7 Banking Tips for Young Millennials

Once you start receiving your first paychecks after graduation, knowing how to spend or save your money wisely can be tough. While you may be able to do your banking with just a few taps on your phone, managing money well is much more complicated. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1. Budget using apps

Tracking how much you spend weekly and monthly shows you where your money goes and how you can save more. You can use a budgeting app that tracks your cash automatically or one where you enter information manually. Choose an app that lets you spend as little or as much time on budgeting as you want. From there, you can identify your total fixed expenses, such as rent and car payments, and more-flexible costs such as shopping and dining out.

2. Set up automatic transfers to savings

When you have a rough idea of how much you can save regularly, create a recurring transfer from your checking account to a savings account. By making savings automatic, you can get used to spending “below your means” and never have to worry about remembering to transfer.

3. Avoid overdrawing your checking account

Before you pay rent or spend any other big chunk of money, take a look at your checking account’s available balance. This can prevent you from spending more than you have in your account. If you overdraw, you may be charged a fee.

4. Establish credit

Student loans and credit cards can help you build good credit — as long as you stay current on monthly payments and don’t overuse your cards. Your credit score, which shows how responsible you are with credit, is an important factor that lenders check before approving car loans and mortgages. The better your score, the lower the interest rate you may be eligible for.

5. Repay debts strategically

If you have debts from multiple credit cards and student loans, pay the minimum on each and then contribute more to your higher-interest debts. By making those a priority, you can reduce how much interest you’re paying faster than by treating all debts the same.

6. Start an emergency fund

Being financially prepared in case of health emergencies or unexpected unemployment can save you from going into debt. Have a separate savings account just for this purpose; don’t mix it up with your regular savings. A good rule of thumb is to save enough to pay three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

7. Set long-term savings goals

Consider saving for retirement in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan or individual retirement account. When you start saving early, you take advantage of compounded returns to make more money off your contributions overall.

From smart budgeting to setting goals, make good money choices now. Since time is on your side, you can benefit from building credit and saving early to be ready for big financial decisions in the future.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

How Debit Card Fraud Happens — and How to Avoid It

For many people, debit cards are the perfect plastic. They offer most of the conveniences of credit cards with no risk of accumulating debt.

But like credit cards, debit cards are vulnerable to rip-off artists. And debit card fraud is particularly scary because thieves can withdraw money directly from your checking account.

Here’s how debit fraud happens and how to protect yourself.

How identity thieves operate

Debit card fraud can be sophisticated or old-school. Thieves use techniques including:

  • Hacking. When you bank or shop on public Wi-Fi networks, hackers can use keylogging software to capture everything you type, including your name, debit card account number and PIN.
  • Phishing. Be wary of messages soliciting your account information. Emails can look like they’re from legitimate sources but actually be from scammers. If you click on an embedded link and enter your personal information, that data can go straight to criminals.
  • Skimming. Identity thieves can retrieve account data from your card’s magnetic strip using a device called a skimmer, which they can stash in ATMs and store card readers. They can then use that data to produce counterfeit cards. EMV chip cards, which are replacing magnetic strip cards, can reduce this risk.
  • Spying. Plain old spying is still going strong. Criminals can plant cameras near ATMs or simply look over your shoulder as you take out your card and enter your PIN. They can also pretend to be good Samaritans, offering to help you remove a stuck card from an ATM slot.

Smart ways to protect yourself

Adopt these simple habits to greatly reduce your odds of falling victim to debit card fraud:

  • Be careful online. Shop and bank on secure websites with private Wi-Fi. If you must shop or bank in public, download a virtual private network to protect your privacy.
  • Monitor your accounts. Review your statements and sign up for text or email alerts so you can catch debit card fraud attempts early.
  • Don’t ignore data breach notifications. The majority of identity theft victims received warnings that their accounts might have been breached but did nothing. If you get one of these messages, change your PIN and ask your provider to change your debit card number. You can also ask one of the major credit card bureaus to place a fraud alert on your file.
  • Inspect card readers and ATMs. Don’t use card slots that look dirty or show evidence of tampering, such as scratches, glue or debris. And steer clear of machines with strange instructions, such as “Enter PIN twice.”
  • Cover your card. When using your debit card or typing your PIN at an ATM, block the view with your other hand. Go to a different location entirely if suspicious people are hanging around the ATM, and if your card gets stuck, notify the financial institution directly rather than accepting “help” from strangers.

Even if you’ve taken precautions, debit card fraud can still happen. If your card gets hacked, don’t panic. Tell your bank or credit union right away so you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Four Forms You’ll Fill Out at Your First Job

Nothing’s easy about finding your first job: not the internet scouring, not the resume tweaking, not the interviews. When you finally are hired, you should experience some relief — but the sheer number of things you have to learn in the first few weeks can make you feel just as harried as the search process itself.

We can’t tell you how best to do your job, but we can prime you for the paperwork. Here’s a breakdown of how to handle it.

Direct deposit forms

As soon as you can, sign up for direct deposit — an electronic transfer of your salary from your employer directly into your bank account. It might not go into effect until after your first payday, but once it does, it’ll make your life much easier. Your wages will be harder to steal, and you’ll be able to access them more quickly. Checks can take a few days to process.

Setting up direct deposit is easy: You just need your bank account number and your bank’s routing number, both of which appear on your personal checks. If your employer doesn’t have a direct deposit form, your bank can provide one.

Health insurance sign-up forms

Most people get health insurance through their employers. Those who don’t must shop for a plan through private exchanges or the public marketplaces created under President Barack Obama’s health care law — or pay a penalty for forgoing coverage.

Whichever route you take, there are a few facts and terms you should know when evaluating plans:

  • Your premium is the amount you pay for insurance. If you receive coverage through your employer, it’s usually deducted from your paycheck.
  • Your deductible is is how much you are expected to pay per year for medical services your plan covers. After you “meet your deductible,” you will only be responsible for a percentage of the cost of service, a copay or a flat fee, depending on your policy. If you have a higher deductible amount, you often have lower monthly payments and vice versa.
  • A copayment or copay is the small fee — say, $10 or $20 — you pay every time you visit the doctor, get a prescription filled or generally receive health care. These payments go toward your deductible.

There’s much more involved in choosing a health insurance plan, including understanding the alphabet soup of plan types, such as HMOs, PPOs, EPOs and POS plans. Read any plan details carefully to decide which type of insurance is best for you. (And if you’d rather stay on your parents’ health insurance plan, you can do so until you turn 26.)

Retirement and 401(k) deferral forms

You’re just starting your first job, so the time when you can stop working probably seems like it’s eons away. But now is exactly when you should start saving for your retirement.

Your employer might offer a retirement savings plan, such a 401(k), which lets you divert a portion of your pay into a tax-advantaged account. Your employer might also match some of your contribution. If you can, take advantage of the full match amount — it’s essentially free money.

Other retirement savings options include individual retirement accounts and brokerage accounts, but one thing is constant: The earlier you start saving, the more you’ll have when you retire, thanks to compounding interest.

Tax paperwork

You’ll probably notice very quickly that having a $50,000 salary doesn’t mean you’re actually taking home $50,000 per year. A portion of your check pays your federal and state taxes, as well as deductions for Social Security and Medicare.

Before you receive your first paycheck, you’ll have to fill out a W-4 form, telling your employer how much tax to withhold from it. If you’re single and have no dependents, it’s pretty straightforward. And even if not, the IRS has a helpful calculator. Depending how much you have withheld, come next April you could have a big refund coming, or you could owe the government a lot of money. If you don’t like how things shake out at tax time, you can file a new W-4.

Questions? Ask your human resources department

Just as there’s probably someone at your office who will train you and show you where the restroom is, there are probably also people who can help you make sense of all these forms — the human resources department. If you have a question about your benefits or how you get paid, talk to them. It’s their job to help, and they’ve been at it longer than you have.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

How to Save for Retirement

It’s never too early to start putting away money for your future. If you’ve ever wondered how to save for retirement when you’re also dealing with day-to-day expenses, these easy tips can help.

1. Get a rough estimate of retirement expenses

It may seem difficult to know how much money you’ll need in retirement, especially if it’s several decades away. Experts say that to keep your same standard of living, you’ll probably need at least 70% of your pre-retirement income.

The reason you probably won’t need 100 percent is because some costs, such as commuting expenses or child care, probably won’t be necessary in retirement. If you already have a budget for your current expenses, then it’s probably easy to get a rough idea of what you may need when you retire.

2. Decide on a savings target

Say you’re 25 years old and your living expenses are about $50,000 a year. Take 70% of that, and it means you’d probably need about $35,000 to retire comfortably, assuming your income remains the same until retirement. So you’d want a nest egg that provides about $35,000 annually.

Many financial experts suggest that you withdraw only about 4% of your retirement savings each year to help ensure that it lasts. That means to get $35,000 in income, you’d need a savings target of about $875,000.

It’s a lot of money, but by using a retirement calculator, you could find that there’s a good chance you could reach your goal by age 61 if you start saving 10% of your income each year. This number assumes your savings earn 7% annually. If your income increases before retirement, you’d probably also need to increase your savings target.

If you can’t quite put away 10% or whatever your goal percentage is while also keeping up with your regular expenses, consider starting with a smaller amount and gradually increasing the percentage of income you save until you reach your goal.

You may also have other income sources in retirement, such as Social Security or a pension plan. Look at the Social Security calculator to get an idea of what your monthly benefits might be when you retire and add that to your retirement calculations.

Bear in mind that an income of $35,000 will probably have much less spending power in 40 years than it does today because of inflation, so it’s smart to consider cost-of-living increases in your savings target. It may be a good idea to make an appointment with a certified financial planner to help you weigh your options.

3. Contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan

In addition to knowing what percentage of income you should save each year, you’ll also want to decide where to put your money. If your employer offers a traditional or Roth 401(k), consider enrolling. This is especially important if your company offers an employer match, because a match is like adding free money to your retirement savings. You could also contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA.

With traditional retirement plans, you receive an upfront tax deduction for the money you contribute. You then let that savings grow and allow the interest to compound. You’d pay income tax on any money you withdraw, and you’d also have additional early withdrawal penalties if you take money out before age 59½.

With Roth plans, you pay tax on your contributions, but you don’t have to pay tax on your withdrawals if you retire after age 59 ½.

When you put your money in a retirement savings plan, you’ll have a number of different investment options to consider, including stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

4. Put your savings on autopilot

Once you’ve established your retirement plan, consider setting up automatic withdrawals from your paycheck or bank account. It would be much easier to meet your savings goals when your money has a chance to grow uninterrupted over a period of years.

Learning how to save for retirement is important, but it doesn’t have to be hard. By coming up with a savings goal and contributing regularly to a retirement account, you can help make sure you’ll be able to meet your financial goals for the long term.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Is Fall the Best Time to Buy a House?

Sometimes it’s smarter to buy certain items according to the season, like sweaters near the end of winter and swimsuits in late summer. But what’s the best season for buying a house?

The answer: the fall. As temperatures cool and trees shed their leaves, enough factors break in the buyer’s favor to make it the No. 1 season for homebuying. Here’s why.

Less competition

Many homebuyers are families who want to minimize a move’s effect on their kids’ schooling. They want them to start at a new school on the first day, not midyear. And so if their spring and summer searching didn’t work out, they might well wait for the next go-round. This means fewer buyers bidding on the same houses you’re interested in and more negotiating power when you do. (A chart in this article shows how home sales drop starting in the fall.)

Of course, this works both ways: Sellers might not want to uproot their families in the middle of the school year either. But while this brings housing inventory down, you might just find it easier to focus and pinpoint exactly what you really want in a home.

Sellers are more motivated

Spring and summer are the high seasons for homebuying: Days are longer, the weather’s nice, and open houses are well-attended. And that means sellers can sit back and be a bit choosier with offers.

But as Labor Day recedes in the rearview mirror, sellers start to wriggle in their seats. The prospect of trying to sell during the holiday season or, more likely, waiting until the next year, is dispiriting. And so these sellers can become, in a sense, settlers – willing to reduce their prices and conditions. There is some variation by region, but overall in the U.S., prices have peaked by the end of August.

Buyers can use this increased motivation to their advantage, offering less and asking for more during negotiations.

Taxes and discounts

Buying a home costs a lot of money but comes with good tax breaks as well. The IRS allows deductions for the interest you pay on your mortgage, on the premiums you might pay for mortgage insurance, on property taxes and more, including some of these that went into your closing costs. Buying a home in the fall means seeing those tax breaks sooner, the following April.

Also, much like those motivated sellers, many homebuilders discount their inventories during this time of year to help them meet year-end sales goals.

The decision to buy requires serious consideration of where you are in life, what your goals are and how much you can afford. But if you are indeed ready, buying during the fall can be a good call. Just try to find time in between football games.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Fact Sheet: How to Save Damaged Family and Personal Treasures

Release date:
September 11, 2017
Release Number:
FEMA FS-011

Many valuable and cherished personal items damaged by flood waters often can be rescued. Here are some tips on how to save some of your family treasures:

  • If an object is still wet, rinse it gently with clean water. If dry, remove silt and other foreign material with a soft brush or damp cloth.
  • Air dry wet things indoors. Sunlight might be too intense. Keep humidity as low as possible to prevent mold accumulation.
  • Flood water may be contaminated. Wear protective gloves, clothing and goggles.
  • Do not try to separate photos or negatives that are stuck together. Soak them in water for up to 48 hours until you can safely pull them apart. Hang them with clips or clothespins to dry.
  • Put wet books in a sturdy covered plastic container, spine side down. Place the container in a freezer and keep it there for several weeks, even months. Then remove and let dry.
  • With fabrics or textiles, remove mud and debris with gently flowing clean water or fine spray from a hose. Press out the excess water with your hand. Do not try to wring out the water. Allow to dry.
  • Clean wooden objects, like furniture, with a damp sponge; blot and let dry slowly inside the house, not under the sun.
  • Rinse metal objects with clear water and blot dry immediately with a clean, soft cloth. Fans or low-heat hairdryers will hasten drying rate.
  • For broken pottery or ceramics, put all the pieces in an open container and mark what it is. Don’t try to glue the pieces back together until they are dry, and watch for mold. If mold appears, spray the pieces with Mold-Ex or a similar product.

For more information, log onto preservecollections.org. To find a professional conservator, log onto conservation-us.org/membership/find-a-conservator.

7 Tips for Hurricane Preparedness

With hurricane season underway, ABA is encouraging consumers to prepare for hurricane season by assessing their home’s risk and developing emergency plans to protect against a potential storm.

  • Know your risk. FEMA’s map service center will show you the flood risk for your community, which helps determine the type of flood insurance coverage  you will need since standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding.
  • Assemble an emergency kit. The emergency kit should include first aid supplies, a flashlight, extra batteries, at least three days of non-perishable foods and water, towels and a supply of any necessary medications. Stay informed of the storm’s path and progress by monitoring Wireless Emergency Alerts via text message and having a battery-powered radio or TV available.
  • Develop a family communications plan. Know how you will contact one another; how you will get back together, if separated; and what you will do in different situations. Having a plan can eliminate some of the stress and confusion.
  • Establish an evacuation route. Prior to a storm, contact your local American Red Cross to locate the shelter nearest you or download their Shelter Finder App. Identify the safest route to get there. Be sure to check if your local emergency shelter allows animals and family pets.
  • Secure your home. Outdoor furniture and other objects can pose a potential hazard. Turn off propane tanks and other utilities if instructed to do so by emergency personnel.
  • Protect financial documents.  In the event of a disaster, you will need identification and financial documents to begin the recovery process.  Safeguard important documents in a bank safety deposit box, computer storage devices (USB drive, CD/DVD), and/or waterproof storage containers, including:
  • Personal identification (driver’s licenses, birth certificates, military IDs, passports, etc.)
  • Financial account information (checking, savings, retirement and investment accounts, credit/debit cards).
  • Insurance policies on all personal property, including appraisals and lists and photos of valuable items.
  • Ownership or leasing documentation for homes and vehicles (deeds, titles, registrations, rental agreements, etc.)
  • All health and medical insurance documentation.
  • Know the details of your insurance policy. Talk with your agent to determine if you have adequate coverage or if you need to reassess your plan. This is especially important if your property’s flood map has changed.

The FEMA website, Ready.gov, offers tips on preparing for an emergency. FEMA offers a free app that is available for download through your smart phone. For more resources, visit the FEMA site: http://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.

How to Protect Your Loved One from Financial Abuse

Financial exploitation is one of the most common forms of abuse committed against older Americans. According to a Metlife study, an estimated $2.9 billion is lost annually to scams explicitly targeting seniors.  The American Bankers Association Foundation is urging older Americans and their caregivers to join the fight against financial abuse and take active steps to protect their finances from fraud.

“Older Americans currently hold more than two-thirds of all U.S. deposits, making them highly susceptible to scams, exploitation and abuse,” said Corey Carlisle, ABA Foundation executive director. “It’s critical that seniors and their loved ones recognize the signs of financial abuse before it’s too late and get help immediately if they think they’ve been victimized.”

To help older Americans and their caregivers protect themselves or their loved ones from financial abuse, the ABA Foundation is offering the following tips:

  • Plan ahead to protect your assets and to ensure your wishes are followed. Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney, or financial advisor about the best options for you.
  • Carefully choose a trustworthy person to act as your agent in all estate-planning matters. Select someone who has your best interest at heart.
  • Never give personal information, including your Social Security, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted.
  • Stay alert to common fraud schemes. Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.”
  • Never rush into a financial decision.  Ask for details in writing and consult with a financial advisor or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.
  • Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances and make sure to lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.
  • Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.
  • You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you believe you are a victim of elder financial abuse, contact your local Adult Protective Services, tell someone at your bank or call your local police for help.

In 2016, ABA Foundation launched its Safe Banking for Seniors campaign to encourage banks all across the country to spread awareness and educate older customers and their families on safe banking practices. To date, more than 650 banks have held financial education seminars for seniors and their financial caregivers on a range of topics, including common scams, how to choose a financial caregiver and safe banking practices.

For more information on ABA Foundation’s Safe Banking for Seniors initiative, visit aba.com/seniors.

8 Ways to Protect Your Data Online

The American Bankers Association is highlighting eight tips to help online users protect their data and guard against online threats.

“Cyber thieves are using social media profiles to gather personal information and use it to commit fraud,” said Doug Johnson, ABA’s senior vice president of payments and cybersecurity policy.  “It’s extremely important that consumers limit the amount of information they share online and stay away from using easily retrieved information — such as birthdates, pet’s names or school mascots — as answers to security questions.”

ABA is offering the following tips to help consumers safeguard their information online:

  • Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date.  Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
  • Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.
      • Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.

  • Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc.  Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
  • Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
  • Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
  • Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

9 Tips for Paying Off Your Credit Card Debt

Buried in credit card debt? You’re not alone. According to NerdWallet, in 2015 the average U.S. household with debt had $15,762 in credit card debt at an average 18% interest rate. Annual interest alone was $2,630, or more than $50 a week.

Here are nine tips on how to climb out. Remember, though, there are no magical solutions.

Stop spending more than you make

Tell yourself the truth. Analyze your bills to see where your money is going. Car payments, rent or mortgage, groceries and utilities are essentials; nearly everything else is subject to elimination or reduction. And don’t forget those $100 withdrawals from the ATM. Create a realistic budget and declare allegiance to it. Concentrate on the little things; just knocking off a $4 latte on the way to work can save $80 a month.

Keep paying on the cards

Failing to pay every month on every card just makes matters worse: The interest goes up and the debt goes up.  Always pay at least the minimum listed on the bill.  Not doing so may ruin your credit rating, making it harder to borrow money for essentials, such as a car, in the future.

Concentrate on paying off your smallest debt

The typical American has about four credit cards, so try pounding away at the one with the least debt. After you pay it in full, stop using it and apply the monthly payment to the next smallest bill. This “snowball effect” is a slow cure but leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment. This method, however, may cost you more in the long run, so read on.

Pay off the card with the highest interest

Pretty basic math here. Eliminating debt that costs you 28% is better than killing debt that costs you 18%. Try throwing your entire income tax refund or last month’s overtime pay at this bill. Then move on to the account with the next-highest interest rate.

 Consolidate onto a lower-interest card

This can save you a ton in interest, especially if you eliminate all your other cards. Cards are available that will charge you 0% interest on the debt you have transferred.  However, this rate goes up after a specified time, usually 12 to 18 months. In addition, the issuer usually charges a fee — 3% is typical — on the transferred debt. Still, this can be a great deal if you can substantially reduce your debt in a relatively short time.

Take out a personal loan

Many lenders, including credit unions and banks, offer unsecured personal loans, meaning you don’t have to use your home or car as collateral. However, everything depends on your credit score. Below 620, interest rates will be high, although perhaps still below the rates on the credit cards it will be replacing. It’s worth shopping for.

Try a home equity loan

This loan, tapping the difference between the sale value of your home and money you still owe on it, also is based on your credit rating, as are home equity lines of credit. In addition, you could lose your home if you default. Consider with caution.

Cut a deal with the credit card company

This might be a long shot, but if you have a good credit history with the company and clearly have just fallen on hard times, it might negotiate with you on a lower interest rate. Like any other company, it wants to retain good customers.

Declare bankruptcy

This is the nuclear option. Yes, Chapter 7 bankruptcy will eliminate all your credit card debt and leave your home protected from repossession. However, it will be nearly impossible to get a mortgage for five years, and the filing will haunt you for up to a decade if you hope to finance anything at a reasonable rate.

 

© Copyright 2017 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved