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Modern Features Put Cars at Risk

October 23rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

shutterstock_237326755Many modern vehicles have advanced computer systems and multiple wireless communication networks. However, these conveniences can also expose a car’s vital systems—such as braking, steering, acceleration and navigation—to hackers.

Hackers can potentially gain access to a vehicle through its Bluetooth connection, Wi-Fi network, mobile applications, and diagnostic and USB ports. In July, two security researchers remotely gained control of a moving 2014 Jeep Cherokee through its entertainment system, which prompted Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to recall 1.4 million vehicles for a software upgrade. Afterward, the researchers stated that with a few modifications, their method could be used to access other vehicle models.

The risks aren’t limited to one vehicle model or manufacturer. Industry leaders like General Motors, Ford and Toyota top a long list of automakers believed to be susceptible to hacking. To safeguard your vehicle, ensure that its software is up to date by contacting the manufacturer and your local dealership. Also, never connect unknown devices to any of your vehicle’s ports, including the diagnostic port used by mechanics during vehicle maintenance.

©2015 Zywave Inc., All Rights Reserved.

Planning for the Holidays

October 23rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

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The holidays always seem to be just around the corner. It won’t be long before families are exchanging presents. Holidays and gifts can take a big bite out of your budget so planning ahead will help keep your budget under control.

It is important not to get caught up in the last minute emotion of the season and spend more than you planned. Holiday overspending ruins many festive occasions and can result in long repayment schedules.

Don’t have a holiday credit hangover! Remember, credit obligations (excluding home mortgages and utilities) should not exceed 15-20 percent of your take-home pay each month.

The following are suggestions to help relieve holiday stress:

  • Shop early for gifts. This allows you to take advantage of sales, specials and bargains. Don’t over buy or forget you have already shopped for someone.
  • Make your own gifts. Use skills you have to sew, bake, paint or make crafts.
  • Don’t be a “One gift for you…one gift for me” shopper! And don’t be tempted to give your gifts early lest you buy more!
  • Use layaway plans if possible. Most allow you to pay at a rate you can afford either weekly or monthly.
  • If you have a large family, consider drawing names to exchange gifts.
  • Shop your local craft fairs and shows for specialty items – you’ll find some great ideas. Sometimes you can bargain with the vendor.
  • Family members would appreciate an IOU to mow the loan or wash the car in the spring.
  • If you plan to fill stockings or bags for the children, try putting a few pieces of fruit (apples & oranges) in the bottom first. Also, coloring books and scratch pads make great inexpensive fillers.
  • Know your merchants’ return policies before buying.

Don’t forget to plan ahead for expenses such as holiday decorations, special candies, baking supplies (especially if baking for gifts), increased utility bills, food consumption and wrapping paper. These expenses are rarely considered and can really add up fast.

Shopping Safety

Keep your eye out for theft and fraud at this time of year. Follow these simple rules.

  • Keep a list of all credit and charge card account numbers, with company phone numbers, in a safe place, not with you.
  • After a purchase, destroy all credit card slips carbons (or incorrect receipts you have corrected).
  • Never sign a blank receipt.
  • Keep your charge/credit card in view at all times when using it for a purchase.
  • Always notify the creditor immediately if there is an error on your billing statement.
  • Know the mail order company before ordering and giving your credit card number over the telephone.

Planning for Retirement When You Are Single

October 23rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

If you aren’t married, you should consider these potential expenses & needs.

shutterstock_230712727How does retirement planning differ for single people? At a glance, there would seem to be no difference in the retirement saving effort of an individual versus the retirement saving effort of a couple: start early, save consistently, and use vehicles that allow tax-advantaged growth and compounding of invested assets.

On closer inspection, differences do appear – factors that

single adults should pay attention to while planning for the future.

Retirement savings must be built off one income. Unmarried adults should save for retirement early and avidly. Most couples have the luxury of creating retirement nest eggs from either or both of two incomes. They can plan to build wealth with a degree of flexibility and synchronization that is unavailable to a single saver. So when it comes to building retirement assets, a single adult has to start early, save big and never let up, as there is no spouse around to help in the effort and only one income from which savings can emerge.

The Social Security claiming decision takes on more importance. An unmarried person’s Social Security benefits are calculated off his or her lifetime earnings record. Simple, cut and dried.1

Married people, however, have an option that the unmarried lack. Once their spouses begin to collect Social Security, they have a chance to claim a spousal benefit as early as age 62 rather than wait for benefits based solely on their own earnings. In fact, they may be able to claim this spousal benefit at age 62 even if they are widowed or divorced. If they are caring for a son or daughter from that marriage who is also receiving some form of Social Security benefits, they may be eligible for a spousal benefit before age 62.2,3  

All this means that a couple can potentially rely on two Social Security incomes before both spouses reach what the program deems full retirement age. An unmarried person cannot exploit that opportunity, so the decision to claim Social Security early at reduced monthly benefits or postpone claiming to receive greater benefits becomes critical.

An unmarried person may someday have a huge need for long term care insurance. If there are no adult children or spouse around to serve as caretakers in the event of a debilitating mental or physical breakdown, an unmarried individual may eventually become destitute from costs linked to that sad consequence. LTC coverage is growing more expensive and fewer carriers are offering it these days, so many married baby boomers are wondering if it is really worth the expense; in the case of a single, unmarried baby boomer retiring solo, it may be.

Housing is often the largest expense for the unmarried. In an ideal world, a single adult could pay half of the monthly housing expense of a married couple. That seldom happens. Relatively speaking, housing costs usually consume much more of a sole individual’s income than the income of a couple. This is true even early in life: according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, married folks in their late twenties spend $7,200 per person less on housing expenses annually. So a single person would do well to find ways to cut down housing expenses, as this frees up more money that can be potentially assigned to retirement saving.1

Saving when single presents distinct challenges. In fact, saving for retirement (or any other financial goal) as a single, unmarried person is often more challenging than it is for a married couple – especially in light of the fact that spouses are given some distinct federal tax advantages. Still, the effort must be made. Start as early as you can, and save consistently.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – mainstreet.com/article/retirement-planning-for-singles-how-going-it-alone-makes-saving-different [9/17/15]
2 – oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2015/09/dont_miss_out_on_spousal_socia.html [9/21/15]
3 – ssa.gov/planners/retire/applying6.html [9/24/15]

Why DIY Investment Management Is Such a Risk

October 23rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

Paying attention to the wrong things becomes all too easy.

shutterstock_284255609If you ever have the inkling to manage your investments on your own, that inkling is worth reconsidering. Do-it-yourself investment management is generally a bad idea for the retail investor for myriad reasons.

Getting caught up in the moment. When you are watching your investments day to day, you can lose a sense of historical perspective – 2011 begins to seem like ancient history, let alone 2008. This is especially true in longstanding bull markets, in which investors are sometimes lulled into assuming that the big indexes will move in only one direction.

Historically speaking, things have been so abnormal for so long that many investors – especially younger investors – cannot personally recall a time when things were different. If you are under 30, it is very possible you have invested without ever seeing the Federal Reserve raise interest rates. The last rate hike happened before there was an iPhone, before there was an Uber or an Airbnb.

In addition to our country’s recent, exceptional monetary policy, we just saw a bull market go nearly four years without a correction. In fact, the recent correction disrupted what was shaping up as the most placid year in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.1

Listening too closely to talking heads. The noise of Wall Street is never-ending, and can breed a kind of shortsightedness that may lead you to focus on the micro rather than the macro. As an example, the hot issue affecting a particular sector today may pale in comparison to the developments affecting it across the next ten years or the past ten years.

Looking only to make money in the market. Wall Street represents only avenue for potentially building your retirement savings or wealth. When you are caught up in the excitement of a rally, that truth may be obscured. You can build savings by spending less. You can receive “free money” from an employer willing to match your retirement plan contributions to some degree. You can grow a hobby into a business, or switch jobs or careers.

Saving too little. For a DIY investor, the art of investing equals making money in the markets, not necessarily saving the money you have made. Subscribing to that mentality may dissuade you from saving as much as you should for retirement and other goals.

Paying too little attention to taxes. A 10% return is less sweet if federal and state taxes claim 3% of it. This routinely occurs, however, because just as many DIY investors tend to play the market in one direction, they also have a tendency to skimp on playing defense. Tax management is an important factor in wealth retention.

Failing to pay attention to your emergency fund. On average, an unemployed person stays jobless in the U.S. for more than six months. According to research compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the mean duration for U.S. unemployment was 28.4 weeks at the end of August. Consider also that the current U-6 “total” unemployment rate shows more than 10% of the country working less than a 40-hour week or not at all. So you may need more than six months of cash reserves. Most people do not have anywhere near that, and some DIY investors give scant attention to their cash position.2,3

Overreacting to a bad year. Sometimes the bears appear. Sometimes stocks do not rise 10% annually. Fortunately, you have more than one year in which to plan for retirement (and other goals). Your long-run retirement saving and investing approach – aided by compounding – matters more than what the market does during a particular 12 months. Dramatically altering your investment strategy in reaction to present conditions can backfire.

Equating the economy with the market. They are not one and the same. In fact, there have been periods (think back to 2006-2007) when stocks hit historical peaks even when key indicators flashed recession signals. Moreover, some investments and market sectors can do well or show promise when the economy goes through a rough stretch.

Focusing more on money than on the overall quality of life. Managing investments – or the entirety of a very complex financial life – on your own takes time. More time than many people want to devote, more time than many people initially assume. That kind of time investment can subtract from your quality of life – another reason to turn to other resources for help and insight.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – cnbc.com/2015/09/10/this-market-is-setting-a-wild-volatility-record.html [9/10/15]
2 – research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/UEMPMEAN [9/4/15]
3 – research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/U6RATE/ [9/4/15]

October 2015 – Monthly Economic Update

October 23rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Monthly Economic Update

October2015-MonthlyEconomicUpdate

Privacy is Dead: 3 Ways to Protect Yourself

October 22nd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

When it comes to cybersecurity, we are all in a state of emergency, but the real question is – is anybody listening?

A recent poll commissioned by Intercede, a digital security company, asked more than 1,000 men and women between the ages of 16-35 (aka millennials) in the U.S. and over 1,000 in the UK if they believed current safeguards are effectively protecting their digital identities and personal identifying information from exposure. The resounding answer from some 95% was “NO.”

This is yet another Paul Revere moment, in a string of recurring wake-up calls, and a very sad commentary on the state of cybersecurity efforts by public and private sector organizations.

The Intercede press release refers to a growing “millennial malaise” toward existing safeguards – among them “easily-hackable, widely used password-based authentication methods.” While this may change during the next few years as many organizations work to harden their defenses (at risk of raising regulators’ hackles and class-action attorneys’ level of excitement) and experiment with various new ways to authenticate from fingerprints to blinking “selfies,” this doesn’t change the current state of data insecurity and the perception that privacy is on life support.

So—in the absence of instant security gratification at a time when breaches have become the third certainty in life and consumers are the product – how do we better protect ourselves?

As I talk about in my new book Swiped, it’s time to think out of the box and develop a new paradigm for personal protection. I call it “The 3Ms.”

Minimize Your Risk of Exposure

  • Don’t carry your Social Security card or those of your children in your purse or wallet – also don’t store any Social Security numbers (including those of your elderly parents, if you are handling their affairs) in your computer or any mobile device for easier access.
  • Limit the vast array of credit and debit cards that you carry because you can’t conceive of leaving home without them.
  • Never provide your personal information online, on the phone or in person to anyone who claims to represent a business or governmental agency regardless of how official or threatening they sound. Hang up and dial the official number (not the one displayed on your Caller ID – which can be spoofed), or go online and type in the correct URL of the organization (not a link in an email or a banner ad), or use an officially sanctioned app.
  • Always properly secure your computer and smartphone with the most up-to-date firewalls and security software and save any sensitive information on an encrypted thumb drive.
  • Never use free public WiFi — private VPNs are best.
  • Use long and strong passwords (alpha-numeric, symbols instead of letters where possible) which you change frequently – or develop a core phrase – and never share them across your universe of email, social networking, retail and financial sites.
  • Avoid using your email address as your user ID whenever possible.
  • Use a separate email address for your most sensitive activities, as well as one for your social networking interactions.
  • You don’t really need to answer security questions with truthful answers (the object is not veracity but consistency). Frankly, while your financial institution needs to confirm that you are neither a terrorist nor a money launderer, they don’t really care what your mother’s actual maiden name is. They also wouldn’t know the difference as to your pet’s real name or your truly favorite color.
  • Take the extra few minutes to type your user ID and password as you log on to every site you visit or app you use. Why make it easy for a hacker because you want to save one or both to shave a few seconds off your login time?
  • Shred any document that has sensitive personal information like you were Leatherman in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • Try to break yourself of the habit of sharing every waking thought; special life moment; the itinerary of your family vacation; the picture of your new credit card and license or selfie with your newest car, diamond ring or piece of art (sorry Kim & Kylie); stream of consciousness (Donald, please pay attention); or, play-by-play of every bar or restaurant you are patronizing on any given night with everyone in your Twitterverse or Facebook community.
  • Never click on any link that doesn’t look right.
  • Never respond to a text message without further investigation.

Monitor Your Money

  • Make sure to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies at least once a year (some states permit more than one) at AnnualCreditReport.com. When you review your report(s), be particularly sensitive to tradelines that don’t look right or collection accounts with businesses that you have never heard of. If you discover any information that is inaccurate or incomplete, immediately notify the credit reporting agencies and ask that it be investigated. If you discover fraudulent activity, contact the fraud department of one of the credit bureaus and ask for a fraud alert to be put on your file. They will electronically notify the others.
  • Use sites like Credit.com to access a free overview of your credit and get two free credit scores updated monthly to make sure that there are no significant changes, which might be an indication that you are a victim of identity theft.
  • Check your credit and bank accounts on a daily basis to confirm that every transaction is appropriate and correct. If you see a charge you can’t remember or are sure isn’t yours, immediately contact your financial institution.
  • Sign up for free transactional monitoring programs that are offered by your credit union, bank or credit card issuer that notify you of any activity in your accounts. Financial institutions don’t always catch fraudulent transactions because (among other things) stolen credit and debit cards are being sold on the Dark Web by ZIP code. To the bank it might seem like a legitimate transaction because it was done in the area where you live or work, but to you it could be a screaming red flag.
  • Consider purchasing more sophisticated credit and fraud monitoring programs that will track and notify you of questionable activity — not only in your credit profile but also regarding your personal information. Remember, you need to know when someone is in the process of subtly changing your PII as they must recreate you to convince a third party that they are you. While it is possible for you to do much of this yourself, chances are you have a day job that you also need to attend to. To an identity thief, you are their day job.

Manage the Damage

Identity thieves have become far more sophisticated, breaches have become more plentiful (can you say Target, Home Depot, Neiman Marcus, Anthem, Premera, Carefirst, the Office of Personnel Management and Ashley Madison?) and the direct and collateral damage has become harder to detect and more difficult to unravel. Well over 1 billion files — much containing sensitive or very sensitive personal information — have been improperly accessed in the past few years. Chances are your information, despite your best efforts, is now out there and in the possession of someone whose vocation is to exploit your data for their personal gain. The ravages of identity theft go far beyond dollars and cents – criminal, medical, tax-related fraud to name a few.

So, what can you do if you see signs that you’ve become a victim? Notify the authorities, who can create an identity theft incident report you can use to straighten out your credit and identity issues down the road. You may want to consider freezing or placing a fraud alert on your credit as well, depending on what’s been compromised.

Many organizations (insurance companies, banks, credit unions, employers, universities) have programs in place to help their clients, customers, policy holders or members navigate the treacherous waters of an identity incident. You may already be enrolled in such a program but you won’t know unless you either read the fine print or ask. So call your insurance agent, banker, customer service rep or the HR department where you work and ask: if they offer such assistance as a perk of your relationship; are you in it; if it’s free; and, if not, what’s the cost?

Never forget – the ultimate guardian of the consumer is the consumer and no one has a bigger stake in protecting your economic security and well-being than you.

Source: idt911.com

Are Energy Vampires Sucking You Dry?

October 22nd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

NosferatuShadow

To commemorate National Energy Action Month, we’re featuring some scarily effective ways to save energy at home. As cooler weather lurks around the corner, tune in to Energy.gov all week long for ways to save energy and money — and avoid cold weather terrors like energy vampires. We also put together some energy-themed pumpkin patterns to help “energize” your neighborhood for Halloween. Send us photos of your energy-themed jack-o-lanterns via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or email at newmedia@hq.doe.gov and we’ll share our favorites.

This week, ghosts, ghouls and goblins will emerge to walk the streets and inspire scares. But while they’re out seeking sustenance (mostly in the form of fun-sized candy bars), an actual terror may already be in your home, leeching off your energy supply. Unlike the creatures commonly associated with Halloween, these “energy vampires” are all too real and all around you, running up your energy bill even when you’re not actively using them.

Take, for example, the seemingly innocuous cell phone charger. As cellphones have become a staple of modern life, so have the devices that power them. To ensure that they’re able to be in constant contact, many Americans carry chargers in their bags, have them in their cars and even their office. So it shouldn’t come as much surprise to find that many cell phone users have one or more chargers constantly plugged in at their home. What most people don’t realize is that these chargers are continually drawing power, even when no device is connected to them. In fact, the average charger is consuming .26 watts of energy when not in use, and 2.24 watts even when a fully charged device is connected to it.

By themselves, those watts won’t cause a huge increase in your energy bill. But if you add other common devices to the equation, you’ll begin to see why energy vampires are often responsible for adding 10 percent or more to your monthly utility bill.

Take a cable box. As HDTVs and digital cable have increased their market share, these devices have also skyrocketed in use — and they’re certainly having an impact on your energy bill. Even when they’re powered off, these devices consume an average of 17.83 watts. That means that even if you simply left your cable box plugged in for a year and never turned it off, it would add $17.83 to your electrical bill. Make that a cable box with DVR capabilities, which is an increasingly popular option, and your total more than doubles to $43.46.

With the average American household owning 25 consumer electronic devices, you can begin to see how these phantom loads can translate into a significant chunk of your energy bill. You don’t have to succumb, though, as there are several simple and convenient strategies that will help you drive a stake through these energy vampires:

  • Unplug devices you don’t use often. This probably won’t work for your cable box or clock radio, but if you have an extra TV, an old desktop computer or a stereo you only use from time to time, you should consider unplugging them completely until the next time you need to use them.
  • Use power strips. Power strips allow you to toggle the power flow on and off. This will allow you to control the power usage of clusters of devices so that they’re not consuming electricity when you’re not around. Using a light switch that turns power outlets on and off accomplishes the same end, if you have one in your home.
  • Curb idle time in devices such as computers and video game consoles. Simply setting your computer to sleep mode or saving a game and powering down instead of leaving it paused for a prolonged period can actually save more than $100 a year in many cases.
  • Make smart upgrades. When it comes time to send your old devices to the graveyard, you should also consider replacing them with ENERGY STAR devices. They have a lower standby consumption than your average device and generally use less energy in all their functions – a savings you should take into account when comparing similar products.

None of these strategies will eliminate your electric bill entirely, but together these tricks can help you slay energy vampires while saving money, a treat you can appreciate long after Halloween has passed.

Source: energy.gov

Don’t fall for this chip credit card scam

October 22nd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

The credit card industry is undergoing a massive change as it switches to chip-based cards, and scammers are taking advantage.

Banks have been sending out new credit and debit cards that have an embedded microchip to meet an October 1 liability change deadline. But not everyone has received a new card yet: A September survey showed almost 60% of card users haven’t received a chip-enabled card.

The uneven distribution of new cards is leaving a window open for scams.

Fraudsters are sending out fake emails pretending to be credit card issuers telling people they need to update their account by sending a response confirming personal information or clicking on a link in order to get an upgraded card, according to The Federal Trade Commission.

Scammers can use the provided information to steal a consumer’s identity, and clicking on the link could install malware and compromise the computer’s security.

“There’s no reason your card issuer needs to contact you by email — or by phone, for that matter — to confirm personal information before sending you a new chip card,” the FTC said in a blog post Monday.

If you’re not sure if an email is legitimate, the FTC recommended calling the phone number on the back of the credit card to get more details.

“Don’t trust links in emails. Only provide personal information through a company’s website if you typed in the web address yourself and you see signals that the site is secure,” the FTC warned.

The new cards provide more security because the microchip creates a unique code for each use to help authenticate a transaction. Older cards store that payment data in the magnetic stripe on the back, which is easy to steal, replicate and put on fake cards.

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