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Something Phishy About That Text Message

April 16th, 2014

My husbtextand and I received a text message late last night notifying us that our VISA card (with a well-known bank) had been suspended. The interesting thing is, we do not have a credit or debit card with that bank. The fact that we both received a text was very disturbing…someone had put our phone numbers together as being from the same household.  First thing this morning, I called that bank to make sure someone had not taken out a credit card in our name. I then checked our credit report. There was nothing fishy with our credit report but there was definitely something phishy about the text message.

I have seen many attempts at phishing through my email but never through text messages.  A phishing attempt sent via SMS (Short Message Service) or text message to a mobile phone or device is also referred to as smishing, which is a combination of SMS and phishing. The purpose of text message phishing is to convince you to share confidential information.

Never take action on a request for your personal or financial information, including account numbers, passwords, Social Security number or birth date. If you receive a text message expressing an urgent need for you to update your information, activate an account, or verify your identity by calling a phone number or submitting information, on a website, do not respond and delete it. These messages may be part of a phishing scam attempting to capture your confidential account information and may be used to commit fraud.

~Brenda

Credit, Uncategorized

Lesson from Tax Season: Withholdings

April 15th, 2014

IRS logo 2To mark the end of tax-filing season, I want to remind everyone: Make sure you are having enough withheld from your paycheck for federal and state income taxes!

As a volunteer  with VITA (the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program), I saw several people this year who needed to make large payments with their tax return.  In one case, an employer had restructured, and the employee hadn’t noticed that her payroll withholdings changed.  In other cases they got a new job and didn’t filled out their paperwork properly.  Or their income had gone up, but they didn’t increase withholdings accordingly.

Owing a little money with your tax return isn’t a problem.  In fact, many people see it as the ideal scenario.
But you’ll face real problems if you owe substantial amounts:

  • You need to come up with the money (one couple owed nearly $3,000 for state and federal).  That may create debt – it can even start a downward spiral where you’re behind on your bills and building credit card debt too.
  • You’ll probably be charged a penalty and interest for not paying as you go — the law requires that we pay our income taxes throughout the year, not just at the end of the year.

Even if tax season is over, that doesn’t mean you should stop paying attention to your tax situation.  It’s a year-round task, especially when your family or income changes.

~Barb

Uncategorized

Money Under 30

April 1st, 2014

86521018When you’re in your 20′s, money can be challenging:  student loans to pay off, acquiring furniture and all the “stuff” of living, building up an emergency fund so you can deal with car repairs and other special expenses — in addition to possibly getting married and starting a family.

In the midst of all those potential expenses, however, is this reality: the actions you take in your 20′s will have a HUGE impact on your financial well-being for the rest of your life.  If you can avoid or minimize debt AND get a head start on long-term investing, you’ll reap the benefits for decades.

Money Under 30 is a respected resource focused on the unique challenges and important opportunities faced by younger adults.  It is a commercial site — it comes with advertisements, and as a result it may not be completely non-commercial.  Nevertheless, it’s worth checking out — just take the commercials with a grain of salt.

~Barb

Uncategorized

Lessons Learned The Hard Way

February 18th, 2014

photo Yep!  That is my new wallet.  Waiting for my new credit cards, debit card, driver’s license, insurance cards, work and state ID. Added to my list of lessons-learned-the-hard-way is…don’t leave your purse in your car.  I am very good about locking my car but this particular night, my arms were full and it was below zero and blowing snow. The question is…did I hit the lock button or the unlock button on my key fob?  OR did I not get the door totally closed?  In the future, I will be checking the door rather than assuming I got it locked just by clicking the button.

I spent the better part of a day getting a new driver’s license, closing bank and credit accounts and opening new ones.  I requested an initial fraud alert on  my credit that will last for 90 days. You can reach the three national credit reporting agecies:

  • Equifax at (888) 766-0008,
  • Experian at (866) 397-3742 and
  • TransUnion at (800) 680-7289.

You can also request an initial fraud alert online from

  • Equifax at http://alerts.equifax.com and
  • Experian at http://Experian.com/fraud.

Once you call one credit bureau, it will share your information and pass on the alert to the other two bureaus.

The good news…as my new bank accounts were opened, I was signed up for the Heritage Club (yes, I am that old and still learning lessons the hard way) which gave me free checking and free checks!  ~Brenda

 

Uncategorized

Buying a Home – Part Two

February 13th, 2014

house

Look back to last month’s post for the beginning steps.

Start Shopping for a Home – this is the most exciting part of buying a home, but it can also be discouraging. Use tools: newspapers, real estate listings are useful, but the Multiple Listing Service can be your friend.  It often features pictures and views of the house, and you can sort by size, location, rooms and price.  Realtor.com is another website for screening homes.

When walking through a home, focus on the things you can’t change.  Paint and flooring can be changed, but the size of the home, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the view can’t be changed.

Make an Offer – Once you have found a house that meets your needs, you are ready to make an offer. Ask your realtor to share comparable sales – similar types of houses in the area that have been sold recently. Those sales can give you an idea of how much to offer to pay for the house you are looking at. Make a reasonable offer, and the seller will be likely to accept it. If it is too low you insult the seller.  Using Zillow.com or Truilia.com, you can see the actual value of neighboring homes. 

If the seller accepts your offer, it is time for the next step: Get a Home Appraisal.  The mortgage lender does this step, in order to make sure the home will be appraised for at least the value you are offering.

Get a Home Inspection. The buyer hires a professional inspector for this job.  They look at visible portions of the roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical, and heating and cooling systems.  From an investment point, this is one of the most important steps to buying a home.  Your purchase agreement should give you a way to back out of the deal, if the home inspector finds a serious problem.  This is called the contingency.  Your offer should be contingent upon a successful inspection. Walk through with the inspector and the completed report.  When I bought my current home, the inspector identified an aged furnace and not all of the outlets were grounded. In addition, a radon test was conducted and it was 3x the approved level.  My offer to buy the house was contingent on having the radon problem mitigated.

Settlement/Closing. The step of actually transferring the property from the former owner to you, the buyer, is called the closing.  Prior to that date, the lender will give you a written estimate of the costs, so you have enough money to cover your closing costs. There is lots of paperwork, and many signatures are required.  The seller gets paid, real estate agents receive their commissions, lender fees are paid, and you get the keys to your new home. Iowa State has a fact sheet on Buying a Home PM1460.

~Susan

Consumer Knowledge, Credit, Goals, Insurance, Uncategorized

Lincoln Penny

February 11th, 2014

2011-Unc-Penny-obv-P

Tomorrow would be Abraham Lincoln’s 205th birthday.  Yes, Abe is the president on the penny that we carry in our pockets.

Recently, while waiting for pizza, the placemat quiz asked where was Lincoln born? –As a child, my family traveled to Hodgenville, KY to see his cabin home.  (The pizza placemat had it wrong!)  His family spent time in Indiana during his childhood, before he came west to Illinois. The state slogan for Illinois is “the Land of Lincoln” and he did spend his professional life in Illinois. 

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his Secretary of the Treasury, Leslie Mortier Shaw, complaining that U.S. coinage lacked artistic merit and asking him to find an artist to prepare new coin designs.

Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was suggested to design all the American coins, but he died before the work could be finished. 

When President Roosevelt saw sculptor Victor David Brenner’s bronze plaque of Lincoln, the idea to feature this image of Lincoln on the U.S. Cent coin was born. The penny had originally featured an Indian head, with wheat on the “tails” side of the coin.  The wheat side was replaced with the Lincoln Memorial in 1959. Next time you look at a penny think of how it began.

~Susan

Uncategorized

What Does Your Spouse Know About Finances…

January 14th, 2014

imagesMoneyIn most couples, one spouse manages the bills and the assets.   But both spouses need a baseline understanding of the family’s finances.  Only 28% of couples were “completely confident” that either spouse alone was prepared to steer their joint retirement finances (from a recent study from Fidelity Investments). 

Several years ago, I met a couple who had been married 45 years.  From day one, they sat down, opened their bills, and wrote out the checks each month together.  This was a healthy way to approach the couple’s finances.

As we know, things happen: Disability, Divorce or Death can place new responsibilities on spouses – even when they are unprepared.  The result can range from difficult to disastrous.  My aunt’s mother had never written a check, or driven a car in fifty-plus years of marriage, and had many struggles when she was widowed.These situations are out there and do happen.

Considering the “what-ifs” can open uncomfortable questions for couples who are not accustomed to sharing financial information.  We think it can wait until tomorrow, but talking about these issues helps us to plan ahead – and prevent those difficult or disastrous results.  

A key item of information to share is an inventory of assets. This includes the following items and more:

  1. Retirement accounts, checking accounts, whose name is on what account and remember to share the log-ins and passwords for the online assets; 
  2. Insurance policies and their status and the beneficiary for each account;
  3. Where the emergency fund is located and how to access it;
  4. Each parnter should understand both partners’ current and future income sources, including stock options and deferred compensation.

Other assets include: House, car, boat, airline miles, hotel points and vacation timeshares. There may be a collection that is valuable over time.  (Example: my aunt’s brother collected coins all over the world and when he died suddenly, his spouse did not have a clue of the value of the collection.)

Create a list in the order the assets should be tapped either in retirement or in case of emergency, with an eye toward maximizing the asset’s value and avoiding taxes or penalties for early withdrawal.  Put the list in a safe place after you have discussed it with your spouse.

~Susan

Goals, Insurance, Retirement, Saving, Uncategorized

On this Special Occasion

December 23rd, 2013

 

 

Christmas Tree in the Snow

 

 

Season Greetings

And

Best Wishes for the

New Year!

Joyce, Brenda, Barb, and Susan

 

Uncategorized

Holiday Time Tips

December 10th, 2013

holiday decs

The busy-ness of this time of year doesn’t have to diminish the pleasure of the holidays.  Use some of these strategies to take control of your time:

  • Plan ahead and don’t wait until the last minutes to do your shopping and decorating. This creates stress.
  • Make your to-do list: When you write things down you identify their importance. Cross them off the list once they are done. It will give you a sense of accomplishment.
  • Try “chunking” by breaking down the big task into smaller ones.
  • Prioritize and do what is most important on your list.
  • Ask your family members to help – delegate tasks such as sending out holiday notes, decorating, cooking prep work and cleaning. While they are helping you out, you can take care of important tasks that only you can do.
  • Plan extra time for interruptions and unexpected events.  Life happens, so you might as well be prepared for the unexpected. 
  • Shopping on-line at your convenience will help you save time running from store to store.
  • Eliminate trivial tasks – make sure your tasks count.
  • Gift card and certificates can save you time.  
  • Gift wrapping: when you purchase the gift, have the store  wrap the gift.

Using these simple holiday time management skills will help lessen your holiday stress and give you time to sit back and truly enjoy the holiday season!

~Susan

Consumer Knowledge, Smart shopping, Spending plans, Uncategorized

Estimate Your Credit Score

December 5th, 2013

christmas shoppingIt’s sometimes frustrating that credit scores are not free (unlike credit reports which we can get free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com)

I recently ran across a pretty cool tool for estimating your credit score.  It draws on the formula for FICO scores, but you don’t enter any personal information.  It simply asks you a set of ten questions about your credit situation,  and gives you a range that your personal credit score probably falls into.  I like it because:

  1. By answering the  ten questions, we get a clear sense of what factors affect our score – it’s a great learning tool!
  2. No personal data is entered – it’s great for people who prefer to avoid sharing their information, yet it still gives a general idea of where you might stand.

This tool is found at Bankrate.com.  In general I’m cautious about information from commercial sites, and the fact is that when I was done, the estimator recommended that I purchase a particular credit score analysis package.  I declined, of course.  However, Bankrate is a reputable financial research and publishing company; I get good information from them, just as from other for-profit financial publishers, and simply decide to put up with the ever-present advertisements.

My results were probably pretty accurate.  It was lower than the last time I saw my true credit score (last summer when I bought a car), but there’s probably a reason for that: twice in the last six months I have yielded to the temptation to get a discount on purchase if I applied for a store credit card.  And applying for new credit can pull your score down, at least for a while.  So a lower credit score is a consequence of that action.  Luckily I’m not applying for any loans anytime soon, and even my lower score is well within an acceptable range.

 For more about credit scores see below. ~Barb

 

In general we don’t need our credit scores to protect ourselves from fraud.  But we might like to know where we stand.  And it can be smart to check your credit score 3-6 months before applying for any major loan, in case there are any negative factors which you could take care of prior to applying.  Currently it costs about $9 to get a credit score in conjunction with your free credit report, and when you really need to know your score, that can be a worthwhile investment.

There are some places (on-line) where you can get free credit scores.  Some of the best-known seem to be perfectly reputable, so that entering your Social Security Number and other information is probably no more risky than most other on-line transactions.  These sites, however,  are almost always hoping to sell you something – they give you some information for free and then encourage you to sign up for a paid service which they offer.  In addition, they often provide a score that is not a FICO score.  FICO scores are the long-standing industry standard.  Other scoring models have been developed recently, and can be useful, but they may or may not be the same model that your lender uses in evaluating credit applications.

Uncategorized