Tag Archives: USAgencies

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

 

The Benefits of Volunteering

From our friends at Idealist.

(It really is okay to ask, “What’s in it for me?”)

Volunteering can be far more than simply doing a good deed.

In fact, volunteering can be a great way to develop skills, learn more about career options, make friends, garner new professional contacts, get exercise, spend time outdoors/with animals/with kids, or even just shake up your routine.

Yet volunteers rarely speak of the benefits of volunteering to themselves — maybe it feels a bit too self-centered, or too far from the altruistic vision of the selfless volunteer.

But who says that doing good and enjoying yourself while meeting your own personal/professional goals can’t happen at the same time?

Part of finding the right volunteer opportunity is being honest about what you hope to learn and accomplish.

If in the process of meeting your personal and professional goals, you are also serving as an effective volunteer, helping to meet the goals of your particular volunteer project or role, and/or helping to move an organization’s mission forward, it’s a win-win situation.

Personal and professional benefits of volunteering

With that in mind, here are some of the personal and professional benefits one can gain from volunteering:

Skill development
Always wanted to learn about sustainability and conservation methods? Have experience creating podcasts and would like to try using them as an advocacy tool for a nonprofit? Volunteering helps you learn new skills, keep skills sharp, or use existing skills in new ways.

Career exploration
Regardless of your age or career level, volunteering will introduce you to new professional paths.

Volunteering can be an excellent way to learn more about a particular role or sector (particularly if you are coming from a for-profit job and hoping to switch to non-profit or government), workplace or office culture, or cause.

Also, never underestimate the power of networking; volunteering offers the opportunity to cross paths—as well as, in many cases, quickly bond—with people from across your community, including many with whom you may otherwise not have had contact.

Personal growth
Lifelong learning includes hands-on experiences as a volunteer which can teach you about issues ranging from adult literacy to public health to animal welfare.

Need a break from your day-to-day life? Recharge by walking dogs, playing basketball with kids, or taking tickets at a film festival. Need to work off some stress? Consider some of the more labor-intensive roles like helping to remove invasive species or chopping out non-native trees and bushes.

Lastly, don’t forget that sometimes it just feels good to be valued; as a volunteer you can contribute unique skills, experiences, and perspectives. For example, you might be great at using online sites like MySpace and Facebook.

Many organizations are looking to branch out into social networking to help connect with new audiences; as a volunteer, you can be the in-house expert to get them started.

Socialize
In addition to professional networking, volunteering can be a fun, meaningful way to make new friends. New to the community? Looking to branch out socially? Simply looking for something to do with new people? Volunteer and get to know others who care about the same issues that you do.

Have an impact
Last but most certainly not least, volunteering is one of the best ways we know of to make a difference in your community. Whatever your passion, however you get involved, volunteering offers a way to have a real and lasting impact on the world.

 

Did you know you can become a volunteer at your favorite CU?

It’s true–USACU is guided by a group of Volunteers! If you’d love to join in and help set the tone at one of the best member-driven cooperative credit unions in the Pacific Northwest, click here to learn more.

Interested, but not sure you’re ready to become a full-fledged Volunteer? Check out our Associate Volunteer program.

Questions?
Call: 503.275.0300

Click: info@usacu.org

Join Us: ’80 Years’ Birthday Celebration!

Mark your calendars for Oct. 19:
You’re invited to USAgencies Credit Union’s ‘80 Years’ Birthday Celebration!

We’ll have FREE…
-eBike test drives (courtesy of Pedego Portland)
-trade-in vehicle evals (courtesy of Enterprise Car Sales)
-tours of the Northwest Credit Union Association‘s Credit Union House (to help celebrate International Credit Union Day)
-food (while supplies last)
-raffles, giveaways, and much more!

Not a member? Not a problem. All are welcome!

Event info: https://www.facebook.com/events/643876565774113/

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.)