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December 2016 E-Newsletter

 How to Avoid the Busy Holiday Scamming Season

You’re not the only one joyfully anticipating the holiday season. Cyber criminals are all aflutter too, as they look forward to the killing they’ll make ripping off innocent shoppers like you. Here are some of the most common ways these thieves operate. Awareness can help you avoid becoming yet another victim.
 
Antisocial media
Beware of those enticing ads that turn up on Facebook and other social media sites offering vouchers, gift cards and deep discounts, as well as the online surveys these ads often link to. These offers are often only empty promises designed to steal your personal information.
Additionally, if you receive concert, theater or sporting event tickets as a gift, never post pictures of them online. Cyber thieves spend lots of time monitoring social media, just waiting for the opportunity to create phony tickets they can resell from your barcode image. If your ticket is resold, you might just find yourself out of a seat on the night of your event. It’s also unwise to post live from an event. That gives criminals a heads-up that your home is empty and ripe for picking. Better to wait until the next day to post about the wonderful time you had.
 
Pandora’s inbox
It may be a mystery to you how cyber thieves got your private email address, but it’s chillingly clear they’re up to no good. Your inbox may fill up with all kinds of legitimate-looking product offers and delivery notices this holiday season, but clicking bogus emails, links or entering personal information on the linked sites can provide criminals with the opportunity to steal your identity.
 
Apps are far from immune
With mobile apps available for just about everything, it’s a sad sign of the times that certain free mobile apps (often disguised as games) have been specifically designed to steal personal information from your phone. This is a particularly scary development since many people use their phones to secure their cars and homes. For this reason, only install apps from familiar companies and, at the very least, find a third-party review from a trusted site if you’re interested in an app from an unfamiliar source.
 
USB Trojan horses
Lots of people use portable USB drives, which makes it all the more important to avoid those being distributed as giveaways this holiday season unless they’re from a trusted source. These innocent-looking devices are often used as a method of introducing malware to computers.
 
Gifts that keep on giving … to criminals
A spirit of generosity is traditional at holiday time, but if you’re not careful, your donations may never make it to the needy. Fake charities that skillfully tug at your heartstrings abound at this time of year, just waiting for you to willingly give your hard-earned cash to scammers. Before donating, be sure to check out charities thoroughly, to make sure that they’re not only legitimate, but also that they allocate the bulk of funds toward their causes rather than “administrative costs.”
 
Tips to avoid holiday scams
These strategies will also help keep you a step ahead of scammers:
  • Only shop online with reputable businesses you trust, using secure websites with an address that begins with https.
  • Don’t shop or bank over public Wi-Fi.
  • Protect your credit card privacy by covering your account number with your hand when shopping in public.
  • Don’t respond to suspicious unsolicited calls or emails. Only open email attachments from senders you trust, and contact businesses only through their official websites, phone numbers or email addresses.
  • Monitor your credit to catch fraud at its earliest stages.
Scammers may be smart, but you can still outsmart them. A little foreknowledge and caution go a long way toward ensuring you’ll enjoy a safe and memorable holiday season.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 What's a Good Use for a HELOC?

When you take out a second mortgage, a name for a home equity line of credit, you’re offering your house as collateral to secure another loan. The upside: You can gain access to up to 85% of your home’s value, minus your current mortgage balance and adjustment based on your creditworthiness.

The downside? If you can’t make your payments, you could lose where you live.
Because the stakes are high, you want to make sure you use a HELOC for the right reasons. Here are a few.
 
Making home improvements
Most people who take out a HELOC do so to make home improvements. Experts say you should only do this if the improvements you’re considering will increase your home’s value. This way, the money you’re borrowing will be returned when you sell your house at a higher price.

The National Association of Realtors’ 2015 Remodeling Impact Report lists these six changes as the ones with the best return on investment:
  • Installing a new front door.
  • Installing new siding.
  • Upgrading your kitchen.
  • Adding on to your deck and patio.
  • Making an attic into a bedroom.
  • Installing a new garage door.
These improvements can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, but they don’t change the footprint of your home and tend to be what future buyers look for.
 
Supplementing an emergency fund
Everyone should have an emergency fund to cover events such as unexpected car repairs and appliance breakdowns. Most people keep these in savings accounts, but you might consider a home equity line of credit as another source of cash. You only pay interest on the amount you borrow, and you could pay the loan off quickly to save money. Still, it makes more sense to have an emergency fund that’s earning a little interest rather than one that charges you interest.
 
Paying off high-interest debt
Because the average interest rate on a HELOC is much lower than the average credit card interest rate, many people think about using a HELOC to pay off their credit cards. This is a great strategy if you’re committed to never carrying a balance again. Otherwise, you’re just adding another debt at a lower rate.

Regardless of how you use a HELOC, remember that the interest rate is variable and may change each time you tap it. And you’ll have to repay the entire loan by the end of the payment period set by the lender. On the upside, the interest you pay on a HELOC is tax deductible, like your mortgage interest. If you use a HELOC for the right reason, that’s just one more benefit.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 Five Financial Resolutions for the New Year

A brand new year provides the perfect opportunity to make meaningful life changes, including improved financial wellness. These five financial resolutions can help get your year off to a promising start.
 
1. Get on budget
Take charge of your finances by creating a budget. Start by calculating after-tax income and subtracting fixed monthly expenses. Then allocate portions of the remaining income for savings, important goals and a few things that just make you happy. If this sounds complicated, relax; today’s user-friendly budget apps can take a lot of the pain out of the process. To further simplify money matters, consider setting up automatic bill pay, an automatic savings plan and separate savings accounts for specific goals.
 
2. Build an emergency fund
Without a solid cushion, any unexpected job loss, medical challenge or serious property damage could lead to lasting financial hardship. An emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of expenses can protect your standard of living and offer peace of mind. Commit to making consistent deposits to this fund even if you can only spare a small amount each month. Because you may need to tap into emergency cash at a moment’s notice, choose a vehicle that gives you easy access, such as a savings or money-market account.
 
3. Prepare for retirement
Retirement may not be on the immediate horizon, but when the time comes it may well last 20 years or more. You’ll probably need somewhere from 70 to 90% of your final-year income for each year of retirement, and it’s unlikely that Social Security will be sufficient. Saving such a sizeable sum takes decades, so it pays to start early. Put as much as you can afford into tax-advantaged Roth or traditional IRAs, and if your job provides a 401(k) plan, contribute the maximum employer-matched amount.
 
4. Improve your credit
You likely know that credit scores affect financing approval and interest rates. But the influence of those three little numbers actually stretches much further. Prospective employers and landlords frequently check credit, so low scores may mean missing out on the best jobs and apartments. Credit scores also may affect insurance premiums, mobile phone offers, vacation costs, and even whether utility hookups require a cash deposit. For top scores:
  • Pay all bills on time.
  • Keep credit card balances at no more than 20% to 30% of the credit limit.
  • Carry a mix of debt types such as credit cards, auto loans and personal loans.
  • Monitor credit score to catch and correct any errors or problems.
 
5. Knock down debt
Even with a great job, high-interest debt can sabotage financial health. To dig out from under this burden, consider concentrating efforts on your highest interest debt first, while continuing to make timely smaller payments on all other obligations. When the first balance is satisfied, focus on the most expensive remaining debt and continue this way until you’re debt-free.
If debt from multiple sources is unmanageable, debt consolidation may help you regain control.
 
This approach streamlines debts into one payment, often with reduced interest and a lower monthly cost. Depending on your individual situation, home equity financing, personal loans or zero interest balance transfer credit cards may be effective debt consolidation choices.
Smart money resolutions boost financial stability, not just immediately but over the long haul as well. The bonus takeaway is the confidence that all life’s remarkable milestones and challenges won’t break the bank.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 Coulee Bank's Q-Tip from Quentin Fisher, IT Risk Manager & Security Officer: Watch Out for Fake Apps!

The holidays are here and the scammers are out in force. Their latest trick is fake apps. Starbucks started the first "retail app” and many stores have followed. Scammers are now creating apps too, which they trick you into downloading to your smartphone or tablet.  These fake apps install malware onto your mobile device or ask you to enter your credit card information into the app.  You can guess what happens next.

Here are five things to keep in mind about this Scam of The Week:
  1. Be very judicious in deciding what app to download. Better safe than sorry.
  2. If you *do* decide to download an app, the first thing to check is the reviews.
    Apps with few reviews or bad reviews are a big red flag.
  3. Never click on a link in any email to download a new app. Only go to
    the official website of the provider to get a link to the legitimate app in the AppStore
    or Google Play.
  4. Give as little information as possible if you decide to use an app.
  5. Be very, very reluctant to link your credit card to any app!
There is more information about this at the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/07/technology/more-iphone-fake-retail-apps-before-holidays.html

Let's stay safe out there.
 
Source: https://blog.knowbe4.com/scam-of-the-week-watch-out-for-fake-apps
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Coulee Investment Corner: Surviving the Holiday Spending Season... Debt Free


As the traditional giving season approaches, there is one important item to add to your to-do list: Create a holiday budget. Before the gift shopping and wrapping begins, take control of your wallet through financial preparation. Remember, you can avoid the credit card crunch and the dangerous pitfall of borrowing against your company's retirement savings plan or IRAs.
Here's how to establish a holiday wish list and spending budget:
  • Start by determining the total amount of money that you want to budget for gifts. Carefully evaluate how much money your budget will allow for holiday spending. Be honest and be realistic. The idea is not to spend more than you plan for during the holiday season.
  • Next, make a list of people that you will be buying gifts for this year.
  • Write down ideas for each person on the gift buying list. Set an amount that you will spend for each person on the list, than estimate the cost of each gift idea. Create an alternative gift idea for each person if your first idea is too expensive.
  • After making the purchase, write down the exact cost of the gift, totaling your expenditures. Be sure to include the price of gift wrap and cards.
  • Prioritize your holiday wish list and consider your plans in light of your budget. You may have to choose between gift-giving, entertaining, or travel. Families can decide together how much to spend for the holidays, including gifts, decorations, and food.
  • Take a radical step to hide your credit cards. For example, put your credit cards in the freezer.
  • Don't forget inexpensive gifts, such as themed baskets. An Italian gift basket can include a colander, spiral pasta, gourmet spaghetti sauce, a pasta spoon, and garlic bulbs.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or even the Winter Solstice, you can make a commitment to sharing holiday presents with family and friends, attending your place of worship, and giving to your favorite charity, without worrying about credit card bills or repayment of bank or 401(k) loans.
 
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Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by Wealth Management Systems Inc. or its sources, neither Wealth Management Systems Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall Wealth Management Systems Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.

© 2016 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.
 

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