6 Financial Traps New College Graduates Should Avoid

Monday, June 12 at 08:45 AM
Category: Personal Finance
As college students graduate and start their careers, financial responsibility should be a top priority. However, it’s easy to fall into traps that could hinder new college graduates from securing their financial future.
New college graduates should avoid the following financial traps:
  • Not having a budget. Simply put, don’t spend more than you make. Calculate the amount of money you’re taking home after taxes, then figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month while contributing to your savings. Be sure to factor in recurring expenses such as student loans, monthly rent, utilities, groceries, transportation expenses and car loans. 
  • Forgoing an emergency fund. Make it a priority to set aside the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Start putting some money away immediately, no matter how small the amount. A bank savings account is a smart place to stash your cash for a rainy day.
  • Paying bills late – or not at all. Each missed payment can hurt your credit history for up to seven years, and can affect your ability to get loans, the interest rates you pay on loans and your ability to get a job or rent an apartment. Consider setting up automatic payments for regular expenses like student loans, car payments and phone bills.
  • Racking up debt. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit. Shop around for a card that best suits your needs, and spend only what you can afford to pay back. It’s a great tool if you use it responsibly. 
  • Not thinking about the future. It may seem odd since you’re just beginning your career, but now is the best time to start planning for your retirement. Contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or similar account, especially if there is a company match. Invest enough to qualify for your company’s full match – it’s free money.  
  • Ignoring help from your bank. Most banks offer online, mobile and text banking tools to manage your account night and day. Use these tools to check balances, pay bills, deposit checks, monitor transaction history and track budgets.  
College graduates can find many enticing ways to spend their paychecks from their first “real” job. However, by avoiding these financial traps, the new graduate can make financial responsibility a top priority instead of exceeding their new income.
Information courtesy of American Bankers Association. 
Tags: Budgeting, Debt, Financial Education, Savings

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Wednesday, June 07 at 10:20 AM
Category: Personal Finance
From the time we're young, we're told about the importance of "eating our vegetables." And with good reason. Vegetables provide a wide range of nutrients that can greatly reduce the risk of certain illnesses and diseases. Plus, let's not forget, they're pretty tasty, too.
You can bring all the great health benefits of veggies right to your home by starting a vegetable garden. Follow these easy steps to get your garden growing:
  1. "Dig" your soil. To build a good home, you need a solid foundation. The same applies to the foundation of your garden — the soil. Good gardening always begins with the soil on which you plant. The softer the soil, the easier it will be for roots to grow, so be sure to use a shovel to dig and to break up dirt clumps. Also, remove weeds from the soil, which can hinder growth.
  2. Get some room to grow. We all need space every now and again. That holds true for your vegetable plants, too. Be sure to leave enough room between plants for your vegetables to grow, as plants placed too closely will compete for water and nutrients.
  3. Shower your plants with water. It's no secret that plants need water to survive. That's why it's critical to regularly water your plants. For best results, water plants earlier in the morning to slow down evaporation from the sun. Be sure not to overhydrate your plants.
  4. Let your plants shine. Vegetables especially need sunlight in order to grow (as much as six hours per day), so be sure to plant in a sunny location. Sunlight won't just make your vegetables healthier; it will make them tastier, too.
  5. Add some mulch to the mix. Mulch isn't just for beauty. In addition to keeping the soil cool and conserving moisture, mulch also helps keep weeds down.
  6. Feed your plants. Unlike people, plants can grow without food. However, feeding your plants nutrients will help provide healthier and tastier plants.
  7. Have your pick. Be sure to harvest your vegetables as soon as they are ready. And if you have dead or diseased plants in your garden, remove them immediately.
  8. Read the fine print. One of the most important things you can do is read the instructions and tips on seed packages to understand the specific requirements of each plant.
Now that you have your tips, there's only one more important thing you need to do — get growing!

Disaster Preparedness Includes Safeguarding Financial Information

Monday, May 01 at 08:30 AM
Category: Personal Finance
April showers may bring May flowers, but unfortunately, spring also can bring severe weather that results in disasters like floods, fires and tornadoes.

And while no one wants to think they will be the victim of such a disaster, it’s best to be prepared. Having access to financial and other documents should be part of that preparation.
Below is a list that can serve as a good starting place when it comes to the documents you may need if you’re the victim of a natural disaster.
Note: It is imperative to store this information somewhere secure. That could be at home in a fireproof and waterproof box, at a bank in a safe deposit box, or maybe electronically in a secure cloud-based service. If you choose to store these documents at home, be sure to hide it somewhere out of sight of would-be intruders.

Basic identification – These are documents that can help you identify yourself and your family, your relationships and/or your status.
  • Driver’s license, passport, Social Security card, green card
  • Vital records such as birth and marriage certificates, adoption papers, etc.
Financial and legal documents – These can help you request assistance from your insurance provider and/or disaster assistance programs.
  • Mortgage documentation, rental or lease agreement, property deed
  • Checking and/or savings account statements, retirement and investment account statements, tax returns, insurance policies, will or trust, power of attorney
  • Vehicle title and registration, loan documents
Medical information
  • Health and dental insurance cards
  • List of prescriptions and any allergies, pharmacy information, contact information for doctors
  • Living will, medical power of attorney
Emergency contact information
  • Employers/supervisors
  • Schools
  • Home repair services such as utilities, plumber, electrician, roofer, etc.
Again, once you have compiled this information, it is critical to store it securely. Whether that’s at home in a fireproof and waterproof box, at a bank in a safe deposit box, or electronically in a secure cloud-based service, it needs to be in a place that’s accessible only to you and hidden from would-be thieves.
Regardless of the means you choose, no one wants to envision a scenario in which they need to access this kind of information due to a natural disaster. Being prepared, however, can provide some measure of comfort. 

Tags: Consumer Protection, Financial Education

7 Simple and Fun Ways to Connect with Your Kids

Wednesday, April 19 at 08:45 AM
Category: Personal Finance
Technology. It has connected us in ways we never thought possible. But while it can bring us closer to people around the world, it can often prevent us from connecting with those who are the closest to us — our children. Between social media sites, online games, and streaming music, movies, and TV shows, it's hard for modern parents to compete for the attention of their children.

Here are simple and fun ways to reconnect with your children. The best part is, no batteries or chargers are required.
  1. Come to the kitchen table. Remember the family dinner? Today's busy sports and other extracurricular activities' schedules have made it hard for families to sit down at the same time to share a meal. Try to schedule family dinners or breakfasts a few times a week. Invite family members to keep their electronic devices from the table and to talk about their days.
  2. Cook a meal together. Decide what you will make and plan to go shopping together for ingredients. When you cook the meal, you'll have valuable time to talk.
  3. Exercise. If you have a basketball hoop in your driveway or neighborhood, ask your child to join you in a shootout. You can also arrange to go on a long walk or scenic hike. It doesn't matter what activity you choose; the important thing is that you pick a healthy way to spend time together.
  4. Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to connect with your children and to make a difference in the life of someone in need. Consider volunteering with your child at a food pantry or delivering meals to the elderly.
  5. Try something new. Is there something you and your child have never done that you would both like to try? Maybe you'd like to learn how to sail, to make pottery or to try yoga? If you're real adventurous, go sky diving together.
  6. Play a game. Dust off your Monopoly game or checkerboard and show your children there's another way to play games besides playing them on the computer. Maybe even do a puzzle together.
  7. Take on a home improvement project. Does your child want to change the color of their room or build shelves? Plan to do a project together and involve your child every step of the way.
It really doesn't matter what activity you choose. The important thing is you've taken your child away from electronics and reminded them about the most important connection of all — family. 


Tech Support Scams

Monday, April 17 at 09:35 AM
Category: Personal Finance

In a recent twist, scam artists are using the phone to try to break into your computer. They call claiming to be computer techs associated with well-known companies like Microsoft. They say that they’ve detected viruses or other malware on your computer to trick you into giving them remote access or paying for software you don’t need. But the purpose behind their elaborate scheme isn’t to protect your computer – it’s to steal your identity or/and to make money.

How Tech Support Scams Work
Scammers have been peddling bogus security software for years. They set up fake websites, offer free “security” scans*, and send alarming messages to try to convince you your computer is infected. Then, they try to sell you software to fix the problem. At best, the software is worthless or available elsewhere for free. At worst, it could be malware — software designed to give criminals access to your computer and your personal information.
The latest version of the scam begins with a phone call. Scammers can get your name and other basic information from public directories. They often try to gain your trust by pretending to be associated with well-known companies or confusing you with a barrage of technical terms. They may ask you to go to your computer and perform a series of complex tasks. Sometimes, they target legitimate computer files and claim they are viruses. Their tactics are designed to scare you into believing they can help fix your “problem.”
Once they’ve gained your trust, they may:
  • Ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then make changes to your settings that could leave your computer vulnerable.
  • Try to enroll you in a worthless computer maintenance or warranty program.
  • Ask for credit card information so they can bill you for phony services — or services you could get elsewhere for free.
  • Trick you into installing malware that could steal sensitive data, like user names and passwords.
  • Direct you to websites and ask you to enter your credit card number and other personal information.
Regardless of the tactics they use, their purpose is to steal your identity or/and to make money.

If You Get a Call
If you get a call from someone who claims to be a tech support person, hang up and call the company yourself on a phone number you know to be genuine. A caller who creates a sense of urgency or uses high-pressure tactics is probably a scam artist.
Keep these other tips in mind:
  • Don’t give control of your computer to a third party who calls you out of the blue.
  • Do not rely on caller ID alone to authenticate a caller. Criminals spoof caller ID numbers. 
  • If you want tech support, look for a company’s contact information on their software package or on your receipt.
  • Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
  • If a caller pressures you to buy a computer security product or says there is a subscription fee associated with the call, hang up. If you’re concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly and ask for help.
  • Never give your password on the phone. No legitimate organization calls you and asks for your password.
  • Put your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry*, and then report illegal sales calls*.
If You’ve Responded to a Scam
If you think you might have downloaded malware from a scam site or allowed a cybercriminal to access your computer, don’t panic. Instead:
  • Get rid of malware*. Update or download legitimate security software and scan your computer. Delete anything it identifies as a problem. 
  • Change any passwords you gave out. If you use these passwords for other accounts, change those accounts, too.
  • If you paid for bogus services with a credit card, call your credit card provider and ask if they can reverse the charges. Check your statements for any other charges you didn’t make, and ask to reverse those, too.
  • If you believe someone may have accessed your personal or financial information, visit the FTC’s identity theft website*. You can minimize your risk of further damage and repair any problems already in place.
  • File a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint*.
How to Spot a Refund Scam
If you paid for tech support services, and you later get a call about a refund, don’t give out any personal information. The call is almost certainly another trick to take your money.
The refund scam* works like this: Several months after the purchase, someone might call to ask if you were happy with the service. When you say you weren’t, the scammer offers a refund. Or, the caller may say the company is going out of business and providing refunds for “warranties” and other services.
In either case, the scammers eventually ask for a bank or credit card account number. Or they ask you to create a Western Union account. They might even ask for remote access to your computer to help you fill out the necessary forms. But instead of putting money in your account, the scammers withdraw money from your account. If you get a call like this, hang up, and report it at ftc.gov/complaint*.

You don’t need to be a victim of a tech support scam. Learn how these scams work, so you can detect them for what they are and protect yourself.

Information courtesy of Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information.

Links marked with * go to a third-party site not operated or endorsed by Arvest Bank, an FDIC-insured institution.  

Tags: Consumer Protection, Financial Education, Fraud Alert, Privacy and Security, Technology

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