Beware Tech Support Scams!

You’re always putting yourself out on a limb when you call tech support. You dial the man touching computer screen with words "Access Granted"number the company gives you, and perhaps after a while of waiting, you’re connected to someone who may be working on the other side of the world in a completely different time zone. Then you’re asked to give this anonymous person identifying details about your phone or computer and the technical problems you’re experiencing.

Of course, you’re fairly certain the speaker works for your device’s company and you believe it’s perfectly safe to share this information. At the very least, they have contracted with this individual and are tracking their service.

All of that gets a little riskier when you’re asked to allow the tech support agent to have remote access to your device. This step is sometimes necessary to fix the glitch, but it can also be unnerving. Suddenly, it’s as if an invisible person has taken over your screen. Letters you haven’t typed are showing up on the display and the cursor is flying all over the screen, even though you haven’t touched the mouse.

You’re essentially letting someone have free access to a device that houses some of your most personal information. Yikes!

And that’s exactly what tech support scammers are looking for with their nefarious hacks. It’s truly as awful as it sounds: In these scams, fraudsters contact victims and trick them into granting the scammer access to their computers. The crooks may reach out to people through a phone call, insisting the victims have a virus or another problem they’ve somehow detected from the company’s headquarters. Alternatively, they’ll send a popup to the victim’s computer which will flash dire warnings about an impending or existing virus that can be “fixed” by clicking on a link.

There are several outcomes of such tech support scams, none of them good. Sometimes, a scammer will trick you into installing malware on your computer, claiming you have to click on a link in order to heal your computer of its ills. Other times, they might sell you expensive “software” by making the same false claims. Still other times, they’ll direct you to a bogus tech support website where you’ll be asked to input your credit card information. And they’ll oftentimes simply help themselves to the sensitive data they find on your computer and then wreak havoc on your financial life.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Scams

Tech support scams are nothing new, but a recent wave of these scams has taken on an ironic twist. The very organization that leads the battle in taking down scammers is being exploited for a particularly heinous hack.

Scammers posing as FTC employees are calling victims, asking for remote access to their computers. They assure victims they can help restore any affected devices to their previous working conditions. Many of them are claiming to represent the FTC’s Advanced Tech Support Refund program.

This program was created to help victims of previous scams collect their refund money from the FTC. The scammers will convince the victims that they are moments away from seeing their money – they just need to provide the alleged FTC employee with remote access to their computer. They may also ask for an upfront payment before the refund can be issued or for checking account information, claiming it’s necessary for the refund to clear.

Of course, none of this is true and the caller has never worked for the FTC. In fact, the FTC will never request remote access to your device or ask you to pay to receive a refund. Also, their refunds are sent in check form via snail mail, and do not require any checking account information at all.

The FTC has alerted the public that the only genuine number to call for information about the Advanced Tech Support Refund program is 877-793-0908. If someone calls you on their own, assume it’s a scam. End the call immediately and report the incident to the FTC.

Recognizing Tech Support Scams

As mentioned, the wave of tech support scams in which fraudsters impersonate the FTC are easy to spot if you know this basic information about the FTC: They will never request remote access to your computer, ask for payment in exchange for a refund, or reach out to you on the phone.

Here’s how to prevent other variations of tech support scams:

  • Never click on a pop-up box that claims your computer has a virus and offers to clean it. This will only infect your computer or grant a scammer remote access to your device.
  • Always call tech support on your own; if they call you, especially if you’re not aware of any problem with your computer, hang up as quickly as you can.
  • Never agree to purchase expensive software online to fix an alleged virus.

If you think you’ve been scammed, tell everyone you know about it and be sure to alert the FTC. Let’s do our part to put those crooks out of business for good!

Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a tech support scam? Share your experience with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/03/ftc-begin-mailing-checks-victims-tech-support-scam
https://www.idtheftcenter.org/Current-Scam-Alerts/ftc-tech-support-scam.html
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/04/ftc-asking-access-your-computer-its-scam

15 Incredible Grilling Hacks

Nothing says “summer coming” like the mouthwatering smell of a flaming barbecue family gathered around grillblowing through the neighborhood. Whether you churn out the best burgers on the block from a modest charcoal grill or your Weber’s been squatting on your deck all winter, we’ve got you covered!

Here’s 15 genius grilling hacks that will take your ‘cue to the next level.

Use a muffin tray for condiments

This grilling season, skip the condiment chaos by keeping all your barbecue trimmings in one neat place: a muffin tray! The 12 sections are perfectly suited for housing your ketchup, mustard, relish, BBQ sauces, pickles, tomatoes and any other toppings to douse your hot dogs. This also works great if you have several different basting sauces in use. Your guests will know exactly where to find anything they need, and best of all, you’ve only got one condiment serving dish to wash!

Clean with an onion

Isn’t it annoying when you’re ready to start grilling only to find that your grate is covered with caked-on gook? Grill cleanup is finally hassle-free with this hack!

The next time you use your grill, clean it while it’s still hot. Slice an onion in half, and use it to scrub the drippings and other gunk off your grill. It should come off easily. As a bonus, you’ll be giving your grill a tasty seasoning for your next barbecue.

Layer your grate for veggies

Grilled greens are delicious, but fishing out those slippery peppers and zucchini slices from the bottom of your grill isn’t all that fun. Have your grilled veggies and eat them too with this genius hack.

Use an old barbecue grate or purchase a spare one and place it across your existing grate before grilling vegetables. The grid should keep your veggies from slipping, while still giving you the flame-licked taste you savor.

Be sure to let this extra grate heat along with your grill grate so you get those awesome grill marks.

Vegetable parcels

If you like chunkier vegetables, try this hack. Wrap spiced sweet potato, potato or zucchini squares in foil and place it on the grill while you work on your entrees. After 10 minutes or so, you’ll have a delicious, healthful side dish! Tip: You can do this with any veggie.

Use two skewers

Kebabs are fun to eat, but turning them can be tricky. Make it easier with this hack! Double your skewers per kebab so individual pieces of meat or chicken don’t rotate on their own as you flip the entire kebab. Also, don’t forget to soak the skewers in water for 30 minutes before you start grilling!

Add a smoker to an electric grill

You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for that sensational smoky flavor. Turn your electric grill into a smoker by wrapping some wood chips in foil, poking some holes in the parcel and tossing it on top of the grill’s burner and underneath the grate. Now get on with your grilling, being sure to keep the heat on medium-low. Your small parcel of wood chips will lend your food a hint of delicious smokiness!

Check how much propane you have left before you start

You don’t want to run out of propane when you’ve still got food on the grill. Check the level in your tank with this hack: Tilt your tank a bit and pour boiling water on its side – but not on its top. Now feel your tank. The area where there is propane inside the tank will feel cool to the touch.

Smoke lemons

For an easy burst of flavor, halve some lemons and grill them on low heat for a few minutes, peel-side down. Your grate will pick up a terrific, citrusy flavor!

Spiral your hot dogs

Give your hot dogs a gourmet touch by cutting them into spirals. It’s easy to do: Skewer a hot dog and rotate it slowly as you cut it along its length. Spiraled hot dogs cook more evenly, give you lots of places for holding condiments, and most importantly, look super cool!

Out of time? Nuke it!

If you’ve got a craving for BBQ fare but you don’t have the time or patience to stand over the flames, cook your chicken in the microwave until it’s nearly ready, then throw it on the grill to give it a flaming finish!

Use a foil tent

To help your cooked meat retain its moisture and to distribute its juices evenly, let it rest under a loose foil tent for 10 minutes before serving.

 Get your grill flaming fast

To get the heat going, use a chimney starter with your charcoal grill. You’ll be rewarded with a flaming hot fire – and fast!

Try some grilled cheese – literally

A BBQ is hardly the setting for grilled cheese, but just wait until your guests taste this! Throw a wheel of cheese directly on the grill and let it partially melt. Scoop it off the flames before it completely liquefies and then serve up the most delicious, gooey spread!

One long tong

Don’t bother with an assortment of grilling tools. All you need is one extra-long pair of tongs. They’ll allow you to flip your food without poking holes in it (which also dries it out). You can also use an old pair of tongs to shift your coals around and/or lift your grates.

 Use all the heat!

Your grill will usually stay warm for a while after you’re done cooking. Don’t let that heat go to waste! Instead, pile your grate with any foods that need to stay warm, toast your buns over the fire, or even throw on some foil-wrapped s’mores for a delectable dessert!

Your Turn: Got your own grilling hack? Share it with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.marthastewart.com/1119050/grilling-hacks-you-never-thought  

https://food-hacks.wonderhowto.com/how-to/14-food-hacks-you-need-know-for-grilling-season-0156039/  
https://www.google.com/amp/s/lifehacker.com/top-10-ways-to-hack-your-grill-1607315381/amp  
https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.firstwefeast.com/eat/2013/07/bbq-hacks-and-grilling-tricks/  

Saving On Mother’s Day

Q: I love showing Mom how much she means to me, but with the money spent on a children posing to spell motherpricey bouquet, a nice gift and dinner out, I’m looking at an awful lot of spending! Is there any way to give Mom a Mother’s Day to remember without it costing a small fortune?

A: If you find yourself overspending on Mother’s Day, you’re not alone. The average American will spend close to $200 this month, all aimed at making Mom feel special. It’s wonderful to show your love and appreciation, but you don’t need to blow your budget to make that happen.

Read on for some low-cost ways to show Mom how much you care.

Give Mom a staycation

Give your mother a day off – at home! Make arrangements for her to be completely free of all housework on her special day. There’s no laundry, cooking or cleaning for her today! Offer to assume the responsibilities of all her daily chores, being sure to tidy up as per Mom’s standards and to prepare all her meals. You can create a homemade gift card entitling the bearer to one full day of all household chores, and present it to Mom in the morning.

Give your mother a small vacation – she deserves it!

Go out – for free

Search your neighborhood forums for local attractions that don’t have an admission fee. You might get lucky with an interesting museum or a beautiful overlook point that’s just a small drive away. Otherwise, you can prepare a picnic lunch, bring along some balls and Frisbees, and spend the day at a scenic park together with the whole family. Pack a portable grill and some hot dogs to make it a full-day event!

Make some memories

Celebrate Mother’s Day with the most enjoyable trip of all: down memory lane. Spend some time gathering and editing the best home video footage you can find. Include major family milestones and memorable events and/or vacations. Put it all together and present your gift to Mom on her special day. Then, sit back with the rest of the family and reminisce together about the good old times.

On a similar note, you can give Mom the gift of priceless memories by creating a family scrapbook. Use patterned cardstock, your best family photos, ticket stubs and other fun mementos to help Mom remember old times. If Mom’s a grandmother several times over, you can even have each family member – or each grandchild – design their own page for Grandma.

Look for bargains online

If you can’t get around spending money on Mom’s gift, search for seasonal discounts online before spending a penny. You’ll find excellent Mother’s Day deals on Amazon, Coach, Kohl’s and other major retailers, sometimes as steep as 84% off retail price.

Best Buy puts a twist in the discount game by rewarding you for money you spend on Mom. Choose something from the site’s “Top Tech for Mom” section and you’ll get a savings coupon that’s valid until late June – just in time to help you save on a gift for Father’s Day.

Have a family movie night

Spend a relaxing day at home binge-watching Mom’s favorite movies together. Prepare lots of fresh popcorn and all of Mom’s best snacks, pour her a glass of her favorite drink, and get comfy on the couch. Remember: Mom is in charge of the remote! It’s her day, after all.

Look for restaurant deals

It’s always cheapest to eat your own home-cooked food, but if you know your mom is looking forward to a dinner out, look for local restaurant deals before deciding on a place to eat. Lots of eateries offer special Mother’s Day deals or even free menu items just for moms.

To keep costs down while still enjoying takeout food, order your dinner in. You’ll save on beverages and service fees without the hassle of preparing your meal. Be sure to set the table with Mom’s best china – and to do the dishes when you’ve finished eating.

Go easy on the flowers

Flowers are always appreciated, but they can cost a bundle! Save on Mom’s bouquet by shopping around for the best Mother’s Day deals. Save even more by purchasing your flowers in the supermarket and arranging them in a vase or pitcher you already have in the house.

Game night

For a fun family activity that puts the focus on Mom, turn your favorite games into Mother’s Day material. Love trivia? Put together a list of random questions about Mom’s life, hobbies and daily schedule and play a super fun game of Trivial Pursuit. Pass around the most hilarious pictures you can find of Mom and let everyone take a stab at guessing when and where they happened. Get creative and host the family game night that Mom will always remember.

Showing Mom how much she means to you doesn’t have to strain your budget at all. With a bit of research and proper planning, you can give Mom some priceless memories she’ll cherish forever.

Your Turn: How do you celebrate Mother’s Day without draining your wallet? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.frugalfanatic.com/save-money-on-mothers-day/  

https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/fortune/2016/05/08/mothers-day-deals 
https://www.grandparents.com/money-and-work/saving-and-investing/monday-money-savers-mothers-day 

Beware Social Media Scams!

The social media explosion has forever changed the way we interact with one another. InThree young adults using their phones fact, everyone knows that a vacation, a dinner out or child’s milestone never really happened unless you post it on Facebook or Instagram.

But what most people don’t realize is that the advent of social media has generated its own brand of scams. And they’re as nefarious as they are widespread. Over the last few years, the numbers of social media scams have multiplied exponentially, with fake Facebook and Twitter accounts jumping by a full 100% in just a year.

There are several types of social media scams, but most involve some kind of phishing scheme component.

Here’s how it happens: Scammers troll your accounts and try to “friend” you. They might have received your contact details from a friend of a friend or through some other roundabout method. Or, they may create a bogus profile or clone the profile of someone you know in real life. Then they’ll get you to share personal information with them without you even realizing it. Often, they’ll ask you seemingly random questions, like the name of your first pet, or your grandmother’s maiden name, and you’ll blithely provide them with the answers.

What you may not realize, though, is that you’ve just given away the security questions for your checking account password and login information. By the time you do realize this, it’ll be too late.

Other times, social media scams involve fake offers and promotions. You might click on a job offer, an incredible prize you’ve supposedly won or a get-rich-quick scheme. All you need to do to get your hands on the goods being offered is….share your personal information.

Unfortunately, that’s all the scammers need to rob you of your identity – and your money.

In yet another scam that has us at Destinations Credit Union really riled up, fraudsters will exploit your trust in your credit union to get your attention. They’ll reach out to you while impersonating Destinations Credit Union and claim to have incredible rates on personal loans, cash loans or a similar product.

You might think the poster is really us, and willingly click on the embedded link and then follow their application instructions. Sadly, once the ball starts rolling on these scams, it’s nearly impossible to stop. The scammers might then empty your accounts, trick you into making upfront payments to qualify for the loan, or take out another loan in your name, leaving you to foot the bill.

You don’t have to be a victim to these scams. Read on to learn how to spot, prevent and react to social media scams.

How to spot a scam

Watch for these red flags:

  • The poster is offering a deal, prize, job or scheme that sounds too good to be true.
  • You’re asked to make an upfront payment for a job, prize or loan application.
  • A reputable company uses a generic account, such as Yahoo or Gmail, to contact you.
  • You’re told that you qualify for a loan amount that is more than you need.
  • You’re urged to act immediately or risk losing out on the job, prize or loan.
  • The scammer looks like they represent Destinations Credit Union, but when you call us up to talk about the offer, no one knows what you’re talking about.
  • You are asked to share sensitive information before you’ve actually applied for anything.
  • A new social media “friend” keeps asking you random questions.

Preventing social media scams

Fortunately, preventing social media scams isn’t all that difficult. All it takes is a bit of common sense and some practical steps.

  • Think before you click. Ignore anything that sounds sketchy or overly intrusive.
  • If a lender has contacted you, check their legitimacy with the BBB at (859) 259-1008, 1-800-866-6668, or www.bbb.org.
  • If you need to take out a personal loan from Destinations Credit Union, contact us directly at 410-663-2500 or through our website at www.destinationscu.org. This way, you’ll know it’s really us.
  • Never share personal information online with someone you don’t know.
  • Look for a publicly listed street address and phone number that corresponds with the name of any alleged “company” that has contacted you.
  • Never agree to pay for a product or service upfront without being certain of its legitimacy.
  • Check your social media privacy settings on a regular basis. They’re often changed without you knowing it.
  • Never post anything that can be used to steal your identity.

If you are a victim

If you’ve been hooked on the social-media phishing bait, it’s important to do some damage control ASAP.

  • Shut your computer. Before anything else, you’ll want to block the scammer from accessing your computer again. Log off your device and immediately change your passwords, using a different computer or mobile device.
  • Put a fraud alert on your credit. Contact the three major credit bureaus; Equifax, Transunion and Experian, to let them know your identity has been compromised. This will prevent or delay any loans or lines of credit the scammer tries to take out in your name.
  • Let us know. Here at Destinations Credit Union, we want to do our part in stopping scammers in their tracks. By alerting us about a scam, we can watch your accounts for suspicious activity and refuse to honor sketchy charges. Also, if your case involved a fraudulent loan offer using our name, we’ll do all we can to take down the scammers.
  • Alert the Federal Trade Commision (FTC). If you’ve been targeted by a scam, make sure to tell the FTC about it so they can do whatever they can to catch those crooks.
  • Tell your friends. It’s equally important to let all of your friends know about the scam. Consider forwarding them the scammer’s bait in a private message so they know to ignore it if it shows up in their own social media feeds.

Don’t let scammers win! Always use caution when online.

Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a social media scam? Tell us all about it in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://m.nbc12.com/story/22461601/12-on-your-side-man-loses-money-in-online-loan-scam  

https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/scams/banking-and-credit-card-scams/loan-scams  
https://www.bbb.org/lexington/news-events/news-releases/2015/08/bbb-warns-online-loan-seekers-about-fake-site-using-commonwealth-credit-union-lawrenceburg-address/  
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.csoonline.com/article/3202104/phishing/new-social-media-scams-can-you-tell-friend-from-foe.amp.html  
https://inspiredelearning.com/blog/social-phishing/  

How To Fund An Emergency

Q: Help! I’ve been hit with a financial emergency and I don’t know how to pay for it! Woman standing in flooded houseWhat are my options?

A: Ideally, you’ll want to have an emergency fund in place for this very reason. If you don’t, or the money you have set aside isn’t enough, you have several options to consider.

We’ve listed some ideas below. Be sure to review the pros and cons of each before determining which option(s) will work best for you.

1.) Credit cards

For many people, when faced with staggering and unexpected bills, the default option is to pull out their plastic. Unfortunately, following this trend can put you on the fast track toward a lifetime of debt and playing catch-up because of this one-time emergency.

Credit cards offer incredible convenience. With your card in hand, you don’t have to wait for approval, take on another source of debt, or even think about how you’ll pay for it all until later.

When you borrow with a credit card, though, you’ll get more than you bargained for. With interest rates that can soar (in some cases, to an astronomical 30%), you’ll end up paying a lot more money than what you initially borrowed.

To make it worse, credit cards are designed to keep you in debt. They make it easy to push off paying what you owe by only requiring a minimum monthly payment. With accrued interest, paying only the minimum each month means you’ll hardly be making headway on that debt at all and will end up carrying it for a lot longer than planned.  (Please note: Destinations Credit Union has a fixed-rate credit card so you will know in advance if rates ever change.)

2.) 401(k) loans

You may not have an adequate emergency fund on hand, but what you may have is funds sitting in your retirement fund. But, should you crack open a 401(k) to pay for a financial emergency?

Borrowing money from a retirement fund should only be used as a last resort. It’s really advisable only for those whose credit has been shot and won’t qualify for another loan. 401(k) loans have a low interest rate, but will affect your future financial stability in ways other loans will not. For this reason, experts only recommend borrowing from a 401(k) if you are completely secure in your job and the money will be used for a sound investment. Using this money to fund a medical emergency or household repair is not such an investment.

Also, payments for the loan will be taken out of your future paychecks, so be sure you can afford less regular income before borrowing from a 401(k).

3.) Friends and family

For many, friends and family are the obvious answer when you need someone to bail you out during a rough time.

But is this solution really so obvious?

For some, it may very well be the case. Borrowing from friends and family means borrowing without interest and being granted generous loan terms. However, it can also get sticky, fast.

Only borrow from people you know and love with these guidelines in place:

  • Have a clear repayment plan in place and be sure you can stick to the set timeline. Don’t accept any offers of “pay me back in 10 years,” or that debt will be haunting you for a very long time.
  • Write down the loan terms and create a shared contract detailing all of the terms and the repayment plan.
  • Consider having a third party witness the loan and sign the contract.
  • Keep your financial and personal relationship separate. As long as you’re making your payments on time, there’s no reason to discuss the loan every time you speak.

Borrowing from those you hold most dear means putting a cherished relationship in jeopardy. Do not go this route unless you are confident your relationship can stand up to the test and you are absolutely sure you can repay on time.

4.) Personal loans

Personal loans exist for reasons like these. Since they have no explicit purpose, you won’t need to give any lengthy explanations for why you need the money and you should have the funds in hand rather quickly.

Unfortunately, though, personal loans are unsecured and most of them come with high interest rates and fees. You’ll also need to have decent credit to qualify. As a member of [credit union], though, you have access to personal loans with affordable rates. They may just be your way out of a financial bind!

If you think a personal loan might be right for you, call, click or stop by Destinations Credit Union today to learn all about our rates and payment options. We’re always here to help you out!

Setting up an emergency fund

It might be too late right now, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the future. Start setting up your emergency fund today so you’re never stuck in a tight spot again.

Here’s how to make it happen in five simple steps:

  • Create a goal for your fund. Ideally, an emergency fund should have enough cash to cover your living expenses for 3-6 months.
  • Review your monthly budget to find places to cut back. Alternately, look for ways to boost your income.
  • Determine how long it will take you to reach your goal by allocating the saved or earned money to your emergency fund.
  • Open a savings account specifically for this purpose.
  • Set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to your emergency fund.

Now you can sit back and watch your emergency fund build itself into something substantial that will help you sleep better at night. From here on, unexpected expenses or setbacks won’t throw you for a loop. You’ll be prepared for anything!

Your Turn: Do you have a secure plan in place for emergencies?

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/peterlazaroff/2017/09/23-how-to-set-up-your-emergency-fund/amp/  

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bankrate.com/retirement/4-reasons-to-take-out-a-401k-loan/amp/  
http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-borrow-money-from-friends-family-2013-1  
https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/personal-loan-why-should-i-get/  
https://www.thebalance.com/why-using-your-credit-card-for-emergencies-is-risky-960992 

All You Need To Know About The New Payroll Tax Rates

Phew! Your income taxes are filed and you can finally rest easy with that huge choreTax Form With note about 2018 tax laws now over and done. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about taxes again until it’s time to file for 2018. The US tax code has a bigger impact on your life than you think.

Don’t believe us? You don’t have to – just take a look at your most recent paycheck. Have you been wondering what happened to it? Why do the amounts withheld look so different? And why did your salary get a little boost? Were you given a raise you don’t know about?

If you’ve got questions about payroll taxes, we’ve got answers!

First, let’s take a quick look at the background and purpose of payroll taxes. As you probably know, a big chunk of money is hacked off your gross income each payday. This money goes toward payroll taxes, which, in turn, supports Social Security, Medicare and various other social insurance benefits.

You also pay a federal income tax each month, which helps fund public education, transportation, the Department of Corrections, the state police, and parks. And, unless you live in Texas, Florida, Washington, Nevada, Tennessee, Wyoming, New Hampshire, South Dakota, or Alaska, you’ll need to pay a state income tax as well.

The exact amounts being withheld from your paycheck changes a bit every year and varies according to your income level and the W-4 you filled out when you first started working at your job.

Several months ago, the IRS released the income-tax withholding tables for 2018. While these tables are updated annually, this year, the changes need to incorporate the recent tax code reform and are more significant than usual.

If you are an employer

Business owners were instructed to implement the new withholding rates as quickly as possible, but no later than Feb. 15, 2018. The IRS has ensured that this step will be as easy as possible for employers by designing the new tables to work with the W-4 forms that have already been filled out by their employees. (The IRS is currently revising the old W-4 to reflect the recent changes, such as variations in available itemized deductions, increases in the child tax credit and the repeal of dependent exemptions.)

If you have not done so already, make sure your company’s payroll reflects the new rates. You can use the payroll tax calculator on IRS.gov to ensure you are fully compliant with the law. It doesn’t pay to be negligent about this: Failure to pay the correct amounts of income tax in a timely manner can result in hefty tax penalties.

Paycheck changes

If you are an employee, you may have noticed a slight increase in your paycheck over the last few months.

You can thank the good ol’ government for your surprise pay raise! The revised tax code made several changes that affect the average taxpayer, mostly for the good. If you’re wondering what your payroll tax rates look like now, you can check out the full table of changes here.

Most notably, the new law increases the standard deduction, repeals personal exemptions and shuffles the general tax rates and brackets around a bit. For the average employee, these changes mean a boost in their income.

What you need to do now

It is your employer’s responsibility to ensure the amount withheld from your paycheck reflects the new rates, but it’s up to you to review and update your W-4 as necessary.

You filled out this form when you started your current job, but you are allowed to change it whenever you’d like. It’s always a good idea to review your W-4 every now and then, but with the new tax laws in place, it’s even more important for you to do so. You want to ensure your chosen exemptions and deductions incorporate the new changes.

It’s crucial that you have the right amount withheld from your paycheck. Withhold too little, and you’ll owe the IRS a chunk of money next tax season; withhold too much, and you’ll get a huge refund instead of letting that money grow all year.

Also, it’s especially important to review your forms if you itemize your deductions, own your home, are self-employed, have recently married or recently had a child. One small change on your W-4 can make a huge difference in your taxes.

To determine whether you’re withholding the optimal amounts, use the IRS calculator on IRS.gov. You’ll be asked to input information about your paycheck and personal life, and then you’ll be told the amount you should be withholding. Hold that number up against what you see on your paycheck. If the amounts match, you’re doing fine. If they’re off, be sure to see your HR representative about changing your W-4 to optimize your withholding amount.

The US tax code may be a pain to deal with sometimes, but for most of us, the recent tax reform is good news. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of the new payroll tax rates!

Your Turn: If your paycheck got a boost this year, what are you doing with that bit of extra cash? Do you spend it or save it? Share your ideas with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/2018-withholding-tables-now-available  

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/n1036.pdf  
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2018/03/01/a-tax-related-action-every-employee-should-take-in-2018.html  
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2018/01/11/irs-releases-new-2018-withholding-tables-to-reflect-tax-law-changes/amp/

7 Ways To Spring Clean For Extra Cash

When that first delightful spring breeze starts blowing, you know it’s time to get your Couple cleaning out old bookshouse in shape.

The warmer weather and the brilliant sunshine pouring through your windows can fill you with boundless energy. You’re going to banish those dust bunnies! Every piece of useless clutter must go! You are on a mission to turn your home into a sparkling palace that is completely free of junk.

But there’s more than just a neat house awaiting you at the end of all that hard work. Here’s how you can spring clean your way to riches – well, almost. You won’t become a millionaire from your junk, but you’ll put some spare cash in your pocket just by taking a few extra steps while clearing out the clutter. And that’s always a good thing!

1.) Trade in your electronics

Don’t throw out that digital camera or printer just yet! Gather all the old gadgets and devices you no longer use and bring them to your local electronics store. They’ll likely offer you a gift card for your treasures.

Some larger chain stores, like Best Buy, even run a retail-collection program to help you responsibly dispose of your old electronics. You’ll earn a gift card that can help you save money on your next purchase.

2.) Get cash at the consignment store

Your outdated clothing from the ’90s might just be someone else’s idea of high fashion today. We’re looking at you, neon jeans! Instead of filling your local dumpster, bring your old clothing to the neighborhood consignment shop and see what they’re willing to take. If you’re open to traveling a bit, you can search for consignment chains that might be a little further out, like Plato’s Closet for teens and 20-somethings; Clothes Mentor which resells designer clothing for all ages; and Once Upon a Child, a chain that specializes in children’s clothing and toys.

You can also look up consignment shops online, like ThredUp, Tradesy or Poshmark.

And if all else fails, there’s always eBay!

3.) Trade in your video games

If you’ve got a serious gamer at home who always needs the latest and greatest, consider trading in your old games at GameStop. You’ll get a store credit that will help support this relatively costly habit and you’ll get rid of that huge pile of video games at the same time!

4.) Sell old books

Books take up lots of room, and if no one’s reading them, why not get rid of them for good? Look up your closest Half Price Books locations and bring your collection over to them in exchange for a tidy sum.

If you’ve got a stack of textbooks lying around, earn back some of the money you shelled out for them by selling them online on BookFinder, Cash4Books or eCampus.

5.) Sell your expensive electronics

If you’ve got some older smartphones or laptops that are in decent condition, they should be able to fetch you a pretty penny. Try selling your stuff on Gazelle.com. They offer free shipping, and once your item is officially logged by the company, you’ll get paid via check, gift card, or PayPal. It’s an easier, faster option than selling on Craigslist or eBay.

6.) Get cash for unused gift cards

Do you have a pile of gift cards you will never use? It’s time to get rid of the whole lot – and make some money on the side! There are loads of sites that offer a gift-card exchange service, and though you may not make back the full amount, you’ll usually land a decent offer. Besides, if these cards were originally given to you as gifts, any money you make off them is extra.

Try your luck with your gift cards at giftcard.com, giftcardgranny.com or tradya.com to fatten up your wallet with greenbacks instead of useless cards.

7.) Donate to charity

Donating unused clothing toys, or electronics to charity might be the easiest way to get rid of clutter. You’ll be helping out a worthwhile cause and making someone else happy with your belongings. As an added bonus, donating goods to charity will earn you a tax deduction, so long as you keep your receipt. Thrift shop chains like Goodwill and the Salvation Army will happily accept clothing that’s in decent condition, all kinds of housewares, used furniture, toys, gadgets and more.

You’ll be making someone else’s day and earning a tax break at the same time.

Spring cleaning is a chore that’s gotta be tackled with lots of energy, time, and hard work. With a bit of extra planning, you can earn some cash in return for the work.

Your Turn: Have you spring-cleaned your way towards extra cash? Tell us what worked for you in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.gobankingrates.com/making-money/spring-cleaning-tips-ways-make-money-already-have/amp/  

https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/2016-03-02/5-ways-to-make-money-off-your-spring-cleaning  
https://www.frugalforless.com/make-money-cleaning/

How Should I Use My Tax Refund?

Q: I got a bigger than expected tax refund this year and I don’t want to blow it all. How hand holding money over file folderscan I use it responsibly?

A: You’re already making the better choice by thinking about what to do with your small fortune instead of splurging and then watching it all disappear within a few weeks.

When you receive an unexpected windfall, whether it’s from a tax refund, work bonus or a cash gift, it’s always a good idea to be proactive about how you’ll spend it instead of letting it just blow through your checking account.

Below, we’ve listed some dos and don’ts for you to consider.

Do: Pay down debt

You probably don’t want to see your entire refund go straight to your credit card bill, but you don’t have to take the all-or-nothing approach. Consider earmarking 20% of your windfall toward paying down high-interest debt you may be carrying. You can adjust this number as you see fit, but you’ll be doing yourself a favor by paying off a large chunk at once. You’ll save a ton on interest and you’ll be finished with this debt a lot sooner than you’d planned.

Don’t: Lend out your refund money

It’s sweet of you to want to help a friend or relative out of a tight spot, but lending all of your refund money is not the smartest idea. You might not see that money for a while, and if you do, it’ll likely be repaid in small amounts instead of the large chunk of cash you have now. And that is severely limiting to what you can do with it.

If a friend or relative is in desperate need of financial help, consider lending them a small portion of your refund. Also, be sure to create a repayment plan so you can have some assurance you will see that money again.

Do: Start saving or investing

If you’ve always been waiting until you have a substantial amount of cash in hand to start a savings account or an emergency fund, you’ve just run out of excuses! Take $1,000 out of your refund and use it to start a savings account. You can set up an automatic transfer to take money out of your checking account each month to help it grow, even if you can only afford as little as $10. The head-start you’re getting now, along with the small monthly contributions, will add up quickly.

If you’re feeling super-responsible and forward-thinking, use this opportunity to start investing. The rewards will greatly outweigh any qualms you might feel about not spending this money. Say you receive an annual refund of $2,800 and invest this money at 6% interest. If you continue investing this amount each year, you’ll find yourself with approximately $250,727 in 30 years’ time.

Now that’s making your refund work for you!

Don’t: Invest in a low-interest account

If you decide to sock away some or most of your refund money, don’t be lazy about it. Keeping all of that cash in a low-interest savings account or an ordinary checking account with little to no interest at all will dramatically decrease its growing power. If you’re not sure where to invest or save your refund, call, click or stop by Destinations Credit Union where a member service representative is happy to help.

Do: Invest in yourself

It might sound trite, but you are your own most precious commodity. Advance your career and increase your earning power by using your tax refund to pay for a work-related conference, additional training in your field or for learning an entirely new skill. Money invested in yourself is never wasted!

Don’t: Blow it all on impulse buys

Don’t spend your entire refund without planning or you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment later. You’ll likely end up with nothing substantial and not more than two pennies of your refund money to rub together.

Do: Reward yourself

While you don’t want to blow it all, it’s OK to celebrate on one or two major purchases you’ve been eyeing throughout the year. Now’s the time to splurge on that pair of designer shoes you’ve been drooling over all season, or to treat yourself to a night out at that expensive new restaurant in town.

Don’t: Receive your refund on a gift card

Gone are the days when Uncle Sam licked a stamp for every refund he sends. Today, you can choose to get your tax refund deposited directly into your checking account, and many tax software programs even offer you the opportunity to get the refund via gift card. While direct deposit is fine, if you’re offered your refund on a gift card, opt out. You always stand the chance of losing the card. A gift card will also limit the ways you can spend your refund money.

Do: Donate to charitable causes

For many people living paycheck-to-paycheck, donating to charity can take a back seat on their list of priorities.

This might be a great time to break that habit. The bonus cash in your pocket gives you the opportunity to give back to your community in ways you might not be able to afford throughout the year. Plus, it gives you a head start on potential deductions for next year if you plan to itemize.

However you choose to spend your refund, consider all of your options carefully before making your decision and you won’t have any regrets.

Your Turn: Are you expecting a tax refund this year? How are you going to spend it? Share your plans with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.moneycrashers.com/what-to-do-with-your-tax-refund-money/  

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/taxes/smart-ways-to-spend-your-tax-return/  
https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/2016-04-07/heres-how-you-should-spend-your-tax-refund  
https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/time/money/4712331/what-not-to-do-with-tax-refund

5 Tips For Raising Secure And Unspoiled Kids

Raising children is a constant balancing act. You want to provide structure and stability,Piggy bank in front of blackboard but you also don’t want to run an overly militant household. It’s important to you that you show you care about your child’s whereabouts and choices, but you don’t want to be a helicopter parent. You want your kids to do well in school, but you don’t want to put too much pressure on them.

And when it comes to money, you want your kids to know you can provide them with all of their physical needs, but you don’t want to raise spoiled children who feel entitled to their every whim.

How can you achieve that?

Giving your children a sound financial education should be an integral part of your parenting, and it all goes toward creating this balance. To make things easier, we’ve compiled a list of five steps you can take to achieve your goal. A parent can never have too many practical pointers!

1.) Use an allowance as a teaching tool

According to a study conducted by the American Institute of CPAs, 89% of parents who give their kids an allowance require them to earn that money through chores. But Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled, argues that this practice is counterintuitive. Lieber claims that allowances should not be given as a reward or as a salary, but as a teaching tool. By giving kids their own spending money with no strings attached, you can help them learn how to manage their money and control their spending habits.

You can also use this opportunity to help them implement the three-jar system, in which they allocate predetermined percentages of their money toward spending, saving, and giving.

2.) Boost their confidence

Peer pressure is a lifelong struggle that may be at its strongest during school-age years. After all, your kids are spending most of their waking hours in the presence of their peers. They may not be astute or mature enough to understand that people must make spending choices that reflect their personal financial situation – and not their neighbor’s.

Help your children make the right choices by fostering a sense of worth that is independent of material possessions. Boost their confidence and build them up so they feel good about themselves just for who they are, and not for what they own or wear.

3.) Say no

Regardless of your financial status, it is crucial that you to refuse your children’s requests from time to time. Everyone needs to learn how to accept a no, and every time you give in to a child’s demand, you are raising their standard of living a bit more.

Say your daughter asks for a $200 designer jacket when you know she has a perfectly wearable one from last spring. If you give in to her begging, you may be affecting her future choices in two ways:

  • By giving in easily, you have just diminished the value of $200 in her eyes.
  • You are raising her standards to a level you – or she – may not be able to sustain.

This doesn’t mean you can never give a child something “just because.” But experts recommend the sporadic “no” so your kids learn to accept that they can’t always have everything they want.

When turning down a request, it’s best to keep money out of the picture. You want your kids to know you can provide them with everything they need, and to understand that they don’t really need everything they want.

Instead of saying: “We can’t afford that right now.”

Try: “You don’t really need that right now.”

4.) Encourage work

Kids who hold down a job when they’re still young are getting a head start on life as an adult. Encourage your child to look for a summer job, shovel snow for your neighbors in the winter and rake their leaves in the fall and accept the occasional babysitting job. They’ll learn responsibility and develop a work ethic. And, best of all, they’ll start valuing their money more when they see how hard it can be to earn a single dollar.

5.) Model gratitude and giving

One of the most important lessons you can give your children is to appreciate what they have and to give back to others. These lessons won’t hit home by being shoved down your kids’ throats through lectures. Instead, use every opportunity you can find to model these behaviors for your children.

Someone did you an unexpected favor? Thank them loudly and profusely – in front of your kids.

Thrilled with your new living room couches? Don’t just luxuriate in their loveliness and softness; verbalize how thankful you are to be able to afford such fine furniture.

You can easily make gratitude a family project by instituting a thankfulness routine at the dinner table in which every child shares a part of their day for which they’re thankful. Or, you can create a “Jar Of Gratitude,” in which family members drop small slips of paper describing something they’re grateful for, to be read aloud on a weekly basis in front of the entire family.

Do the same with giving, bringing your children along with you when you donate old clothing or food, and allowing them to watch you give money to your favorite charitable causes.

By helping your children develop these habits and essential traits, you’ll ward off feelings of entitlement and raise kindhearted, giving adults.

Your Turn: How do keep your kids from getting spoiled? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/02/24/how-to-not-raise-spoiled-children-7-crucial-money-lessons/amp/ 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/how-to-raisee-kinder-less-entitled-kids-according-to-science/2016/10/03/1a74fa3a-7525-11e6-b786-19d0cb1ed06c_story.html?utm_term=.b2cf30aef01c 
https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/un-spoil-your-kid/ 
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201102/parenting-how-not-raise-spoiled-brats%3Famp 

Medical Identity Theft

Scammers never rest. Even when the government and financial institutions take addedimage of medicare card merging into money measures for protecting consumers against fraud, scammers are dreaming up new ways to con you out of your money – and your identity.

In the latest wave of identity theft, scammers are cashing in on Medicare’s extra level of protection. In order to help prevent ID theft, Medicare is replacing the Social Security numbers that had appeared on its old cards with an 11-digit code. The new cards aren’t in circulation yet. They will be mailed out within the next 13 months, but scammers are already using them for a new variation of identity theft.

Here’s how the scam works: A caller pretending to be a Medicare representative will phone a beneficiary and ask for payment in exchange for the new ID. The victim willingly complies. In reality, though, the new cards are free and are being mailed out automatically. The caller might also claim to be a Medicare representative who is not after the victim’s money but needs their medical information to send out their new card or to update their system.

In another iteration of this scam, a caller will ask a victim if they want to purchase Medicare’s prescription drug coverage, or Part D. Part D is voluntary and is not necessary for Medicare coverage, but the caller will insist the victim must purchase Part D or risk losing their entire coverage.

In another ruse that is not limited to Medicare members, the caller will ask for the victim’s checking account number and Social Security number to deposit a supposed refund from their medical insurance company.

Once the scammer has the victim’s medical information, though, there’s an endless amount of damage they can do, including (but not limited to):

  • Posing as the victim to see a doctor and using their insurance to pay the bill,
  • Obtaining prescriptions they don’t need and then selling them or misusing them,
  • Purchasing medical equipment,
  • Filing a false health claim.

Protect yourself from being the next victim! Here’s what you need to know about medical identity theft.

What it can cost you

According to the Ponemon Institute, the average medical identity theft costs the victim a whopping $13,500 to fix. But it’s a lot more than money at stake. There are several significant ways medical identity theft can affect you.

1.) Loss of health coverage

Medical identity theft can cause you to lose your health coverage. Scammers might max out your benefit limits, leaving you at a real disadvantage in case of a medical emergency.

2.) Ruined credit history

Medical identity theft can wreak havoc on your credit history. You may have spent years building and maintaining an excellent score, but scammers can bring all of that tumbling down by racking up tremendous hospital bills in your name and then disappearing. The outstanding bill will then go to collections and you might not even be aware of it until creditors come calling.

3.) False medical records

The scammer may be seeing doctors, receiving treatment and obtaining prescriptions under your name. All of this will be documented on your medical records. This can prove to be extremely dangerous, or even fatal, when you seek medical attention in the future.

4.) Higher premiums

When insurance companies take note of the maladies you’ve “contracted” or the many doctors you’ve been “seeing,” your premiums will likely rise.

Preventing medical scams

Learn to recognize the signs and take proactive steps to ensure that you’re not the next victim of medical identity theft.

  • Know that Medicare will never call you for information. The agency will always reach out to its members via mail. By simply being aware of this fact, you can immediately identify a scammer on the phone.
  • Be wary of bills from third-party providers. If you receive notices regarding your medical information from a third-party provider that do not look familiar, or that contain inaccurate information regarding your medical history and recent treatment, alert your insurance provider immediately.
  • Study your Explanation of Benefits (EOB). Every health insurance company provides its members will an EOB. Be sure to take a hard look at yours. If you spot any treatments you don’t remember receiving, notify your insurance provider immediately.
  • Check medical records. It’s a good idea to review your medical records on a regular basis and check for any suspicious doctor visits, prescriptions or maladies.
  • Review your credit. It’s always prudent to check your credit history several times a year. If you see any unfamiliar charges, immediately ask for a fraud alert and place a freeze on your credit.

Fixing your medical history

If you spot something suspicious on your medical records, it’s crucial that you take the necessary steps to correct it so it doesn’t affect your medical treatment in the future.

Send a copy of the documents detailing the discrepancy or error to every medical professional and facility involved in your care, including doctors, hospitals, labs and private clinics. It’s best to send a copy of these documents and keep the original documents for your own records. To ensure the documents were received by the correct parties, send them through certified mail and get a receipt.

Fighting back

Have you been victimized by medical identity theft? Report the incident to prevent future scams!

You can report your scam on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website at ftc.gov, or by calling the agency at 1-877-438-4338.

If you are a member of Medicare and suspect fraud, call 800-MEDICARE for assistance or visit Medicare.gov. Alternately, report the scam to your own insurance provider.

You deserve to live out your years in health and happiness without worrying about medical identity theft. Make sure you take the necessary precautions to ensure you’re not the next victim!

Your Turn: Have you had to repair damages caused by medical identity theft? Share your experience with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2018/02/07/beware-theres-a-new-wave-of-medicare-scammers.html  

https://www.thebalance.com/common-types-of-medical-identity-theft-4157717  
https://blog.sdfcu.org/2018/01/medical-identity-theft/