Tuesday, February 9, 2016

IRS Scams and How to Defend Yourself

That's right, they're back. Scammers are using tax time to take advantage of the unwary, and much like the newest car at the auto show, this year's models look so much like last year's. Whatever happened to innovation?

Let’s take a look at the "new and improved' 2016 lineup of IRS scams. Of course, it's important to remember that innovation can happen at any time, so just because something isn't listed below, it doesn’t mean it's not a scam. If you have any suspicion you're dealing with a scammer, hang up, call the IRS or send an email to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Caution is your best approach.

The Telephone Scam 
Up first is one of the oldest scams in the IRS scam lineup. You get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and claiming you owe money. They insist that if you don't pay right now, you'll go to jail. You might recognize this one as a variation on a grandparent scam or Nigerian Prince scam, but if not, the process is simple: You don't owe the money and the scammers are trying to get you to give them money they don't deserve.

If someone calls you claiming to be from the IRS, even if your caller ID says "IRS" or the like, hang up and call the IRS. If it's legitimate, then you will be able to find out from the IRS. If not, you'll find out right away. Remember, you have a right to an attorney, you can have your accountant present if you're being audited, and you have the right to due process no matter the charge. Don't ever assume you have to pay anyone right away just because they called you and demanded payment.

The Email Scam 
One newer variation of the telephone scam is an email version carrying the same threat, but asking for much less money. This is a traditional phishing scam in which scammers ask for a modest sum that's payable online. Their hope is that you'll see a small amount, compare it to the terrible consequences they're threatening, and pay to make it go away. After all, who wouldn't spend $50 or $100 to make the IRS go away? Unfortunately, though, you won't be entering your financial info on a secure site that's provided by the IRS. You'll be entering your info on a dummy site that's set up by scammers to grab your credit card or checking account information. They'll in turn use that info to rack up all sorts of fraudulent charges.

As a rule of thumb, never, ever, follow the link in an email to a site where you may be asked to enter financial information. If you have an email from the IRS, see if you can find your account by going directly to the IRS website. The same is true for eBay, Amazon, and other retailers that scammers love to impersonate. Yes, it's easier to follow a link than it is to find the right page on your own, but scammers are counting on that. A few clicks could save you thousands of dollars.

The Tax Preparer Scam 
The final variation of this scam is the tax preparer phishing email scam. In this one, the goal is the same as the variation described above. Instead of impersonating the IRS, they're impersonating a tax preparer. They'll likely have some authentic-looking credentials, which are fake, and assure you everything's alright, but you need to update your info on the IRS' e-file page. The problem is, the link in the email doesn't take you to the IRS' page. It takes you to ... you guessed it! A dummy page that looks like an IRS page but actually captures the financial information you enter.

Don't be a victim. Always follow through with an extra phone call or email. Don't follow links that are provided in emails and don't assume that a webpage that looks OK must be OK. It's tax time, the time of year where we get a national math test, and math tests are stressful for everyone. Scammers know that and they prey on it.

If you suspect you've been the victim of identity theft, let Community Financial know right away. The sooner we know, the more protection we can offer. Also, file a complaint with the FTC and alert one of the major credit bureaus. To learn more about these and other tax scams visit irs.gov.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

CFCU to Celebrate National Wear Red Day

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.? Each year, 1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke. The good news is that 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. With the right information, education and care, lives can be saved.

To help raise awareness and funds to help fight cardiovascular disease, Community Financial team members will be wearing red on February 5th. The campaign is part of the American Heart Association’s 13th Annual National Wear Red Day, in which participants wear red, make a donation to join the Go Red For Women® movement and receive a red dress pin, all to help raise awareness of heart disease.

Community Financial will also provide Go Red Snack Bars inside all branches on National Wear Red Day. Members are invited to grab a healthy snack and learn more about heart healthy habits and the Go Red for Women movement at these stations.

Heart disease awareness has increased over recent years, but most women fail to make the connection between heart disease risk factors and their personal risk of developing the disease. Go Red For Women has been educating and connecting hundreds of thousands of women with knowledge and tools to help them make lifesaving choices. More than 650,000 women’s lives have been saved and 300 fewer women are dying per day. For more information about National Wear Red Day visit GoRedforWomen.org.

And don’t forget to show your support and wear red on February 5 to Go Red For Women! Together we can make a difference.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Money Management Skills to Teach Your Kids

Finances are a surprising topic parents should be reinforcing with their children. Kids need to be taught how to manage money early on so they can get started on a path to financial success. Leading by example is a great place to start, but directly talking to your children about money will help them develop better money management habits throughout their lifetime. Here a few money management concepts to get them started:
  • Money is earned. Because most kids are given everything from birth, they don’t understand the concept of having to earn money until it’s been explained, or better yet, they have to do it themselves. One way to teach children this concept is by giving them the option of doing chores around the house for an allowance or other reward. There are also lessons to be learned from opening a lemonade stand, mowing the neighbor’s lawn, or taking that first babysitting job. By encouraging children to start earning their own money, they start to better understand its value. For an extensive list of ideas on ways kids can earn their own money, visit this article about How to Make Money as a Kid.
  • Saving is necessary. As soon as your kids earn money, they will probably want to spend it all. Habits developed early on in a child’s life can make or break their habits as adults, so the importance of saving is a good lesson to learn early on. One way to make saving easier on kids is to teach them to set aside a percentage of their earnings each time they receive cash. Opening a savings account where they can see their money grow is a great way to help them grasp the concept! For example, members 12 and under at Community Financial can open a free youth savings account with no minimum balance requirements. Our Youth Club encourages our youngest members to save money by giving them special incentives and rewards when they make deposits.
  • Keep track of your money. Teach your kids to keep a log of how much they earn, how they made the money, and how they spent it. We all know it can be difficult to keep track of our finances, so the key is to start small. What better way than to get your kids to start while it’s extremely manageable? There are even apps and online resources where kids can keep track of their funds and parents can monitor them as well. One great example of this is ThreeJars.com. The Community Financial Mobile Banking app is also an easy way to track and see your savings grow. Both are useful tools in helping kids manage their money responsibly. Seeing your child’s sense of accomplishment when they balance everything out and knowing how much they’ve saved may even inspire you! 
Often we look to the past and say “if only I saved more” and wish we had understood the future implications of our financial choices. By teaching children the basic concepts of earning, saving, and keeping track of their money from an early age, we can help shape their financial futures. For more information on Community Financial’s programs for kids, such as our Youth Club or Student-Run Credit Union Program, visit cfcu.org/youth.

*Community Financial does not endorse the information, content, presentation or accuracy, nor make any warranty, expressed or implied, regarding the websites and/or apps mentioned above.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Common Scholarship Myths and Tips

Scholarships can be one of the most underutilized sources of financial aid for college. With the cost of college tuition and room and board increasing, never underestimate the value in applying for scholarships. Many students don’t bother applying because they think they don’t have a chance in winning. But according to scholarships.com, here are a few of the most common myths students believe when applying for scholarships.
  • High school students should begin looking for scholarship during their senior year. It is not advisable to wait until your senior year to start looking for scholarships as many deadlines are in January. The sooner you begin the process the better. For students to have a good chance at winning the award, they should start searching by the middle of their junior year.
  • Most scholarship amounts are small and not worth the effort of applying. Every little bit counts. You might think that a $1,000 scholarship isn’t much in comparison to the rising cost of tuition and fees, but it definitely helps. The key is in trying to receive more than one source or scholarships. The more money you receive the less debt you will have when you graduate. 
  • Scholarships are only for students with top honors and GPAs. There are many scholarships out there that are not based on academics. Often, you need a minimum of a 2.5 GPA to apply but that’s not always the case. There are plenty of scholarships that are based off your hobbies, the major you are pursuing, or your community service work. 
  • You have to be a high school student to win a scholarship. Scholarships are not just for current high school students. In fact, there are numerous undergraduate and graduate scholarships available. Current college students should visit their financial aid office or speak to their advisor on department-related awards. 
  • The application process is a one-time thing. Many scholarships granted through schools require you to reapply each year. You will also want to look for new scholarships and those you may have missed the previous year. 
The key to overcoming these myths and getting scholarships for college is to apply, and apply often! Prospective college students should also ask different local organizations if they grant college scholarships. Don’t overlook the ones offered in your hometown. Odds are you will have a better chance of securing the scholarship if it’s a local organization.

A great example of this is the Community Financial Scholarship Program! We give away thousands of dollars in college scholarship money each year to student members who embody our “People Helping People” philosophy.

This year we are awarding 19 students with $1,000 scholarships in honor of the late George Lawton and Margaret Dunning. If you are a current student member or know someone who is be sure to check out our complete guidelines and application criteria at cfcu.org/scholarships.

Taking the time to do your research on available scholarships could reduce the total amount needed through student loans. Just remember that every amount helps when you are paying for your education!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Five Money Moves to Start the New Year off Right

Tired of all those New Year's resolutions you can never seem to keep? Don't set yourself up for failure. Here are five money moves that are actually attainable.

Create a Budget
It's kind of like joining a gym -- you've talked about creating a budget, but time after time, laziness has gotten the better of you. It's time to stop the madness and get serious about keeping track of your spending. Create a budget and set up a year's worth of calendar notifications reminding you to check your spending against it each month. Following a budget will help you see where you're overspending and identify more opportunities to save.

Pay Off Holiday Debt 
So you racked up a huge credit card bill in your attempt to shower friends and loved ones with holiday cheer. You wouldn't be the first. But don't make the mistake of letting that debt linger all the way into 2017. Instead, commit to paying it off as early as possible. Cut corners, go out less or get a second job for a few months if need be. Do whatever it takes to get the freshest possible financial start to the new year.

Save Your Raise 
If you're among the lucky folks getting a raise to welcome the new year, you may be tempted to spend that money on things like electronics, clothing or entertainment. Saving it, however, is a much smarter move. The average employee can expect to receive a three percent raise in the coming year. That figure accounts for rising cost-of-living expenses, but if your company dishes out performance-based pay increases as well, you could be looking at a much higher bump. Unless your rent or another major recurring bill happens to go up at that exact same time, you can capitalize on your pay increase by setting it up to automatically land in your savings account month after month. After all, if you're currently able to live without that extra money, there's a good chance you can continue to do so.

Learn to Cook 
Eating at restaurants is fun, and ordering in is easy and convenient. But while both habits are okay as an occasional indulgence, they're less than stellar as a way of life. First of all, restaurant and takeout meals are always going to be more expensive than making food yourself. Plus, when you let somebody else control the ingredients, you're likely to consume more calories than you'd otherwise intend. Here's a better idea: Why not learn to cook some of your favorite meals? You'll save money and feel good about the fact that you're actually using your kitchen for something other than storage. Plus, when you prepare your own food, you can control your portions, which means your new habit will not only be better for your wallet, but for your waistline as well.

Take Care of Your Health 
Being healthy isn't just good for your body; it's also good for your bank account. By staying in shape and scheduling your preventative care appointments, you'll be less likely to lose money in the form of medical bills from getting sick and missed work due to illness. You don't need to start training for a marathon or commit to five gym visits per week; even little changes can make a big difference. Walk the half-mile to work instead of riding the bus, or pledge to skip the elevator and take the stairs. You can tone up, lose those extra holiday pounds and save some money to boot.

What money-related resolutions are you hoping to keep this year?

Photo by mt 23 via cc.

By Maurie Backman Copyright 2016 brass Media, Inc.

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