As Credit Cards Enhance Rewards, Consumers Advised to Comparison Shop

Tuesday, July 25 at 09:15 AM
Category: Arvest News

Did you know 25 million credit card holders have held the same credit cards for at least a decade?

LOWELL, Ark. – Consumers routinely search for the best price or the best deal when making a long-term financial commitment – from automobiles to cable companies to phone carriers. They don’t, however, tend to comparison shop once they have committed to a credit card.

A report by creditcards.com* shows that some 25 million credit card holders have held the same card for at least a decade, and another 20 million have never switched to a different creditor. This, despite the emergence of rewards programs that offer consumers robust benefits. 

Among the most popular perks offered through reward programs are cash-back options and bonus rewards. When offered, cash-back and other reward options can put extra money in the pocket of cardholders. Cash-back benefits can be applied as a credit on a future statement or deposited electronically in the customer’s bank account. 

Some financial institutions offer bonus opportunities such as providing customers with as much as triple rewards during certain times throughout the year, when they spend a particular amount on their card or when they charge specified items such as groceries or gas. 

More than half of consumers who did switch to a new credit card made the change because of a better rewards program, according to a creditcards.com* survey from 2015.

A rare and competitive offering among a handful of institutions is a rewards program that touches every level of credit cards. From a classic card to the platinum level, a rewards program could be in place, though the rewards may vary.

In addition, card issuers are becoming increasingly competitive by eliminating various fees, such as annual rewards program fees and balance transfer fees, and increasing the amount of control cardholders have at their fingertips.

One factor that will always get the attention of cardholders is interest rates. An individual’s improved credit score could mean they are eligible for a lower rate on their credit card. That provides another option for saving money and another reason to evaluate and compare programs. 

The Federal Reserve anticipates additional increases in interest rates later this year. With that change, every percentage point and every rewards option could affect consumers’ wallets in one way or another.

The bottom line for consumers is that, with the emerging new benefits programs offered by credit card issuers and the expectation of a rising rate environment, comparison shopping for the best credit card for their particular needs is becoming more important than ever.

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

Tags: Arvest Flex Rewards™, Credit Cards, Financial Education
 

What is Financial Malware and How to Protect Yourself

Tuesday, July 18 at 11:00 AM
Category: Personal Finance

What is Financial Malware?

Everywhere you turn today you seem to be bombarded with news coverage concerning the urgency of combating cybercrime, bad actors and hackers. There are many variations of malicious software, or “malware,” but financial malware, as its name implies is written specifically to commit financial fraud.

Cybercriminals use a variety of methods to infect their victims with malware including sending them email messages containing infected attachments or links to infected websites.

Once the victim is infected, the malware monitors the victim’s activity and may steal online banking credentials and other personal information using keystroke logging or screen shots images. 

In some cases, hackers may use the victim’s own web browser to collect sensitive information (e.g., the victim's PIN) by adding extra fields to legitimate online forms or by changing website wording and messaging, or by triggering legitimate-looking pop-up forms in real-time.

Financial malware may redirect the victim to a fake website designed to mimic a legitimate bank website. As the victim enters their credentials, the malware then redirects them into the legitimate site, potentially triggering a SMS or other second-factor authentication code that the Trojan can then capture via the fake website.

How to Protect Yourself
 
Most threats still need user interaction to infect a potential victim’s system. For this reason, becoming aware of these threats and diligently taking extra precautions can significantly reduce the risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime.  
 
  • Keep your operating system, web browser and other software up to date.
     
  • Make sure your computer has both an anti-spyware protection program that detects and removes spyware and an anti-virus program. Keep both programs updated. Scan your computer for viruses and spyware on a regular basis.
     
  • Be very protective of your personal account information. There are criminals who try to trick you by creating sites that look similar to real sites. The best way to know who you are dealing with is to type the address in your browser address bar; don’t click on a link that’s provided to you via email.
     
  • Do not open attachments in email messages if you do not know the sender or weren’t expecting the message. Attachments can contain viruses and spyware.
     
  • Avoid logging into password protected websites, such as online banking or email services from public computers. Instead, use trusted or secured networks.
     
  • Avoid downloading apps to your mobile phone from unofficial stores and pay attention to the permissions requested by apps before their installation.
     
  • Always sign off from sessions and close your browser after using password protected websites. 
     
  • Avoid using unencrypted email to conduct financial transactions or send sensitive information.
     
  • If you suspect your computer may be infected or that your online banking credentials may have been compromised, contact your bank and change your password from a different trusted computer. Contact a computer security professional for assistance in removing malicious software.
     
  • Regularly review your bank account activity and immediately notify your bank if you notice suspicious transactions in your account.
Tags: Consumer Protection, Financial Education, Privacy and Security, Technology
 

Get the Power to Cut High Cable Bills

Tuesday, July 18 at 11:00 AM
Category: Personal Finance

Watching television can be a great way to kick back and relax. But if you're a cable TV customer and overpaying for services, that relaxation can quickly turn to stress once you receive a high monthly bill. You do, however, have the power to reduce or even eliminate your bill. Here are some ways to make that happen:

Review your bill. With electronic billing and payments, many people today don't take the time to open and read their bills. It's important to read the bill and become familiar with the charges. Look for hidden fees as well as fees for services for which you did not subscribe.

Know your payment history. Review your monthly payments and see if there have been increases in the amount you pay from month to month. Also, look to see how long you've been a customer and whether or not you have paid your bills on time. If you're a good customer, you may have a bigger negotiating edge when you call your cable company.
 
Look at competitive offers. Chances are, you've been receiving direct mail or email from other cable providers eager to earn your business. Take some time to review those offers to see if you can save money.
 
Call your cable company. Once you've reviewed your cable bill and looked at what other providers are offering, call your cable company. Explain to them you are considering cancelling your service due to the high cost. Many companies actually have retention departments established for the purpose of keeping good customers from leaving. Don't be afraid to ask for help!
 
Ditch premium channels. When you signed up with your cable company, you may have been offered free HBO and other premium channels for an introductory period. After this period expires, you will be charged for these services. You can reduce your monthly bill by cancelling these premium channels, which can be costly.
 
Purchase your own equipment. Your cable company may also be charging you a set monthly fee for rental of equipment, such as your router. You may be able to save money by purchasing the router outright.
 
Consider cancelling your service altogether. With subscription services, such as Netflix and Hulu, many people are getting rid of cable all together.
 
Take these steps today to put the power to save where it belongs — in your hands.
 
Tags: Financial Education, Savings
 

Make the Grade on Back-to-School Shopping

Tuesday, July 18 at 11:00 AM
Category: Personal Finance

As kids prepare to return to class, it’s the parents who are gearing up for the shopping assignment.

Back-to-school shopping is one of the most significant shopping events all year, second only to the winter holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.* Last year, total back-to-school spending was estimated to top $75 billion nationwide.

During the weeks leading up to the first day of school, parents generally spend hundreds of dollars per child* on clothing, accessories, school supplies, electronics and more. It’s no wonder that the winding down of summer can be a stressful time for many families. 

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of three easy tips to help you ace the school shopping assignment with confidence and perhaps a little less stress.

  1. Make a list and set a budget
    This step is paramount to your back-to-school shopping success. Gather your child’s school list of needed supplies and take an inventory of any leftover school supplies* that your child may be able to use again this year. Compile lists of clothing items, electronics and equipment that your child will need for the year. It’s also important to think beyond supplies, electronics and clothing—consider upcoming school activities or clubs your child may want to join and the costs associated. Examples could include field trips, basketball uniforms, a musical instrument, or fees for Spanish club. This will help you get the full picture and plan out your budget accordingly. 

    BONUS POINTS: Planning for back to school is a perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about money. Having your children develop and stick to a budget for back to school expenses can help instill good financial habits. Arvest’s Education Center also has a number of online calculators and links to useful articles to help families budget and save for the school year. 
     
  2. Plan ahead and find deals
    Be on the lookout for bargains, especially for big-ticket items that are on your list, like computers and graphing calculators. Experts note that deals on pencils and notebooks are easier to find. Consider following your favorite retailers on social media or subscribing to store e-newsletters to be among the first to learn of flash sales, special discounts and promotions announced via those channels. If you prefer to do your back-to-school shopping online, look for special “online only” deals and free shipping from many of the major national retailers. 

    Also, be sure to take advantage of tax free shopping days, where applicable. Shopping on those days will help you get the biggest bang for your buck on clothing and other qualifying items, even some online retailers participate. Many of the communities Arvest serves are located in states that have tax free holiday shopping days. Additional details are available at the links below.
  3. Spend wisely
    When it’s time to tackle your list, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but you should try to resist the urge to splurge, experts warn. Stick to your list and budget and you’ll be glad you did. It’s also a good idea to discuss how your family will pay for the purchases before hitting the store or buying online. Will you be paying with a debit card or charging the purchases on a credit card? If the latter, be sure to factor in the costs and advantages you may have by using the card, including rewards points.
Now that you’ve finished your back-to-school shopping homework, you can make the experience a positive one for you and your family! 

Links marked with * go to a third-party site not operated or endorsed by Arvest Bank, an FDIC-insured institution.
 
Tags: Budgeting, Cash Management, College, Financial Education, Savings
 

Consumers Find Convenience, Security in Digital Wallets

Thursday, July 13 at 10:00 AM
Category: Personal Finance

It’s no secret mobile phones serve consumers as more than just a communication device these days.

Smartphones alternate as cameras, navigation tools, encyclopedias and other resources on a daily basis. And as digital devices offer more and more, the more irreplaceable they become to those same consumers.

Enter the digital wallet of the 21st century. Payment options like Apple Pay™, Android Pay™ and Samsung Pay are increasing in popularity among the digital consumer. This means more and more smartphones also are alternating as wallets for many consumers.

This is especially true among Millennials. According to an August 2016 study published in The Financial Brand, 21 percent of these digital natives don’t carry or use cash for purchases, and 53 percent choose to pay only by debit or credit card. The shift in payment preferences is also growing among consumers of other age groups, as they become more familiar with the benefits of using a digital wallet.

Arvest Bank believes mobile payments are an easier and safer form of payment than most consumers realize, and digital wallets have the potential to be the dominant form of payment in the future, although cash and credit will always be options.

The biggest advantage of the digital wallet is convenience. Consumers can leave their traditional wallets at home and use a mobile payment option for everything from ordering coffee to shopping to ride sharing.

The potential for identity theft gives wary consumers pause when it comes to trusting technology with their money, but financial experts say contactless payments are more secure than using cash or a debit or credit card. Whereas cash can be lost or stolen, and debit or credit cards can be compromised, digital wallets offer multiple layers of protection against identity theft.

A customer’s account number that is stored in a digital wallet is never shared with the merchant. Instead, the technology in the phone produces a different code for every transaction, greatly lowering the chance for identity theft. Many digital wallets also require a password or fingerprint to authorize and finalize payment, which is added security in the event a phone is lost or stolen.

Integration with pre-existing loyalty and coupon programs is another driver of mobile payment adoption, and web-based data and statistics company Statista projected mobile payments to rise from less than $10 billion in 2015 to more than $300 billion in 2020 in a recent report.

Similar to mobile phones, digital wallets are becoming more comprehensive in what they offer. As consumers increase their adoption and fuel broader integration among retailers, the future of the digital wallet could expand well beyond users’ expectations.

Tags: Financial Education, Mobile Banking, Technology
 

6 Financial Tips for Service Members and Their Families

Monday, June 26 at 09:15 AM
Category: Personal Finance
Finances are often identified by service members and their families as one of their most significant stressors – even more than deployments and personal relationships. Financial concerns at home make it extremely difficult for service members to focus on the mission at hand. Planning ahead as much as possible is key for the millions of military families who face unique financial challenges like deployments and relocations.

These financial tips can help lessen the financial burden on military families:
  • Contribute automatically to a Thrift Savings Plan. Military members have access to the Federal Thrift Savings Program, which offers the lowest-cost retirement savings plan available. Have automatic contributions withdrawn from your paycheck. 
  • Plan for deployment. Before deployment, have a family conversation about managing the household budget. Military personnel also receive additional funds while deployed. Decide on the best use for that extra cash, whether it is paying off debt or increasing Thrift Savings Plan contributions. 
  • Meet with your banker before active duty. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers all military personnel entering active duty a variety of financial protections. The SCRA covers issues ranging from interest rate reductions to limits on debt accrual. Ask your banker about the key provisions of this law and how they can help you.  
  • Set up automatic bill pay. Whether you’re stationed stateside or overseas, automatic bill pay will give you and your family one less thing to worry about each month. It can be particularly helpful during deployments in regions where internet access is unreliable and mobile banking isn’t an option.
  • Consider housing options. With mortgage rates at notably low levels, homeownership may seem like a no-brainer. However, service members should consider their options. Frequent relocations and deployments can make owning a home challenging and expensive. Renting may be a smart option for short-term assignments. Decide what’s best for your family and your finances. 
  • Consult a financial advisor. Schedule a visit at a Personal Financial Management Program (PFMP) office, located in your military and family support centers. They offer free one-on-one counseling, as well as other financial education resources. 
Service members juggle a lot of stresses, and we hope to reduce the financial stresses with these tips.
 
Information courtesy of American Bankers Association. 

Tags: Financial Education, Home Loans, Mortgage, Retirement, Savings

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