Search

Your Banking, Made Simple.

simplifyyourfinances.com

Equifax® Data Breach: How to Protect Your Financial Identity

By now, it’s safe to assume most of us have heard about what Equifax is referring to as a ‘cybersecurity incident’. For those of us who haven’t, here’s a quick recap:

  1. Hackers took advantage of a weak area in an Equifax application between May and July 2017.
  2. Information that may have been stolen included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, birthdates and driver’s license numbers for close to 143 million U.S. customers.
  3. You will need to take action to protect your information and credit by first visiting equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if you were included in this data breach.
  4. Equifax is offering one year of free credit monitoring to those effected.
  5. In addition to the breach of personal information, some 209,000 credit card numbers and 182,000 dispute documents containing personal information may also have been stolen. Equifax will alert those affected via U.S. mail.

Also, while it’s true we have the word ‘credit’ built into our name, it’s important to understand your credit union was not breached and your account information with the credit union remains safe.

What this breach could mean to you.

Thieves could use the stolen information to pretend to be you and open accounts like credit cards, auto and personal loans in your name. This could be harmful to your chances of being approved for loans and accounts you are actually applying for in the future. Landlords, utility companies, cellular service providers, employers and others also use your history when deciding to hire, grant you credit, lease a home to you, provide you with internet and other services necessary for daily life. If someone else has taken your good credit on a joy ride, it’s likely they won’t plan to also make the corresponding payments, thus, leaving you with raised debt ratios and poor pay history. All this adds up to lowered credit scores and one big mess to clean up once you’ve discovered they’ve taken advantage of your hard work.

So how, then, do you protect yourself?

The good thing to know is you do have options which could prevent the above scary situation. Some experts suggest a complete ‘freeze’ of your credit file while others suggest a ‘lock’. The two seem the same; however, there’s a difference in how to go about adding and removing the freeze or lock.

According to TransUnion, a major credit reporting agency, locking your credit file puts you in control of preventing lenders and others from accessing your credit. When you lock your credit yourself, there’s zero waiting period, need for a PIN number and no fee is charged. TransUnion suggests enrolling in their credit monitoring program, TrueIdentity, which gives you the ability to lock and unlock your credit anytime while providing free monitoring alerts for critical credit information changes.

Freezing your credit, however, means you’re turning over control to credit reporting agencies to remove and control access to your credit file. You initiate the request to freeze and unfreeze, reporting agencies do the rest. A few things to keep in mind with a credit freeze:

  • There are fees associated with freezing and unfreezing your credit and you must initiate the request with each of the major credit agencies separately. These fees can range from $3 – $10, depending on your state, per request.
  • You may not be able to immediately freeze and unfreeze your credit file. Keep this in mind if, for instance, you’re out and about car shopping and decide to have your credit pulled for loan approval. In some cases, it can take up to 48 hours and may require a fee to unfreeze. Patience is a virtue, but in a world where instant gratification often reigns, it can feel like an eternity.
  • A PIN is required and must be provided when applying for new credit. If you forget your PIN, you’ll have to take in-depth steps with one or more of the credit bureaus to verify your identity and reset your PIN. As this breach is related to personal identifying information, identification processes may be strenuous. If you choose this option, be sure to choose a PIN you will remember.

Clark Howard made it even easier for all by providing links to freeze or lock your credit with each of the 3 main credit bureaus (thanks, Clark!)  You can visit the page by clicking here.

As credit card info for 209,000 cardholders across the U.S. and possibly another 182,000, we encourage you to take advantage of Remote Control Card services by logging into mobile banking using our FlexTeller app and turning your debit cards ‘on’, or active, and off, or ‘disabled’ as you need to use them.  If you have questions about this service, let us know!

Is there such a thing as ‘too much’ protection?

In this case, it’s not possible to be overzealous in protecting your financial identity, especially since it’s important to remember you may not immediately see false accounts or trade lines on your credit report. Identity thieves are patient…this breach happened in May – July 2017 and it’s possible, if your information is misused at all, it may not be evident for a long time. If you do not choose (and even if you do) to block or freeze your credit, you should be diligent in monitoring your financial accounts and credit report for any suspicious activity. You can do this by requesting your credit report from each of the three major credit agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, at no charge, once per year. To request a copy from one or each of these agencies, visit annualcreditreport.com. Some may choose to enroll in other credit monitoring services like Credit Karma. If so, understand these services are not the ‘be all, end all’; combine the info you see with these services to what you see on the credit reports you request.

Still, despite all you can do to help yourself, we’re here for you as well…working to calm the concerns you’ve expressed to us when calling, emailing and stopping by one of our offices. You should know we take this breach very seriously and have taken steps to ensure your member advisors are working to protect you and your information. Just as we’ve always done, we’ll continue to ask you to verify your account and contact information by asking several questions when you call. This will continue to be consistent across the board and we ask that you be patient while we complete this process as it’s truly in your best interest. A few extra seconds spent verifying your identity could prove to save you hours of frustration in the long-run should identity thieves attack the security of your information.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 404-978-0080.

For Sale: 2016 Mini Cooper

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Check out this sporty
2016 Mini Cooper
.

Featuring
Harman Kardon Stereo
Leather Seats
Navigation System
Power Sunroof

Very clean, one owner, less than 9,000 miles!

$23,969.00

For more information, contact Jeanne Weese at 404 978-0080.

 

Clean Up Your Finances for the New Year

After a year of spending, saving, paying off bills and racking up rewards points, your financial life can get a little messy. And now that the holiday season is over, it is a great time to regain control of your finances. When you de-clutter your accounts, paperwork and budget, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to make the most of your money.

Resolve to roll up your sleeves, dust off your statements and follow these tips for finances that sparkle:

  • Streamline your banking. Close old accounts, switch to online bill pay and sign up for e-statements to reduce paper waste. Shred year-old bank statements, expired warranties, old Social Security statements and tax documents that are over seven years old.
  • Consolidate your debt. Consider rolling all of your high-interest payments into one low-rate personal loan like a Save As You Pay loan with MembersFirst. Close credit cards you don’t need and create a payment strategy to lower your debt. Plan to pay off credit cards with the highest interest rates first.
  • Organize your savings. Many households have multiple savings accounts, including IRAs, CDs and 401(k)s. Consider moving all of your savings plans to one financial institution and consolidating all IRAs to one account. Talk to your employer about moving old 401(k) accounts into the one at your current job, or rolling them to a self-directed IRA. Finally, increase your 401(k) savings so that at a minimum you are saving enough to earn a full match from your employer.
  • Plan your estate. Update or create your will. It’s a fairly easy and inexpensive process that people often put off for obvious reasons. If you have any property (car, house, land, flat-screen TV, etc.), a will prevents lengthy legal battles and guarantees the right people receive your belongings upon your passing.

 

Need help tidying up? Stop by your nearest MembersFirst branch or give us a call at 404-978-0080. We’d be more than happy to help you clean up your finances!

What’s your money persona?

Personality.  It’s what makes us all a bit different.  Sometimes we relate to someone a little better than another based on how eccentric, laid back or direct they are.

Have you thought about how you’re treating your financial relationships?  Are you taking care of your nest egg, so to speak?  Believe it or not, the way you spend cash says a lot about your personality–well, your money persona, anyway.

So, in between all those really important quizzes we take online to determine who our BFF is or what song best represents our lives, why not take one to help determine whether your money-spending (or hoarding) choices are something to be worked on or shared with the world.

With the help of her friend, Lucy, Jen learned a little about her own money persona.  Watch the video, then take the quiz below.


(Pssst…you may want to grab a pen and scratch paper for this one.)

12_B_Infographic_MembersFirst

So, how did you do?  Were you surprised to learn what your money persona is?  Maybe you fell in multiple categories.  Whatever the case may be for you, you can rest easy knowing there are tons of solutions to help you save, invest, make smarter choices with and even spend your money smarter.  You might try checking out our affordable and convenient savings solutions.

We want to hear from you.  Drop us a comment below and let us know how you did.

 

Stretching Your $$$

Tip: Never go to the grocery store hungry.

It’s a simple rule to keep from over-buying and one sure to keep you from blowing the week’s budget on cravings at your local grocer.  But, aside from controlling your appetite as you peruse the baked goods aisle, there are a seemingly infinite number of ways to help control your spending and stretch your dollar a bit further.

Don’t be hasty in your online purchases.  There are a lot of online retailers that offer free shipping for purchases over a certain dollar amount.  This can be a great deal, but, before clicking to finalize your purchase, be sure to shop around.  Not all deals are created equally.  The cost of some items may be raised to accommodate for the ‘Free’ shipping.  Make it a habit of checking other sites to see if a similar item of same quality can be found at a lower price with free or lower shipping costs.

Take advantage of retail club memberships and actually use the discounts.  All households require paper towels, toilet paper and infinite bottles of ketchup and mustard—buy in bulk.  You’ll not only save over the long-run on items like these, you’ll also save yourself a few trips to the store for these staples.  Along with most retail club memberships come discounts with partner companies and local and national services.  Your $40 annual membership could land you even deeper discounts on entertainment like theme park passes and savings on cellular, television, optical, vacation package and much more.  And speaking of memberships, if you’re not using gym or other club memberships, cancel them.  You’re unnecessarily spending money each month on services you’re not using that could be used elsewhere.

Talk with your home insurance company about bundling services.  If you’re paying home owner’s, renter’s, auto and life insurance through multiple agencies, consider bundling these policies with one company.  Often times, because one company is gaining a large amount of your business, you’ll not only receive discounts on the rates you pay, but some companies will offer an additional discount when you choose to set up automatic payments or choose to receive an e-statement vs. paper statement.

High-rate loans, credit cards and fee-heavy checking accounts are like a black hole for extra cash.  Slim down your loan and credit card rates and be sure you’re not paying fees to participate in these services while you’re at it.  You should never pay for services like online banking and bill pay.  Make sure you and your family members are taking full advantage of our low interest loan solutions and our no-fee and direct deposit checking accounts.  Ask us today how you can transfer these services to MembersFirst.

Is it really necessary to have the highest or fastest level of internet, television and mobile service plans?  Think about the channels you really watch or need.  Consider downgrading your plan with the cable company and turn certain entertainment packages on and off when you need them.  If you’re a big football fan, turn on the sports package just during the season.  For mobile users, ask your provider what your average data use is and go with a plan that’s just above your average.  You may even want to talk with these providers or find a new one which offers money-saving bundling packages for these services.

What are some of the ways you and your family make your money go even further?  Let us know in the comments below.  While you’re here, read up on other money-savings ideas, budgeting tips and ways to protect your information and finances.

Don’t forget joining a Credit Union is a GREAT way to cut back on unnecessary expenses like monthly fees and high interest… we just so happen to know a great one.

Living On Your Own: Are you prepared?

When you take a look at your finances — what’s coming in, what’s going out — do you approach each bill or expense as a surprise item rather than an item you’ve prepared for?

Let’s look at it this way… you’ve finished school, you’re ready to move out of your parent’s basement and you’ve got money to burn.  What’s your plan?

If your first thought is more I want a sweet, high-rise apartment, downtown with a view of the city and less I have XX amount available to me each month…what can I afford on that budget?, you might want to rethink your strategy. Take a look at this spending ratio. Try your own.  What can you afford?  Does your dream apartment on the upper west side become a reality or did you just have a reality check?

11_F_Social_01_US

Just like you had to prepare a budget at some point so you’d know how much pizza and ramen noodles your budget could take (oh, and those pesky cellphone, internet and insurance bills you may have been forced to pay while living at home), living on your own has its own category of expenses you may not have even thought of.

If you hear the words “renter’s insurance” and your first thought is yes, I’d like someone to ensure that I will obtain rent, then read on a little further, my friend.  While you may have thought as far as what your monthly rent might look like and maybe even where you’d like to live, don’t forget these one-time expenses.

11_F_Social_03_US.jpg

If you’re lucky, you might have a few friends you can pay in pizza and soda that will help you move.  You might even have the packing materials and a few staple pieces of furniture to help get you started.

Unfortunately, living expenses won’t stop there.

11_F_Social_04_US

It’s important to also consider the location you’d like to live and do a little research on monthly rental averages.  A suburban apartment or home may dole out a much more affordable scenario than a renter’s monthly expenses in a more city-like environment.  On top of that, the average rental expense increases and decreases by the area.  Look at your budget… then take a look at this.  Is your budget more Manhattan- or Tucson-friendly?

11_F_Social_02_US

So… are you rethinking your strategy for living on your own?  How many household expenses did you budget for?  Is there something you’ll have to give up in order to live comfortably?  Let us know!  Comment and share below.

For more on rent and living on your own, stay tuned.  We’ll take a look a rental agreements–what to look for and what to avoid–and dig a little deeper into your budget to make sure you’re maximizing your income while still being able to enjoy and afford life.  After all, that’s why MembersFirst is here.

Ready to make the switch to a financial institution interested in seeing you at your financial best?  We’re ready when you are.

join today button

CU Cents: CHECK YOURSELF – Arm yourself against check fraud

Your personal and financial safety is very important to us. In the past few posts, we’ve covered multiple topics related to protecting your identity and your money.  This time, we want to remind you of ways to protect yourself against a more “traditional” form of fraud  – CHECK FRAUD.

Although fewer people are writing checks for everyday bills and expenses, criminals today can defraud you and your financial institution quite easily with a blank check taken from your check book, a canceled check found in your garbage, or a check you mailed to pay a bill. Fraud professionals have become increasingly skilled and sophisticated in accessing and altering information thanks to advances in readily available technology. Here are some tips to help arm yourself against check fraud:

  1. Review Company Checks for Security Features, Logos and Company Names – When you receive a check from a business or financial institution, ensure that the security features are incorporated in the check. Most corporations have these security features printed on the face of the check.
  2. Guard your Account Information – Store your checks, statements, deposit slips and cancelled checks in a secure location. If you have a checkbook, NEVER leave it in the car or in the open. Limit the amount of personal information on your check. Exclude Social Security, driver’s license or telephone numbers from your check.
  3. Be Assertive – If someone pays you with a cashier’s check, have them accompany you to the credit union or bank to cash it. If at all possible, only accept a check during normal business hours so you can verify whether it is legitimate. Make sure you obtain identification information from the individual.
  4. Be Specific With Your Payee – Don’t Make a check payable to cash. If lost or stolen, the check can be cashed by anyone. If you need cash from your account, visit a branch and do a withdrawal. Otherwise, visit a surcharge free ATM. Finally…
  5. If It’s Too Good to Be True, Ask Questions. – We’d all like “someone” to send us some money, a windfall of cash, a well-needed boost to our cash flow, “a gift from beyond”– but don’t be fooled. Scammers and fraudsters prey on our emotions and our hardships – If you weren’t expecting a check or notice that the payment you received for a job you did is for more than what you were due, BE CAUTIOUS.

Luckily, your Credit Union is here, checking and double checking (pun intended) you so that  your finances are protected. We ask a lot of security questions, we question the source of your funds when you make a deposit, we review your account history with you when you call and we do not email confidential account information or statements through the open internet. We do these things to make sure your information is safe. If you’re in doubt about a check you received, come see us; we can help you determine if it’s legitimate before you make a deposit.

Be on the lookout for more on this topic and many others.  It’s all part of our goal to put you first and help you afford life!

Don’t Neglect Financial Health When Making Resolutions This Year

Think back on each New Year. Notice anything in common with years past? Maybe you’ve resolved each year to make better nutritional decisions. I will not eat the WHOLE plate of cookies. Or, maybe you’ll take it a step further and throw in a promise to yourself to take your health a little more seriously. My neighbor can get up at 5:00 am for a run before work. Why can’t I?

Whatever your resolutions may be, why not resolve to take better care of your financial health as well? It’s no secret that having a healthy understanding of your financial outlook can positively affect your physical health. We have enough sources of stress – money shouldn’t be one of them.

Start small. You already have a savings account! It’s the first account you open to become a member of the credit union. Use it. It’s there to help you plan for the future. Whether there’s a European adventure or an unforeseen emergency on the horizon, save so you’ll be prepared for it.

Set a budget. That’s the easy part. It’s sticking to it that becomes tricky. You may have heard it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Budgeting is no exception to that rule. If dropping by a Starbucks® every morning on your way to work gets you going, plan for it in your budget. Identify any unnecessary purchases and see how they affect your budget. If it takes you over your budget, eliminate it.

Make savings a budget category. Pay yourself first! Seriously! Either write yourself a check or automatically transfer funds to your savings account each time you get paid. You already know how much to set aside for bills and other obligatory charges, so take a reasonable amount of money and place it in a savings account. Don’t forget that MembersFirst offers Christmas Clubs and other special savings accounts that make saving simple.

Track spending trends. Ever wonder where all that money goes each month? Make budgeting fun by tracking spending and saving trends with our free MoneyDesktop™ program. Log in to MoneyDesktop™ via FlexTeller and begin tracking your finances, even if they aren’t in accounts with MembersFirst. You may be surprised to see just how much you spend at the grocery store or on fast food.

Commit to stick. Like many New Year’s resolutions, we tend to be gung ho about sticking to them, only to ruin that plan by MLK, Jr. Day (sooner, for some of us). Sometimes it’s just a matter of forgetting to track your spending. Stay on top of your spending and make it simple by designating a time and place each week to keep up with your finances. This is when you’ll also plan for future expenses and track spending habits.

We know that everyone’s financial situation and goals differ, so at MembersFirst, we provide options that help you afford life, regardless of the stage in which you find yourself. Stop by a branch and have a conversation with one of our member advisors about your short- and long-term goals today! Or, visit membersfirstga.com for a listing of products and services to help you succeed!

Budgeting Basics: Not just for beginners anymore.

We talk a lot about credit and great ways to access and spend your funds, but there’s one very important step we should take when it comes to our money…

budgeting.

Does that word sounds scary or boring?  It must as budgeting seems to have such a negative connotation surrounding it.  Though it’s true one could live off the available credit of a credit card for a short period–charging every desire of the heart–this will eventually catch up and bite you soon enough.  Slow and steady wins the race… most of the time.

So, why does budgeting seem like such a dirty word for some?  Here are our top 5 reasons.

“Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Between work, getting kids to after-school and weekend functions, taking care of daily tasks and trying to get to your own extracurricular activities, budgeting seems, well, tedious. Who wants to spend their free time deciding how much to throw in savings when you could be watching this week’s episode of The Walking Dead?

A little time spent making sure your finances are in order can really save you a lot of time in the long run.  If staying out of debt sounds like a good plan, you’ll find the time to devote to budgeting.

I forgot to make budgeting a priority.

Like a physics student starting on a 20-page essay the night before it’s due, panic starts to creep in, you start looking for the coffee and energy drinks and wondering how little sleep you could get by on if you stay up all night getting it done. Then, morning comes and you sleep through class and miss your opportunity to turn it in.

Don’t miss out on great financial opportunities because you forgot to make budgeting and planning for surprises a part of your weekly routine.  It takes 21 days to make or break a habit.  But, you can’t succeed unless you start somewhere–so start with making a calendar entry (with a reminder) in your trusty smartphone or within your email program.  Set aside the time to budget and the task won’t seem as gargantuan as the poor physics student’s.

I don’t even know where to begin.

If you’re in that boat, it’s likely because you feel a bit overwhelmed and haven’t stopped to look at not only where you’re trying to get–AKA: Point B–you’ve forgotten to take a look at what you have in front of you–Point A.  ‘Point A’ usually consists of taking inventory of what your current financials look like (how much liquid cash you have available to you at the present moment) and how much of that will soon go out to cover expenses like utility bills, home and auto payments and other necessities like child care expenses and medical bills.  It’s as easy as using the skills you learned in 1st grade:  addition and subtraction.  Write it all down and subtract what you owe from what you currently have and keep doing so as long as you earn and spend money.  If you don’t know how much you have, you can’t plan to put some of that hard-earned cash into savings for a trip to the Bahamas to reward yourself for being so diligent with your recordkeeping.

It’s just too hard.

It may seem that way at first, but just as it takes 21 days to make or break that habit, it takes just as long to learn how to budget like a pro.  Just be sure to PYF!  What’s PYF you ask?  Pay Yourself First.  Before you spend cash on anything not already assigned to a bill or other expense, take a portion of it and put it in a savings account.  A special savings account, like a Christmas, Vacation or other special purpose savings account at MembersFirst is one excellent way to corral excess cash while also earning dividends and keeping it separate from your checking.  Make it easy on yourself by setting up an automatic deposit from you payroll check or checking account to your savings.  Fast and convenient–it’s like the money was never there, making the temptation of spending it obsolete.

My goal is too big, I started to late.

If you don’t take anything away from this message, please remember one thing:  It is NEVER too late to begin taking care of your financial health.  It’s never too late to begin putting money away for a rainy day or a goal of any size.  Using the knowledge you’ve already gained in previous paragraphs, you absolutely can reach your savings goals.  If you’re looking to become completely debt-free, by all means, do it!  Just be sure to make responsible spending habits for yourself.  If you’d like to pay cash for a vehicle rather than finance it, it will take some time, but as you’re tracking your spending and saving habits, keep your debt-free goal in mind.  Every dollar spent frivolously is another dollar taken away from reaching your goal.  Just remember life isn’t all about what you’ve have in your savings account.  It isn’t meant to be boring–we still have to spend money on fun and entertainment.  Keep this in mind when creating your goals.  If it seems there isn’t much wiggle room for the ‘fun’, maybe you should take another look at what you’ve labeled as a necessity or how much of your ‘leftover’ cash you’re throwing in savings each time you’re paid.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Still feel completely lost on the budgeting topic?  Check out Jen’s latest adventure with the Budget Fortune Teller above… she might make looking into your financial future a little easier.

Want to talk to your own Financial Fortune Teller?  Just give us a call at 404-978-0080 or drop by a branch and set up an appointment with one of our Member Advisors to discuss your financial goals or to have them help you get on track with spending.  After all, our goal is to help you afford life.  Funny how that works out!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑