On Valentine’s Day, we take time to remember those we love.  But, this Valentine’s Day, I’d like you to take some time to show yourself a little love.
There are many ways to do that – taking time for yourself, indulging in a little splurge, being with friends or family, or spending time on your favorite pastime. One way that you may not have considered is by securing your financial future.

Poor control over your finances can affect your emotional well-being.  A study by Quicken found that 52% of the American workforce lives in fear that they will not be able to retire by the age of 65. 33% lose sleep over their financial situation and 20% hide their debt out of embarrassment.

So, this Valentines Day, show yourself a little love by making a commitment to get your financial life under control.  Destinations offers many ways to help you find the financial solutions you need.

  • Free unlimited financial counseling is available by phone through our partnership with Accel.  
  • We can take a look at your loans from other financial institutions/dealerships and see if there is a way to lower your interest rate and/or payments.
  • You can save systematically through payroll deduction or automatic transfers from your accounts.
  • Use loan products designed to help you improve your credit, such as our Expressway to Success and Second Chance MasterCard.

The road to a secure financial future requires some time, commitment and may involve sacrificing some things now for security later.

Posted by:
Carol Szaroleta
Destinations Credit Union

Prep Your Finances for Success in 2016

Brought to you by our partner Accel Financial Services
With 2016 just around the corner, many people will make resolutions to manage their personal finances better.  Whether that means saving more, or setting up a personal budget, the suggestions can get overwhelming.
Here are four easy personal finance goals for you to consider, to start the New Year on the right path:
1. Set up a money management system that works for you

Different systems work well for different folks, but here are a few ideas:

  • Write down your income and all of your monthly expenses. Look for opportunities to trim expenses, wherever you can.
  • Identify the areas where you might overspend, and then decide to use cash for these transactions. Then, limit the amount of cash you put in your wallet each week to the amount you’ve decided to spend. Seeing the amount of money available as a fixed, finite thing can help you control your spending. 
  • Set up automated budget alerts with a service such as our MoneyDesktop financial management program within online banking.

2. Review your credit report 
Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to receive one free credit report annually from each credit bureau. 

If you’re having trouble understanding how to improve your credit, a free credit report review through the Accel program can help.
3. Begin to save 
Once you’ve got a workable budget, automate the process of saving. Setting up direct-deposit into savings makes it much more likely that you’ll save. Plus, paying yourself first helps the money to be “out of sight and out of mind,” so that you’ll be able to stick more closely to the spending plan you’ve set for yourself.
It’s important to reach a point where you have a balance between short-term savings and long-term (retirement) savings. It should be a priority to try to adjust your budget, so that you can take advantage of any employer-sponsored retirement plan that your job might offer, especially if the employer offers a contribution match.
4. Get serious about reducing debt 
One of the first steps in decreasing your debt load is to stop adding to it in the first place. Begin to get out of the habit of using credit cards for purchases.
If you have consumer debts, look for ways to try to reduce your overall interest costs and fees. Through our credit union’s partnership with Accel, you have access to a Debt Management Plan, which may reduce interest rates, lower monthly payments and waive late fees, for free!  To learn more, call 877-332-2235 or visit www.accelservices.org.

Nightmare On Your Street – Finances And Horror Movies



As Halloween gets closer and you want to avoid the chilly darkness of October evenings, grab a blanket and stream a marathon of scary movies. Horror flicks are classic fun, whether they’re good enough to keep you up all night when you’re home alone or bad enough to laugh at while with a group of friends because we all know what’s going to happen next. The classics follow a simple formula, but it works. 

The same is true when it comes to your finances. Spend less than you earn, pay off debt and invest your money with trustworthy people.  Still, we have trouble getting all of the complex parts of our financial lives sorted out.  Let’s try applying the scary movie formula to your finances so you’ll never have that heart-racing moment of panic when you check your balances again. 

The scary cat.  In the first 15 minutes of all the classic horror movies, our protagonist gets startled by a cat. It’s a silly little trope that keeps coming up, but screenwriters use it because viewers tend to get bored without a scare in the first few minutes. Bringing out the monster too early can kill the suspense, so it’s an easy-to-insert moment to keep viewers on edge.  Watching scary movies in my household, I can tell you that it works: That stupid cat has caused my heart to race faster than any workout I’ve done.

Are you jumping from the cat?  Does every market hiccup cause you to change strategies?  Are you yanking money out of savings to throw at the stock market (or vice versa) every year?  It’s time to get past that initial scare.  The market isn’t going to kill you overnight, just like it won’t make you rich overnight (Black Tuesday 1929 and Google’s record-breaking July 15th notwithstanding). 

If you want to develop a plan with which you can feel safe during the scary cat moments, give us a call at 410-663-2500. If you want to do it yourself, we can get you into a safe plan for saving with a high yield account or certificate in just a few minutes, which can help balance the risk of your other investments.  If you’re trying to build a safer safety net for retirement or college savings, we’ve probably got more savings options than you’ve ever heard of, many of which have major tax benefits. We can walk you through a few plans, help you pick the one that’s right for you, and in many cases, we can even set it up with automatic deposits so you don’t have to think about it again.

The victim who runs upstairs when she should run out the door. Why?  Why?  Why are you running upstairs, you silly soon-to-be victim?  Of all the silly horror movie clichés, this is the one that drives me bonkers.  We always get a few establishing shots of the house early in the movie, which shows us that this house is enormous enough for a final-reel chase scene with the killer.  No one needs this much house. It’s usually a teenage girl with a single parent (who is not at home) in a house big enough to hold the entire football team of her late boyfriend.

Do you have too much house?  Are you cleaning extra bedrooms you don’t use? Do you have a home gym, office, or library that you never visit?  Maybe it’s time to simplify.  You can sell that house and move into something a little sleeker, and use your windfall to put in all of the custom features you’ve ever wanted on that new house.  Which would you rather pay for:  the storage room that’s basically a walk-in junk drawer or a dressing room with a walk-in closet?  Give us a call to find out how we can help you. 

The killer who just won’t die.  In every great horror movie, there’s a killer with an uncanny ability to survive anything the protagonists throw his or her way.  In your finances, sometimes large debts can feel that way.  No matter how fast you run, they just keep coming, like Michael Myers chasing Jamie Lee Curtis through two decades of Halloween movies.  You throw cash at the balance every month, but nothing happens.  What can you do?

If you want to kill a scary movie monster, you can’t do anything that the protagonist does in a scary movie.  After all, the scary movie wants to make a sequel, but that’s the last thing you want out of your debt. Instead, let’s adapt a strategy from the Terminator:  Even an unkillable robot from the future can’t stand up to a vat of molten steel. You need to submerge your debts in one large vat that can consume them all: Turn all of your high-interest, variable-rate, hidden-fee credit card debts into one simple, low-interest, fixed-rate homeequity or debt consolidation loan with all of the transparency and confidence you’ve come to expect from Destinations Credit Union.  The first step is calling a Loan Officer to discuss your goals. Through our partnership with Accel, you can also get free unlimited financial counseling to develop a plan. 

Hopefully, your finances aren’t a horror movie.  Horror movies play on our fears for entertainment, but it’s not as fun in real life.  If they are, though, it’s better to call in some help than it is to split up and try to explore the woods alone. That’s why we’re here.  With a little help, your money can look more like a swords-and-sorcery epic:  Everyone’s a hero and everyone gets a happy ending.

The New Homeowner Diet


Saving money is a lot like losing weight. It’s no fun, requires sacrifices and no one at a dinner party wants to hear about your plan.  For many first-time home-buyers, trying to save enough money for the down payment on a house can seem like a diet that won’t end. It might even be tempting to click one of those email links that promise magical results, even though you know there’s no magic pill for weight loss and no magic plan for saving money.  

Fortunately, if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you already know how to save money. While most weight loss results are temporary, buying a home is something that won’t disappear if you skip the gym for a week: You’ll be living in a home you own, building equity and moving closer to financial independence.  So, here are some tips to get you moving toward that down payment, based on what you already know about trimming your waist:  

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

One of the biggest mistakes new homeowners make is buying more house than they can realistically afford. At Destinations Credit Union, we want to get the right loan for you so that you can move into the home that’s comfortable and fits your lifestyle.  That doesn’t mean you have to use every dollar you qualify for. Let’s talk it through to figure out exactly how much you can spend every month and make sure you don’t get in over your head.  

A good rule of thumb when planning is that you want to put down around 20 percent of the sale price. Before the financial crisis, a lot of people were putting down 10 percent or considerably less – as much as 0%. It didn’t turn out well for many of those folks, nor did it for their lenders.

Even if you feel comfortable with the risk that comes with a low down payment, putting down more money now can lower your interest rate, so you’ll pay less money in the long term and have a lower monthly payment.  It’s easy to see the down payment as your goal and forget about the rest of the mortgage, but this won’t be the last purchase you make.  You’re going to want to save for college, retirement or your dream vacation.  If you don’t put the money in now, you’ll have to do so later, and you’re essentially taking a loan from yourself against those future purchases.

No matter how long you run, you can’t burn off that midnight cheesecake

You may be making sacrifices and saving as much as you can, but still not feel like you’re getting any closer to your dream home.  You’re not alone.  Unlike their parents or grandparents, today’s typical middle class family has more than one job, and a surprising number of those families has three or more sources of income. Even with the popularity and necessity of taking on a second job, some people are embarrassed to do so, as if having a working spouse or taking on extra work on the side is a sign of failure.  Don’t be that person who’s too embarrassed to go to the gym because they don’t want anyone to see them get healthy.  There’s no shame in working.

You can’t lose weight without a scale

Most people keep track of their weight every day while dieting.  Some keep a food log.  Some count calories, points, or carbs.  The bottom line: You need to be able to see how you’re doing so you know when you can splurge and when you need to cut back.  The same is true when saving for a home. Make a budget and stick with it.  If you have a bad month, don’t get frustrated. Instead, commit to doing better next month.

Everyone needs a spotter

When you save money every month, where does it go?  Do you have a series of Mason jars filled with crumpled singles?  Is it sitting in your checking account, looking pretty when you check your balance but not doing anything else?  Even if you keep your money in one of our savings accounts, there’s a lot more we can do to help make your money work for you.  Our Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking pays a really high rate when you do a few simple things to qualify.  And, you can attach a high rate Kasasa Saver account to that checking which sweeps all of the rewards into the savings automatically.  We have a variety of great savings plans, from low-risk savings certificates to High Yield Accounts, which earn a higher dividend rate for your savings. High Yield accounts share many of the same conveniences as our regular savings accounts, including no-penalty access to your money if an unexpected emergency occurs.  

If you want to own a home, you need to save money, but you don’t have to do it alone.  Think of us as your personal trainer for your financial health.  Call us at 410-663-2500 or info@destinationscu.org, and we’ll help you figure out what you can afford and how you can get there.  Our plans are always easier to swallow than a kale smoothie. But then again, what isn’t?
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Credit Repair Scams Are Back, Don’t Let Them Fool You

Earlier this month, the Better Business Bureau warned the country to keep an eye out for criminals masquerading as credit repair agencies, an old scam that keeps coming back every few years.  The scam is easy to spot if you know what to look for, so here’s what you need to know. 

How the scam works:

Companies advertise a service that can give customers a “new credit identity” and will immediately fix their credit score.  The scammers charge their customers an upfront fee in exchange for a 9-digit code, sometimes called a “Credit Profile Number” or “Credit Privacy Number.” They might say the number protects customers from identity theft, builds their credit or enrolls them into a new government debt-relief program.

The numbers they give to customers are not magic numbers that fix bad credit; they’re stolen Social Security numbers.  Not only won’t they improve your credit, but anyone who pays a scammer has unwittingly bankrolled an identity thief. 

How the scam can hurt you:

If a company sells you a stolen Social Security number and you use it to apply for a loan, you’ve committed fraud, even if you had no idea that the number was stolen.  If you lie on a credit or loan application, misrepresent your Social Security number or obtain an EIN under false pretenses, you’ve committed a federal crime.  You could face fines, or in some cases, time in prison.  If you suspect this might have happened to you, seek legal advice immediately. 

How to spot a scam:

Credit reporting scams are one of the many kinds of criminal activities built around identity theft. If you’re not sure if you’re dealing with a criminal, listen for some of these key phrases credit repair scammers use:

·        “We just need a small fee to get started”  – In the U.S. and Canada, credit repair companies can only receive their fee AFTER they’ve performed a service.

·        “We dispute all of the charges on your credit report, even the ones that are correct.  The worst thing that can happen is that they say ‘NO’ and you might even get lucky” – Legitimate credit companies will not encourage you to lie to credit agencies because that’s a crime.  It is a good idea for you to check your credit report for inaccuracies from time to time, but don’t lie to those agencies.

·        “If a loan asks for your Social Security number, put in this code instead” – There is no magical code to fix your credit.  If it seems too easy, proceed with caution.

Remember, some credit repair companies work hard and treat their customers fairly.  They’ll write a contract, make their loan rates known and follow the law.  When you call an honest company, you’ll know the rates and terms.  Scammers tend to make outlandish promises or omit details, so if a deal seems too good to be true, or if it’s hard to find out what you’re getting into, you might want to walk away. 

What to do if you think you might be a victim:

If you’ve been the victim of this kind of scam, you have some legal options.  You can sue them for any money you lost, seek punitive damages on top of that or join a class action suit.  Talk to a lawyer immediately.

You can also file a complaint online atftc.gov/complaint 

Who can I trust to repair my credit?

If you have bad credit, it can feel like everyone is trying to scam you.  If you need to repair your credit, and you don’t know who to trust, talk to Destinations Credit Union‘s counseling partner Accel.  Accel can help you make a plan to get out from under your debt, build your credit successfully, and plan for the future.

If you don’t have any credit, then Destinations Credit Union can help you, too. Unlike the multinational corporate banks and credit cards, we’re local and personal.  You’re more than a number to us, and we look forward to helping you.

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3 Mortgage Scams And How To Beat Them

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union 

The phrase “home security” is pretty widely used and has a variety of contexts. It can mean locking doors and windows when leaving the house, setting up an alarm system, participating in a neighborhood watch, or setting up automatic lights for vacations. These are all steps homeowners take to keep the contents of their homes safe.

When it comes to the home itself, though, folks can be a lot less particular. While homeowner’s insurance can protect against natural disasters, there’s a new threat to the cornerstone of the American dream. Scam artists are targeting desperate homeowners, trying to steal their money, personal information or even the home.
These scams come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and each one needs a detailed response. Before you do anything with your mortgage, check to make sure your “once-in-a-lifetime” offer isn’t on this list. 
1.) Up-front cost refinance 
The scam: You get a phone call or a letter from someone who wants to refinance your mortgage. The rates they’re offering are crazy low. They can cut your monthly payment by hundreds of dollars or help you pay off your mortgage in record time. All you have to do is pay a small percentage of those savings up front.
Of course, the company offering the mortgage is fake. You might get bills from them for the new amount, but paying them won’t affect your mortgage. Meanwhile, the institution that does hold your mortgage still expects you to make your regular payments.
How to beat it: It’s illegal to charge up-front fees for mortgage refinancing. Some institutions may try to waffle around this by calling them “document processing” fees or using some other jargon. Whatever they call it, it’s against the law and is a sure sign this “lender” is really just looking for a quick payday while not delivering anything in return.
Also remember that, while rates can fluctuate over time and from institution to institution, the fluctuation is limited. If someone is offering a rate that is several percent lower than anyone else in town, be highly skeptical. Check with your Better Business Bureau to see if the company exists and/or if complaints have been filed against it. 
2.) Hope foreclosure relief 
The scam: This savage scam targets homeowners who are facing foreclosure. Whether because of job loss, medical expenses, or other hardships, foreclosures affect 100,000 households each month. People in desperate situations try anything they can to dig themselves out. That’s when they get a phone call from someone representing Hope Services who can connect them with government assistance to stop their foreclosure. All they have to do is make three “trial payments” into a mortgage escrow account.
Hope Services collects the money and encourages borrowers to stop paying their mortgage. They’ll actively encourage homeowners not to talk to lenders or lawyers. They’ll take care of everything. As it turns out, Hope Services provides neither hope nor services. Homeowners are stuck facing foreclosure hearings without any assistance whatsoever.
How to beat it: Anyone who tells you not to get a lawyer or talk to a lender does not have your best interests at heart. If you miss several mortgage payments due to extenuating life circumstances, call your lender. Most institutions would always rather you pay something and keep you in your home than have to go through the process of foreclosure. Keeping lines of communication open is critical to getting back on the right track.
Also, watch out for high-pressure sales tactics. Anyone who wants you to make a mortgage decision on the spot is trying to deceive you. Mortgages are long-term arrangements and they should be considered carefully. A “money-back guarantee” is also a big red flag. Getting your money back will do you little good if you lose your house in the process. 
3.) The fine print deed sign 
The Scam: Scammers use a variety of up-front pitches. Some might offer to lower your rates or lower your mortgage payments. Others might try to rescue you from foreclosure. Still others might offer a home equity line of credit with alarmingly good terms. They may also offer to take over the deed to your house and then use their superior credit rating to secure a lower rate, while allowing you to remain in the home as a renter. Whatever the pitch, there are a ton of forms to sign. All of them are written in indecipherable legalese.
Somewhere amid these forms, perhaps buried in the back, is a form signing the deed for your house over to the scammer. Once they have the deed, they can rent the home to someone else or sell it outright while forcing you to vacate. Worst of all, you’re still on the hook for the balance of the mortgage, since the loan is tied to you and not to the home.
How to beat it: Scrutinize every document you sign relating to your mortgage or home. Have someone with experience in these matters look over documents if you’re not confident in your ability to detect these scams. Spending 20 minutes with a real estate lawyer is expensive, but not as expensive as losing your home.
There is never a legitimate reason to sign the deed of your house over to someone else unless you’re selling the house. While rent-to-buy schemes aren’t illegal, they very seldom end well for the renter. It won’t even get you out of legal or financial trouble.
Also, be wary of anyone who claims to guarantee a halt of foreclosure. No one can make such a guarantee, and legitimate businesses would  lose everything in lawsuits. The same is true with money-back promises. That’s good protection when buying a blender. It’s not something anyone can promise for your house. 

Destinations Credit Union offers free financial counseling, including certified housing counselors to our members.  If you have questions, ask!

SOURCES: 

Rebuilding An Emergency Fund


A significant financial crisis can wipe out your emergency savings.  If this has happened to you, rebuilding your savings must be a priority. 

All the best financial experts agree you need to keep an emergency fund. Keeping 3-5 months of living expenses in a savings account, certificate account, or investment account can be the difference between a temporary hardship and a life-long debt trap. Using that money instead of credit cards or short-term loans is a lot less expensive in the long run.

There are many reasons why you might need to use that money. It could be from an unexpected expense, like a medical bill or a car repair. It could also be job loss that forces you to tap out your savings. Whatever the cause, it’s a whole lot cheaper to pay for it out of savings than to have to borrow, and it’s much less embarrassing than having to beg friends or family to cover your bills.
In the midst of a stressful crisis, it can be hard to focus on the positive. It’s important to take a moment to congratulate yourself for having the foresight to manage your problem. Things could be much worse than they are now. In addition to all the stress you’re currently feeling, you could have a big ball of debt to add to it. It’s not because of luck, it’s because of good planning.
Despite that relief, you’re not out of the woods yet. Without savings, you’re in a position of significant insecurity. Another crisis right now, even a very minor one, can cause financial problems that will create a ripple effect on into the future. You could find yourself in a much worse position in three months’ time than you are now.
Getting back to a position of financial security should be your highest priority. That means rebuilding your emergency fund as quickly as possible. These three steps will have you back on track before you know it.

1.) Make an emergency budget – and stick to it! 
Without an emergency fund, you’re one blown tire, one missed shift or one broken arm away from a financial catastrophe. That’s why an emergency fund is so important. Cut spending wherever you can. If you can do without cable for a few months, call and suspend service. Temporarily cutting back on media, clothes, and other discretionary spending is also a great idea.
Also, consolidate your savings. If you’ve been saving for a vacation, a new car or some other big ticket item, stop putting money into those “buckets” until you rebuild a few months’ living expenses. Once you return to having a decent cushion, you can get back to saving for your other priorities.  Visit a Destinations Credit Union Member Service Representative to see if there are higher rate options for your saving or if refinancing a loan from elsewhere could cut your payment amounts.
If these cuts aren’t enough, finding money in more extreme places might be helpful. If you can, spend a few months taking public transportation. If it works out well, you might find yourself thinking about selling your vehicle for another quick infusion of cash.
Remember, a budget is only as good as your commitment to it. If you make extreme cuts that you can’t keep, you’ll end up spending even more because you feel entitled to it. Make sure your budget is realistic and humane! 
2.) Build income wherever you can 
There’s no secret about building your savings. You can only save the difference between your income and your expenses. In your budget, you worked on the minimizing expenses part of that equation. Now, it’s time to turn your attention to the income side.
Raising your income at work could be as easy as asking for a raise. It could also mean taking additional hours or picking up extra shifts from co-workers. You don’t have to do so for the rest of your career, just for a few months until things get better.
You may also need to boost your income outside work. Selling old clothes and books can be a source of quick cash. Picking up freelance or contract work can also be a way to earn extra money. It’ll create a stressful few months, but it’ll be worth it to get back to security. You might also make connections that could help your career over the long term. 
3.) Build a backup plan 
The worst thing that could happen right now would be another crisis with no way to pay for it. You may not have the money to deal with it, but you’ve still got your financial smarts. It’s time to make a plan. 
Think about what you’d do now if you lost your job, even without your emergency fund. Make a list of phone calls you can make to find temporary work. Who in your network do you know who could use your skills on a temporary or contract basis? Do you know anyone who, if you absolutely had to, you could call for a quick loan? 
There are a few other questions to ask. What stuff sitting around your house would you sell if you had to? What does your food budget look like with $50 taken out of it? It’s easier to make these decisions when you’ve got the time and space to reflect on it. Making these choices with a past due notice in hand is much harder to do. 
Hopefully, you’ll never have to use these ideas, but you’ll feel better for having thought about them beforehand. It’s also something pro-active you can do instead of worrying. Taking action, any action, to remedy your situation can help fight the stress involved in insecurity and get you in a better head space. That alone is worth the effort. 

SOURCES:

Involvement In Finances


In many relationships, one partner handles all of the financial arrangements.  If your partner is the one who handles everything, but you want to be more involved, how can you start that conversation?

You’re not alone. A recent study by Fidelity Investments showed many people want to be more involved with their finances. Among women, 92% wanted to learn more about their finances, while 86% wanted to take a more active role in managing them. It’s very easy to get caught in a routine with bill paying, checking and spending. The person who was doing so when you started cohabiting just continues to do so exactly the same way they always have.

What’s more, those conversations are really difficult to initiate. Even with close friends, 56% of survey respondents say finances are “too personal” to discuss. Of those survey respondents, 43% were willing to talk about their health issues, but only 17% would talk about investments. About half of respondents would willingly talk about the strange things their bodies are doing, but talking about where they save their money is considered “too personal.”

Intimate partner relationships aren’t a safer space for conversations about money, either. Only 66% of respondents talk about investments or salary with their spouses or partners. In one out of every three relationships, finances are not a common topic of conversation between people who likely share a checking account!

If you’d like to change that dynamic in your relationship, there are a couple of approaches you might consider. No matter what you do, make sure you’re approaching this sensitive topic from a place of love. Fights over money occur when one partner feels put on the defensive about budgeting or spending. Take care and try these three techniques!

1.) Talk about a common goal

If you and your partner have been trying to plan a summer getaway, save for a new car or put a down payment on a house, this can be an excellent place to start a conversation. It’s best to begin on broad notes. Ask about hotel choice or means of transportation. From there, it can be easy to talk about making a budget for the occasion. Once you and your partner are talking about dollar amounts, it can spill over into a more general conversation about finance.

If you ask about saving for this project, it’s important to have suggestions or ideas. Come to the conversation prepared to make a small sacrifice to contribute to saving for the project or have some cost-saving strategy to make the process easier. This encourages a feeling of joint struggle as opposed to you “checking up on” or “managing” your partner.

2.) Set guidelines for spending

Spending is the biggest cause of fights between couples. In general, people tend to see their decisions as rational and the choices they disagree with as irrational or impulsive. In relationships, it’s tempting and gratifying to think of yourself as the sensible one and your partner as the reckless one.

Your partner likely feels the same way. For instance, you may enjoy a daily coffee drink while your partner might consider that to be frivolous spending because they don’t know the joy and satisfaction you derive from that little indulgence. Conversely, your partner’s enthusiasm for home electronics might make you see a top-of-the-line stereo system as an extravagance, while your partner sees it as a way for the two of you to spend more time together at home.

The best way to avoid resentment while still keeping your spending under control is to set personal allowances for you and your partner. You can spend so much each week or month without consulting your partner. Major purchases that go over that limit require consultation. Try to avoid bringing up recent or specific purchases and focus on planning for the future rather than placing blame for the past. This will keep the conversation from feeling accusatory.

3.) Dream about the future

Retirement planning is a difficult subject to broach. Many people don’t want to do it on their own because the prospect of saving that much money is frightening. Add in the stress of talking about money in a relationship and this can be a conversation filled with dread.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Many couples find retirement to be a time of great relationship strength and bonding. If you and your partner didn’t have to work, you could spend a lot more time together, enjoying your mutual interests and each others’ company. Instead of beginning a retirement planning conversation with a dollar amount, begin it with a dream.

Maybe you’d like to travel the world together and see exotic sights. Maybe you want to build furniture out of your home. Maybe you want to become active in the leadership of your church. Beginning with such dreams in mind, as opposed to how much they’re going to cost, can help you and your partner better share the stress involved in saving and planning.

However you broach the conversation about money, it’s important to do so. Secrets about finances in a relationship can lead to stress, interfere with honest communication and produce relationship-ending fights. On the other hand, couples who talk openly and honestly about their financial situation can use that transparency to build stronger, more straightforward communication strategies about other topics. As many people have found, the couple who saves together, stays together!

Don’t Be Scared Of Retirement: Refire And Get Ready For The Best Years Of Your Life


More than half of our nation’s current workers have done nothing or next to nothing to save for retirement. Some might call them lazy, but it might be more realistic to call them terrified. They’re not scared about not having enough saved for retirement; they’re scared about retirement itself.

For a life-long worker, retirement may be a tough pill to swallow. Work is the anchor for your day. It’s why you get up when you do. It’s why you go to bed when you do. You divide your conscious hours between “work” and “not work.” There’s also a sense of identity in a job. Providing a simple answer to “What do you do?” can help you connect with others and yourself.

What’s retirement anyway? One might say it is just sitting around, doing nothing and waiting for death. In that mindset, continuing to work provides a meaning to your remaining years that can’t be found in a rocker, on a couch or in front of a TV.

It’s no wonder people aren’t saving for retirement. It’s a whole lot of extra work and sacrifice for something you may not even want. If this resounds with you, take a look at Refire! Don’t Retire: Making the rest of your life the best of your life.

Coauthors Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz bring their entrepreneurial experience to life with the story of Larry and Janice Sparks. The Sparks begin their retirement unsure of what to do, but quickly discover ways to grow in their relationships, engage their minds, broaden their spiritual horizons and strengthen their bodies. They re-fire the flames of all their interests and take bold steps toward leadership in their communities.

Refire is an easy and engaging read that’s more motivation than practical guidance. In fact, critics have noted the lack of practical advice. Yet It’s received glowing reviews from other authors, industry leaders and even NCAA legend John Calipari.

If you’re thinking about retirement, Refire is a worthwhile investment. If you’re NOT thinking about retirement, it’s a must-have. Blanchard and Shaevitz will put you on the path to financial independence and security with imaginative ways for encouraging a generation that’s about to retire to make the most out of its retirement.

Internet Hygiene – The Best Computer Time Investment You Can Make

Wash your hands after you use the bathroom. Cover your mouth when you sneeze. Brush your teeth daily. These are all basic elements of personal hygiene. We practice them, in part, to minimize the amount of gross stuff that our bodies do, but we also practice them to help protect us from disease.

You might think “Internet hygiene” means wiping down keyboards after you use them and not spilling things on your computer. While these are good habits, there’s another range of behaviors that security experts call “Internet hygiene,” and it can be the difference between a safe and effective Internet and a world of hackers, bots, and identity thieves.

For most people, the beginning and end of cyber-security is a piece of anti-virus software. Imagining that there is nothing on their computer worth stealing, most users don’t take their online security very seriously. Increasingly, that’s the attitude hackers are counting on people exhibiting.

One such recent cyber attack, a malicious worm called Game Over Zeus, infected around 10,000 computers. The worm allowed hackers to remotely control infected computers, using them to launch attacks on major websites. In addition, users frequently found their personal files encrypted. A window created by the worm would inform them that, unless they paid a ransom that sometimes was as much as a few thousand dollars, they would lose access to the contents of their hard drive forever.

How did such a vicious worm spread so quickly? Hackers have gotten better about choosing their targets. It’s easy to find out-of-date software and exploit known structural weaknesses in it to gain control of a computer. From there, it’s a trivial task to create emails that look like they come from the owner of that computer, which makes it easier to infect that person’s friends and family members’ computers.

Security expert Tom Kellerman compares the state of a compromised computer to a neighbor who always leaves the front door to an apartment complex unlocked. Not only can thieves break into the neighbor’s apartment, but they can use their expanded building access to more easily break into other units. If you aren’t maintaining the security protocols on your computer and being vigilant about what links you click, you aren’t just putting your own security at risk. You’re creating a more dangerous Internet for your friends, co-workers, and family, too.

The lesson of Game Over Zeus is pretty simple. Computer viruses spread a lot like human viruses. They infect people who don’t practice good hygiene, then spread to their friends and family. If you wouldn’t sneeze on your hand before pushing buttons on an elevator, don’t practice unsafe internet behaviors.

How can you practice good Internet hygiene? You don’t need to be a tech guru to keep your PC safe. Security experts consistently recommend you take at least these five steps.

1.) Download an anti-virus software program, like AVG or McAfee, and keep it up-to-date. Schedule updates for it to run when your computer is on, and don’t interrupt the process. Do the same thing with an anti-malware program, like MalwareBytes. Tens of thousands of new malicious programs are being created every day. If you’re not regularly updating your security software, you might as well not have it.

2.) Run scans of both anti-virus and anti-malware software on a weekly basis. Just like people with strong immune systems can get sick, even if you have a Mac computer, you can still be infected with malicious programs. If you’re on the Internet, you’re at risk.

3.) Do it right away. If your computer gives you a message that it needs to download or install critical updates, do it the first time you see the warning. It’s annoying to stop what you’re doing and restart your computer, but it’s better than having your computer compromised. When IT professionals call something a “critical update,” it usually means it fixes a known software exploit. Make sure the message that pops up is from a trusted source, however. There are malware programs around that use fake “critical update” popups to infiltrate your computer.

4.) Don’t click links that take you to sites you don’t recognize, even if they’re emailed to you by a friend or family member. These emails are frequently generated by bots to keep malicious software spreading. You clicking that link might make you yet another disease vector.

5.) Don’t download, install or run any software you don’t recognize. For these bots to keep spreading, at some point human beings have to authorize them. If you’re installing software you think might be dangerous, you’re putting your computer and the computers of everyone you know in jeopardy.

This might seem like a lot of work, but it’s the price of doing business and living in a digital age. With the convenience of a world of information at your fingertips comes the responsibility to maintain the health of that system. Do your part – install and update security software, and be constantly on guard for threats!

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