Month: February 2018

social media

Fraud Prevention: Staying Safe on Social Media

Modern email accounts will filter out most phishing attempts and spam messages, but social networking sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat offer scammers a new path to your personal information, financial accounts, and identity. Here are some tips on how to stay safe while using social media.

Safe setup

No matter which service you’re using, check your privacy settings. Facebook, for example, allows you to customize who can see your posts, who can send you friend requests and if you want your profile to show up in search engines. Leaving your profile completely public is like keeping all the blinds open on your house. Use strong, unique passwords for each profile and keep them updated. Only fill out the required fields when registering. The less personal details you share online, the better.

Stay on guard

Don’t accept every friend request that comes your way on social media. Some fraudsters will create fake profiles or use the names and pictures of people you know to fool you. Examine each profile and if something looks fishy, delete the invitation. Avoid clicking on suspicious links, even if it’s from a friend or family member.

Be skeptical of third-party apps that request too much personal information or require unnecessary permissions, specifically when it comes to games and online quizzes. If you’re using a public computer, verify the “save password” box is unchecked when you log in to your profile and make sure to log out when you’re done—don’t just close the window.

Avoid oversharing

As exciting as it is to prepare for a vacation, resist the urge to post your upcoming travel plans online. This could alert the wrong people about when you’ll be gone and your home will be empty. Think twice before tagging your location while you’re out and about for the same reason.

Review each photo before uploading it to social media. Make sure you’re not accidentally revealing any information you don’t want to share, such as the name of your apartment complex or a friend’s phone number. And, it should go without saying, but never post pictures of your credit card, social security card or driver’s license online.

Be proactive

Talk to others in your household about internet safety. After all, one person clicking on the wrong link could put everyone else who uses that computer at risk. Make sure your smartphone is password protected if it is linked to your social networks. Report fraudulent social media profiles to customer support so they can delete the account.

If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, you should contact your financial institution immediately. We offer free identity theft recovery services to all of our America First Visa® cardholders, and will work with you until the issue is resolved. Stay safe out there!

pensions

Retirement Planning: Pensions & 401(k)s

The landscape of retirement financing is changing. While pensions became popular during World War II and were commonplace through the 1980s, 401(k)s are the new normal. But what are the differences? And why would employers choose one over the other?

Pension

Employment-based pensions, otherwise known as defined benefit plans, are investment portfolios managed by the company. After retiring, eligible employees receive income for the rest of their lives. The annuity amount, or monthly payout, depends on age, salary, and years of employment. These plans reward those who work at one company for an extended time.

One reason traditional pensions are less abundant is because most of the investment risk is placed on the employer. Some plans don’t even require employee contributions to disburse pension benefits. Also, if the company has financial issues or mismanages the portfolio, these funds can be reduced or lost completely.

401(k)

Because of the risks mentioned above & other factors, defined contribution plans, also known as 401(k)s, were introduced to supplement retirement income. However, these accounts replaced pensions at many companies. A 401(k) puts more responsibility in employees’ hands, who then choose what percentage of their income they will contribute, as well as the stocks, bonds and mutual funds that will comprise their investments.

There are no guarantees with 401(k)s. Employees assume all investment risks, but they also control their portfolios. Additionally, the money you contribute is yours to keep, no matter how long you stay with one company. Some businesses will match a percentage of what you put in, but that amount is significantly smaller than pension payouts. Additionally, since defined contribution plans cost less, smaller enterprises can participate in providing retirement benefits for their employees.

Of course, when it comes to choosing a plan, you are largely dependent on what your employer offers. Some businesses provide both a pension and a 401(k), but if you only have one option, discuss the potential benefits and risk factors with your human resources representative.

hotel

How to Save on Your Hotel Stay

Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway or you’re taking the whole family on a vacation, lodging can consume a large chunk of your budget if you’re not careful. Here are some tips for saving on your next hotel stay.

Timing is everything

The best way to spend less per night is to go during the off-season. Peak times will vary depending on location. A room at a ski resort will cost a lot less in the summer, for example, but you’re going to have a hard time finding inexpensive accommodations on Valentine’s Day. This also applies to days of the week. Most hotels charge more on the weekends, so a Tuesday-through-Thursday trip could be a lot cheaper. Finally, make your reservation in advance to take advantage of early booking discounts.

Do your research

Shop around to see how much rooms are in certain areas. If you want to reduce expenses & don’t mind traveling, consider staying outside downtown areas. Lots of hotels offer free guest shuttle services. Speaking of which, keep an eye out for complimentary perks such as breakfast, a pool, fitness center, and laundry service. Little bonuses like these can add up. On the flip side, watch out for hidden fees for things like parking or internet access.

Visit a few online aggregators to compare costs and read reviews, but don’t rely solely on them. Sometimes there are limited time offers that aren’t on third-party sites. Once you have a price in mind, contact the hotel directly—they might beat the pricing—and others may match any listing. Ask about the lowest non-refundable rate and if there are deals & discounts not listed elsewhere.

Find the discounts

Look for coupon codes for both the hotel and travel service sites. If you’re a member of AAA, AARP or the military, there’s a good chance you’ll score a cheaper room. Some businesses have loyalty programs that deliver discounts just for signing up. And ask about free upgrades when you arrive, especially if it’s your birthday, anniversary or honeymoon.

Additionally, America First can give you a break just for using your Visa® card—activate ABC Deals® and get 10% off at select hotels. Plus, with our Visa rewards program, you’ll earn points for every dollar you spend, then redeem them at hotels.

Try something different

Seek unconventional options, such as bed & breakfasts or hostels, to save big bucks. If you’re traveling with a large group, rent a vacation home near your destination and split the cost. If you have an in-room kitchen, cooking instead of eating out will lower your budget significantly. And, finally, if you want the cheapest break available, send the kids to their grandparents’ and spend the evening alone together in your own, now quieter & calmer home.

accident

What to do Right After a Car Accident

No matter how safe you’re driving, you can’t control anyone else on the road, which means you may still get into an accident. When that time comes, knowing what to do can save you time, money, even additional injuries. Here’s how to proceed immediately after a collision:

Step 1: Secure the scene

First, don’t leave. Fleeing the scene is a crime and will only get you in more trouble. Move your vehicle to a safe area, such as on the shoulder of the road or a parking lot. If your car is immovable, turn on the hazard lights and stay out of traffic as much as possible. Check everyone involved. If people are seriously injured but not in immediate danger, don’t move them until paramedics arrive—you don’t want to cause further damage.

Step 2: Carefully communicate

If there are injuries, call 911 immediately. Even if no one is hurt, you should still contact the police, making sure proper protocol is followed. Plus, their report is helpful if you decide to file an insurance claim. If the incident is minor enough that officers aren’t dispatched, you can still file your own accident report with the police department or DMV. As you wait for the authorities to arrive, exchange information, including:

  • Names
  • Insurance companies & policy numbers
  • Vehicle makes & models
  • License plate numbers
  • Eyewitness contact information

You should also take note of the responding officer’s name and badge number. You can even take pictures that capture this information instead of writing it down. Also, as you’re talking about the accident, don’t admit fault. This may feel strange—especially if you think you are the one who caused it—but there is a process for determining who’s responsible & the professionals should make that call. For example, you may have been looking at your phone when you hit the other vehicle, but after the cops speak with a witness, they could discover that the other driver ran a red light. Don’t rush to judgment, just state the facts.

Step 3: Consider a claim

Most insurance cards have numbers to call in case of an accident. Report it as soon as possible to ensure quick benefit delivery. However, just because you were in a crash doesn’t mean you must claim it with your insurance company. If it’s a minor fender-bender and no one is injured, filing claims can cause premium increases.

Caution and common sense go a long way after an auto accident. Following the three steps above will help save you some pain, both physically and financially.

Better Money Management

Many of us resolve to practice better money-management when a new year gets under way, but by maximizing your membership in America First, you can truly reach those goals.

We offer several free, state-of-the-art services to monitor, track & control your funds, such as:

  • Money Manager—easy, intelligent online budgeting
  • FICO® Scores—check your credit any time with free online banking
  • Account alerts—stay informed about balances, transactions, deposits and loan payments
  • Card Guard®—set transaction limits, approve merchants & turn your America First Visa® cards on and off

Click here to learn how these and other premier tools can enhance your financial health.

Avoiding Tax Season Tricks

The middle of April might feel as though it’s ages away, but the tax deadline will soon be upon us—and so will the online scams.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the country experienced a 50% hike in reported identity theft crimes since 2015, including those related to someone filing a false tax return in a stolen name.

To follow are some timely tips to prevent fraud during the coming months and throughout the year:

  • Officials recommend doing your taxes as soon as possible. The Internal Revenue Service only accepts one return per Social Security number. If yours is in early, a criminal cannot submit another with your personal information.
  • Imposters often claim to be government agents, but official U.S. agencies will never email or call you demanding payment without mailing you a notice first. Nor will they ask for card numbers via email or phone.
  • Regularly review your accounts and activity with free online & mobile banking. We also post your FICO Score ® if you have free checking and/or a loan with us. And be sure to check your credit report for shady transactions at least once annually.
  • Watch out for unsolicited emails, texts, social media posts or fake sites that prompt clicking on links or sharing valuable data.
  • Take advantage of free antivirus or protective software.
  • Add a system firewall to prevent unauthorized users.
  • Visit us here to see how we’re working to safeguard your resources.

Guest Commentary: All Indicators are Positive for Continued Economic Growth

By Glen Olpin, Senior Vice President—Chief Economist

February of 2018 marks the 104th straight month of national economic recovery. This period of economic improvement may be the longest, yet weakest on record, but there are no signs of a slowdown on the horizon.

Utah and neighboring Intermountain West states are experiencing stronger overall growth than the national average. Nationwide strength in economic growth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) was recently reported for 2017; we expect continued strength throughout this year.

Businesses have acted cautiously during the latest cycle of an improving economy; however, recent measures assessing the commercial sector show increased strength and confidence. We expect a favorable business services and lending climate to prevail in 2018.

Consumers have led the recovery and remain optimistic about the future. Utah and surrounding states are exhibiting strong employment growth and personal income is rising. Consumer spending has been solid and we expect to see continued strength in spending this year. There are some cautionary indicators, however, including consumer debt rising to pre-recession levels.

Inflation has been slowly trending upward since late 2015, but it does not constitute a threat to continuing economic growth; we are predicting inflation to remain in the 2% to 2.5% range during the coming year.

Short-term interest rates have slowly inched upward and are expected to rise by as much as an additional 1%. As these rates increase, long-term interest rates are expected to move moderately higher as well.

New and existing home sales have been healthy in the face of increasing prices. Housing and construction spending should stay robust. Real estate lending rates are also forecast to remain relatively low. These positive indicators are combining for an already favorable real estate environment to continue throughout 2018.

We have seen ongoing demand for automobiles and that trend is expected to continue. The need for America First vehicle financing is strong. We pledge to remain the leader in auto lending for our members.

Consistently low interest rates, a strengthening business environment, the wealth effect from increasing home values, continued fundamental vitality in the stock market, as well as the hope of reduced regulations and tax relief, are combining to increase consumer and business confidence in a growing economy well beyond 2018.

We expect this to be another successful year for America First Credit Union. We appreciate your membership and remain dedicated to serving your complete financial needs as we move forward together.

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