How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Chances are, you or someone you know has had their identity stolen at one point or Image of Man cloning credit informationanother.  It can be expensive, stressful and extremely complicated to recover from.  Here are seven ways to help protect yourself and your most important data from identity thieves.

Secure Your Hardcopies

Most of us think of identity theft as a digital crime, but many thieves are just as eager to get their hands on your paper documents.  While online accounts are password-protected, important paper documents are often left in a drawer or simply tossed in the trash, where dumpster-diving thieves can find them.

What’s the solution?  Buy a safe and a shredder.  What’s not shredded goes in the safe. Of course, the same level of care should go into protecting your physical credit cards.  Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket. Make it a habit to check to see you have all your cards and IDs when you get home at the end of the day.  This will help you be aware of missing items earlier so you can cancel lost or stolen cards before too much damage is done.

Examine Your Financial Statements

Reviewing your financial statements is a good practice.  Not only will this help you track financial habits, it will also alert you to any fraudulent charges.  Credit unions and banks do a lot to protect consumers from fraud and identity theft, but only you know what you purchased and what you didn’t, so look closely at those statements!

Choose Good Passwords

Many people have one simple password they use for all devices and platforms.  This is convenient, but dangerous. Yes, there is reason to worry that having multiple hard-to-remember passwords may make it more difficult for you to access your own accounts, but potential identity thieves will have a more difficult time too.

If you’re worried about remembering your own passwords, check out these easy and safe ways to store your passwords from Gizmodo.

Protect Your Computer

Malware is just one way identity thieves steal your data.  Invest in a good and reputable antispyware program to make sure your hardware is safe from invaders.

Another way to protect your computer is to encrypt your hard drive.  Apple computers and PCs alike will offer the option to encrypt all data in your hard drive.  Go to your security settings and choose to activate the encryption option.

Be Aware of Suspicious Emails and Websites

If an email looks suspicious, it probably is. Make your email inbox a tightly curated collection.  If you have too many promotional emails, start clicking the unsubscribe button.  This will help you spot suspicious, unsolicited mails.

The same goes for websites.  Your browser or antivirus software may try and warn you about suspicious websites before you enter them.  Don’t disregard those warnings.

Use Two-Factor Identification

The most convenient option is not always the most secure, but given the choice between convenience and security, your best bet is the more secure one.  Two-factor identification for email accounts and other important online accounts will add an extra step to the security process for log-ins, most often making use of your phone number as well.

Secure Your Wi-Fi and Avoid Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is often insecure and can be a great way for thieves to get to your data.  Steer clear if you can.  If you have no choice, be sure to avoid all online banking or password logins while using public Wi-Fi.  Additionally, be sure to secure your own home Wi-Fi with a unique and hard-to-guess password.

SOURCES:
http://www.identitytheftkiller.com/10-ways-to-avoid-id-theft.php 

https://www.wikihow.com/Prevent-Identity-Theft

Protecting Yourself Against Card Cracking Scams

In a recent scam targeting cash-strapped millennials, fraudsters are once again cashingImage of man touching fraud prevention icon in on people’s naivety and goodwill. Only this time they’re using social media to make it happen.

What makes the scam especially cruel is that fraudsters specifically look for victims who are short on funds, such as students with large loans hanging over their heads, struggling single parents or young professionals searching for a job. People who are desperate for cash also prove to be desperate enough to believe almost anything that will help them earn them a quick buck. Unfortunately, this vulnerability, coupled with the broad reach and easy plundering that scammers are granted by using social media, has made card cracking more successful in luring victims than many other scams.

Card cracking scams start with an innocent-looking social media post that appears like the dozens you scroll through every day. The post may show up on the victim’s Twitter feed, Facebook page or on Instagram, and it will always showcase some form of quick cash. It might be an easy-to-win contest with a huge reward for the winner. It can be a dream job that will instantly be yours – as soon as you follow the instructions. It may even be a complete giveaway, such as a cash bonus or a gift card that you’ll be granted just for sharing some information. If you click on the embedded link, you’ll be asked for your checking account information, your PIN or your online banking credentials.

Once the scammers have this information, they can do any number of things with their prize, from withdrawing large sums of cash from your account to using your debit card number for a massive shopping spree. They may even help themselves to funds you have in your account, such as a paycheck or student loan.

In another iteration of card cracking, scammers will tug on victims’ heartstrings, claiming their personal accounts are frozen and they have no access to money. They’ll ask the victim to allow them to access the victim’s account for simple transactions such as depositing checks. Once the checks are in, the scammer will cash in on the amount, and a few days later, when the check bounces, the scammer will be long gone. This variation is sometimes played out in person, on college campuses.

In yet a third scheme, card crackers promise victims a cut of fraudulent funds if the victim allows them to use their account. Victims often rationalize this crime by assuring themselves that they’re not actually playing a part in the fraud. Of course, they will still be held accountable when the scammers are busted.

Sadly, falling victim to a scam can be especially harmful for a millennial who is just beginning to build their credit history.

Don’t be the next victim. Here’s how to protect yourself from card cracking:

1.) Never share personal information with a stranger

You’ve heard it a thousand times, but this rule cannot be overstated. Never share sensitive information with a correspondent whose identity you can not verify with absolute certainty. You wouldn’t think of giving your checking account number to a solicitor you met on the street; why would you share it with a stranger online?

Of course, victims of card cracking and similar schemes believe the scammers are legitimate. That’s why it’s important to authenticate a web address, company or offer by asking for a street address or phone number. Additionally, by educating yourself about these scams, you’ll be able to spot one immediately.

2.) When it’s too good to be true, it usually is

Remembering this rule of thumb will go a long way toward helping you recognize scammers. Free or easy money exists only in fairy tales. Don’t believe the Facebook post that promises you’ll land that dream job you’ve been searching for if you only hand over your account passwords. Ignore the offer for a free gift card and don’t believe the sob story about frozen accounts leaving people penniless.

3.) Never cash a check for someone else

You are not a credit union or a check-cashing business. If someone approaches you in person or online and asks you to cash a check for them, politely refuse. Unless you would trust this person with your life, there is no reason to believe their tale is legitimate or that their check will be honored.

4.) Report suspicious activity

If you notice any suspicious activity on your account, report it immediately. You may have fallen prey to a card cracking scam and you don’t even know it!

Scammers may be smart, but you can be smarter. When you’re educated, alert and aware, you’ll be able to spot most scams before it’s too late.

Your Turn: Have you recently spotted any card cracking scams on your social media platforms? Share what tipped you off in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://info.rippleshot.com/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-card-cracking 

https://www.google.com/search?q=card+cracking+scam&rlz=1CDGOYI_enUS753US753&oq=card+cracking&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l3.10532j0j7&hl=en-US&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8 
https://www.nextadvisor.com/blog/2016/07/18/know-about-card-cracking-scams/

Surviving the Holidays With Your Sanity Intact

The holiday season is a special time. With Charlie Brown on TV and carols on the radio, Image of cookies in the shape of a sleighand an ever-growing list of people to shop for, it’s easy to get carried away.  The pressure to over-shop and overspend when you’re rushing to buy everything on your list can be overwhelming. No worries, though; we’ve got you covered! Read on for fantastic pre-and post-holiday tips to ensure you’ll have a holly, jolly December without breaking the bank.

6 Pre-Holidays Tips

Revise your gift list

Gift giving is a treasured tradition, but chances are, lots of the people you exchange gifts with would be as relieved as you’d be to be taken off your list. Narrow down your gift list. Talk to coworkers and acquaintances about just exchanging cards this year, or make a deal to only exchange homemade or inexpensive gifts.

This way, you can focus on buying special gifts for those closest to you instead of generic gifts for everyone you’ve ever met and their cousins, too.

 Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa

Still got a list that’s a mile long? Try one of these creative solutions! A Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa activity not only saves money and stress, it adds a bit of intrigue and playfulness to the holiday. These swaps are great for family gatherings, office parties and neighborhood get-togethers.  Everyone involved only needs to bring a single gift – and it’s always fun.

Set a reasonable price cap on gifts so no one ends up leaving with a candy cane while the person next to them hauls off a flat-screen TV.  You can check out online tips for organizing a fun and affordable Yankee Swap or Secret Santa.

Bake holiday treats

Another great way to reduce the financial weight of your gift list is to break out the baking supplies and start whipping up your own holiday treats instead of buying gifts.

It’s hard to know exactly what your friend will like as a gift, but no one turns down a tin of homemade holiday cookies! Use your favorite traditional recipes, or try something new and different.

 Make a budget and stick to it

This tip sounds a bit obvious.  After all, we all plan to stick to a budget, right?  But make this the year it really happens!

Don’t set yourself a ballpark budget.  Set an absolute limit to how much you will spend on the holidays this season.  This will encourage you to plan your spending rather than grabbing impulse items as you move through a store.  It will also encourage you to look for great deals, which brings us to our next tip.

 Make use of holiday deals….but don’t get distracted

It’s easy to become hypnotized by deals. Prices drop and we go wild, spending more than we originally intended because we don’t want to miss out on those “crazy, low holiday prices.”

Take a deep breath.  Make use of these deals wisely by buying items on your list at a discounted price.  But don’t be tantalized by the deals to the point that you buy things you don’t really need….or even want.

 Rethink giving

We know that the holidays are all about giving – but giving doesn’t need to mean spending money.  Instead of running to the mall again, think of other ways you can give that will help improve your community, make the world a better place, and truly brighten someone’s holiday.

It’s the perfect time of year to volunteer at local soup kitchens, homeless shelters and charity organizations. This kind of giving doesn’t cost a dime, but can be a memorable and significant experience for all involved.

To find local volunteer opportunities, click here.

Post-Holiday Tips

Use those gift cards

Gift cards are a typical holiday gift, but many people forget they have them, and they go unused.

Put all of your gift cards in your wallet and spend them creatively.  Maybe you don’t care for coffee on the go, but you can buy a package of ground coffee beans at Starbucks and use it at home.  Use that iTunes gift card to rent a movie instead of taking the family out.  Whatever it might be, use these gift cards and appreciate them for what they are – money in your wallet.

Invest in next year’s regifting effort

In addition to gift cards, you’ll probably find yourself with a bunch of gifts you don’t really want.  Some of these can be saved and re-gifted next year or used as birthday gifts throughout the year – scented candles, bottles of wine, bath products, etc.  Even if you don’t actually want it, you can find someone else who does!

Why Do I Need To Get Preapproved For A Loan?

Q: I’m in the market for a new home, and everyone I talk to, from friends to financial Home with Sold Sign in frontadvisors, suggests I get preapproved for a mortgage before I start house hunting. Why is this so important?

A: You’re actually on the receiving end of great advice. When looking to take out a large loan, whether it’s for purchasing a home or buying a car, having that preapproval in hand before you start your search is crucial.

Depending upon the type of loan, the process of getting preapproved for a loan can take time. The lender will begin by asking for your financial history and other personal information. If you have a co-borrower, the lender will need this information about them as well.

You’ll be asked to provide your Social Security Number (SSN) and for permission to allow the lender to access your credit report. If the information you provide is satisfactory, as is your credit report, the lender will begin constructing the details of your loan. When they have determined how large of a loan you will be eligible for, they will grant you a preapproval letter. The letter will also detail your estimated interest rate on the loan, though that will sometimes also depend upon the specifics of your purchase, such as the year and condition of a car or appraisal on a home.

Having your preapproval letter will shorten the loan process significantly when you’re actually ready to take out the loan. However, that is only a small benefit of getting preapproved before you start “shopping.”

Here are some other advantages of getting preapproved for a loan:

1.) You’ll know what you can afford

Your preapproval will tell you exactly what you can afford. This way, you’ll avoid being disappointed later when you have your heart set on a certain home only to be told you can’t swing it financially. Knowing how large a loan you’ll qualify for will simplify your search and get you into your new home or car sooner.

Be sure to calculate other monthly costs, such as property taxes, home insurance and increased auto insurance rates when determining the actual amount of money you’ll need to shell out each month.

2.) Don’t get taken for a ride

Picture this scene at a car dealership:

Salesperson: So, you’re here to buy a new car! What are you looking for?

You: Well, I want something with a smooth ride and –

Salesperson: Got it. And how much of a monthly payment can you afford?

You: Weeelll, I think I can swing up to $200 a month, but I’d rather something closer to $150 if you —

Salesperson: Step right this way please! Let me show our new line of Camrys at just $205 a month! They have the most luxurious feel and the ride is smooth as butter!

What happened here is, quite simply, a salesperson looking to make the most money out of a customer. When you’re unsure about how much you can spend, the dealer will capitalize on your uncertainty and try to sell you a car that just barely skims the maximum amount you’ve decided you can afford.

Also, when you name a monthly payment you can manage, the dealer will work with that number instead of talking about the price of the car. They may try to inflate the payment with charges and fees just because they fit within your named payment amount.

In contrast, when you show up at the dealer with a preapproval in hand, the salesman will have to show you cars with price tags that fit within your loan amount.

Don’t get taken for a ride; get your preapproval before you set foot in the dealer shop!

3.) Be taken seriously

A car dealer will take you a lot more seriously when you wave that preapproval in their face, since having that information in hand shows you’re ready to buy.

When purchasing a home, the same rule holds true. A realtor will be able to assist you more efficiently when you know exactly how much house you can afford. They may also give you better service since you’re showing that you’re serious about buying a home. In fact, many realtors refuse to show homes to buyers who don’t have a preapproval in hand.

4.) Know you have financing you can trust

When you show up at the car dealership with a preapproval from your credit union, you know the deal is in your best interest. Many auto shops have access to several financing options and they’re almost always going to put customers into financing options that are in their own wallet’s best interests.

5.) Purchase your dream home

A preapproval makes you a valuable customer. It also helps you stand out from the pack. If you’re looking to buy a home in a competitive market, you may be competing with several other buyers for the same house. Having your preapproval will give you a leg up on bidding wars. A seller will be more eager to work with someone who’s already started the mortgage process. You can end your search sooner with a preapproval!

In the market for a new home or car? Don’t forget to call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union to hear about our fantastic rates on mortgage and auto loans!

Your Turn: Based on your own experience, why do you think it’s important to get preapproved for a loan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.investopedia.com/mortgage/pre-approval/ 

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/advantages-of-getting-pre-approved-for-a-car-loan/
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.zillow.com/mortgage-learning/pre-approval/amp/

All You Need To Know About Open Enrollment

Open enrollment is here again, and for many Americans this time period – and the entire Healthcare professionals and patienthealth insurance market – spells confusion.

Is Obamacare still in effect? Are premiums really increasing as much as predicted? Do I need to take action now if I’m happy with my insurance plan? What’s the difference between all the plans offered in the marketplace?

So many questions! No worries, though. We’ve got answers. Read on for the complete rundown on open enrollment, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and today’s health insurance options.

1.) The ACA – still in effect?

Before you go shopping for a cheaper or better insurance plan, bear in mind that the Affordable Healthcare Act is still up and running. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the current administration has overturned the program or will soon do so. While an alternative health care plan has been proposed, there has been no change in the current system thus far, and it is not likely that there will be within the next few months.

What does this mean for the average American?

The ACA has made it mandatory for every American to have sufficient health care coverage. The penalty for failing to comply with this law is the higher of $695 per adult or 2.5% of household income.

The ACA also oversees the government-run health insurance marketplace in which insurance plans can only be purchased during open enrollment. In most states, the open enrollment period for 2017 is about 6 weeks long, running from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The following states have extended their enrollment period: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Washington.

2.) Rising premiums or cheaper rates?

If you ask the average Jane or John Doe if insurance costs are rising or falling, you’d probably get an earful about ever-climbing premium rates and health care costs. On the flip side, though, is the government, claiming their subsidized plan and the expansion of Medicaid has health care costs steadily declining.

In fact, both arguments are true. The silver plans on the ACA marketplace rose by an average of more than 30% this past year – and 2018 is looking a whole lot worse. Premiums are expected to rise by as much as 34-50% this coming year.

The current administration has claimed it will stop paying for many of the key payments to insurers it’s previously shouldered as part of the ACA. This factor, coupled with the overwhelming uncertainty surrounding the ACA, has led insurers to drastically increase their premiums.

The 80% of customers who receive subsidized insurance through Obamacare will be shielded from these price hikes; it’s the other 20% who will bear the brunt of the unstable marketplace.

The premium increase rates will vary by state and by the individual, but it is quite possible for an Obamacare customer who was paying $593 a month in premiums in 2017 to be saddled with a monthly premium of $1,001 in 2018!

All this uncertainty has led to another significant development: Many providers have left the marketplace plans. This means your doctor may no longer be part of your insurance plan. Be sure to find out about any possible changes before open enrollment is up, even if you aren’t looking to change your plan.

3.) Where to apply

If you do not receive insurance coverage through Medicaid, Medicare or your workplace, you may want to consider changing your insurance plan this year. To find out what your options are, visit healthcare.gov. Most states offer insurance coverage through this site, while others will redirect you to a private state-run site where you can purchase a marketplace plan.

4.) Available marketplace plans

Here’s a quick synopsis of each category of plans available in the ACA marketplace:

  • Bronze: lowest monthly premiums, highest out-of-pocket costs and very high deductibles.
  • Silver: the most popular plans available, silver offers moderate premiums and out-of-pocket costs, with lower deductibles than bronze plans.
  • Gold: high monthly premiums but lower out-of-pocket costs and deductibles.
  • Platinum: the most expensive plans in the marketplace, platinum plans have the highest monthly premiums but the lowest out-of-pocket costs and very low deductibles.

There is also a catastrophic plan available for individuals under age 30 and people who have received an exemption from the marketplace due to extenuating circumstances. These plans include free preventive care, low monthly premiums and very high deductibles.

5.) Choosing your plan

When shopping for a marketplace plan, it’s important not to base your decision on price alone. Many of the cheaper plans come with a heavy price. Your primary care provider or your child’s pediatrician may not be covered under some of the less expensive plans. You may need to pay out-of-pocket for many or all prescription drugs. Lastly, a higher deductible can mean that you’ll end up paying for all of your health care needs in 2018 without “cashing in” on your premiums before the year is over.

Be sure to shop around for a plan and do lots of research before making your decision.

Be an educated consumer this open enrollment season so that you make the best decision possible. Your health is too important for anything less!

Your Turn: The nationwide health insurance challenge has been hotly contested for years. If you had the power and means, how would you change the current system? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/the-affordable-care-act-in-2017-myths-and-facts/
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2017/10/31/time-to-shop-for-obamacare-what-you-need-to-know-this-enrollment-season.html 

https://www.aarp.org/health/health-insurance/info-2017/open-enrollment-aca-fd.html 
https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/time/money/4826591/aca-premiums-cost-2018

Beware Of Banking Scams

Scammers never take a break. They’re always dreaming up ways to con you out of yourImage of man using computer money. Recently, there’s been a significant uptick in scams involving checking accounts at many financial institutions.

In these scams, criminals will utilize social media to connect with the victim.

They usually pose as representatives of a bank or credit union and milk the victim for sensitive information, like account numbers and passwords. Since the scammers are using the credit union’s social media accounts, the victims often won’t hesitate to share this information. When the scammers have what they need, they will proceed to empty the victim’s accounts and then disappear.

Often, when the scammers receive a response from the victim on social media, they will redirect the victim to what appears to be the financial institution’s website. The victim, thinking they are on the site they frequently use, will quickly input their username and ID, which the scammers will then use to empty their accounts or open credit cards in the victim’s name.

Sometimes, the scammers will impersonate helpful member representatives who are seemingly looking to answer your questions. You’re used to our representatives being helpful and always on call to assist you, so you won’t see anything strange with the scenario.

Other times, the scammer may claim your account has been compromised and you need to immediately update your information. They’ll be oh-so-helpful with this step. Until you share your information with them, that is.

Still other times, scammers will pose as representatives of a sweepstakes or some other contest that you’ve “won.” All you need to do is share your account information and your passwords to be made into an instant millionaire! Except that, of course, you won’t.

Don’t be the next victim! Be aware and be alert. Here’s what you need to know about this scam:

1.) Check URLs

Scammers are becoming increasingly more suave at posing as companies their victims are familiar with. You can check a site’s authenticity by double-checking the URL on the web address. Make sure it matches Destinations Credit Union’s site exactly. You can also check a site’s security by looking for the “S” after the “http” on the web address.

2.) Be suspicious

Awareness can be your best protection. It’s easy for a scammer to pose as a member representative on social media, but if you’re on guard, you’ll spot these fakers. Is a representative claiming there are problems with your account when everything seems to be in order? Are they asking you to share sensitive information through insecure channels? Is someone promising you’ve won a contest you’ve never entered? If things don’t add up, it’s best to opt out.

3.) Reach out to your credit union

It may be difficult to determine whether the people you’re talking to are the real thing. If you think you’re dealing with Destinations Credit Union but things suddenly start looking fishy, there’s a simple solution. Hang up or log out of whatever medium you’re engaged in and call Destinations Credit Union yourself. You can always reach out to us at 410-663-2500. This way, you’ll know you’ve really reached us and you’re not being scammed. Be sure to call this number and never use another number suggested by a suspicious-acting “member representative.”

4.) In case of fraud, take action

If you suspect you’ve been taken for a ride, let us know as soon as possible. The sooner you catch a scam, the better off you’ll be. We’ll also be able to alert our other members and work on catching the crooks who’ve conned you.

It’s also a good idea to let the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) know about the scam. The more information you share, the easier it will be for the feds to nail those scumbags. Contact the FTC at FTC.gov.

5.) Protect yourself

It’s a good idea to practice basic safety and protective measures with your accounts.

Here’s how:

  1. Safeguard account details: Never share account information without being certain about who you are talking to.
  2. Use good password hygiene: Use complex passwords and change them often. Be sure to use different passwords for each of your accounts.
  3. Choose extra protection: Opt in for two-factor identification when logging into your accounts. That’s an extra level of protection for you and another hurdle for scammers to scale.
  4. Set up alerts: Choose to receive an email or a text message when transactions on your account exceed your typical level of spending.
  5. Monitor your accounts: It’s a good idea to check your accounts on a regular basis, and with our mobile app, this is now easier than ever. In most cases, you will be responsible for fraudulent charges on your account if you report them more than 60 days after your monthly statement is delivered.

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/fortune/2016/11/11/social-media-cyber-scam 

https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2015/01/23/5-scams-that-target-your-bank-account 
https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/12/this-growing-fraud-will-drain-your-bank-account.html 
https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news/social-media-phishing-attacks-soar/ 
https://www.advantiscu.org/fraud-prevention/beware-of-phishing-scams-in-social-media.html

Why & How to Plan Ahead for Health Care Expenses

Health care is something that most Americans overlook when budgeting. Medical debt child with nursecan get out of control if you don’t have health insurance or you don’t plan ahead for unexpected health care expenses.

But how do you plan ahead for health care expenses?

Here are a few tips that can help you start the planning process:

  1. Research health insurance plans and medical costs. To plan ahead for your health care expenses, you will need to understand what type of health insurance plan you have and the medical costs that you may incur in the upcoming year.
    • Determine how much to save based on your deductible, co-payments/co-insurance and/or out-of-pocket maximums. You can contact your health insurance provider to find out the amount of your deductible.
    • Estimate how much to save based on any medical bills you received in the previous year.
    • Calculate how much to save based on any prescriptions you had to pay for in the previous year.
    • Attend workshops and seminars presented by your employer or health insurance organization to get a better understanding of how to get the most out of your health insurance plan (and spend the least amount of money out of your own pocket).

Everyone’s situation will be different. Use what you think will be best for you to determine how to save money on your health care costs.

  1. Start the planning and budgeting process. A best practice is to use a budgeting tool to outline all of your monthly expenses, including any estimated health care costs. A visual map of your financial plan will give you something to follow to ensure you are meeting your savings targets every month.
  2. Consider Opening a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA). These enable you to save for health care expenses in advance (on a pre-tax basis). Not only are the funds untaxed, they can also be used to cover the cost of co-payments, co-insurance, out-of-pocket maximums, and prescriptions.

The Bottom Line: You’ll Save Money in the Long Run

Ultimately, planning ahead for health care expenses is like planning ahead for retirement. With retirement, you plan ahead to cover all of your bills in the future. The same concept applies for health care expenses. The money you save will enable you to cover the costs of any medical expenses you incur in the future.

Courtesy of Accel Members Financial Counseling, Destinations Credit Union’s partner to provide its members free unlimited financial counseling.

13 Life Hacks to Reduce or Eliminate Medical Debt

Almost every American faces medical debt at some point in their life. So you’re not aloneiStock_000009697836_Large if you’re scared of the prospect of medical debt damaging your personal credit and causing you to go into a financial crisis when you least expect it.

Fear not! There are ways to avoid having your financial dreams derailed by a medical emergency, an unexpected procedure, or unnecessary medical expenses. Here are some life hacks we came up with that can help you reduce or eliminate medical debt:

  1. Stick to Doctors Within Your Network – If your plan requires that you visit doctors within your network, stick to those doctors so you don’t have to pay out-of-network fees.
  2. Pay Your Medical Bills In Full –Chances are you will receive a discount. Many hospitals offer a 10% discount when you agree to pay your bill in full.
  3. Don’t Switch Plans to Visit a Doctor Out-of-Network Once – You can save money if you only have to visit an out-of-network doctor once a year. Changing your plan for the sake of one service can result in higher health insurance plan premiums over the long term.
  4. Opt For “Minimum Essential Coverage” Instead of Expensive Health Insurance Plans – If you’re cash strapped and healthy, a minimum essential coverage may be your best option. These plan usually only cover preventative care and other basic medical services—not hospitalizations and outpatient surgery.
  5. Utilize Charity Care Programs – Your hospital may offer discounted services to low-income people. It’s a little known secret that you can apply for charity care programs that may reduce or eliminate your entire bill if you qualify. To get started, just call the hospital that has billed you and ask them if you can apply for their “charity care program”.
  6. Find Out What’s Covered by Your Health Insurance Provider – Before you schedule a medical procedure, find out what’s covered and at what rate. If you determine the cost will be high, talk to the referring doctor about lower cost alternatives.
  7. Request a Payment Plan – If you owe a medical bill that you are not able to pay in full, you can usually get on a payment plan with lower minimum payments. As long as you continue to pay the bill monthly, the debt should not show up on your credit report. All you have to do is call to make arrangements before the debt becomes delinquent.
  8. Use Urgent Care Centers – Find out if urgent care centers are included in your health insurance plan network. They often charge a flat fee for labs, therefore you won’t have unexpected bills later on. They can also help with a variety of problems that don’t require hospitalization, which will also save you money in the long run.
  9. Ask for Prescription Samples or Coupons – Some prescriptions are free at pharmacies such as Walmart and Meijer. When filling your prescription, ask the pharmacist if any samples or coupons are available.
  10. Combine Doctor Visits to Save Money – When visiting your doctor, make sure they address multiple issues at once so you don’t have to go back for repeat visits.
  11. Get Refills on Prescriptions from a Family Doctor Instead of a Specialist – For example, if you go to a dermatologist to get a prescription for acne, instead of going back to the dermatologist for a refill on the prescription, it may be cheaper to go to your family doctor or a general practitioner to get a refill.
  12. Research the Costs of Certain Procedures/Appointments – Research the costs of procedures and appointments ahead of time so you can choose the lowest cost provider.
  13. Apply for a Grant from the Healthwell Foundation – You can apply to receive financial assistance with covering your medical bills. If approved, they may cover $6,000 per year in medical insurance premiums (for certain diseases). Visit https://www.healthwellfoundation.org/ for more information.

Courtesy of Accel Financial Counseling, Destinations Credit Union‘s financial counseling partner.

The IPhone X And Decoy Pricing

There’s always been an aura of mystique surrounding the Apple company. From their<> on November 3, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. legendary launches to the throngs of people camping outside stores for a new product release, Apple is a master at marketing.

It’s more than just marketing, though. Apple’s most recent launch has led experts to believe that the company’s real strategy is pricing. In fact, retailers are always manipulating our spending habits. For instance, every time you pick up some groceries, your choices are likely influenced by pricing tactics like BOGO (Buy One Get One free), anchoring (Their Price: $35.99; Our Price: $29.99) and high-end pricing (Chef’s Special Rib Eye: $69.99; Rib Eye: $45.99).

While all these methods may mess with our ability to determine if we are indeed getting a good deal, the tactic that Apple favors is decoy pricing. While there are several ways to employ decoy pricing, every instance includes the existence of one product whose sole purpose is to promote the sale of another product.

Say you walk into the ice cream store and notice three different sizes of ice cream cones available for purchase. You can buy a small ice cream for $2, a medium-sized cone for $5, or a large cone for $6. When presented with this choice, most people will choose the large since, at just one dollar more than the medium, it appears to be a fantastic deal.

Now imagine this scenario minus the medium option. Would you still take the large? Many people would opt for the small, but when offered next to the medium, the large comes off looking like a great choice. The medium acts as a price decoy to manipulate consumers into choosing the large.

Another example is one that was employed by the British magazine, The Economist. In an effort to boost subscriptions, the magazine offered a special deal: $59 for the web version only, $159 for the print edition and web version or $159 for the print version only.

Clearly, the magazine was trying to sell its combo subscription. In order to make it look enticing, it offered the print version-only option for the same price. This way, when readers choose the combo deal, they think they’ve scored a bargain. In this case, the print edition acted as the decoy.

Now that we understand how decoy pricing works, let’s take a closer look at Apple and the iPhone X.

Approximately a year after the iPhone 7 hit stores, Apple introduced two new devices: the iPhone 8 (and 8 Plus) and the iPhone X. While the iPhone 8 has been in stores for a while, only a few million iPhone Xs were available for pre-order, and only another few million were on the shelves in stores on the official launch day, Nov. 3.

What do these new phones have to offer? The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, priced at $799, look shockingly similar to the iPhone 7. A closer look, though, reveals that they offer an improved battery life and an updated camera. The iPhone X, on the other hand, stands out as the first phone with a four-digit price tag. The regular version is retailing at $999, with enhanced versions available for a whopping $1,129.99. The pricey phone offers facial recognition, wireless charging and a full screen.

There’s just one glaring question: Are people really going to shell out more than a thousand bucks for a phone? Experts believe that, in order to make that happen, Apple first introduced the iPhone 8 as a price decoy.

A consumer looking to buy a new iPhone this year has three primary choices. The cheapest option is the iPhone 7. These are great phones that have been on the market for year and whose prices have dropped to $750. Next up is the iPhone 8, retailing at $800. These phones are new to the market and offer slight improvements on the iPhone 7s. Lastly, there’s the choice of spending a thousand dollars on the brand-new iPhone X, expected to become an instant status symbol.

Two things can happen here: For one, customers who aren’t ready to drop a thousand bucks on a phone will go for the iPhone 7. In fact, these phones are currently outselling the iPhone 8. People are choosing these because they are so much cheaper than the iPhone X with only several minor differences.

Alternatively, the staunch Apple fans, who need to own the latest product, will choose the iPhone X – it is the latest phone. The iPhone 8 doesn’t stand a chance next to this device – and Apple knows it.

In other words, the iPhone 8 was created to act as a decoy for both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone X. Ironically, though, there are only a few minor updates the iPhone X has over the iPhone 8.

Looking to buy a new iPhone? Think twice before making your selection. Are you being manipulated by pricing tactics, or are you making a sound decision based on your personal needs and what you can afford?

Your Turn: Do you think decoy pricing and other manipulative pricing tactics work? Or are the consumers smarter than retailers think? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/seekingalpha.com/amp/article/4112991-apple-decoy-pricing-iphone-x

https://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2017/10/27/apples-brilliant-iphone-decoy-pricing/
http://macdailynews.com/2017/10/11/apples-iphone-x-decoy-pricing/
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38980367/ns/business-us_business/t/how-apple-plays-pricing-game/
https://www.google.com/amp/www.adweek.com/creativity/9-subtle-marketing-tricks-we-fall-every-time-we-shop-159332/amp/

Beware Of Debt Relief Scams

Anyone saddled by debt would love a quick way out. After all, it isn’t easy to be debt reliefconstantly squeezed and stressed out from more debt than you want.

Unfortunately, though, unless you’ve won the lottery or suddenly inherited millions, there really is no way but the slow way. You’ll need to make those monthly payments steadily until the day your loans are all fully paid.

But that’s not what dozens of scammers would have you believe. In a recent crackdown on student loan relief scams, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has revealed that Americans have been collectively conned out of nearly $100 million by these scammers.

More than 42 million Americans have student loan debt, with their outstanding balances totaling more than $1.4 trillion. This makes student loan debt the second largest segment of U.S. debt, topped only by mortgages. It also makes these borrowers the perfect targets for scams.

The FTC, partnering with 11 states and the District of Columbia, has recently announced “Operation Game of Loans,” the first federal-state law enforcement initiative pursuing deceptive student loan debt relief scams. This nationwide crackdown includes 36 government actions against scammers alleged to have used deception and false promises to bilk more than $95 million from victims.

The operation has already charged more than 30 organizations with unlawful schemes. The organizations have been accused of falsely claiming to be affiliated with the Department of Education, misleading advertising and collecting upfront fees with deceptive intent.

In a typical scam, the “organization” will promise to use the victim’s money for paying down their debt, reducing their monthly payments or even forgiving their loans entirely. In truth, the scammer has no intention of doing any of that, and is instead enjoying an easy payday courtesy of the victim’s hard-earned money.

Most organizations targeted in this crackdown claim to “assist” student loan debtors, but several defendants have also victimized desperate homeowners, making false promises to consumers that they would provide mortgage relief and prevent foreclosure. As with the student loan scams, these payments went toward lining the scammers’ pockets and made no dent in the victim’s’ mortgages.

If you are currently paying off a student loan, educate yourself so you don’t fall prey to these scams. There is legitimate help available for students struggling to repay their debt; you just need to make sure it’s the right kind of help.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

1.) Visit the FTC site

The FTC has recently updated its consumer education on student loan debt relief scams. You can read up on the warnings at ftc.gov/StudentLoans. As a follow-up to “Operation Game of Loans,” the FTC will be hosting a live online panel in late October. The panel will include a Twitter chat with state attorneys general and a Facebook Live session with experts detailing ways to avoid student loan debt relief scams. Be sure to check the FTC website for updates on this and future scheduled panels.

2.) Know that there’s no fast way out

When seeking help with a loan, it’s important to remember that there will never be a quick and easy way out. Only scammers will promise fast loan forgiveness. If you come across a company offering to get rid of your debt within the month, run the other way and don’t look back.

3.) No upfront fees or shared information

You should never have to pay for a service before it’s been rendered. If you’re asked to pay a fee as soon as you’ve made contact with a debt relief organization, that’s a sure sign you’re being scammed. Legitimate organizations will only ask to be paid after they’ve helped you out.

On a similar note, be careful about sharing sensitive information. Don’t share your FSA ID (the username and password used to log in to U.S. Department of Education websites) with anyone.

4.) Verify affiliation

To appear legitimate and attract victims, scammers often claim that they are affiliated with a governmental body or with a private loan company. It’s easy to make these claims, but it’s a lot harder to prove. The best way to confirm that you’re dealing with an authentic entity is to contact these agencies yourself.

You can apply for loan deferments, forbearance, repayment and forgiveness or discharge programs directly through the U.S. Department of Education or their loan servicer. These applications are completely cost-free and you will never need the assistance of a third-party company to avail yourself of these services. To review your options, visit StudentAid.gov/repay.  For private student loans, contact your loan servicer directly to be certain you’ve reached the right party.

If you feel like you’re in over your head with your student loan payments, don’t hesitate to call, click, or stop by [credit union] today. We’re always available to help you manage your money in the best way possible.

Your Turn: How do you manage your student loan payments? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2017/10/ftc-state-law-enforcement-partners-announce-nationwide-crackdown

https://www.usnews.com/topics/subjects/fraud