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Money Matters Blog

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summertime Fun in Michigan with CFCU Guest Blogger Michele

Since summer is in full swing we asked our team members what they love the most about summertime in Michigan. Michele, a Mortgage Underwriter at Community Financial, weighed in about her family’s personal favorites and is today’s guest blogger.

Outside Activities 
My favorite thing about summertime in Michigan hands down is being outside. Whether it is going camping with family, hiking in the woods, kayaking on a lake or river, swimming, sitting around a fire, the list goes on and on.

From a cost approach, being outdoors is one of the cheapest things you can do. Make sure to USE your State and Metro Parks! For a nominal fee when you register your vehicle you can buy the rec pass and it gets you into all the State Parks in Michigan. We tend to spend most of our time at Island Lake State Park, which is close to our house. There are a few lakes, hiking trails, and even a canoe and kayak rental. If you like bike riding they cater to that too. Look up the activities that the park has going this summer. I am certain you will find something that will cater to you and your family. Or even better yet, step out of your comfort zone and try something new!

Michigan Traditions 
We are all fortunate to live in the best state in the country. The Great Lakes are AMAZING! You don’t have to worry about salt, sharks, alligators, or jelly fish! We have beautiful beaches. The towns that line the water are typically full of cute shops and delicious dining experiences. Some of the beaches are lined with parks for the kids. We also have beautiful State and National Parks. If you haven’t been to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park you are missing out on one of Michigan’s greatest treasures.

Michigan also hosts some great events each summer. One of my favorites every June is the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest in Howell! If you have kids this event is a must! Or if you are like me and LOVE hot air balloons it would be right up your alley. They launch the hot air balloons and you can see them take off. NOTHING beats seeing 30 plus air balloons launching at the same time! We also spent one weekend in July at another summer event that I think is pretty cool, and that’s Art in the Park in Plymouth. There are quite a few unique vendors that come to this event. Lastly, I haven’t been, but the Traverse City Cherry Festival sounds like it would be a lot of fun and I am already building our bucket list for next year!

Must Do’s 
Sunsets! If it has been a while since you watched a sunset, DO IT! Go somewhere quiet and peaceful and just watch as the sun with all its vibrant yellow, reds, oranges, and sometimes hints of pink and purple melts into the Earth. Take the time to appreciate the beauty of summer while it’s here. Lastly, I love stargazing. At the beginning of August there is a meteor shower. I highly recommend you find a dark place and take a blanket or a lawn chair and watch as shooting stars light up the sky. If you have children, it is a must do family activity. The kids get so excited every time they see one! 

Summer is definitely one season that goes by too fast! Do you have any favorite summertime activities? Let us know in the comment section below.

 *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, July 19, 2016

Chip-Enabled Cards: The Future of Credit Card Security

We’ve all heard the beeping at the cash registers as chip-enabled cards are being added to consumers' wallets. Just what is that noise all about?

This technology, also referred to as EMV, uses a microchip on your credit card to encrypt your financial information. It’s a more secure version of the magnetic strip that’s on the back of your credit card now. It’s verified at a point of sale terminal, just like a normal credit card. The more advanced technology makes it possible to have a stronger form of encryption, which makes your data more secure.

The cost of implementation has always held EMV technology back, because that cost was greater than the amount of fraud loss it would prevent. Now, with data theft affecting more and more retailers and consumers, the calculations are changing. In addition, regulatory changes have made retailers liable for more fraud damages, and that makes this technology more cost-effective. So what does this technological change mean for you? Let’s look at three differences you’ll see with your chip-enabled card:
  1. More security
    The greatest benefit is the increased level of encryption to protect your data. The magnetic strip cards can be read and copied from a point of sale terminal. This vulnerability allows one of the most common forms of high-tech identity theft. EMV technology encrypts your data from the point of sale terminal to your financial institution.
  2.  New ways to confirm your identity One of the features of EMV technology is the ability to store a unique personal identification number (PIN). You can use it in place of your signature to show that you’re the rightful owner of the card. This will make in-person shopping more convenient and more secure. Says one security expert; “It’s easier to forge a signature than steal a PIN.” Some retail workers don’t receive much training in verifying signatures, so a PIN provides a more secure way of completing transactions.
  3. Fewer hands on your card One of the benefits of having more data processing power in your wallet is that it’s easier to integrate it with other machines. EMVCo, the company behind the technology, is exploring mobile connection options for their cards. The big idea here is to make it possible to complete a transaction without ever having your card leave your pocket or purse. You can just enter your PIN and approve the charges at a point of sale terminal, and the computers will do the rest. The risks of fraud and theft decrease because fewer humans actually see the card. 
EMV technology is the future of credit card security. Community Financial recently adopted this technology and will issue chip-enabled credit cards and debit cards to its members. Aside from getting a new card issued to you and maybe learning a new PIN, you don’t have to do anything special. These new cards will provide a greater amount of protection against fraudulent activity and an increased number of benefits.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trust Your Intuition to Shop Online (And Offline) Safely

In one way, shopping online is very similar to shopping at kiosks, in shops and in malls. Personal and financial safety is always of great importance, but it’s easy to forget about safety when we’re distracted or in a rush. Either way, searching for the best item at the best price can be very distracting.

Sadly, unscrupulous online vendors are well aware of that fact. They may set up a website, or a Craigslist or eBay listing, based upon the fact that most shoppers are too busy and distracted to consider their personal shopping safety.

Trusting your intuition is a very useful safety measure 
If you just don’t feel right about a particular brick-and-mortar store, you probably avoid it, right? But do you avoid a website or auction listing just because something doesn’t look or feel right about it? 

Online dating can teach you a lot about using your intuition when you shop online. Even if you haven’t explored online dating yourself, no doubt you’ve heard stories about fakers and scammers who compromised the personal and financial safety of someone they met online. Sadly, it’s not an uncommon experience.

That’s why internet shopping safety is primarily a matter of considering the real person or company behind every website and each listing you visit. Trust your intuition to guide you. To do this, you have to set aside distractions and you can’t be in a rush. Things you should look for include:

  • Product descriptions that are too short, clipped and inadequate. If a normal person needs more information to make an intelligent purchase, move on to another site to make your purchase. Something may not be right.
  • Spelling and grammar errors that stick out and detract from your shopping experience. Reputable companies hire experienced copywriters and editors to eliminate basic spelling and grammar mistakes. Scammers, many of whom are not located in the United States, skip the expense and try to do it themselves.
  • A physical address in the United States. If you can’t find a physical address at the bottom of a website, or on the ‘About’ or ‘Contact’ pages, there’s a problem. The CAN-SPAM Act requires commercial emails to include the physical address of the sender in the email and on the website to which any commercial email is linked. But, CAN-SPAM does not require websites to list a physical address, and it does not impose a fine as it does on commercial emails without physical addresses.
  • A secure payment portal. Look carefully at the website address in the address bar at the top of your browser screen. It should begin with "https://" because the “s” indicates a level of security you need whenever you enter credit card or other personal information. 
Do you trust your own intuition when you’re shopping online, and make sure you take the time to protect your personal and financial safety wherever you shop? Taking extra precaution when you make online purchases could save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and shop elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Financial Repercussions of the Brexit Vote

Two weeks ago the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a contentious referendum. While the implications of this decision are many and wide-ranging, there’s no need to panic.

What the Brexit does 
The referendum in the United Kingdom was to leave the European Common Market. The Market is a network of countries (called the Eurozone) that don’t charge each other import or export taxes and simplify the process for citizens of any Eurozone member to get permission to work in any other country. The Brexit vote means that the United Kingdom is leaving that network.

For citizens of the United Kingdom, this decision could have very serious implications. On one hand, the country will get more control over its immigration policy. What most financial experts are concerned about, though, are the trade implications. The United Kingdom will have to negotiate its own trade policies with every other member of the Eurozone. For the past 20 years, British trade policy with the rest of Europe has been determined by the Common Market rules. It will take time to reestablish trade policies with the many nations of the Union.

No need to panic 
The one thing that drives markets down more than anything else is uncertainty. If no one has reason to believe that trade will occur and profits will be made, there’s no motivation to invest. That’s the current circumstance. There are no clear trade rules governing Britain’s participation in the Common Market, which is driving investors in both European and British markets away. This same fear is also impacting other markets of countries that do business with the United Kingdom. This behavior is driving concerns about a short-term recession.

Ultimately, trade agreements will be mended. The United Kingdom and the rest of Europe are too close, both politically and economically, to remain at odds for long. Business as usual will return sooner rather than later, and short-term losses will rebound. U.S. companies that conduct a great deal of business with Europe and the United Kingdom may have some staff reductions, but job loss should be minimal in the U.S., at least over the long term.

What this means for your portfolio 
Over the short term, stocks and foreign currency funds will likely take a significant beating. Resisting the urge to cut and run from these positions will take discipline, but it will reward investors with the courage to ride out the storm. When normalcy returns to international trade, these positions will rebound. This sudden downswing may mean postponing retirement for a few years in order to take advantage of bargain-priced securities in the interim, but investors who sell now may end up regretting the decision.

While you should check with your financial advisor before making changes, for those still saving for retirement, it may be prudent to find another place to stash gain-seeking money in the interim. Instead of investing in the typical instruments, consider long-term share accounts. As governments in Europe cut interest rates in an effort to stimulate their economies, traditional safe instruments – such as government bonds – will lose some of their luster. Long-term share accounts will keep current interest rates through the economic trouble and provide a better 3- to 5-year return than many other traditionally safe investments.

The bottom line 
The Brexit vote will likely cause some damage to the global economy, but the damage will hopefully be minimal. After an interruption of trade, everyone should get back to business as usual across Europe. Some companies may cut their staff down for a short time, but they will re-expand once the economic situation returns to normal. So for now, keep calm and keep saving.