Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mother's Day On A Budget



Along with the blooming flowers and blazing sunshine comes the plans for celebrating Mother's Day. Our moms are always there for us, and now is when we show them how much we appreciate all they do.
However, between flowers, gifts, and dining out, Mother's Day costs can quickly add up. How do you keep within a reasonable budget while still showing Mom how much she means to you?
Fortunately, it's easy to save big while celebrating Mother's Day in style. Here's how:
1.) Frugal flowers
Nothing says "I love you" like a vibrantly colored bouquet, but those beautiful blossoms can cost a bundle. Save on Mom's flowers by doing some of the work yourself. Don't rely on the florist to provide the perfect base for the bouquet - bring your own basket from home or pick up a cheap but pretty vase at a craft or thrift store.
Also, consider shopping your local grocery store or sidewalk stand before visiting a florist. Significant savings - like a bouquet for as little as $10 - can be had by cutting out the middleman.
Lastly, if you are shopping at a florist, call first to find out when their flowers are delivered so you get the freshest of the bunch.
2.) Gift it right
Get creative! Mom would love something personally crafted by you, like a decorated framed photo of a shared memorable moment or a scrapbook of your best childhood memories.
If you'd rather purchase a gift, shop early so you don't feel pressured into buying something you can't afford. Also, carefully mine coupon sites like RetailMeNot, Coupons.com and Couponcabin to see if you can snag a deal.
3.) Dining out (or in) for less
Of course, celebrating Mom's special day isn't complete without sharing a wonderful meal. But restaurants can be expensive, so don't make reservations just yet! Maybe Mom would enjoy a home-cooked meal more than an evening out. You can whip up her favorite dishes, set the table royally and enjoy a delicious dinner at home.
Or throw together a family barbecue. Get the grill going for a delectable dinner that's fun to prepare and even more fun to eat!
If you've got your heart set on taking mom out to a restaurant, though, shop around for the best Mother's Day deals. And, of course, check sites like Groupon or LivingSocial before making reservations.
4.) Plan ahead
It's not too early to start thinking about next year's Mother's Day. Shop the post-Mother's-Day sales for fantastic deals on greeting cards, wrapping paper, and gifts for Mom.
It's worth the extra effort to save money on Mother's Day expenses. After all, no one will be happier to see you saving money than dear sweet Mom!
Your Turn: How do you celebrate Mother's Day on a budget? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Regulation D: How Does It Affect Me?


Have you ever wondered about the real differences between your savings and checking accounts? Many people realize there must be more to it than just the fact that one includes checks and the other does not. However, they just don't know what those differences are. So let's look at some of the technical differences that define each account type. 

Reserve Requirements
 
Did you ever wonder how much cash your credit union keeps in its vaults? It's not all the money that members have deposited into their accounts. If that were the case, the credit union could never lend or invest money, and you could never earn any dividends on your deposits. Your credit union would simply function as a gigantic communal piggy bank.
There are laws determined by the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, called reserve requirements, which govern how much cash financial institutions (including credit unions and banks) must hold in reserve against the accounts at that institution. The portion of federal regulations that contain these rules is called Regulation D - Reserve Requirements of Depository Institutions.
The percentage of funds that must be kept by institutions is currently 10%. But here's the catch: Only accounts that are defined as "transaction accounts" are considered when calculating this ratio. Other types of accounts do not have the same requirements. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
Transaction accounts, such as checking accounts, are used by account holders on a daily basis for their personal finances. That being the case, there is a great likelihood that the credit union will need to come up with a portion of those funds each day. On the other hand, non-transaction accounts, such as savings accounts and money markets, are intended more for long-term savings, so account holders usually leave the deposited funds in the account to grow over longer periods of time.
This also explains why savings accounts frequently offer higher dividend rates than checking accounts do: because financial institutions can use more of the funds on deposit to make money with savings deposits than they can with checking deposits.
Transaction Vs. Non-Transaction Accounts
What accounts fall into the category of transaction accounts? These include demand deposit accounts, also called checking accounts and NOW (negotiable order of withdrawal) accounts.
What characteristics do transaction accounts share? The depositor is allowed to make an unlimited number of payments and transfers from the account to third parties as well as to other accounts belonging to the depositor. The account holder can perform these transactions in various ways, such as by writing checks and by using a debit card and online payment services, among others.
Which accounts are non-transaction accounts? These include savings accounts and money market accounts. What characteristics do they share? Firstly, financial institutions must reserve the right to require at least seven days of written advance notice before account holders intend to make a withdrawal. This right is rarely if ever exercised, but it is included in the account agreement. Additionally, the account holder is limited to making no more than six "convenient" transfers or withdrawals per month.
These "convenient" transfers include preauthorized automatic transfers, transfers and withdrawals requested by phone, fax or made online, checks written to third parties and debit card transactions. Less convenient transactions, however, are unlimited. This includes any transactions made in person, by mail or at an ATM, and phone withdrawals requesting a check mailed to the account holder.
If a depositor tries to exceed the six-per-month transaction limit, the financial institution is required to refuse transfer privileges or convert the account into a transaction account. When this happens to them, many people are unaware of the laws in Regulation D (and never bothered to read their account agreement) and think their credit union or bank has a strange policy. But the truth is, if you don't like it, you're going to have to take it up with the Federal Reserve. Your financial institution is just following regulations.
Of course, there are simple solutions that allow savings account holders to avoid the issue. If you need to make more than six payments or transfers from your savings account, you must be up for a little more inconvenience and may need to complete the transactions in a less high-tech method than usual.
Your Turn: Did you ever discover, by mistake, that your savings account has limits to the number and type of transactions? What happened, and how did you deal with it? Share the experience with us in the comments.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Beware Of Inheritance Scams!



Who doesn't dream of becoming an instant millionaire? You might even have some detailed plans for how you'd spend an unexpected windfall if it were to happen. Imagine if a distant relative who'd been rolling in the stuff suddenly passed on and left you as their sole heir. Your dreams could now become a reality! Wouldn't you do anything to make that happen?
That's what some underhanded scammers are counting on. Inheritance fraud has been around for a while, but scammers have recently made their ploy even more convincing.
If you've been targeted, you'll receive a long-winded email from a foreign "lawyer" or "bank official" claiming that a long-distant relative of yours has just died intestate, making you the sole heir. You'll be warned that immediate action is necessary to stop the government from seizing the money.
The letter will then go on to state that your inheritance is difficult to access due to government and bank restrictions, and that you'll need to pay various fees as well as provide personal details for claiming it .
To make the email appear authentic, it will include identifying documents of the lawyer or bank official, such as a passport, along with legal documents, such as a power of attorney letter for you to sign. The scammer will also provide an overseas address for the bank in which the money is now being held. Recently, scammers have upped their game by using a local address for this step.
Unfortunately, there is no inheritance and the person contacting you is definitely not a lawyer or a bank official. If you respond to the fraudsters, they'll start charging you various fees, which will gradually increase in size. They'll remind you that this money will be small change for you once you receive the inheritance. They'll also claim that all fees must be paid upfront before the inheritance money can be accessed.
Next, the scammers will ask you for your checking account information so they can finally transfer the millions of dollars that are supposedly coming to you. By this time, you may have already lost thousands of dollars to them. If you continue falling for their tricks and provide them with this information, you'll open yourself to even more loss or identity theft. Of course, once they have this information, you'll never hear from them again and all you'll have left from the experience will be a massive loss.
Be on the lookout for these warning signs and protect yourself from becoming the next victim of inheritance fraud:
1.) The initial email
The email itself is your first clue that something is off. First, a bank official or a lawyer will never contact you via email over a matter of this magnitude. Second, if you take a close look at the wording, you'll find many typos and grammatical errors. Third, if you're asked to contact an email address using a public domain such as @yahoo.com or @gmail.com, that's another alert. Banks and reputable law firms will use their own domains for security purposes.
2.) Personal documents
Is the "lawyer" overly eager to share their personal documents? Is the "bank official" willing to show you account statements from their institution? This is a huge red alert. Nobody, especially a bank official or lawyer, would ever share personal documents with a stranger. Surely they would not do so online or by email.
Never send money, give credit card information or copies of your personal documents to someone you don't know, and especially not over the internet.
3.) Bogus bank
The scammer will always share the name and address of the bank where your supposed inheritance is being kept. You can do a quick Google search on the address provided to check its legitimacy. It will usually turn out to be a bogus address, or at least not an address at which a reputable financial institution exists.
Recently, a scam has been circulating in which the "Royal Bank" of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the bank of choice. The address and bank do officially exist, but a bit of digging will reveal that the Better Business Bureau has rated this institution with an "F" because of its business practices.
4.) Overseas wire transfer
Never agree to an overseas payment with a stranger via money order, wire transfer, pre-paid debit card or electronic currency. Once these transactions have been made, it is nearly impossible to recover the funds.
Have you been scammed? If you suspect you've fallen victim, remember to contact Destinations Credit Union and your credit card companies immediately to minimize the damage. Also, be aware that you are now a likely target of other fraud, because fraudsters commonly share details of their victims.
Your Turn: How do you protect yourself from online and email fraud? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Charging Your Phone In Public? Watch That Port!


Smartphones have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. Even if it's just there in case of emergencies, having a charged cellphone can provide a serious sense of security. That's why, when the battery meter starts to tick down, a cold sense of panic rises in your stomach.

Many public places have begun to adapt to this change, and provide USB ports in addition to electrical outlets. Rather than jockeying with laptop users and carrying bulky outlet converters, smartphone owners can plug directly into the wall.
Sadly, this wonderful public good has become a playground for thieves. Scammers have hooked tiny computers into some of those ports. When you plug your phone in, they can install malicious programs on your phone. These programs report back personally identifiable information that thieves use to commit identity theft. Alternately, thieves can use the connection to your phone to look through your phone's contents, stealing browser history data -- including passwords. It's called "Juice Jacking," and it can take as little as three minutes for them to break your phone wide open.
It's a phenomenon so new, even security experts are getting suckered. At a recent digital security conference, one security firm ran an experiment by offering public charging cables that anyone could use. Surprisingly, 80% of security experts at the conference used these cables without once inquiring about security!
Obviously, these scammers aren't everywhere. They choose places where they can do the most damage -- airports, coffee shops, shopping malls and other places where people hang out. If you're at a place you trust, feel free to use the power. However, if you're in a public place, watch out! Use these tips to stay safe and avoid Juice Jackers.
1.) Carry (or borrow) a power plug
The easiest way to thwart the scam is to only plug your phone into electrical outlets. There's no computer on the other side there. The only problem with this option is you have to carry around your own power brick.
It's a hassle to carry one more thing, but it's worth it to avoid compromising your personal information. Consider shopping around to find a compact, square converter and keep it in your bag. If a power plug is a real hassle, only carry it on days when your phone is low on juice.
You can also use this as an opportunity to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Ask someone using a laptop if they have a plug you can borrow to connect your phone to a wall outlet. While not quite universal, chargers are pretty interchangeable. You don't need one specific to your brand of phone.
2.) Pick up a battery
You can also carry your power solutions with you. Advancements in battery technology have made them smaller and more efficient than ever. You can find a battery pack the size of a pen that will refill your smartphone on a full charge. Slightly larger packs can provide several days' worth of charge if you've got a little more space.
If it's too much of a hassle to carry around, try keeping one in your glove compartment for emergencies. That way, you can grab it when you need it and charge it on the road. You're not carrying around an extra piece of hardware all the time, but you get the security of knowing you've got a charge if you need one.
3.) Conserve your power
The easiest way to avoid using a public charging station is not to need one in the first place. There are several things you can do to save your phone's charge if it looks like you're running low. Even doing something like changing your wallpaper to all black will help add precious seconds to your run time.
For slightly more savings, keep your apps updated. The reason developers constantly release new versions is because they found ways to make things run more smoothly. Running outdated software could be chewing up your battery life.
Similarly, don't enable auto-update. This can drain data in a hurry while also burning through battery life. Update apps manually when you're connected to WiFi, or just disable automatic updates if your battery situation is looking dicey.
Your Turn: What's your best battery saving hack? Do you have an app you swear by or a setting we've missed? Share your wisdom in the comments!