FYI: Credit & Debit Card ‘Holds’

Imagine this: You’re on a long road trip, with a tight budget. You’ve carefully calculated out all of your expenses, accounting for gas, hotels, food, plus a few extras. On day two of your trip, after filling up at the pump multiple times throughout the day, you check in to your hotel… or at least, you attempt to. Your card is declined. You know you have enough money to cover everything… so what happened?

Swipe a card at the gas pump, or check into a hotel—or any place where your final total isn’t known—and a merchant might place a pre-authorization ‘hold’ on your account to make sure you have the funds to cover their transaction, or any other costs that might be added to your hotel charge.

Pre-authorization holds are put in place by merchants, and are most commonly seen at gas pumps, hotels, and restaurants. The hold amounts are usually a set standard; be aware that for gas stations this hold amount can vary anywhere between $1-$150. So even if you buy only $20 worth of gas, you could have a hold on your debit or credit card for $150 for up to five days.

When a hold happens, the money is removed from your available balance, but doesn’t actually go anywhere. Although the merchant determines the hold amount, the financial institution determines the length of the hold. Hold times range from 3-5 days (USACU holds for 3). Once the hold time has passed or the charge has cleared, the hold is removed and the remaining funds are made available again in your account.

Here are a couple ways you can typically avoid this type of authorization holds:

Pay inside. When you pay inside at a gas station you are paying for exactly what you got, so there is no need for the merchant to send a temporary authorization hold.

Fill your tank for a preset amount. Instead of filling the tank, just get $30 worth of gas. Since the merchant knows what the final debit will be, they are able to send through that authorization amount.

Ask. Inquire about hotel holds in advance. See if there’s any leeway in the hold amount.

Pay cash. Often gas stations reward you with a discount when you’re paying in cash. Hotels may be a bit more leery, and may require a larger cash deposit, but some are happy if you pre-pay.

 


 

If you find yourself in a sticky situation because of a card hold, contact USAgencies’ card services department (800.452.0915, opt. 4) to discuss your options. We’re here as your advocate, and will always do whatever we can to help. 

Protect Yourself: Tax Scams

It’s tax season. Unfortunately, that also means it’s tax scam season too.

It’s important that you’re aware of the various ways scammers may attempt to steal info and money, so that you can better avoid becoming a victim. The more informed you are about tax scams, the better you’ll be at spotting, and stopping, fraudsters.

What do tax scams look like?

  • The scammer usually presents themselves as an employee of the IRS or State in a call/email to the targeted individual, falsely stating they want to “help” with tax filing.
  • Typically, this type of tax scam involves an unsolicited, bogus email regarding a tax refund or bill, or threatening an audit if the bill is not paid right away.
  • Tax scam emails often look very official, and can link to a phony website – in order to appear to be more legit.

How can you protect yourself against tax scams?

If you get an email regarding federal or state taxes:

  • Don’t reply to the message.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information.
  • Forward the email to phishing@irs.gov and then delete it.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links, as they may contain malicious code or viruses.
  • For tax scams involving a state’s filing office, check the office’s website to see how they recommend reporting an attempted attack.

If you get a call regarding federal or state taxes:

  • Ask for a contact number and an employee badge number and then call back to verify its legitimacy.
  • Call the IRS or state tax authority to inquire further and verify the accuracy of the call.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page to report the incident.
  • Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission through the FTC Complaint Assistant on their website (add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments section).

In general, it’s a best practice to be extremely critical of ANY emails or phone calls you get from someone claiming to be an employee of the IRS or state tax authority, especially those that demand immediate payment. These governing bodies will NEVER:

  • Initiate contact with you by phone, email, text, or through social media outlets to ask for your personal or financial information.
  • Require that you pay your taxes with a certain payment type, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Call you and demand immediate payment. The IRS or State will not call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill.


For more in depth information on how to detect or report tax scams, visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.

For more online security resources from USACU, check out the Security tab on our site.

7 Reasons to Consider Consolidation

A brand-new year often inspires positive life changes, such as breaking free of debt. One way to help eliminate debt is by consolidating it into a lower interest rate loan, like USACU’s Slim-Down loan, for example.

Here are 7 reasons you might want to consider a loan consolidation:

  1. Save $$. By consolidating higher interest debt (like credit cards) with a lower interest rate loan, you could potentially save hundreds of dollars over the life of your loan. Wait, hundreds? Yes, hundreds! That’s at least worth looking into right?
  2. Save even more $$! Shave 2% off USACU’s already-low consolidation loan rates when you apply for our Slim-Down loan before February 17th. With rates as low as 6.99% APR* and amounts up to $10,000, we make it easy to save even more $$. Plus, for a limited time, there’s no origination fee – even better!
  3. It’s Easy. It couldn’t be more convenient to consolidate debt with help from USACU. Call or click today and we’ll help you get started in just a few quick steps.
  4. One Payment. Instead of several credit card bills and loan statements, you’ll just have to make one loan payment. Easy, right? We like easy.
  5. Pay Debts Faster. A lower interest rate means you could potentially pay your debt down much faster, because you’ll have less debt to pay down overall. Also, with just one payment–instead of multiple minimum payments–you could chip away at that debt by easily making more than the minimum payment each month.
  6. Improve Cash Flow. If your goal is more cash in your wallet at the end of the month, a consolidation loan can help with that too. By making only one payment, instead of several, you could give yourself a bit more of a cash cushion each month.
  7. Prepay and Save. Get a large chunk of cash after you consolidated your debt? Great! You can prepay your loan at any time with us, with no prepayment penalty or fee. Some loans or credit cards charge when you pay off early- USACU won’t.

There are of course many more reasons a consolidation loan might be the right choice for you… these are just a few!

Whatever your aspirations are for the new year–be it debt consolidation, getting a better auto loan rate, or anything in between–know that your credit union is always here to help with education, resources and products to help you reach your financial goals.

*APR=Annual Percentage Rate. Terms and conditions apply. Connect with us for complete details.


Questions?
Contact our lending department:
Local: (503) 275-0300, ext. 2
Toll-free: (800) 452-0915, ext. 2
Email: loans@usacu.org

Ready to apply for a consolidation loan?
Click here (Hint: you want to select “Signature” under “Personal Loans” when applying)

Tips to Avoid Fraud This Holiday Season

From our friends at NCUA

While the holidays can be a time of celebration, they can also unfortunately be a time of higher rates of fraud. Here’s a list of tips to help you avoid becoming a victim this holiday season:

Stay Protected Online

  • Do not respond to unsolicited spam email.
  • Understand the risks of using unsecured or public wireless networks. If it’s open to the public, it’s possible that your personal information or your computer could be compromised.
  • Be cautious of email claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan the attachments for viruses if possible.
  • When shopping online look for the padlock. Secured websites will have an icon of a locked padlock that appears, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar, depending on the internet browser you use. Don’t enter your personal or credit card information into a website if that icon isn’t present.
  • Never put your credit card information in an email.
  • Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited email.
  • Always compare the link in the e-mail to the web address link you are directed to and determine if they match.
  • Log directly onto the official website for the business identified in the e-mail, instead of linking to it from an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the email to verify if the email is genuine.
  • If your members are asked to act quickly, or there is an emergency, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get their victims to act quickly.
  • Verify any requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them directly using their main contact information.
  • If you see something, say something. Report possible cybercrime to the FBI through the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Go to https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.

Package Delivery Scam

  • If you receive an email with the subject line reading “USPS Failed Delivery Notification,” or something similar, do not open it. The emails claim to be from the Postal Service and contain fraudulent information about an attempted or intercepted package delivery.
  • Clicking on the link activates a virus, which can steal personal information such as user names, passwords or financial account information. These emails look almost identical to official notifications from the real shippers by using legitimate-looking email addresses and even the official logos.
  • This scam is not limited to the USPS. Similar email and text scams are also circulating that appear to be from other shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx.

Using Public Wi-Fi

  • Using your laptop, tablet or smartphone at Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities and other public places is convenient, but often they’re not secure. If you connect to a Wi-Fi network, and send information through websites or mobile apps, it might be accessed by someone else. The bad guys are there too, shopping for your information.
  • One way scammers obtain your information is by putting out a Wi-Fi signal that looks just like a complimentary one. Choose the wrong Wi-Fi and the hacker now sits in the middle and steals your personal or financial information. When you use a Wi-Fi connection in a public place, it is better not to use your credit card.
  • To protect your information when using wireless hotspots, send information only to sites that are fully encrypted, and avoid using mobile apps that require personal or financial information.

Online Gift Card Scams

  • Gift cards purchased through online auction sites are often fraudulent or stolen. The safest way to purchase gift cards is directly from the merchant or retail store.

Stripped Gift Card Scams

  • You should also be careful when purchasing gift cards at retail stores, as well. Thieves can write down the code or use a device to scan the magnetic strip on the back of gift cards that are available on racks. Every few days, the thief will check the balance and redeem the card’s value online without the gift recipient’s knowledge.
  • When buying a pre-loaded card, always have the cashier scan the card to verify that the full amount is available.
  • Also, check to make sure that the packaging hasn’t been tampered with or damaged. This may be a sign that the gift card has been compromised, or replaced with a stripped gift card. If possible, register gift cards with the retailer for additional protection if it’s lost or stolen.

Charity Scams

  • The holidays are a time of giving. Before giving to a charity, take a look at two websites from the Federal Trade Commission on the warning signs of charity scams:
  • Also, the Internal Revenue Service has a search feature on its website that allows consumers to find legitimate, qualified charities to donate to. To learn more, visit http://go.usa.gov/cZrTF.

 


 

For additional info and resources on keeping your personal information safe, visit USACU.org/fraud

Indirect Lending: Know Before You Go

Have you ever heard the term “Indirect Lending”? If you’re shopping for a new car or truck, and heading to the dealer, it’s a good idea to understand exactly what indirect lending is, and how it can affect your purchase. Our Lending Supervisor, Callie Gibbs answers a couple of questions about this common dealer lending practice and gives some tips on what you may want to watch out for…

Q. What is Indirect Lending?
A. Indirect lending means that the dealer finds your financing for you. Your general application information is sent to several different credit unions for approval. This can mean several inquiries on your credit report, as well as your personal information in the hands of several institutions. The financial institution that ends up “buying” your loan then pays the dealer for that loan; generally, 2% or more of the loan amount.

Q. How does Indirect Lending differ from lending at USAgencies?
A. At USACU, we already know you. We will decision your loan request based on you, not just the numbers. Our loan officers can give you information about what to look for when shopping, the best rates available to you. We will also advise you on the amount to spend so that you don’t get in over your head and have buyer’s remorse. Your credit union doesn’t feel we should have to buy your loan; we want to earn your loan.

Q. What kinds of things should you watch out for with Indirect Lending?
A. The biggest concern with indirect lending is that the dealer is allowed to add on thousands in products. This can sometimes cause you to finance 130% or more of the value of the car.

Q. What’s better than Indirect Lending?
A. A USACU AutoCheck! With an AutoCheck, you’ll know how much you are approved for before you start shopping, so you won’t overspend, you’ll know the book value of the vehicle you’re looking for so you’ll be sure that you’re getting a good deal, and you’ll avoid sitting in a chair at the dealer for hours dealing with the “dealer finance guy” that your salesperson has to keep checking with. You just make the deal, complete and sign the AutoCheck, and drive off- it’s that easy! Basically, it will save you time and money… and who doesn’t want more of that?



For more Q & A with Callie, you can contact her directly:

Callie Gibbs, Lending Supervisor, USACU

Callie Gibbs
Lending Supervisor
Certified Financial Counselor
cgibbs@usacu.org
(503) 275-0312

 

Auto Solution: They Shop, You Save

The holiday season is here and with it comes the never-ending to-do list. This time of year, we know that your time is even more precious. If you’re currently shopping for a car and you’d like to save both time and money, why not try our trusted auto broker– Auto Solution?

Auto Solution is an auto-buying service available for USACU members that is dedicated to the elimination of any and all hassle in the auto-buying process. They’ll locate the vehicle you want from their dealer network and negotiate on your behalf. They can often find you vehicles at or near dealer invoice or wholesale to you save big!

Here’s a quick Q & A with Mark Loebner, owner of Auto Solution, on how they can help save you time, money… and maybe even give you a warm fuzzy feeling this holiday season.

Q. What does Auto Solution do, in a nutshell?
A.
In a “nutshell” we help members purchase new and used vehicles without hassle, and help provide them with financing from their Credit Union. With access to nearly 1,000 dealerships and a helpful staff that is here to guide you along the way, we’re happy to help with your next car purchase.

Q. How long have you been in this industry?
A. 
We have been providing new and used auto buying for Credit Unions for about 25 years in the Pacific Northwest.

Buy an Auto Solution vehicle, and donate a bike to a child in need.
Donated bike in USACU lobby.

Q. What does the auto-buying process look like?
A.
It’s a good idea to get pre-approved with USACU first, so that you know what kind of budget you’ll want to stick to. Next, you’ll work with an auto buying expert from Auto Solution who will learn all about your vehicle needs and budget. Auto Solution will then locate the vehicle you want from its dealer network and call you back frequently within a couple of hours! We’ll negotiate with the dealer to get you the best price we can (often near wholesale) and then deliver your vehicle straight to your home or credit union branch. Oh, and we take trade-ins too!

Q. Tell us about the kids bikes promo going on now.
A.
The kids bike promotion is done every year, and when a member purchases a vehicle, the Credit Union and Auto Solution purchase a new bike and it is given to a local charity prior to Christmas.

It is a great feeling to wake on Christmas morning knowing 50-60 children from under-served families are seeing their new bike for the first time!

Q. Favorite member story?
A.
As far as a member story, there are many of them, but one that stands out was a member who came all the way down from Sitka, Alaska to get his new truck drive it back home (and brought us 50 lbs. of bear meat!).

We love what we do and members love our service!

Questions?

Contact our lending department to learn more about how Auto Solution can help you:
Local: (503) 275-0300, ext. 2
Toll-free: (800) 452-0915, ext. 2
Email: loans@usacu.org

Ready to shop?
Get pre-approved with USACU first, then
Browse some of Auto Solution’s inventory (or call 503-238-2429)

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Save to Win, Family-Style

What are the odds?…

Husband and wife members, Tina and Matt Rea, both won our Save to Win drawing in the same month!

Matt and Tina shared that they’ve had a great experience with Save to Win so far, and that it’s really helped keep saving top of mind. “Every time I get some extra money I think- I should put that in my Save to Win account,” said Matt. They’re both looking forward to possible future wins… and hoping to hit it big with the national drawing.

Save to Win, which has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and on PBS and NPR, was developed by the Doorways to Dreams Fund, the Filene Research Institute and the Michigan Credit Union league. Michigan was the first state to offer the Save to Win program in 2009. Since then, several other states joined this prize-linked savings program, which include Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington & Oregon. To date, the program has awarded more than $17 million in prizes and has helped credit union members save more than $100 million nationwide.

To learn more about Save to Win at USAgencies Credit Union, visit https://www.usacu.org/savetowin.

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