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6 Tips for Holiday Shopping


The holidays can be an extremely stressful time, especially if you don’t plan ahead. Consider our 6 simple tips to ensure that you make the most of your money this holiday season.

1. Make a list

Be sure to make a list of each person you will need to have a gift for. Once you have finalized your list of gift recipients, go through the list and add what you think you will give each person. You may already know what you want to get someone, or they may have asked for something specific. Either way, add some sort of gift idea next to each recipient’s name on your list.

2. Set a budget

The term “budget” can be intimidating, but it’s easy to start with something simple. Your budget for holiday gifts should come from either disposable income, savings that you already have set aside, or a combination of both. If you’re worried that your holiday shopping budget won’t be enough, try to cut back on extra expenses such as takeout food, movies, or specialty coffee drinks.

3. Plan for other expenses

Holiday shopping doesn’t necessarily mean just shopping for gifts. There are many other expenses associated with the holiday season that are important to keep in mind. Consider costs such as gas for transportation, food for gatherings and parties, and shipping costs for items you purchase online. These costs can add up quickly, so be sure to factor them into your budget.

4. Take advantage of sales

Everybody loves a good deal, right? Keep an eye on specific items that you’re planning to purchase, as they will likely go on sale at some point. Many people wait until Black Friday for sales, but often better deals are available early in the holiday season. Comparison shop for your gifts from different stores and on their websites as this ensures that you get the best deal possible.

5. Get an early start

An early start to holiday shopping sets the tone for the season. The earlier you start your shopping, the better you’re able to stretch your money. If you wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping, you’ll be faced with overwhelming expenses all at once. If you establish a plan to shop a little bit at a time, it will save you from too much stress in the long-run.

6. Use a mobile wallet

Using a mobile wallet will simplify your holiday shopping. Mobile wallets allow you to access your debit and credit cards digitally and make purchases without using a physical card. Mobile wallets are extremely secure and unique tokens are assigned to each card, which means that your actual card number is never exposed. Mobile wallets can be used in stores or online and can make your holiday shopping a whole lot easier!

Pro Tip: Don’t be fooled by store credit cards

Most shops and stores these days offer their own credit card. Opening one of these cards can be tempting, as there is often an initial discount on your purchase if you choose to open one. However, these are usually one-time discounts, and cannot be taken advantage of again. Store credit cards generally have high interest rates, which can end up being costly if you don’t pay off your balance immediately or fall behind on payments.

Instead, consider a credit card with options like rewards points, cash back, or a low rate. These types of benefits will be better in the long-run, and will help you be less stressed post-holiday season. Compare our Visa® credit card options here, and find the best fit for you.


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Defending Yourself Against Identity Theft


As technology advances, you can be sure that identity thieves are not far behind. Here are some common methods cyber-thieves use to steal your personal information and how you can increase your security while shopping or banking.

Phishing/vishing

Your email messages may not be quite what they appear to be if you’re targeted by a phishing scam. Phishing is the act of sending fraudulent emails that seem to come from familiar businesses. These messages contain links to phony websites designed to steal personal information either directly or through malware and key-loggers. Often you’ll see a problem referenced with a request to click on the link provided to correct it. Once you’ve entered your information, ID thieves can access your accounts.

Vishing is the telephone version of phishing. Callers are sometimes bold enough to suggest the victim call back to verify authenticity. But the vishers don’t actually hang up; instead they play a recorded dial tone to make the victim believe he’s making a call.

Debit and credit card fraud

Most shoppers love the convenience of plastic, and identity thieves use this to their advantage whether it involves skimming, phishing, vishing, malware, mail theft or just looking over a victim’s shoulder to steal account numbers. Someone running up debt in your name can ruin your credit score. When debit cards are compromised, it’s particularly alarming because fraudulent purchases drain your checking account instantly.

BEC scams

Business email compromise, or BEC, scams have cost companies more than $1.2 billion. A phony email from a CEO requesting that funds be transferred per attached instructions is sent to an employee. Because the email appears to come from the employee’s superiors, and because the message so closely resembles requests this employee receives regularly, the transfer is often made without question. The money then ends up in overseas accounts that are almost impossible to trace.

Tips to protect yourself

To even further reduce fraud risk:

  • Install the latest editions of anti-spyware, antivirus, firewalls and browsers to all devices, and password-protect them.
  • Use strong passwords for all accounts and change them frequently.
  • Monitor accounts and credit reports to detect fraud early
  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi networks for financial transactions.
  • Keep cards away from public view, and shred personal documents before discarding.
  • Opt in for two-factor authentication on accounts.
  • Turn off Bluetooth and near-field communication when not in use.
  • Don’t click on email links. Type full web addresses to access business websites.
  • Never share sensitive information in response to an unsolicited call or email.
  • To verify calls, hang up for at least one minute to ensure the first call is disconnected. Call the customer service number listed on your bank’s website or the back of your credit card, not a number provided by an unsolicited contact.
  • To protect your business from BEC scams, use a two-step verification process for all money transfers. Verbal confirmation is also wise.

Staying informed and adopting smart fraud prevention practices will go a long way toward protecting your identity. Between your efforts and your bank’s security, you should be able to stay a step ahead of identity thieves.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


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4 Forms You’ll Fill Out at Your First Job


Nothing’s easy about finding your first job: not the internet scouring, not the resume tweaking, not the interviews. When you finally are hired, you should experience some relief — but the sheer number of things you have to learn in the first few weeks can make you feel just as harried as the search process itself.

We can’t tell you how best to do your job, but we can prime you for the paperwork. Here’s a breakdown of how to handle it.

Direct deposit forms

As soon as you can, sign up for direct deposit — an electronic transfer of your salary from your employer directly into your bank account. It might not go into effect until after your first payday, but once it does, it’ll make your life much easier. Your wages will be harder to steal, and you’ll be able to access them more quickly. Checks can take a few days to process.

Setting up direct deposit is easy: You just need your bank account number and your bank’s routing number, both of which appear on your personal checks. If your employer doesn’t have a direct deposit form, your bank can provide one.

Health insurance sign-up forms

Most people get health insurance through their employers. Those who don’t must shop for a plan through private exchanges or the public marketplaces created under President Barack Obama’s health care law — or pay a penalty for forgoing coverage.

Whichever route you take, there are a few facts and terms you should know when evaluating plans:

  • Your premium is the amount you pay for insurance. If you receive coverage through your employer, it’s usually deducted from your paycheck.
  • Your deductible is is how much you are expected to pay per year for medical services your plan covers. After you “meet your deductible,” you will only be responsible for a percentage of the cost of service, a copay or a flat fee, depending on your policy. If you have a higher deductible amount, you often have lower monthly payments and vice versa.
  • A copayment or copay is the small fee — say, $10 or $20 — you pay every time you visit the doctor, get a prescription filled or generally receive health care. These payments go toward your deductible.

There’s much more involved in choosing a health insurance plan, including understanding the alphabet soup of plan types, such as HMOs, PPOs, EPOs and POS plans. Read any plan details carefully to decide which type of insurance is best for you. (And if you’d rather stay on your parents’ health insurance plan, you can do so until you turn 26.)

Retirement and 401(k) deferral forms

You’re just starting your first job, so the time when you can stop working probably seems like it’s eons away. But now is exactly when you should start saving for your retirement.

Your employer might offer a retirement savings plan, such a 401(k), which lets you divert a portion of your pay into a tax-advantaged account. Your employer might also match some of your contribution. If you can, take advantage of the full match amount — it’s essentially free money.

Other retirement savings options include individual retirement accounts and brokerage accounts, but one thing is constant: The earlier you start saving, the more you’ll have when you retire, thanks to compounding interest.

Tax paperwork

You’ll probably notice very quickly that having a $50,000 salary doesn’t mean you’re actually taking home $50,000 per year. A portion of your check pays your federal and state taxes, as well as deductions for Social Security and Medicare.

Before you receive your first paycheck, you’ll have to fill out a W-4 form, telling your employer how much tax to withhold from it. If you’re single and have no dependents, it’s pretty straightforward. And even if not, the IRS has a helpful calculator. Depending how much you have withheld, come next April you could have a big refund coming, or you could owe the government a lot of money. If you don’t like how things shake out at tax time, you can file a new W-4.

Questions? Ask your human resources department

Just as there’s probably someone at your office who will train you and show you where the restroom is, there are probably also people who can help you make sense of all these forms — the human resources department. If you have a question about your benefits or how you get paid, talk to them. It’s their job to help, and they’ve been at it longer than you have.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


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What’s your money script?


Man using laptop in a domestic kitchenMost discussions about personal finance focus on cutting back, saving and planning ahead.

Not many address attitudes and the emotional relationship people have with money.

According to Dr. Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist and financial planner who wrote the book “Mind Over Money,” financial mental anguish and self-destructive behavior affect the ability to effectively manage money more than outside economic factors.

Klontz says it’s a reflection of four “money scripts” we tell ourselves can hurt our relationship with money. A healthy attitude about money has a foundation in flexibility, he added.

Here are the four money scripts Klontz identified in his book. Which ones have been holding you back from achieving your financial goals?

Money avoidance: A deep belief that you don’t deserve money or that money is bad, and you’re a bad person if you want it. The feelings associated with money revolve around fear, anxiety or even disgust. People are torn between wanting more money in their lives and self-sabotaging their success because they believe money corrupts or is the root of all evil. They hold themselves back from growing wealth because they believe it keeps them honest, grounded and real.

Money worship: This is where money is the silver bullet to every problem. It’s the “if I could just win the lottery, my life would be amazing” assumption. Klontz said people with this attitude tend to carry revolving debt. For many people, money worship stems from growing up in an extremely frugal environment.

Money status: This one means that our self-worth is directly tied to our bank balances and investment portfolios. No money means no status. Money priorities are more focused on self image than prudent and strategic decisions. For example, did you choose your car or neighborhood because it’s practical or fits your lifestyle, or did you choose it for status?

Money vigilance: These are the people who watch every dollar, have solid savings and retirement budgets, but it’s never enough. They always worry that they are on the verge of going broke. There’s a lot of anxiety and guilt about actually spending their money. They are financially secure but are unable to enjoy their money.

Self-destructive financial behaviors aren’t driven by rational, thinking minds, Klontz stressed. They stem from subconscious beliefs usually developed in childhood. The key to overcoming them is to openly and honestly explore your relationship with money. That’s the most important step, he said.

Source: FinancialFeed.com


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Getting Hitched Doesn’t Need to Mean Marrying Finances


Marriage generally implies that two homes and lives become one. Should it also involve a complete merging of earnings, assets and expenses? With money arguments being one of the leading causes of failed marriages, combining finances can be scary. For some couples it’s the right approach, but there are several other options.

The traditional approach

Just a few generations ago, one spouse was generally the breadwinner who paid all the bills. Although today most marriages involve two people who work, the traditional approach isn’t entirely obsolete. It can be effective when one partner is a stay at home parent or full-time student, or one spouse earns much more than the other. It’s also appropriate for couples choosing to bank on one income to save for shared goals, such as a down payment for a home. Single breadwinner couples may merge assets or maintain separate accounts.

This type of arrangement works best when both partners have similar financial styles so that no one ends up feeling like a child having to ask for spending money or resenting the other for spending too much.

The share-everything approach

With this option, couples completely merge financial assets and responsibilities. All investments and debts are in both names and bills are typically paid from one joint account. Sharing everything works particularly well for couples that enter marriage with similar incomes and limited assets. As with the traditional approach, it’s vital that spouses have compatible styles to avoid feelings of resentment or deprivation.

The four-accounts approach

Sharing is beautiful but sometimes it’s also nice to have a little something of your own. With this arrangement, both partners contribute equally to a joint checking account used to handle household expenses and joint savings to reach shared goals. Their remaining income is deposited to individual accounts to be saved or spent at each partner’s discretion. This approach makes sense for couples with comparable incomes and debts, or when one partner is much more frugal than the other, since it lets both manage money as they see fit without straining the relationship. In cases where one spouse earns substantially more than the other, couples may want to contribute a percentage of their income as opposed to a fixed monthly amount to the joint accounts.

The what’s-mine-is-mine approach

Some couples may simply be more comfortable maintaining totally separate assets and liabilities. With this approach responsibility for household expenses may be split equally, divided according to ability to pay, or each spouse may pick which bills to cover. Keeping finances separate may make sense if one partner has a much larger income, net worth or debt than the other. When entering into marriage with vastly different financial positions, it’s also a good idea to consider a prenuptial agreement, whether or not separate or joint accounts are maintained.

Which way is best?

Whether and how completely to merge finances is ultimately a matter of individual style. With honest communication and trust, any of these vastly different approaches can work, giving those who choose what feels right a good chance at avoiding the bitter money conflicts that plague so many married couples.

Source: NerdWallet, Inc.


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7 Important Financial Steps For New Parents To Take


Napping timeHave you or anyone you know had a recent addition to their family? With all the excitement of a new baby, it’s easy for the parents to overlook some key financial steps to take. Here are seven tips you might want to share with them or consider for yourself:

1) Add your child to your health insurance policy

You’ll want to make sure your little one is covered and if you get insurance through your employer, you may have a limited time to add your child to your policy. You may also want to switch to a lower deductible plan if you’re concerned about your baby’s potential health care costs. If you’re in a high deductible plan and are switching from an individual to a family policy, be aware that you can now contribute $3,500 more to a health savings account (HSA) for 2019.

 2) Update your will, trust, and beneficiary designations

A will goes beyond just designating who will inherit your assets. It can also designate who will be the guardian of your child should something happen to both parents. The decision of who could end up raising your child is a pretty big one and not something you probably want the courts to decide if it’s not in your will. Your employer may even offer a benefit that allows you to draft a will and other basic estate planning documents for free.

You might also want to add your child as a beneficiary on any accounts, trusts, and life insurance policies you have since those beneficiary designations trump anything on your will. That means neglecting to update those documents could cause you to inadvertently disinherit your child from a significant portion of your assets even if your will divides everything equally among your children. If you don’t fill out the beneficiary form at all, your retirement accounts would go into your estate and your child could lose significant tax benefits.

In addition, you can put beneficiaries on bank accounts with a POD (payable on death) form and on regular investment accounts with a TOD (transfer on death) form that you can typically get from the institution holding the account. Some states also allow you to add beneficiaries to real estate and vehicles. Having these beneficiary designations allow these assets to pass on without the cost, delay, and lack of privacy involved with the probate process and with much less cost than a trust.

Of course, a trust can provide other benefits like appointing a trustee to manage money for your child even beyond the age of majority in your state. (Do you really think an 18 year old will know to manage the money?) If you do decide to draft a trust, you may want to see if your employer offers a prepaid legal plan that allows you to get discounted legal services, including estate planning.

3) Ensure you have adequate life insurance

Once you’ve decided who will take care of your child and what your child will inherit, you’ll want to make sure that your child has enough to live comfortably. That could be more difficult if they’re going to be raised by your spouse as a single parent than if their guardian is a rich uncle. The good news is that your family may qualify for  benefits from Social Security if something were to happen to you.

If that won’t be enough, you may need to purchase life insurance. Since you’ll only need the insurance until your child can support themselves, term insurance covering that length of time is generally the most cost-effective option. You can calculate roughly how much you’ll need here and look for low cost policies here.

Your employer may also offer you a window of time after your child’s birth to purchase additional life insurance without a medical exam. This may be much cheaper than buying a separate policy that requires underwriting, especially if you have health problems. Just be sure to check if the policy is portable. Otherwise, you could be at risk of becoming uninsurable if your health deteriorates and you leave your job.

4) Plan for childcare expenses

You can estimate your childcare expenses here. If you don’t think you can afford it due to limited income, try contacting your state’s Childcare Program Office for financial assistance. Otherwise, see if your employer offers a dependent care FSA (flexible spending account) that you can contribute to pre-tax and use the money tax-free for dependent care expenses. That’s like getting a discount equal to your marginal tax rate. Just be aware that the FSA is use-it-or-lose so you don’t want to contribute more than you expect to spend that year.

You can also claim a dependent care credit on your taxes. You can’t use the FSA and the credit for the same expense though. Generally, the dependent care credit is better for families in the 15% tax bracket or lower while the FSA is better for families in higher tax brackets.

5) Make adjustments to your budget

Of course, insurance and childcare aren’t the only additional expenses you may have. Kids are expensive, but there are some things you can do to make them a little less so. For example, it probably doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on clothing that they’ll quickly outgrow, especially when they’re too young to care what they look like anyway, so shop for baby clothes at discount retailers like Old Navy and Target and even consignment shops. You can also purchase used toys and baby furniture. They won’t know the difference.

6) Consider saving for education expenses

I say “consider” because as selfish as this may sound, you’ll want to make sure your needs are taken care of first. That means paying off any high-interest debt your may have (anything with interest rates above 4-6%), building an emergency fund of at least 3-6 months of necessary expenses, and getting on track to retirement. After all, there’s no financial aid for emergencies or retirement. (It’s just like how airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping your children with theirs.) However, once you are ready to start putting some money aside to help them with future education expenses, there are some tax-advantaged options to consider.

7) Start teaching good financial habits

It’s never too early (or too late) to start learning the habits that can help shape a person’s financial life. While they might be too young to learn about balancing a checkbook, just learning something as simple as how to resist eating a marshmallow can make a huge difference. As they grow older, you can help them further develop the discipline to delay gratification and eventually plan and save for their own future. After all, watching them grow into responsible adults is something you really can’t put a price on.

©2019 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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Choosing a Deductible for your Car Insurance


Buy or sell car, purchase or rent automobile service with key with car keychain on pile of US Dollar banknotes money on printed contract paper and pen to sign, finance installment or debt awarenessSo you’re buying a car and need to make a decision about insurance. Presumably you’ll compare price and coverage options, and in doing so you’ll see that price varies based on the deductible you select. What is a deductible, and what factors should you consider in making your decision?

Deductible Defined and Explained: Your deductible is the amount of money you must pay for vehicle repairs before the auto insurance company pays the remaining costs. For example, if your car is damaged and your deductible is $1,000 but the damage to your car is $1,500, you would pay the $1,000 and your insurance provider would cover the remaining $500.

Choosing a Deductible: Making this choice depends on your personal comfort level, the amount of risk you’re willing to take, and is sometimes determined by the entity that finances your car. An insurance broker can help you make a decision based on your personal situation, but here are a few factors to consider when deciding:

  • Emergency funds: Do you have a healthy savings account and/or emergency fund? What can you afford to pay out of pocket if something happens? A higher deductible can lower your monthly premiums and save you money each month, but if you cannot afford the deductible itself when repairs are needed, this is likely not a good option.
  • Value of your vehicle: More expensive vehicles are typically more expensive to insure. For high-value vehicles, a high deductible might make sense because the savings can be significant. On the other hand, the value of an older vehicle might be similar to the cost of a high deductible. This means that in some instances, replacement of the older vehicle might be more cost effective than repairs, suggesting a low deductible is best.
  • Risk: Evaluate your personal likelihood of needing to file a claim. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good driver; everyone has some level of risk. Do you drive frequently, and in high-traffic times or areas? Do you live in a place with a large proportion of high-risk drivers? Do you have a teenager learning to drive? What other personal risk factors should you consider?

Source: CUInsight.com


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