal for getting a jump-start on purchasing decor and wrapping goods for next year. Of course, that’s only if you’ve budgeted accordingly.

If you’ve got a plan in place and know how to stretch each holiday dollar, you don’t have to fear your bank account statement on December 26th. Cheaper entertainment, a focus on family, and a sensible spending plan put you firmly in the driver’s seat of your own sleigh.

Information courtesy of

Learn more about saving for the holidays and the benefits of our Holiday Club by clicking here.

Easily track your spending as you go by signing up for Members 1st Online. Visit for more details.

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How to Avoid the Busy Holiday Scamming Season

Beautiful woman shopping online for Christmas.

You’re not the only one joyfully anticipating the holiday season. Cyber criminals are all aflutter, too, as they look forward to the killing they’ll make ripping off innocent shoppers like you. Here are some of the most common ways these thieves operate, because awareness can help you avoid becoming yet another victim.


Beware those enticing ads that turn up on Facebook and other social media sites offering vouchers, gift cards and deep discounts, as well as the online surveys these ads often link to. These offers are often only empty promises designed to steal your personal information.

Additionally, if you receive concert, theater or sporting event tickets as a gift, never post pictures of them online. Cyber thieves spend lots of time monitoring social media, just waiting for the opportunity to create phony tickets they can resell from your barcode image. If your ticket is resold, you might just find yourself out of a seat on the night of your event. It’s also unwise to post live from an event that gives criminals a heads-up that your home is empty and ripe for picking. Better to wait until the next day to post about the wonderful time you had.


It may be a mystery to you how cyber thieves got your private email address, but it’s chillingly clear they’re up to no good. Your inbox may fill up with all kinds of legitimate-looking product offers and delivery notices this holiday season, but clicking on links of bogus ones or entering personal information on the linked sites can provide criminals with the opportunity to steal your identity.


With mobile apps available for just about everything, it’s a sad sign of the times that certain free mobile apps (often disguised as games) have been specifically designed to steal personal information from your phone. This is a particularly scary development since many people use their phones to secure their cars and homes. For this reason, only install apps from familiar companies and, at the very least, find a third-party review from a trusted site if you’re interested in an app from an unfamiliar source.


Lots of people use portable USB drives, which makes it all the more important to avoid those being distributed as giveaways this holiday season unless they’re from a trusted source. These innocent-looking devices are often used as a method of introducing malware to computers.


A spirit of generosity is traditional at holiday time, but if you’re not careful, your donations may never make it to the needy. Fake charities that skillfully tug at your heartstrings abound at this time of year, just waiting for you to willingly give your hard-earned cash to scammers. Before donating, be sure to check out charities thoroughly, to make sure that they’re not only legitimate, but also that they allocate the bulk of funds toward their causes rather than “administrative costs.”


These strategies will also help keep you a step ahead of scammers:

  • Only shop online with reputable businesses you trust, using secure websites with an address that begins with https.
  • Don’t shop or bank over public Wi-Fi.
  • Protect your credit card privacy by covering your account number with your hand when shopping in public.
  • Don’t respond to suspicious unsolicited calls or emails. Only open email attachments from senders you trust, and contact businesses only through their official websites, phone numbers or email addresses.
  • Monitor your credit to catch fraud at its earliest stages.

Scammers may be smart, but you can still outsmart them. A little foreknowledge and caution go a long way toward ensuring you’ll enjoy a safe and memorable holiday season.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

10 year-end tax moves to make now to lighten your tax load

Couple-Calculating-BillsBunch your deductible expenses.

In several instances, deductions must be more than a certain threshold amount. Start consolidating eligible expenses now. This strategy will push them into one tax year where you can make maximum tax use of them.

Add to, or open an IRA.

If you have an IRA account or open a traditional IRA, you might be able to deduct at last come of your contributions on your tax return. It’s true you can wait until the April filing deadline to contribute for the previous tax year, the sooner you put money into an IRA, traditional or Roth, the sooner it can start earning more for your golden years.

Be generous to charities.

As you’re putting together your holiday shopping list, be sure to include charitable gifts that could help reduce your tax bill. You can donate the traditional household goods and clothing, as well as vehicles, stock or mutual funds, and more.

Pay college costs early.

The spring semester’s bill isn’t due until January, but it might be worthwhile to pay it before year’s end. You may be able to claim a tax credit, but because the rules and phase-outs for various education tax breaks are different, you need to get acquainted with them to see which one works best for you.

Check health insurance.

Taxpayers who can afford health insurance but who don’t have adequate coverage must pay a fine, which can run into several hundred dollars or more, depending on the size of your family. This fine is payable when you file your return. Check into coverage now. Employer or individual plans purchased through a state marketplace generally qualifies as adequate coverage.

Defer your income.

Be sure to watch your tax brackets. If you are just about to cross into the next higher one, think about ways to defer receipt of money where you can.

Add to your 401(k).

Since most plan contributions are made before taxes are taken out, you’ll have a bit less income that the IRS can touch. Plus, the sooner you put money into the account, the longer the earning with grow tax-deferred.

Review your FSA amounts.

Flexible Spending Accounts allow you to contribute up to $2,550 to an FSA via paycheck withdrawals. As with 401(k) plans, money goes into an FSA before taxes are calculated. However, check with your employer just in case you must use your FSA money by December 31.

Harvest tax losses.

If you have assets in your portfolio that have lost value, they could be a valuable tax tool. Capital losses can be used to offset any capital gains. Consult your financial advisor or tax professional.

Make the most of your home.

Home ownership provides a variety of tax breaks. One of the biggest is mortgage interest, which can be deducted if you itemize. Check with your tax professional on other deductions.

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Small Business Saturday

In honor of Small Business Saturday we’d like to share with you the steps to get started!

Steps to Opening a Small Business

It takes more than a great idea and entrepreneurial spirit to be your own boss. But if you follow the right path, that dream can be within reach.

african american business lady at desk2

Being your own boss can be rewarding!

Here’s what you need to do to start a small business.

Create your business plan

A solid business plan helps you organize your ideas and attract potential lenders and investors. It doesn’t need to be a dissertation. Ideally, it should be about a page long and include your business’s:

  • Mission and vision.
  • Relevant copyright or patent information.
  • Target market and related research.
  • Estimated expenses and financing needs.
  • Organization and management structure.
  • Goals and objectives, along with an action plan.

Get someone in your corner

All entrepreneurs should have mentors, and there are many free and low-cost options. SCORE, sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, offers business counseling, as do SBA Small Business Development Centers. And the SBA has a wealth of free online training tools.

Other government-backed mentoring options include Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, and the Minority Business Development Agency. Local trade associations may also provide advice and support.

Pick your business structure

Your business’s structure will affect your personal and tax liability, so devote some time to researching your options:

  • Sole proprietorship.
  • Limited liability company, or LLC.
  • C corporation.
  • S corporation.

Ask your mentor for help choosing and navigating the setup process. Once you’ve settled on a structure, register your business and apply for a tax ID number.

Organize your business finances

It’s crucial to establish business finances separate from your personal ones. Open a business checking account, set a budget, and determine how you’ll pay for startup costs, such as property, materials, equipment, advertising and payroll.

Build your team

Unless you’re a one-person operation, you’ll need to recruit the right people. Network in person and online with potential employees and consultants.

Young business people meeting

Team work can make the dream work!

Register for permits and licenses

Apply for any required permits and licenses as well as workers compensation insurance, if applicable. Taking care of these details now could help you avoid hefty fines later.

Get the word out

Your business can only succeed if people know about it, so launch a marketing campaign. Establish an online presence with a website and regular social media posts. Consider investing in professional advertising to help you target the right markets and separate your business from the competition.

It takes work and planning to start a new business, but the rewards of pursuing your passion can be well worth the effort.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Happy Thanksgiving!


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