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Tips to staying on budget this holiday season


‘Tis the season for SAFE online shopping – 10 Tips to remember!

Don’t fall victim to online fraudulent activity during the busy shopping season. Stay safe by keeping these online shopping tips in mind!

  1. Research all websites and retailers you’re purchasing from to ensure legitimacy.
  2. Take care when entering personal information online and only complete those fields necessary to make the purchase.
  3. Always make sure the site you are on is security enabled with a web address that begins with https://.
  4. Review retailers’ return and other policies to understand what happens if the product doesn’t arrive or isn’t right.
  5. Use a safe payment option – Credit cards are typically the safest as they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn’t delivered or isn’t what was ordered.
  6. Be smart about purchases you conduct over public Wi-Fi connections and adjust any security settings on your device to limit who can access your phone.
  7. Run the most current version of software and apps to keep all your web-connected devices free from malware and infections.
  8. Turn on two-step authentication where possible for added security.
  9. Use a strong password that is a sentence and at least 12 characters long where possible.
  10. Create a unique password for every account.

For more tips on safe cyber shopping, visit Staysafeonline.org.

Warning Signs of Identity Theft

If you discover that someone is misusing your personal information, visit IdentityTheft.gov to report and recover from identity theft.

What Do Thieves Do With Your Information?

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

Clues That Someone Has Stolen Your Information

If your wallet, Social Security number, or other personal information is lost or stolen, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft.

Place a Fraud Alert

Ask 1 of the 3 credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report. They must tell the other 2 companies. An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. The alert lasts 90 days but you can renew it.

Why Place an Initial Fraud Alert

Three national credit reporting companies keep records of your credit history. If someone has misused your personal or financial information, call 1 of the companies and ask for an initial fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert is free. You must provide proof of your identity. The company you call must tell the other companies about your alert.

An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you. The initial alert stays on your report for at least 90 days. You can renew it after 90 days. It allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you.

How to Place an Initial Fraud Alert

  1. Contact 1 credit reporting company.
    • Report that you are an identity theft victim.
    • Ask the company to put a fraud alert on your credit file.
    • Confirm that the company you call will contact the other 2 companies.
      • Placing a fraud alert is free. The initial fraud alert stays on your credit report for 90 days.
      • Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you.
  2. Update your files.
    • The credit reporting company will explain that you can get a free credit report, and other rights you have.
  3. Mark your calendar.
    • The initial fraud alert stays on your report for 90 days. You can renew it after 90 days.
  4. Update your files.
    • Record the dates you made calls or sent letters.
    • Keep copies of letters in your files.

Contact Information for the Credit Reporting Companies




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6 Ways to Save More Money in 2016

Follow these tips, and you'll have a bigger savings account by next year.

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This year, skip the resolutions and set specific savings goals instead.

A new year signifies reflection and change. It’s a time when we put our finances under a microscope to figure out where we are now and where we want to be by this time next year. If you want to have more money in savings, January is the right time to make a fresh start. Use these six money-saving tips to stockpile more cash in 2016.

1. Ditch resolutions and set goals. 

There’s usually good intent behind New Year’s resolutions, but often they become a distant memory by March. This year, skip resolutions and set specific money goals. Unlike resolutions, goals are realistic, measurable and include an action plan that will lead you to success. 

Once you set a savings goal for 2016, calculate how much you need to save each day, week and month to reach it. Then include the goal in your monthly budget. If you don’t have a budget, you can create a simple one using Excel or sign up for a free online budget tool like Mint.

2. Negotiate for better rates.
You may be wondering where extra money to meet your savings goal will come from, especially if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. I know from experience, it’s possible to save a large sum of money even on a modest income. As a preschool teacher making a $39,000 per year salary, I was still able to save $40,000 within two years. Saving this much requires a strict budget, persistence and knowing how to cut costs. 

Monthly bills are one area where you can cut expenses to devote more money to savings. Rates for insurance and other services like Internet and cable aren’t set in stone. Call your service providers to ask for discounts or specials at least once per year. You’ll be surprised what discounts a company will offer if you say you’ll take your business elsewhere.

Every dollar saved here and there counts. Think about it – reducing a monthly bill by just $50 is an extra $600 saved for the year. Not bad.

3. Say goodbye to excess spending. 

You may not realize how much money you spend on unnecessary things throughout the day. Try this exercise: Keep track of each time you want to buy something nonessential (i.e. Starbucks or takeout). At the end of the day, tally up how much you wanted to spend. Then, transfer that money into your savings account instead. You’ll see how much spending less can grow your savings.

Take this one step further, and check your bank statements to make sure no unnecessary bills are automatically withdrawing without your knowledge. Have you accidentally signed up for a smartphone app that charges you each month? Do you have a gym membership you’re not even using? Pull the plug on each cost that isn’t essential. 

4. Bring in more Benjamins. 

There’s only so many ways you can cut back without dramatically changing your lifestyle. It’s important to remember saving is like dieting. You’ll fall back into old spending habits if you penny pinch and deprive yourself of abundance. Instead, bring in more income so you can save money and still enjoy life.

Ask for more hours at your current job or take on a part-time gig. I recommend starting your own independent side hustle instead of punching a clock at another job. The best side hustles are jobs you already know how to do. There’s a low barrier to entry, and you can charge more for your service since you’re an expert in the field. 

For example, if you’re a teacher you can tutor on the side. If you’re an accountant you can offer bookkeeping or tax advising. (Tax season is coming up, so you’re bound to find a steady stream of income.)

5. Transfer debt to save on interest.

Do you have credit card debt to repay in 2016? A balance transfer will save you money on interest. A balance transfer is when you move debt from one credit card with high interest to another one that’s offering a low-interest special for new customers. Some deals offer 12 months (or longer) with 0 percent APR. To make the most of a balance transfer, make sure you can pay off your entire balance during the intro period before interest kicks in. 

6. Choose the right account to stockpile cash.

Finally, don’t keep your savings in a regular checking or savings account. Instead, look for an online high-yield savings or money market account with competitive interest and no annual fee. Compare account terms using a resource like MagnifyMoney. Then, when you open an account, set up automatic deposits, so you can set and forget them. 

Ultimately, the steps to saving more money are fairly simple. It’s the implementation that can be a challenge. But, if you get a solid head start in January, you’ll gain savings momentum that can last through the year. 

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