Tag Archives: tips

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

 

Saving for Your Child’s Education Without Going Broke

The cost of higher education seems to spiral upward every year. Here’s what you need to do to be financially prepared when your child heads to college.

Start early
The average cost of earning a four-year degree could top $205,000 by 2030, according to some estimates. Amassing that kind of cash takes time, so it’s important to begin saving as early as possible, perhaps even right after each child’s birth. The combination of consistent saving, compound interest and investment returns can add up to significant growth over the years.

Explore options
While any investment can be earmarked for college expenses, some savings accounts are designed for this purpose and can provide tax advantages as well:

529 plans
Run by states or schools, 529 plans like the Oregon College Savings Plan let you save for a kid’s college costs with the money’s earnings growing tax-free. While there’s no deduction from federal taxes for contributions, that benefit is fully or partially provided by many states. There are no income or contribution limits, but the money has to be used for a designated beneficiary’s education expenses. Also, gift taxes may apply if you contribute more than $14,000, including any other gifts, to the recipient in a given year.

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts
Formerly known as Education IRAs, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are trust funds that pay qualifying education expenses for a designated beneficiary. Contribute up to $2,000 annually until the beneficiary turns 18, then use all funds for education before the child reaches 30 years and 30 days old.

Contributions aren’t tax-deductible, but interest and returns earned are tax-free as long as the money is used for qualified educational expenses. To be eligible, your taxable income must be under $110,000, or $220,000 for those filing jointly.

Invest by age
Saving for college parallels retirement planning in that an aggressive investment portfolio, weighted with growth stocks, is recommended during early years with a shift to more conservative assets such as municipal bonds as the time approaches to start withdrawals. Start with equity and stock index funds and begin to adjust the mix once your child turns 9 by putting new contributions into less volatile things like muni bond funds. At 14, begin moving the money out of equities to beef up bond holdings, and aim to be completely out of stocks and equity funds by the time your child starts college.

Better late than never
Saving from an early age is best, but what if you missed that chance? These strategies can help you catch up:

  • To reduce costs, consider enrolling your child in a community college for the freshman and sophomore years
  • Explore available grants and scholarships
  • Keep adding to 529 plans after college expenses start
  • Have your child check out work-study and part-time campus jobs
  • Federal student loans can provide more favorable rates than private lenders

Further stretch your dollars by taking advantage of education tax credits. To avoid being disqualified, pay the first $4,000 of qualified college expense out of pocket before tapping into 529 funds.

With today’s tuition costs, a gap often remains even for those who’ve had a savvy saving and investing strategy coupled with scholarships and federal loans. If you don’t have enough for tuition, check out programs offered by financial institutions and private lenders like Sallie Mae. Look for loans that don’t have application or disbursement fees. Some institutions, like USAgencies Credit Union, participate in loan programs that have competitive rates, flexible payment terms and don’t charge prepayment fees.

With a little planning, research and creativity, your child can earn that diploma while you keep your financial health intact.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

If you have questions about navigating the student loan process, USAgencies can help. Give us a call (503-275-0300), shoot us an email, or just stop by. We’d love to talk!

(Oh, and Oregon residents… we should also mention the Oregon Promise. It’s a great resource for certain Oregon students planning to attend community college.)

 

Freshen Up Those Finances for Spring

Give Your Finances a Checkup This Spring
Spring brings showers, flowers and an urge to tidy up. When you dive into spring cleaning this year, don’t forget your finances. Here’s how to give your money a thorough checkup to prepare for a great summer and beyond.

Check the health of your credit report
By monitoring your credit regularly, you can identify problems early. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free annual report from each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Your credit score is not on your credit report, but what’s on your report influences what your score is. You can pay to see your score for a small fee.

Some financial institutions, like USAgencies Credit Union, will connect members with free financial counseling. They can discuss things that may be affecting your credit standing, as well as look at whether options such as consolidating debt or refinancing your home might be worthwhile.

Bolstering an anemic credit score
To bolster credit, take steps to clear demerits on your reports. Dispute errors and contact creditors to see whether they’d be willing to make “goodwill adjustments” to remove legitimate blemishes in return for paying a balance in full.

Another strategy for rebuilding credit is taking out a secured credit card. With a secured card, you deposit enough money to cover the limit you’re applying for, and your financial institution keeps that amount on hold for as long as you have the card. A secured card lets you establish a record of responsible credit use — boosting your credit standing in the process.

Tackling costly debt
High-interest debt from credit cards and loans can spiral out of control. To lower interest rates and reduce monthly payments, look into debt consolidation, which combines debt from multiple sources into a single loan. Choose from several solutions including home equity loans and lines of credit as well as personal loans.

With mortgage rates still near historic lows, those holding older mortgages might also benefit from refinancing to get a lower-interest loan.

Tuning up your credit score and tidying up your debts can refresh your finances. Before you know it, your budget will be in healthier shape, and you’ll be able to afford more summer fun.

Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet
© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Questions about how USACU can help you freshen up your finances for spring? Contact us.

 

Get Creative! Ways to Lower Holiday Spending

From our friends at BALANCE

Holiday spending is often a budget-buster.

The expenses can be numerous: presents, wrapping paper, cards, decorations, food, and travel, to name a few. Yet in these tough times, few people have thousands of dollars to spend. If you do not have the funds to buy everything you want, there is no need to despair. A little bit of creativity and energy can get you through the holidays without draining your wallet.

Gifts
Why spend $75 to buy a scarf if you can knit it yourself with $15 yarn? Making your own gifts is a great way to save, since supplies usually cost less than the finished product. Not only are homemade gifts cheaper, but many people appreciate them more than store-bought gifts because of the effort that goes into making them.

Are you not an experienced crafter? No problem. Writing a letter describing what the person means to you or framing a memorable photo are ways to give personalized gifts without having to break out a glue gun. Baking is another option that is easy for most people to do. Standard cookies or brownies can be dressed up with sprinkles and ribbons in holiday colors.

Offering your services is a great cost-saving gift, since it only costs time. Why not offer a free night of babysitting to your sister with three kids or a month of lawn-mowing to your parents? Think about what service you want to offer, and create a coupon that the recipient can redeem at a later date.

Gift-wrapping
Now that you have taken the time to choose economical gifts, you probably do not want to spend $50 wrapping them. Skip the fancy wrapping paper and bows, and look around the house to see what you can use. Do you have a newspaper? (The comic section is an especially suitable choice.) Computer paper? Shopping or supermarket bags? Cheap craft supplies, such as glitter and paint, can be used to decorate plain surfaces.

Cards
It is not uncommon for store cards to cost $4 apiece – or more. If you sent cards to 20 people, that would cost you $80, not including postage. Creating your own cards can help you save, but resist the temptation to buy the pricey supplies that pepper the scrapbook aisles of craft stores. If you create and send cards electronically, you avoid spending money completely. You can make your own or use one of the many free services available on the Internet. If sending electronic cards is not your thing, consider trimming your mailing list. You can probably skip sending cards to your third grade teacher and the second cousin who you never see.

Decorations
Like with gift-wrapping, you can avoid buying decorations by seeing what is lying around the house. Making a garland out of popcorn is a classic holiday decoration. Pine cones and acorns – available in abundance in many parts of the country – provide a perfect seasonal touch. If you are really craving store-bought decorations, consider waiting until after the holidays to buy. Most stores will be selling them at a deep discount, and you can use them next year.

Food
If you host holiday dinners or parties, you may find yourself spending a significant amount of money on food. Potluck dinners are an easy way to shift the burden of buying all of the food off of you. However, if you do not want to ask your guests to bring food, there are other options. Consider eliminating a full dinner and just providing appetizers and desserts or avoiding expensive items, like meat and wine. Look for where you can buy the cheapest food. Often bulk stores are cheaper than regular supermarkets, but not always.

Travel
Airfare is generally more expensive during the holidays, since that is when everyone flies. If you want to celebrate with far away family, why not have a “holiday” dinner during an off-peak time of the year, when airfare is cheaper? Whenever you fly, being flexible can usually help you save – you probably won’t have to spend as much if you fly at night or have a layover.

You do not need to spend a lot of money to have a good time. By being creative with your purchasing and not straining your finances, you can not only celebrate during the holidays, but afterward as well.

Holiday Shopping Safety Tips

Whether in-store or online, it’s the time of year where we all need to be diligent about protecting our finances.

Here are some safety tips from the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA):

In-Store Purchases:

  • EMV chip cards provide an extra layer of security when you buy on site (not online). Not all merchants have caught up with this technology trend. Ask the merchant if they have the chip system in place. If they don’t yet support it, use your card but continue to monitor your transactions daily. Take advantage of your credit union’s online account monitoring services. Report any suspicious activity to your credit union immediately.
  • Be sure your card is returned following each purchase and that it is indeed your card.
  • Wait for the card receipt. Never leave it at the checkout counter, and keep receipts with you; not in your shopping bags.
  • Check your statements and watch for multiple or incorrect charges. Compare receipts to your account statements, and then destroy your receipts.
  • Report unauthorized transactions to your credit union immediately.
  • Keep a list of your card account numbers and telephone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen. Keep that list in a secure place.
  • Make sure you have signed your credit and debit cards. Do not write your PIN on the card!
  • When entering your PIN, block the keypad from the view of the cashier or other customers.
  • Know that your PIN can be stolen in other ways. There is a heat signature left on non-metal keypads for several minutes after you use it. Infrared cameras installed on Smartphones can be used to measure this heat signature and obtain your PIN. Stop this fraud by resting your fingers on other keys while typing in your PIN.
  • Running your card as credit rather than debit is another way of protecting your PIN.

Online Shopping:

  • Use a secure Internet connection.
  • Do not use public wireless networks for online purchases.
  • Shop on sites with https:// in the URL, and be sure that an icon with a lock appears to the left. The “s” stands for “secure” and indicates communication with that site is encrypted.
  • Type the merchant’s address directly into your browser; avoid links.
  • Use complicated passwords with at least eight characters. Include numbers, special characters and upper and lower case numbers.
  • Keep the antivirus and security software updated on your computers and mobile devices.
  • We recommend that you don’t store your payment information. Many websites or apps let you store your credit and debit card information for convenience, but this might also be too convenient for thieves.
  • Do not respond to pop ups, and do not share card information via email or texts.
  • Set up payment and purchase alerts via text and email. If you notice suspicious activity, notify your credit union immediately. 

The Northwest Credit Union Association is the not-for-profit trade association representing over 160 of Oregon and Washington’s credit unions and their 5.2 million members. The NWCUA is the voice of the Northwest credit union movement, providing legislative, regulatory and public advocacy in addition to education, compliance, networking support and business solutions to credit unions. For information on how to join a credit union, please visit http://www.asmarterchoice.org.