5 Steps to Take After Being Hacked

Uh oh — you’ve been hacked! Finding out someone has cracked open your accounts and helped themselves to your information can be alarming, but there are ways to mitigate the damage while jump-starting your recovery process.

Here are five steps to take after being hacked.

Step 1: Assess the damage

First, take a step back and determine how much damage was done. Unfortunately, one hacked password can often be the gateway to multiple hacked accounts and even complete identity theft. This is especially true if you use the same password for several accounts, or use the hacked account or device for password recovery on other accounts. So, first things first: Review your credit card and account statements for any suspicious activity.  Also, try accessing your email, social media accounts and mobile devices to see if they’ve been hacked.

Step 2: Change your passwords

Once you know which accounts and devices have been hacked, change the passwords and PINs on these accounts. For an added measure of protection, it’s a good idea to change the passwords on all of your accounts that may hold sensitive information. Remember to choose strong, unique passwords for every account. A strong password uses a combination of letters, numbers and symbols; varies the use of capital letters; and does not use a piece of personal information that can easily be scraped off the internet, such as your date of birth or home address. You may want to use a password service like LastPass  or  StickyPassword to make this step easier.

While completing this step, consider signing up for two-factor authentication for any accounts that do not already have it in place.

Step 3: Protect your credit

Now that you’ve blocked the hacker(s) from your accounts, it’s time for damage control.

First, dispute any fraudulent charges on your compromised account(s). If necessary, have the account(s) locked, or even shut and/or deleted.

Next, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This serves as a red flag to potential lenders and creditors, making it more difficult for the scammer to open up additional lines of credit or to take out a loan in your name.

Consider a credit freeze as well. This blocks potential lenders from accessing your credit report, making it impossible for the hacker to open new credit accounts in your name.

Step 4: Alert the authorities

You can alert the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about a possible or confirmed identity theft at identitytheft.gov.  You’ll also find a detailed recovery plan on the site to help you repair your credit and reclaim your identity.

Hacking is usually done remotely, but it’s still a good idea to let your local law enforcement agencies know about the breach. This way, they can be on the alert if the hacker decides to assume your identity and use your credit cards in stores near your hometown.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to let Advantage One Credit Union know what’s happened! Whether it’s a credit card that’s been stolen, a checking account that’s been breached or a social media account that’s been broken into, we’ll do all we can to protect your accounts. If you’ve been hacked, give us a call at 734-676-7000 to see how we can help.

Step 5: Proceed with caution

Once you’ve taken all necessary steps toward damage control and mitigation, you can start thinking about the future.

It’s important to keep a close eye on your accounts for the next month. Look out for any suspicious activity on all accounts, including charges you don’t recall making, large withdrawals of cash and even new loans being opened in your name. If you find any fraudulent activity, be sure to let the account holders know and to follow the steps suggested above.

If you’ve opted to go with a credit freeze, it will generally lapse after 90 days. If your accounts are determined to be safe, consider opening new lines of credit now to jump-start the recovery of your credit health.

If the hacker went all out and stole your identity, it’s best to follow the recovery plan outlined by the FTC . This plan may include replacing your Social Security number, driver’s license and more.

Getting hacked is never fun, but taking immediate and decisive action can help mitigate the damage, as well as speed up the recovery process.

Your Turn: How have you dealt with your accounts being hacked? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
allthingssecured.com
digitalguardian.com

Beware of Debt-Collection Scams

With the pandemic still wreaking havoc on the economy, many people are struggling to pay their monthly bills and meet their debt payments. Unfortunately, scammers are exploiting the financial downturn by tricking unsuspecting victims into paying for debts that don’t actually exist, or by using abusive tactics to collect legitimate debts.

Don’t be the next victim of a debt-collection scam. Here’s all you need to know about these scams:

How the scams play out

In a debt-collection scam, a caller claiming to represent a creditor or a debt-collection agency demands immediate payment for an alleged outstanding debt. The caller insists on specific means of payment and may even threaten to tell the victim’s family and friends about the outstanding debt. The alleged debt may be completely fabricated, or the scammer has hacked the victim’s accounts to learn of its existence. In either scenario, the caller does not represent the creditor and will pocket any “collected” money.

These scams can also take the form of abusive debt collection. In this variation of the scam, a caller collects money for a legitimate debt, but uses abusive and illegal practices to complete this task.

How to spot a debt-collection scam

You might be looking at a scam if an alleged debt collector does any of the following:

  • Withholds information — a legitimate debt collector is able and willing to tell you the name of the creditor as well as the exact amount owed.
  • Threatens the debtor with jail time — barring criminal fines or restitution, there’s no jail time for an overdue debt.
  • Insists on specific means of payment, such as prepaid debit card or money transfer.
  • Asks you to share personal financial information — a legitimate debt collector will not ask you to provide your Social Security number or account numbers.

Know your rights

When outstanding debts go unpaid, a lender is legally allowed to sell the debt to a collection agency. The agency can then attempt to collect the debt through letters and phone calls. The agency is not allowed to employ abusive practices or harassment when attempting to collect the debt.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act  (FDCPA) is an amendment to the Consumer Credit Protection Act, which protects consumers from abusive debt-collection practices.

According to the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot:

  • Contact borrowers at unreasonable hours, generally before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Call borrowers at their workplace if the borrower said they cannot accept phone calls at work.
  • Harass borrowers about a debt, including using threats of violence and obscene language, publishing the debtor’s name and calling the debtor multiple times each day.
  • Engage in unfair collection practices, such as collecting more than is owed, depositing post-dated checks early, or seizing property when it is not legally allowed.
  • Lie about the money owed.
  • Falsely represent themselves as an attorney, government official or another party.
  • Threaten the debtor with jail time or other unwarranted legal action.
  • Falsify the name of the agency they represent.

Protect yourself

If you are unsure of whether you are being targeted by a debt-collection scam, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Ask the caller for a callback number. A legitimate collector will not hesitate to share this information. You can also ask for the caller’s name, as well as the name and street address of the company they represent. Be sure to try the number the caller shares, as they may have rattled off a nonfunctioning number in the hopes that you wouldn’t actually dial it.

Ask the caller to confirm basic information about the debt. The collector should know the exact amount owed and be able to tell you the name of the company behind the debt.

If you still believe you are being scammed, contact the creditor the collector is claiming to represent and ask if the debt collection has been outsourced to another company.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by an illegitimate debt collector, let the FTC know. Report the scam at ftc.gov/complaint. You can also block the scammer’s phone number on your phone and let your friends know about the circulating scam. If a falsified debt appears on your credit report, you will need to dispute the charge as well.

If you’ve confirmed that a collection agency has been legitimately hired by a lender, but you believe the agency is employing abusive tactics, or you’d like them to stop contacting you, there are additional steps you can take. According to the FTC, under these circumstances, it’s best to send the collection agency a written letter asking it to cease all contact. Once the agency has received the letter, it can only reach out to the debtor to let them know there will be no further contact, or to inform the debtor of a specific action being taken against them.

If the debt collector continues to contact you for any other purpose after receiving your written request to desist, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit against the agency in state court.

[If you are having trouble meeting your financial obligations, we can help! Call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union to speak to a member service representative today.]

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a debt-collection scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
nerdwallet.com
ftc.gov
aarp.org
consumerfinance.gov

When Does it Make Sense to Pay a Bill with a Credit Card?

Credit cards and debit cards both offer incredible convenience. With just a quick swipe or a linked account, a payment can be instantly processed. It seems like a no-brainer to use that convenience for taking the hassle out of paying bills. But, is it a smart idea to pay monthly bills with a credit card or debit card?

Choosing to pay a bill with a card can have a significant impact on your general financial wellness — for better or for worse. That’s why it’s important to consider the many variables of this decision before going ahead with it.

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of paying monthly bills with a credit card or debit card.

The advantages of paying bills with a credit card or debit card

There are many reasons you may want to pay your monthly bills with a credit or debit card when possible. Here are just a few of the advantages of paying with plastic:

  • Automate monthly payments. Setting up automatic payments for monthly bills through a credit card or debit card will help ensure payments are always on time.
  • Build credit with a consistent monthly payment. Using a credit card for a monthly bill is a great way to amp up a credit score without running the risk of overspending. Just be sure to pay the bill in full and on time every time.
  • Earn rewards for money that needs to be spent anyway. Using a credit card that offers rewards for a bill that needs to be paid anyway will help to pile on those rewards points without overspending. Many debit and/or credit card issuers, [including Advantage One Credit Union’s [debit/credit] card], also offer attractive rewards for using the card to pay for specific expenses, including some monthly bills.
  • Enjoy consumer protection. Paying with plastic offers the consumer the advantages of purchase protection, zero or minimal liability in case of fraud, guaranteed returns and more.
  • Pay your bills quickly without the hassle of writing out checks and using snail mail. With a credit or debit card, paying a bill only takes a few clicks or phone prompts.
  • Budget easily. Paying with a credit or debit card makes for easy tracking of monthly spending.
  • Payments post promptly. Bill payments made via credit or debit card will generally post within one or two business days. Contrast that with a check that needs to be mailed out, delivered to the correct party and then deposited and cleared until the payment is finally processed.

The disadvantages of paying bills with credit or debit cards

Here’s the flip side of paying bills with plastic:

  • There may be fees for paying the bill with a credit card. Pay close attention to the payment options on every bill; some service providers charge a processing fee for paying with a debit or credit card.
  • It can make a difficult financial situation worse. For consumers who are already carrying a sizable amount of debt, it may not be the best idea to charge a monthly bill to a credit card. Similarly, it isn’t responsible to set up an automatic monthly payment through a debit card that is linked to an account that may not have enough money to cover the charge each month.
  • Credit utilization may cross the threshold to an undesirable rate. One of the key components of an excellent credit score is a low credit utilization rate. For consumers with a minimal amount of available credit, charging too many bills to a credit card can cause their score to plunge.
  • Interest may accrue. Consumers who cannot pay their entire credit card bill each month would be saddled with more accrued interest than they can afford if they choose to pay their monthly bills with a credit card.

Which of my bills can I pay with a credit or debit card?

You will likely not be able to pay the following monthly bills with a credit or debit card:

  • Mortgage
  • Rent
  • Car payments

These monthly bills can usually be paid with a credit card, but you may need to pay a fee to do so:

  • Car insurance
  • Home insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Taxes

The following monthly bills usually allow you to pay with a credit card or debit card, and without a fee:

  • Subscription services
  • Phone bills
  • Utility bills
  • Internet providers
  • Cable providers

Before deciding whether to pay a specific bill with a credit or debit card, it’s best to check with your provider to find out if this is a viable option and if there will be a fee attached for paying with plastic.

The bottom line

Sometimes, paying bills with a credit card or debit card makes perfect financial sense, but it sometimes does not. Before deciding which way to go on any particular bill, consider all the relevant factors detailed above to be sure you’re making the responsible choice.

Your Turn: Do you pay any of your monthly bills with a credit card or debit card? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
thesimpledollar.com
thebalance.com
creditkarma.com

5 Apps to Download this Holiday Season

Todoist
With the holidays coming, there’s so much to do! Keep it all organized with this top-rated productivity app. With Todoist, (iOS, Android) users can create and manage to-do lists, track completed tasks and set reminders for those last-minute oft forgotten holiday errands. Download the free version, unlock additional features for $3/month or upgrade to the premium version for $5/month.

Key features:

  • Task management — The app’s slick interface and many convenient features make task management easy, even when your to-do list is longer than Santa’s beard.
  • Prioritize tasks — Make sure you get the most important stuff done before moving on to your holiday wish list by prioritizing tasks.
  • Project goals — Set goals and timelines for when you want a specific task to be completed and let the sophisticated visuals keep you focused on your goal.
  • Reports — Track your progress on various tasks with the app’s measurement and reporting features.
  • Cross-platform use — Todoist lets you sync your lists across all devices for easy task-tracking and management.

Christmas Countdown
Get into the holiday spirit with the ultimate snowy countdown to Christmas (iOS , Android) !

Key features:

  • Choose from eight beautiful, holiday-themed backgrounds to customize your app.
  • Enjoy classic Christmas music without intrusive ads.
  • Unwrap a new virtual gift every day of December.

Christmas Gift List
Significant others, kids, parents, friends, workmates, gym buddies, great aunt Martha — there are so many gifts to keep track of this season! Ward off that migraine that starts forming each time you tackle your multiple gift lists by downloading this super-convenient app. The Christmas Gift List (iOS, Android) app will organize your lists and let you track your ideas, spending and progress as you shop. Gift-shopping is fun again!

Key features:

  • Set a budget for everyone on your list to help keep your spending under control.
  • Share your list with shopping buddies through Twitter and emails.
  • Easily cross gifts off your list by updating their status as you shop.

Elfster
If you’re planning a secret Santa exchange with your friends and family, you need to download this app. Elfster (iOS , Android) will let you create and track multiple groups of secret Santa exchanges and help keep things organized with its user-friendly interface.

Key features:

  • Set a delivery date for each group, along with a fixed budget and a customized message for all group members.
  • Invite friends to join a group through email, or by sharing a group link.
  • Assign a secret Santa for each group member easily through the app’s generator feature.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite holiday app? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Learn More:
mobileappdaily.com
getandroidstuff.com

When and Why to Take on Business Debt

Taking on debt can be an inevitable step for many businesses. A loan or a line of credit can provide a struggling business with the cash it needs to expand or fund a new venture.

As with every financial move, thought, it’s best to consider all angles before going ahead with the decision. Here’s what you need to know about when and why it can make sense to take on business debt:

When is it a good idea to take on business debt?

Businesses can benefit from taking out loans or opening new lines of credit under these circumstances:

When seeking resources to help grow the business. It takes money to make money, and a small business loan can help business owners pay for an expansion when they don’t have the current resources to fund it on their own. The funds can be used to broaden the company’s line of products or services, pay for a move to a larger location, fund a marketing campaign or hire additional staff.

Before taking on debt for this purpose, it’s important for a business to first measure the anticipated return on investment (ROI) for the debt. The ROI for taking on new debt needs to exceed its post-tax interest costs for the debt to be profitable for the business. For example, if a business takes out a loan to pay for new equipment costing $10,000 that will enable it to sign a $20,000 contract, it needs to ensure that a loan won’t cost them more than $10,000 in interest and other fees. Otherwise, the business will not stand to gain from taking on new debt. The profit margin also needs to be generous enough for the venture to be worth the time and effort for the business. If the final gain is minimal, the business owner may be better off investing energy in another lower-cost endeavor.

When trying to build credit. Taking out a small loan or opening a new line of credit can be a great way to build a credit profile for a business and to strengthen its relationship with financial institutions. Small loans and lines of credit can help a business prove it is responsible and trustworthy for repaying debts. This will open the doors to larger loans that may be needed in the future.

When taking on debt for this reason, it’s important for a business to run the numbers and to be sure it can handle the monthly payments, even before the anticipated boost in revenue. If a company cannot meet its monthly payments, taking on new debt can wind up doing more harm than good to its credit.

Why is debt often a preferred source of funds?

Businesses in need of extra cash can choose from several options. Primarily, a business can decide to sell equity in its company or to take out a small business loan or open a new line of credit. Here’s why debt can be a preferred source of funds for businesses:

It has lower financing costs. Unlike equity, debt is limited. Once the loan is paid back, the business owner can forget it ever existed. On the flip side, selling equity in a company generally means forking over a part of the profit for as long as the business exists. (It’s important to note, though, that debt has fixed repayment costs as opposed to equity stakes, which are determined as a percentage of the company’s profit. This means a business owner will need to pay back debt regardless of the company’s success.)

It provides tax advantages. Business debt can decrease a company’s tax liability by lowering its equity base. As an added bonus, interest on business loans and lines of credit are usually tax-deductible.

It mitigates risk. Taking on debt to access funds, instead of selling equity, lowers the company’s risk in the event that the business does not succeed.

[If you’re ready to take out a business loan or to open a new line of credit for your business, we can help! Our business loans and the lines of credit feature favorable rates and easy terms. Call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union today to secure the funds you need to grow your business.]

Your Turn: Tell us about your experience with getting a business loan or line of credit in the comments.

Learn More:
entrepreneur.com
montrealfinancial.ca
businessinsider.com

What’s a Recession Anyway?

Unless you’ve been living in a bunker for the last several months, you’ve likely caught the term “recession” thrown around on the news more than once. Hearing this word being used to describe the state of the U.S. economy can trigger a range of reactions from mild anxiety to a full-blown stuffing-money-under-the-mattress panic.

For many people, though, part of their angst surrounding the state of the economy is the vast amount of unknown: What is the exact definition of a recession? How is it different from a depression? How long do recessions usually last? What causes a recession?

So many questions — but we’ve got answers! Here’s all you need to know about recessions, the current state of the U.S. economy and what all of this means to you as a private consumer.

What is a recession? 

A recession is a widespread economic decline in a designated region that lasts for several months or longer. In a recession, the gross domestic product (GDP), or the total value of all goods and services produced in the region, decreases for two consecutive quarters. A healthy economy is continually expanding, so a contracting GDP suggests that problems are brewing within the economy. In most recessions, the GDP growth will slow for several quarters before it turns negative.

What’s the difference between a recession and a depression?

A depression has criteria similar to that of a recession, but is much more severe. For example, in both a recession and a depression the unemployment rate rises; however, during the Great Recession of 2008, the worst recession in U.S. history to date, unemployment peaked at 10%, while during the Great Depression, unemployment levels soared to 25%. Similarly, during the Great Recession, the GDP contracted by 4.2%, while during the Great Depression it shrank by 30%.

Depressions also last a lot longer than recessions. The Great Depression officially lasted for four years but continued to impact the economy for more than a decade. In contrast, recessions generally last only 11 months, according to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

There have been 47 recessions in U.S. history, and a total of 13 recessions since the Great Depression. There has only been a single recorded depression in our country’s history.

What causes a recession? 

A recession can be triggered by a variety of factors:

  • A sudden economic shock that causes severe financial damage.
  • Excessive debt carried by consumers and businesses, leading to debt defaults and bankruptcies.
  • Asset bubbles, or when investors’ make irrational decisions, overbuy stocks and then rush to sell, causing a market crash.
  • Excessive inflation and rising interest rates, which triggers a decline in economic activity.
  • Excessive deflation, which sparks a decrease in wages, further depressing prices.
  • Technological changes, including outsourcing jobs to machines or other technological breakthroughs that alter the way entire industries operate.

Why the COVID-19 recession is unlike any other?

In June 2020, the NBER  announced that the U.S. economy had been in recession since February.

The COVID-19 recession, also known as the coronavirus recession, the Great Shutdown, the Great Lockdown or the Coronavirus Crash, is unique because it was sparked by an unforeseen pandemic and not by any inherent problem within the economy.

Another anomaly of the coronavirus recession is the super-healthy state of the economy before it hit. In February, unemployment levels were at a 50-year low, stock markets were at a record high and the U.S. economy had enjoyed 126 months of growth,  its longest period of uninterrupted expansion in history.

The unusual triggers and the explosive start of the current recession may be good news for its eventual end. Economists initially were hopeful that the recession could reverse itself quickly with a V-shaped recovery. Unfortunately, due to prolonged lockdowns and the nationwide failure to keep infection rates down, they have since declared that a rapid rebound is unlikely. There is still hope for a relatively fast recovery. An April Reuters poll  found that nearly half of 45 economists believed the U.S. recovery would be U-shaped: slower and more gradual than a V-shaped recovery, but still fairly quick.

How will this recession affect me?

The coronavirus recession can impact the average consumer in multiple ways.

First, many are struggling with sudden unemployment or will be facing joblessness in the coming months. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the unemployment rate at a staggering 10.2%.

Second, the economic uncertainty has triggered record-low interest rates, which in turn sparked a rush to refinance. If you are currently paying high interest rates on a long-term loan, you may want to consider refinancing and enjoying a lower monthly payment.

Finally, investments in stocks, bonds and real estate may lose value during a recession.

Your Turn: What do you think will be most impacted by the coronavirus recession? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Beware the Pending Package Scam

Everyone loves a surprise package, and scammers are taking the excitement out of that experience by using bogus packages as a cover for a nefarious scam that tricks victims into sharing their personal information — and their money.

Here’s all you need to know about the pending package text scam:

How the scam plays out

In the circulating package delivery scam, the victim receives a text message from a contact who is an alleged mail carrier, or someone representing a package-delivery service. The contact tells the victim they were unable to deliver a package to the victim’s home. The message might claim the package is a gift from a friend or relative and may be worded professionally, making the scam difficult to spot.

The victim is asked to reply to the message to confirm their identity; however, as soon as they engage with the scammer, they will be asked to share their personal information or credit card details to schedule delivery. This, of course, places the victim at risk for identity theft.

In other variations of the scam, the victim is contacted by email or phone. In each scenario, the scam plays out in a similar manner, with the victim convinced there’s a package waiting for them, and willingly sharing sensitive data with a criminal.

Some scammers take the ruse a step further by sending the victim a text message or an email containing an embedded link. The victim is instructed to click on the “tracking link” to track the package or change their delivery preferences. Unfortunately, clicking on the link will download malware into the victim’s device. Alternatively, the link connects the victim to a form asking for their personal information, which the victim often shares willingly.

Red flags

There are two primary red flags that can serve to warn you about the pending package scam.

First, the original text, email or phone call, will generally not inform the victim of the identity of the company they represent. The scammer will only claim to be an employee of a mail or package delivery service, but will not verify if they work for UPS, FedEx or another legitimate organization.

Second, the scammers don’t always check if the victim actually has a package in transit. They’ll either assume the victim has recently ordered something online or they’ll claim a friend or family has sent a surprise gift. If you know that neither of these is true, you can be on the alert for a possible scam.

Don’t get scammed!

Take these precautions to avoid being the next victim of a pending package scam:

  • Be wary of unsolicited communications. Your mail carrier and package-delivery services will never contact you via text message or phone call. If a package cannot be delivered for any reason, they will usually leave you a note on the door.
  • Be wary of “professional” emails sent from unsecure addresses. Any online communications from the USPS or a mail delivery agency will be sent via their own secure domain. Always be suspicious of emails sent from unsecure addresses.
  • Track all incoming packages. After placing an order for an item, record the tracking number for the package so you can easily verify its whereabouts. This way, you can quickly confirm the authenticity of any suspicious texts, emails or phone calls about your package.
  • Never share personal information with an unverified contact. Be super-wary when asked to share sensitive information via text, or when online or on a phone call. If you suspect fraud, end the conversation immediately and do not engage further.
  • Never click on links in unsolicited emails. Links in emails can download malware onto your computer or device. Don’t click links in emails from people you don’t know or from companies you have not asked to contact you. Be wary of official-looking email; popular brands can easily be spoofed.

 If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a pending package scam, it’s important not to engage with the scammer. Delete any suspicious text messages and block the number of the contact. Similarly, delete suspicious emails and mark them as spam. You can also report the scam to the local authorities and to the Federal Trade Commission. Finally, it’s a good idea to  warn your friends and family members about the circulating scam.

Your Turn: How do you determine if you’ve been targeted by a pending package scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

The Path: Accelerating Your Journey to Financial Freedom

Title: The Path: Accelerating Your Journey to Financial Freedom

Authors: Peter Mallouk, Tony Robbins

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Post Hill Press

Publishing date:  Oct. 13, 2020

Who is this book for?

  • Wannabe investors of any age or stage
  • Experienced investors
  • Readers seeking financial freedom

What’s inside this book?

  • A step-by-step guide for achieving financial freedom
  • Strategies for mastering your money from an award-winning financial adviser and an expert business strategist
  • Real-life success stories from experienced and beginner investors

5 lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  • How markets behave and how to maintain peace of mind during times of volatility
  • How to chart a personalized course for financial security
  • How to select a financial adviser who prioritizes your own interests
  • How to navigate, select or reject the many types of investments available
  • Why success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure

4 questions this book will answer for you: 

  • What does the financial service industry not want me to know?
  • How can I achieve true fulfillment?
  • Is this a good time for me to start investing?
  • Can I still master my money at a late stage in life?

What people are saying about this book: 

  • “Peter Mallouk’s tour of the financial world is a tour de force that’ll change the way you think about money.” — Jonathan Clements
  • “Robbins is the best economic moderator that I’ve ever worked with. His mission to bring insights from the world’s greatest financial minds to the average investor is truly inspiring.” — Alan Greenspan
  • “Tony is a force of nature.” — Jack Bogle

Your Turn: Have you read The Path? Tell us what you found to be the most valuable advice or benefit of the book in the comments.

The Importance of Being Financially Fit

Are you ready to stretch those financial fitness muscles? We hope so, because it’s time to get financially fit!

Being financially fit means living a life of complete financial responsibility. The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), also known as the Financial Health Network, defines four basic components of financial health: Spend, Save, Borrow and Plan. These components reference everyday financial activities. As such, every choice you make in terms of these four activities either builds or detracts from your financial fitness. Like physical fitness, you can beef up those fitness muscles a little bit more each day.

Being financially fit is crucial for a well-balanced, stress-free life. Here’s why (and how):

Expand your financial knowledge

A financially fit person is constantly broadening their money knowledge. They read personal finance books and blogs, attend financial education seminars and are aware of the evolving state of the economy. This enables them to make monetary decisions from a position of knowledge and power, leaving much less up to chance or luck.

Stick to a budget

A financially fit person knows that tracking monthly expenses is key to financial health. They are careful to set aside money from their monthly income for all fixed and discretionary expenses and to stay within budget for each spending category.

Minimize debt

A financially fit person is committed to paying down debts and seeks to live debt-free. Constant budgeting, ongoing financial education and planning ahead enables them to make it through the month, and through unexpected expenses, without spiraling into debt.

Maximize savings 

A financially fit person prioritizes savings. In fact, savings is a fixed item on their monthly budget instead of something that only happens if there’s money left over. This allows them to think ahead and build a comfortable nest egg or emergency fund. In turn, having a robust safety net means sleeping better at night knowing there’s money available to cover unexpected expenses or a change in life circumstances.

Maintain complete awareness of the state of your finances

A financially fit person knows exactly how much money they owe, the accumulated value of their assets and the complete sum of their fixed and fluctuating expenses. This awareness takes the stress out of money management, allowing them to make better financial choices.

Maintain a healthy credit score

A financially fit person knows that an excellent credit history and score is a crucial component to long-term financial health. They are careful to pay all bills on time, hold onto their credit cards for a while and to keep their credit utilization low. This enables them to qualify for long-term loans with favorable interest rates, which saves them money for years to come.

Help your money go further

A financially fit person does not waste large sums of money on interest charges for purchases made using borrowed funds via credit cards or loans. They live within their means and only use these resources for purchases they can actually afford, or for large, long-term assets, like a car or a house. This means they have more funds at their disposal to help build their wealth through savings and investments.

Create concrete financial goals

A financially fit person has long-term and short-term financial goals. This enables them to keep their focus on the big picture when making everyday money choices, empowering them to actually realize their financial dreams.

Achieve financial independence

A financially fit person is independent. They don’t rely on loans from friends or family members to get by, and they don’t need to pay with plastic at the end of the month because they ran out of money. Their well-padded emergency fund means they don’t depend on their monthly income to put bread on the table, either. By sticking to a budget, prioritizing savings and maintaining an awareness of their finances, they are strong, secure and completely independent.

Being financially fit means living a life without battling anxiety about getting through the month or stressing about the future. You can achieve financial fitness by committing to making choices in each of the four components of financial health (spend, save, borrow, plan) that are forward-thinking and help to build your financial wellness.

Your Turn: Why is financial fitness so important? Share your reasons with us in the comments.

Learn More:
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What Do I Need to Know About Medicare?

Q: My 65th birthday is approaching and I’m ready to apply for Medicare. What do I need to know before signing up?

A: Medicare offers affordable health care coverage to older Americans, but the application process and the various options can be confusing. We have answers to all your questions about Medicare.

What is Medicare? 

Medicare is a federally funded program that provides health care coverage to Americans over age 65. It is generally also available to younger people with disabilities and people with end stage renal disease.

What are the different kinds of Medicare coverage?

There are two government-funded parts of Medicare:

  • Part A – Hospital Insurance. This coverage pays for inpatient hospital costs, is usually premium-free and is available to anyone age 65 or older who has worked — or whose spouse has worked — and paid Medicare taxes for a minimum of 10 years.
  • Part B – Medical Insurance. Medicare Part B offers coverage for services from doctors and other health care providers, outpatient hospital care, home health care, medical equipment and some preventive services. Part B is not free. Premiums vary by income level but are generally affordable. The standard monthly premium for Part B in 2020 is $144.60

There are also two privately obtained parts of Medicare:

  • Part C – Medicare Advantage. This plan provides extra coverage over Parts A and B and is offered by private insurance companies contracted with Medicare.
  • Part D – Prescription Drug Coverage. Also purchased through a private insurer, Part D offers full or partial coverage for prescription drugs.

Both Part C and Part D have monthly premiums, which vary in cost with each provider. There may be an annual deductible as well. Some people love the low costs and robust coverage of these plans, but some others find that they only cover a limited number of providers and are not worth the cost.

How do I apply for Medicare? 

If you’re ready to sign up for Medicare, you can apply online or in person at the nearest Social Security office. Applicants will need to provide their birth certificate or other proof of birth and proof of United States citizenship or legal residency.

What do I need to know before I apply for Medicare?

Before signing up for Medicare coverage, it’s best to learn these important facts:

  • You have a seven-month window to enroll in Medicare. Medicare eligibility begins at age 65, but applicants can sign up three months before the month of their 65th birthday, and up to three months after their birth month. Benefits are retroactive dating back to the applicant’s 65th birthday.
  • It pays to enroll on time. Signing up for Medicare during the initial enrollment window is crucial. It ensures the applicant has coverage in place should the need for it arise, and it helps the applicant avoid lifelong surcharges on Part B premiums. Otherwise, applicants face a 10% increase on these premiums for each year-long period they were eligible for Medicare but did not enroll.

What if I missed my Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)?

If an applicant has missed their IEP, they’ll need to enroll during the General Enrollment Period, which runs from Jan. 1 through March 31 each year. Applicants can also make changes to their general coverage during this time.

Can I make changes to my Medicare plan?

If you’d like to make changes to your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Prescription Drug plan, you can do so during the annual Medicare Advantage open enrollment period. This year, open enrollment will be from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2020. Any changes made during this period will take effect in January 2021.

Can I sign up for Medicare if I already have health coverage?

Many employees stay on at their jobs past their 65th birthday and will continue to enjoy the health coverage provided by their employer. These employees do not need to sign up for Medicare as soon as they hit 65 — they’ll be given a special enrollment period later on that will allow them to avoid the surcharges of late enrollment.

If an employee wants to keep their employer health coverage and also get coverage through Medicare, that is permitted as an option. In this scenario, Medicare would be used as a secondary insurance and the applicant would sign up for Part A, since that coverage is free and will be used to fill in the gaps of the employer’s insurance plan.

Your Turn: Have you recently applied for Medicare? Share your best tips with us in the comments.