Mar 31

How to Keep Your Money Safe

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, millions of people fall victim to fraud each year. When it comes to your money, you can never be too careful about preventing fraud. next time you make a transaction or log into your online bank account consider these 5 steps courtesy of Laura Woods at NerdWallet:

1.) Exercise caution with passwords

While it’s easier to use the same password for every online account, it puts you at risk for fraud. Avoid using the same password for any two accounts containing sensitive information. It’s also wise to change your passwords often, as an extra security measure. While you change passwords, avoid any easy passwords such as “123456” or “password”, which top Splashdata’s list of the worst passwords of 2013.

2.) Be a savvy online shopper

Shopping online is quick, easy and convenient, but it’s important to do it wisely. Only shop at reputable, secure sites that you trust, whenever possible. If you question the legitimacy of a company or a person even the slightest, do an online search to ensure they’re reputable. And remember to always choose a credit card over a debit card when paying online, as it limits your liability in case of theft. Review all your credit card statements in a timely manner to ensure no unauthorized charges are made.

3.) Go straight to the source, instead of through an email

Online criminals are notorious for sending emails that look exactly like ones from your bank, credit card company or other financial institutions in an attempt to access your personal data. As these emails can be very difficult to distinguish from legitimate ones, it’s always wise to go straight to the site itself, instead of clicking a link in an email. One click can give criminals access to your personal data, essentially providing them with the key information to your online financial accounts.

4.) Demand extra security

Not all cashiers ask to see your ID when paying with a credit or debit card. This means anyone who gets their hands on your card can typically get away with using it for in-store purchases. Combat this by writing “see ID” on the back of your card, so cashiers are forced to ask for it. While it may cause you a little extra hassle, it’s well worth it to keep your money safe, as there’s little chance a thief will be able to produce another form of identification with your name on it ─ especially one that matches your signature.

5.) Shred important documents before tossing

If you think your trash is safe from theft ─ think again. Throwing away credit card offers, old bank statements, utility bills, and other documents containing your personal information gives dumpster divers easy access to your data. Criminals can use this data to open credit cards in your name, using their own contact information, so you’ll never even know it happened until you check your credit report.

Fight back against fraud

You can never be too careful when safeguarding your assets against fraud. It’s important to always be on your guard to ensure all your bases are covered. When the safety of your money is in question, it’s much better to be overly cautious.

Feb 26

Retirement Tips for Every Stage of Life

The best place to retire in the entire world is Switzerland. That’s according to research fielded by Nataxis Global Management. The ranking is based on 20 key trends broken out from four broad categories: Health and health care quality, personal income and finances, quality of life and socio-economic factors. The United States barely made it into the top twenty, ranking number 19.

While the Swiss Alps are astounding, we enjoy our (usually) mild Southern winters too much to make that move.

But the research underscores the reality that, as Americans, we have to work harder than ever to gain financial security in retirement. Consider the path to life after work in every stage of life:

Single, pre-family

No doubt, this will be one of two debt-reduction stages in your life. It is quite likely you have amassed quite a bit of credit card debt through your college years and transition to full-time employment. We won’t even mention the student loans.

Now that you have that first (or second) full-time building-a-career-job, you will have two priorities: reducing debt and taking the entrance ramp on to the road to retirement.

There are plenty of blogs to inspire your credit card payoff plan; it’s just a matter of getting serious about it. And the retirement highway is marked with a sign reading “401(k).” If your employer offers one, sign up if you haven’t already, and defer at least as much salary as it takes to gain every dollar of any employer match. If the company you work for doesn’t offer a match, contribute as much as you can without breaking a no-doubt bare-bones budget.

That will probably be as much as you can handle in this first stage of life before true love.

Married with children

And then there are two. You and your significant other; and than a dog. Followed by a family. Things are getting pretty serious about now. If you haven’t already, it’s time to feed just one more family member: an IRA. You can choose a Roth or traditional IRA; your tax advisor can guide that decision.  You’ll also want to max-out that 401(k) now, beyond the level of just the employer match. During these, your prime earning years, you want to make every retirement savings dollar count – before you start spending on all of life’s tempting non-essentials.

And that’s tough, because with children and all of your family-driven financial responsibilities, it’s easy to neglect your retirement savings. That why we’re making it automatic with maximized pre-tax and straight-from-the-paycheck 401(k) contributions.  Your priorities should be: 1) Retirement savings, 2) children’s’ college funds and 3) everything else.

This is likely another period of your life where you are rapidly piling on a heap of debt: house, cars, credit cards (again). If you prioritize retirement savings by making tax-advantaged deposits to your 401(k) and IRAs first – and to the legal limit – it will help you minimize the debt damage.

Empty nest

Now the kids are in college, or a commune – sometimes things just don’t work out the way you think they will, right? – and you and the significant other are enjoying the scenery on the road to retirement. Plus, you’re facing your second debt-reduction plan: paying off the house, the cars and the credit cards.

By now, you should have a big, juicy balance in your 401(k) and the IRAs are looking pretty good, too. “Catch-up” contributions available to those 50 and over can help beef-up those balances even more.

Life after work

Taking the exit ramp on the road to retirement means pulling out a map and navigating Social Security, Medicare and your retirement benefits.  You may decide to work part-time, or even full-time, at something you love. If so, you can adjust the withdrawal rate from your retirement assets to make them last even longer.

America may trail Switzerland in retirement rankings, but most of us aren’t too fond of snow shovels anyway.

Guest Post by: 

Hal Bundrick, NerdWallet

Jan 15

Borrowing Tips from MyMoney.gov

Sometimes it’s necessary to borrow for major purchases like an education, a car, a house or maybe even to meet unexpected expenses. Your ability to get a loan generally depends on your credit history, and that depends largely on your track record at repaying what you’ve borrowed in the past and paying your bills on time. So, be careful to keep your credit history strong.

Actions You Can Take

  • Track your borrowing habits.
  • Pay your bills on time.
  • When you need to borrow, be sure to plan, understand and shop around for a loan with a low Annual Percentage Rate (APR).
  • Learn about credit and how to use it effectively.
  • Pay attention to your credit history, as reflected by your credit score and on your credit report.

 

Hints and Tips

  • Borrowing money is a way to purchase something now and pay for it over time. But, you usually pay “interest” when you borrow money. The longer you take to pay back the money you borrowed, the more you will pay in interest.
  • It pays to shop around to get the best deal on a loan. Compare loan terms from several lenders, and it’s okay to negotiate the terms.
  • When repaying a loan, it may be better to pay more than the minimum amount due each month, so you will have to pay less in interest over the life of the loan.
  • One of your most important aids when shopping for a loan is the APR – the Annual Percentage Rate. This is the total cost, including interest charges and fees, described as a yearly rate.
  • Paying your bills on time will help increase your credit score. Even if you fell into trouble with borrowing in the past, you can get on solid footing and rebuild your credit history by making regular payments as agreed.
  • You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus. Go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll free 1-877-322-8228 to order the free reports. Beware of imposter sites.

For more Federal information, guides and helpful tools about the MyMoney Five principle, read more.

Dec 03

Tips for Savers: Certificates of Deposit

from http://www.fdic.gov

Consumers searching for relatively low-risk investments often turn to certificates of deposit (CDs). A CD is a special type of deposit account with a bank or thrift institution that typically offers a higher rate of interest than a regular savings account. Like all bank deposit products, CDs feature federal deposit insurance up to $250,000, per insured bank, for each account ownership category.

Here’s How CDs Work: When you purchase a CD, you commit to deposit a fixed sum of money for a fixed period of time – six months, one year, five years, or more – and, in exchange, the issuing bank pays you interest, typically at regular intervals. When you cash in or redeem your CD at maturity, you receive the money you originally invested plus any accrued interest. But if you redeem your CD before it matures, you may have to pay an “early withdrawal” penalty or forfeit a portion of the interest you earned. If the issuing bank fails during the term of the CD, the principal balance of the CD, together with interest accrued at the time of the bank’s closure, is insured by the FDIC up to the applicable deposit insurance limit.

Types of CDs Vary: At one time, all CDs paid a fixed interest rate until they reached maturity. Fixed-rate CDs, often referred to as “traditional” CDs, are still the most common. However, more and more banks are offering a greater variety of CD products with a broad range of non-traditional features. For instance, consumers can now find a growing number of banks offering CDs with little or no penalty for early withdrawals, with special redemption features in the event the depositor dies or with provisions giving the bank the right to “call,” or accelerate the CD maturity. In addition, many banks are offering CDs with variable interest rates based on either a pre-set schedule or tied to the performance of a specified market index (such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average). These latter CDs are often referred to as index-linked, market-linked, equity-linked, or structured CDs.

CD Accounts Established at an Insured Bank: The most common way to acquire a CD is by opening an account at an FDIC-insured bank. In such cases, the consumer, as the primary depositor named on the CD, can communicate directly with the bank about the account, review and confirm the terms of the account agreement, and obtain assurances that the CD is fully protected by FDIC deposit insurance.

Brokered or Agency CDs: Consumers also purchase CDs through brokerage firms or by using an agent. Common situations involve the use of traditional stock brokerage firms and those firms specializing in the sale of CDs, known as “deposit brokers.” Although brokered CDs can be placed directly in the name of an individual depositor, it is more common for brokers to establish co-mingled deposit accounts representing the funds of multiple customers.

A consumer with significant funds to deposit may use a broker to make deposits at multiple banks, thereby maximizing the consumer’s FDIC insurance coverage. In addition, consumers may be attracted to CDs sold by a broker who has made significant deposits in a bank on behalf of multiple depositors and, therefore, is able to negotiate higher CD interest rates than the individual consumer. Be aware, however, that CDs sold by brokers sometimes can be complex and carry more risks than traditional CDs sold directly by banks. An incompetent or unscrupulous broker could mislead or defraud its customers, resulting in loss or theft of the consumers’ funds. Since FDIC insurance coverage only applies if the broker in fact properly establishes and maintains the CD account on your behalf with your funds, it is very important to verify that you are dealing with a reputable broker when purchasing a CD. If the broker mishandles or misappropriates your deposit, your only recourse is against the broker.

Nov 04

7 Benefits of Requesting Free Credit Reports

A credit report can be a handy tool for others to assess your trustworthiness. It contains information on where you live, how promptly you pay your bills, whether you’ve ever been sued or have filed for bankruptcy. Having a good credit report can change the course of major life events, such as getting a job, being approved to rent an apartment or getting a loan for a house or car. In fact, the information on your credit report is so important, credit reporting companies sell it to creditors, insurers, employers, and other companies who use it to determine if they’d like to do business with you.

It’s clear to see how others benefit from using your credit report, but there are plenty of ways you can take advantage of your credit reports as well. If you’ve seen the advertisements for free credit reports but don’t really see the point, then it’s certainly time you learn all they have to offer.

First thing first: FACT

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions ACT (FACT Act) allows consumers to receive one free complete disclosure of all the information in their credit file from each of the three national credit reporting companies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — once every 12 months.

Your free credit reports can be obtained three different ways, including:
• Visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com
• Calling 877-FACTACT
• Mailing the request form to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Experts suggest you get your credit report from all three agencies once per year. It’s recommended that you stagger your requests to receive one every four months. This ensures you always have access to the most current version of your report.

Credit Report Scams to Avoid

The only website authorized to provide the annual free credit report you’re entitled to under the FACT act is annualcreditreport.com. Any other website claiming to offer the same free services are a fraud. Many times these companies will trick you into signing up for a free service that you actually have to pay for after a trial period ends.

Be mindful of how you type in web addresses. Some fake sites have URLs spelled similarly to annualcreditreport.com, in hopes that you’ll accidentally misspell the name of the real site. These sites will often try to collect your personal information or direct you to a site trying to sell you something.

Any emails that you receive supposedly from annualcreditreport.com or the three credit reporting agencies soliciting you for personal information are a fraud. Remember that you will never receive such messages from the actual companies themselves.

7 Reasons to Get Your Free Credit Report

1. Make Sure Information is Accurate
According to ABC News, 90% of credit reports contain errors. Requesting your free credit report allows you to verify that information is correct, complete, and updated. Finding and correcting any errors will raise your score.

2. Protection Against Identity Theft
When a criminal opens credit card accounts in your name and doesn’t pay the bills, it lowers your credit score. Finding and reporting identity theft can save your credit score from major damage.

3. Get Out of Debt
If you’re trying to improve a spotty financial history of missed or late payments, bankruptcies, collections notices, and other black marks, getting your free credit report is a great place to start. You can’t improve your financial situation until you understand exactly what it is.

4. Plan Major Purchases
If you’re planning to make a major purchase, such as buying a car or a house, you’re probably going to need to take out a loan. The amount of money a financial institution is willing to lend you, and the interest rate you’re granted, largely depends on your credit score. So if your credit report reveals many financial blemishes, you might be better off waiting a bit and trying to improve it.

5. Evaluate Your Money Management
All financial activity is not rated equally when calculating your credit score. Payment history is the most important factor at a 35% weight, followed by outstanding debt at 30%, length of credit history is weighted at 15%, and credit inquiries and types of credit used at 10% each. Using your credit report to research each of these factors can help you make decisions about how to better manage your money and raise your credit score.

6. Review Credit Inquiries
Your credit report shows you which companies have placed inquiries regarding your credit history. It’s always good to know who is looking into your financial past, so you can look into anything that appears suspicious.

7. Monitor Co-Signer Activity:
If you’ve agreed to co-sign on a loan with a child, another family member, or a friend, you’re liable if they don’t make timely payments. Late payments on the loan will have a negative impact on your credit score. Late payment activity will be shown on the credit report, so you can put a stop to the issue before it does too much damage to your credit.

Final Word
A solid credit report can give you access to many life-changing opportunities whereas a bad credit report can close many doors. Take advantage of your free credit report to assess your financial weaknesses and strengths and develop strategic goals for changing bad habits that will lower your credit score. Your credit report can also help you avoid the expensive and reputation-tarnishing effects of fraud. Keep an eye out for errors and keep close tabs on others that might impact your credit report to maintain your financial health.
Now that you understand all the benefits of requesting free credit reports on a regular basis, it’s time to get yours today!

Oct 03

How to find a bank that best fits your business.

What really matters when selecting your bank?
It is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of your bank. If you have an illness, you usually don’t call the first doctor from the web or Yellow Pages. The same is true with your bank. Like doctors, most banks are well regarded, but they do have their differences. Banks usually have specialties or expertise that can make a difference for you and your company. As you would with selecting a specialized doctor, you must do your homework in choosing your bank.
Size matters!
The larger bank typically has more services and more branches but that can be offset by their desire to be most efficient. This could lead to less customer interaction and more automation. They usually have more interest in larger multi-million dollar relationships and automated consumer products. The smaller banks, many times newer banks or community banks, can provide more one-on-one service but have fewer branches and not quite as many bells and whistles. Their lending limits could be restrictive for larger relationships. The middle size banks, many times may have the best of both worlds. They may not have a branch on every corner but have more robust service offerings and lending capability to handle most transactions.
Knowing how a bank faired during the recession matters.
Some banks may still have too much real estate on their books, so their interest in new projects could be limited. Other banks have moved real estate lenders out of the production mode and as a result don’t have the expertise they once had. It’s possible that some banks may still be dealing with TARP issues which could cause difficulties in dealing with loan rates and quality issues. Some may be quick to move a relationship to a “special assets department” at the hint of a problem before getting all the facts. Research to see what niche a bank may consider its target market. Are they more interested in the consumer than commercial business or vice versa?
Knowing your banker matters.
Many bankers today have no lending authority and don’t even have the authority to approve a necessary refund to a customer. Some bankers, through no fault of their own, have not grown up in a time before computers and automated decisions and as a result may have a hard time dealing with situations that are “out of the box.” Times and technology have certainly changed over the years but the importance of relationships has not. Most people enjoy banking with a person they know and trust.
While banks have gone through a lot during the recession so have the customers. It’s more challenging today for a customer to find the right bank than ever before. Just remember all banks are not the same. Dig a little deeper if you want to find a bank and banker that are the best fit for you.

Sep 03

Renasant Completes Merger with First M&F

Renasant announced that it has completed its merger with First M&F Corporation (“M&F”), a bank holding company headquartered in Kosciusko, Mississippi, and the parent of Merchants and Farmers Bank, effective September 1, 2013. The combined company now has approximately $5.8 billion in total assets with 130 banking, mortgage, financial services and insurance offices throughout Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.
“With the M&F merger now complete, we welcome our new customers, employees and shareholders to the Renasant family,” said Renasant Chairman and CEO, E. Robinson McGraw. “Since the merger announcement, both Renasant and M&F have worked diligently to ensure a smooth and successful transition. Furthermore, this partnership will benefit both current and future customers with the expanded convenience of locations, services and product offerings.”
The merger adds $1.6 billion in assets, $1.4 billion in deposits and 42 banking and insurance locations throughout Renasant’s Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee banking franchises. In addition, the merger significantly increases the Company’s deposit market share in the Birmingham and Memphis MSAs and the key Mississippi markets of Tupelo, Oxford and Starkville, while providing entrance into the markets surrounding Jackson, Mississippi. The merger will strengthen the Company’s overall business lines by doubling its insurance operations as M&F Insurance will become Renasant Insurance, Inc., a subsidiary of Renasant Bank, on September 1, 2013.
Commenting on the transaction, Hugh S. Potts, Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of First M&F Corporation said, “Our clients and communities can expect the quality of service to move to higher levels of excellence and can count on Renasant being an exemplary, leading citizen. Our associates are committed to being a premier financial partner as Renasant is now stronger than ever.”
The conversion and integration of M&F into Renasant is expected to be completed in December 2013. At this time, M&F clients should continue to conduct their banking business as usual, including but not limited to, using existing branches, debit cards, checks, ATMs, and making loan payments until conversion is completed. Renasant has set up a website for clients to obtain useful information about the transition at www.movetogreaterservice.com.
“We believe this merger enhances our long-term value as a company for our clients, employees and shareholders,” stated McGraw. “With the addition of an experienced and talented team, we look forward to a bright future as we continue to grow our market share and expand our footprint.”

Aug 02

Internet Banking Security Enhancements

On July 13 we upgraded our Internet Banking solution in order to enhance security and better protect your financial information. Due to the upgrade, new security enhancements changed how you Log In to Internet Banking.

Streamlined Login Process
After July 13, you may have noticed the picture and phrase that previously appeared when you logged in have been removed.  In addition, you are no longer required to formally register your computer.  The new system has technology to recognize if your computer has been used to access the system.  We implemented a more secure and behind the scene process to validate your device (PC, laptop, tablet, mobile phone), username and password.

Enhanced Security Settings
We also added additional layers of security in the event you Log In from a device that has not been previously used.  Instead of simple challenge questions, you are now asked to validate your identity through a one-time security code via a phone call or text message.  If a phone is not available, you will be asked to answer a series of questions to validate your identity.  These enhanced security features help safeguard your information. 

Our number one goal is to protect your financial information with the most the most up to date security features that are available.

Feb 08

Good Security Habits

from https://www.us-cert.gov

How can you minimize the access other people have to your information?

You may be able to easily identify people who could, legitimately or not, gain physical access to your computer—family members, roommates, co-workers, members of a cleaning crew, and maybe others. Identifying the people who could gain remote access to your computer becomes much more difficult. As long as you have a computer and connect it to a network, you are vulnerable to someone or something else accessing or corrupting your information; however, you can develop habits that make it more difficult.

  • Lock your computer when you are away from it. Even if you only step away from your computer for a few minutes, it’s enough time for someone else to destroy or corrupt your information. Locking your computer prevents another person from being able to simply sit down at your computer and access all of your information.
  • Disconnect your computer from the Internet when you aren’t using it. The development of technologies such as DSL and cable modems have made it possible for users to be online all the time, but this convenience comes with risks. The likelihood that attackers or viruses scanning the network for available computers will target your computer becomes much higher if your computer is always connected. Depending on what method you use to connect to the Internet, disconnecting may mean disabling a wireless connection, turning off your computer or modem, or disconnecting cables. When you are connected, make sure that you have a firewall enabled (see Understanding Firewalls for more information).
  • Evaluate your security settings. Most software, including browsers and email programs, offers a variety of features that you can tailor to meet your needs and requirements. Enabling certain features to increase convenience or functionality may leave you more vulnerable to being attacked. It is important to examine the settings, particularly the security settings, and select options that meet your needs without putting you at increased risk. If you install a patch or a new version of the software, or if you hear of something that might affect your settings, reevaluate your settings to make sure they are still appropriate (see Understanding PatchesSafeguarding Your Data, and Evaluating Your Web Browser’s Security Settings for more information).

What other steps can you take?

Sometimes the threats to your information aren’t from other people but from natural or technological causes. Although there is no way to control or prevent these problems, you can prepare for them and try to minimize the damage.

  • Protect your computer against power surges and brief outages. Aside from providing outlets to plug in your computer and all of its peripherals, some power strips protect your computer against power surges. Many power strips now advertise compensation if they do not effectively protect your computer. Power strips alone will not protect you from power outages, but there are products that do offer an uninterruptible power supply when there are power surges or outages. During a lightning storm or construction work that increases the odds of power surges, consider shutting your computer down and unplugging it from all power sources.
  • Back up all of your data. Whether or not you take steps to protect yourself, there will always be a possibility that something will happen to destroy your data. You have probably already experienced this at least once— losing one or more files due to an accident, a virus or worm, a natural event, or a problem with your equipment. Regularly backing up your data on a CD or network reduces the stress and other negative consequences that result from losing important information (see Real-World Warnings Keep You Safe Online for more information). Determining how often to back up your data is a personal decision. If you are constantly adding or changing data, you may find weekly backups to be the best alternative; if your content rarely changes, you may decide that your backups do not need to be as frequent. You don’t need to back up software that you own on CD-ROM or DVD-ROM—you can reinstall the software from the original media if necessary.

Both the National Cyber Security Alliance and US-CERT have identified this topic as one of the top tips for home users.

Authors: Mindi McDowell, Allen Householder

Jan 15

Coordinating Virus and Spyware Defense

from https://www.us-cert.gov

Isn’t it better to have more protection?

Spyware and viruses can interfere with your computer’s ability to process information or can modify or destroy data. You may feel that the more anti-virus and anti-spyware programs you install on your computer, the safer you will be. It is true that not all programs are equally effective, and they will not all detect the same malicious code. However, by installing multiple programs in an attempt to catch everything, you may introduce problems.

How can anti-virus or anti-spyware software cause problems?

It is important to use anti-virus and anti-spyware software (see Understanding Anti-Virus Software and Recognizing and Avoiding Spyware for more information). But too much or the wrong kind can affect the performance of your computer and the effectiveness of the software itself.

Scanning your computer for viruses and spyware uses some of the available memory on your computer. If you have multiple programs trying to scan at the same time, you may limit the amount of resources left to perform your tasks. Essentially, you have created a denial of service against yourself (see Understanding Denial-of-Service Attacks for more information). It is also possible that in the process of scanning for viruses and spyware, anti-virus or anti-spyware software may misinterpret the virus definitions of other programs. Instead of recognizing them as definitions, the software may interpret the definitions as actual malicious code. Not only could this result in false positives for the presence of viruses or spyware, but the anti-virus or anti-spyware software may actually quarantine or delete the other software.

How can you avoid these problems?

  • Investigate your options in advance - Research available anti-virus and anti-spyware software to determine the best choice for you. Consider the amount of malicious code the software recognizes, and try to find out how frequently the virus definitions are updated. Also check for known compatibility issues with other software you may be running on your computer.
  • Limit the number of programs you install - Many vendors are now releasing packages that incorporate both anti-virus and anti-spyware capabilities together. However, if you decide to choose separate programs, you really only need one anti-virus program and one anti-spyware program. If you install more, you increase your risk for problems.
  • Install the software in phases - Install the anti-virus software first and test it for a few days before installing anti-spyware software. If problems develop, you have a better chance at isolating the source and then determining if it is an issue with the software itself or with compatibility.
  • Watch for problems - If your computer starts processing requests more slowly, you are seeing error messages when updating your virus definitions, your software does not seem to be recognizing malicious code, or other issues develop that cannot be easily explained, check your anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

Authors: Mindi McDowell, Matt Lytle

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