Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Staying On The Job: Four Practical Ideas For Making Yourself Indispensable

Wondering if it will be your last day on the job every day is emotionally taxing. Trying to be productive, let alone happy, with the constant threat of job loss is an impossibility. On the other hand, security in a position can do wonders for your morale. Sadly, though, that goal is out of reach for many Americans. A recent Pew Forum study shows that 40% of Americans fear they will lose their jobs in the next 12 months.
That's bad news both for companies and their employees. Workers who worry about their job security are less likely to be effective. At the same time, low job security tends to exacerbate the effects of work-related stress, resulting in poor sleep, feelings of hopelessness and fatigue. In short, it's exhausting to worry about your job constantly, and when you're exhausted, your work suffers.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your position at work. While they won't fix a toxic workplace or calm an easily angered manager, they can make you feel better about your skills and more secure in your position. Try these four steps to boost your value to your employer!
1.) Become an expert
One of the best ways to secure your job against replacement or outsourcing is to offer specific knowledge that no one else can. Whenever anyone has a question about how something in your area works, you become the go-to person.
Your range of expertise doesn't have to be broad, but it should be essential. Learning everything about one of your company's biggest clients, or every facet of a popular product or service, can give you a strong advantage around the office. Of course, having the knowledge is only the beginning; you also need to find ways to connect your area of expertise to as many facets of your company as possible. Being the expert in a field that fits into every part of your company is a great way to make yourself indispensable.
When choosing an area for skills development, try to focus on business segments that are growing. Look for places where there's new hiring or promotions. Those represent the future of the company, and you want to be right there in the thick of it.
2.) Help others
An ordinary response to extra work is to put your fingers in your ears and ignore it. You've got enough on your plate already, right? Sadly, this is the kind of thinking that endangers careers. While you don't need to say yes to everything, helping your co-workers is a great way to improve your job security.
When you do this, though, don't do it while expecting a quid-pro-quo. You're helping others because you're a team player, not because you're expecting them to turn around and help you again. This positive attitude is another strong asset that will stick in the minds of managers making tough personnel choices.
When it comes time for companies to make tough decisions about who to keep, they often look for flexible people. Downsizing is easier if you've got people who can easily flip between job functions. Helping others deal with their workloads can demonstrate that kind of flexibility. In the worst case scenario, having one more person calling you indispensable because you're always there to help them can only benefit your job security.
3.) Master a system
New technology is often the bane of businesses. When importing a new system, piece of equipment, or software tool, it takes time to train employees to use it. Worse yet, if no one knows how to use it, the considerable capital expense invested in it is basically wasted.
You can help prevent that waste by learning a system better than anyone else. Become the resource person for a piece of technology that's instrumental to your business. It could be a data entry system, a new machine, or a network resource. That puts another tangible value behind your attachment to the company: The machine or system is useless for the time it would take to train someone new.
4.) Develop your soft skills
New people can be trained in just about anything, and they might be able to do it better than you. Younger workers may be willing to do the same work for a lower salary, or have more recent knowledge about an industry. What they don't have is an integration in company culture that makes work easier. You can develop that integration by working on the "people skills" that help the workplace function.
This could be as basic as knowing names and building relationships in other departments, or as involved as taking a course in interpersonal communication. Become the co-worker everyone wants to work with. While you still need to keep your job-specific knowledge up-to-date, maintaining relationships with your colleagues and clients is just as important.
YOUR TURN: How do you stay engaged and involved at your workplace? What tips would you provide for people who have a fear of losing their jobs?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Common Mistakes During Open Enrollment

Fall is a time of many changes. The temperatures cool, the leaves change color, and the world starts getting ready for winter. With all that change, there's one thing people often leave the same: their workplace benefits packages.
November is the beginning of the open enrollment period for many workplace benefit plans. It's also the open enrollment period for insurance policies on the Obamacare marketplace. This makes it an excellent time to review your insurance information and other benefits.  Destinations Credit Union has a partnership with TruStage Insurance which offers members good pricing on plans through the marketplace.  Watch our website for details.
These perks may have been a big part of what drew you to your job in the first place, so it makes sense to get as much out of them as possible. You may be paying too much (or too little!) for health insurance, and now's your chance to fix it. Be sure to watch out for these three common pitfalls when enrolling in workplace benefits.
1.) The passive opt-in
When starting a new job, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the barrage of paperwork and decisions. Health insurance decisions are just one of the dozen new responsibilities, so they get a fraction of the attention they deserve. For many people, though, those are the health insurance choices they stay with for much of their careers.
There are two key reasons why sticking with the default option may be a poor choice. First, your life situation has likely changed. As you get older, your need for more comprehensive health coverage increases. You may also need more extensive dependent coverage or you may have more disposable income to contribute to an HSA or FSA.
Second, your employer's offerings may have changed. Most companies renegotiate their insurance rates annually, and may have negotiated for greater flexibility, lower premiums or better coverage. These are only options you'll discover if you sit down with your HR representative and figure out your coverage for the next benefits year.
2.) Forgetting spousal benefits
Doubling preventative solutions is rarely a bad thing. Having a belt and suspenders seems like the most cautious way to keep your pants up. However, when it comes to health insurance, being covered by both your and your spouse's plans can be a serious financial hazard.
First, you may be paying more than necessary. Adding a spouse to a workplace policy is usually cheaper than paying for two separate policies. Take a look at both policies and see which one provides the right combination of better prices and better coverage.
More dangerously, double insurance can frequently leave you in the middle of a fight between insurance companies. Both will insist that the other should pay first, and you could wind up buried under a mountain of paperwork for coordination of benefits. This trouble can compound when there are children covered under multiple policies. While you'll never be on the hook for the whole charge, you may have to work twice as hard to get covered.
If you and your spouse are on different enrollment periods, most companies will provide a preview of the planned benefits offerings outside open enrollment. This allows you and your partner to review and consider the available options. Picking one insurance plan for both of you can really cut down your costs.
3.) Ignoring HSA/FSA options
Enrolling in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can sting at first. Seeing dollars go out of your paycheck before you spend them hurts. Don't let that deter you, though.
HSAs and FSAs are similar in function, but there are important differences. Both allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars that you can use for health care-related expenses. The difference is that HSAs rollover their entire remaining balance to the next year, while FSAs only rollover up to a certain limit established by your plan. There are other differences, like whether or not the account follows you after you leave the company, but the principle difference is the rollover effect.
Enrolling in one of these accounts requires estimating your healthcare costs for the next year. For most people, the safest assumption is that you'll spend the same amount next year as you did last year. However, if you've got a planned medical expense, such as a pregnancy, surgery or other major issue that will arise next year, you can get an estimate to guide your contributions.
Funding an HSA or an FSA is basically free money off your taxes. One way or another, you'll have to pay for health care costs. By designating money for it early, you can avoid paying taxes on money you'll spend for health care.
No matter how long you've held your current position, it's worth revisiting your benefits options once a year. Don't just throw away the paperwork about your insurance, and don't skip the informational policy meetings. Be an active participant in your benefits decisions. After all, you've earned them.
YOUR TURN: Insurance questions are difficult. What matters most to you when picking an insurance policy? Help your fellow benefit strugglers in the comments with your best advice!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Single At Retirement

Most of the retirement advice out there is for people "growing old together." What does a person need to do to plan for a fabulously single life after work?
Take a look at nearly any retirement guide, and there'll be a section on what to do with your spouse's income and savings. If you don't have a spouse, there are several benefits you won't have: spousal Social Security benefits, life insurance payouts and equity, and preferential tax treatment for married couples. It can seem like the deck is stacked against you.
Regardless of why you find yourself planning for a single retirement, whether it's death, divorce or just not meeting the right person, you're not alone. According to the US census, 54% of men and 27% of women over age 65 are single. They'll face a much more difficult retirement landscape than their married counterparts.
That doesn't mean you need to find the first available partner to get hitched, though. There are many strategies that are easier for single people to execute than their married counterparts. Here are three steps you can take to make your retirement years safe and secure.
1.) Start saving now
One area where single people lag behind married couples is in retirement savings. More than 40% of unmarried women and 34% of unmarried men have saved less than $1,000 for retirement. There may be any number of reasons for this, but the bottom line remains the same: Start saving more.
It may be helpful to start small. Try a dollar-a-day saving challenge by saving one dollar every day for 30 days. Use that money to start or add to a tax-advantaged retirement account like an IRA. After 30 days, one dollar every day will start to feel like a habit and it'll be easier to add more to it.
Beyond putting more money away, single retirement may require a more cautious retirement plan. You may need to work longer to achieve the same level of security in retirement. For most people, the years they work just prior to retirement are their peak earning years. A few more years at your max salary (and max savings rate) can add up quickly!
2.) Choose your accounts wisely
There are a few common retirement situations that put single people at greater risk. These risks mean that you'll want to prepare a little differently than married couples. Most notably, single people have less support and flexibility if they start outliving their savings. For married couples, the larger pool of assets and supplemental income streams help to keep this from being a serious worry. Singles don't have access to these benefits, so they need to be more careful in their selection of retirement vehicles. Looking to guaranteed sources of income, such as lifetime annuities and defined benefit plans, can help alleviate these concerns. While these investments may have a place in every portfolio, the additional security they provide to single people makes them especially useful.
Also, major medical problems pose a more significant challenge. Instead of having to depend on a partner to take care of you if you require long-term care, you may need professional assistance. This might come in the form of either in-home care or a residential facility. Long-term care insurance, though expensive, can be an excellent way to protect yourself against these costs. Similarly, keeping a robust Health Savings Account (HSA) can help save on taxes now and pay for medical expenses later.
3.) Take advantage of the opportunities
While being single in retirement does pose a number of challenges, it also opens up a number of exciting opportunities. For example, there's no reason why your retirement years have to be in the same community where you worked. You can take advantage of your new lifestyle to move to a place with a lower cost of living, thus extending your retirement savings.
There are also many bridges to retirement that are available to singles that may not be as desirable for married couples. Starting a small business using your workforce skills can put you in a position to maximize your tax benefits while also bolstering your income over those early retirement years. Whether it's in consulting, freelancing, or something unrelated to your career, you can put your skills to work pursuing your passions.
Since there's no guaranteed inheritance outside a marriage, your estate planning has many more options. You don't have a partner depending on your assets when you're gone, so you can dedicate your remaining savings to a cause that's important to you. You'll want to set up an estate plan that reflects your values and commitments, and you have the opportunity to do just that.
If you're ready to take the next step in your retirement planning, you owe it to yourself to see what benefits are available to credit union members. Call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union today!
YOUR TURN: What are you most looking forward to in retirement? How do you plan to make that dream a reality? If you've already retired, what tips do you have for the next generation?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Breached Security, Breached Trust: Yahoo's Leak And What It Means For You

It seems like the bigger they are, the harder they fall. At least, that's the lesson some security experts are taking away from the latest revelations about Yahoo's serious security breach. More than 500 million Yahoo accounts have been compromised, according to the latest reports. As a result, the company is facing a civil suit for gross negligence in allowing an unknown group of assailants to steal login information from a large contingent of its users.
The security breach, which began in 2014, was limited to username and password information for Yahoo's various sites, including webmail, news and fantasy sports services. Fortunately, no financial information is believed to be included in the stolen data. Still, there's reason to be concerned if you're a user of one of Yahoo's sites.
The stolen data
This breach, thought to be the largest of its kind, was confined to usernames and passwords for Yahoo services. It was discovered after FBI officials detected hackers attempting to sell the personal information of Yahoo users. Would-be buyers of such data have several reasons they find value in this information.
First, stealing an email account can be a first step to identity theft. By taking command of an email address, a thief can access password retrieval services at websites linked to that email. For example, a hacker could gain access to a Yahoo account, then use password retrieval to gain access to online shopping, banking and even employment or government accounts.
Second, thieves can use what's called "credential stuffing." Many people recycle username and password combinations across several services. Thieves take advantage of this by trying stolen usernames and passwords at other common sites. Think of it like finding a locker combination on the ground and trying it on every locker in the hallway. This strategy works, on average, for about 0.5% of stolen information. With 500 million possible options, though, that still represents a lucrative payday for the thief.
While Yahoo has been attempting to get in contact with victims, sorting through a breach of this size takes a lot of time and energy. It's safest to assume that all Yahoo login information was stolen. If you do use or have used a Yahoo site for any services, assume it's compromised. Fortunately, two of Yahoo's most popular platforms, Tumblr and Flickr, were unaffected by the breach.
Steps you should take
The first step after any breach like this one is to change passwords. Even if you don't have a Yahoo account, it's not a bad idea to use events like these as reminders. For high-security accounts, like your primary email address, credit cards, brokerages and online banking, change passwords every 6 months, regardless of their safety. If you have a Yahoo account, you'll need to change that password right away. And of course, if you use your Yahoo password at other sites, you'll want to change those as well.
If you use a Yahoo account to access your finances, consider changing the email address connected to those accounts, as well. The service provider may have been negligent in protecting information in this instance, and there is no telling what other security vulnerabilities still exist in their systems. While it may be a hassle to change accounts, it may be worth it for peace of mind.
Another less examined aspect of the data breach is security questions. Questions and answers used in the password reset process may have been compromised, too. If you use information like your favorite author, book or sports team to secure multiple accounts, that data could also be at risk. Worse yet, this data is frequently unencrypted, since it represents only one part of the password reset process. This means it may be widely available.
If you use the same personal information question(s) at multiple websites, now is a good time to review and change that information. Wherever possible, switch to a two-step authentication method. These processes use your cellphone number as a backup password option. If you try to reset your password, the service will call or text you with a code to use as a verification method. It puts another step between potential thieves and your information.
Finally, this is a good time to check your credit. This information has been leaking since 2014, so it's possible you could already be a victim of identity theft. Getting a credit report will let you know if any new accounts have been opened using your personal information. Similarly, this might be a good time to consider a credit monitoring service. Such services keep an eye on your credit periodically, and can help protect against identity theft.
YOUR TURN: Have you been burned by Yahoo or in another security breach? What did you do to keep yourself safe? Let us know in the comments!