Messaging Apps

WhatsApp logo - WhatsApp text with dialog balloon filled with grass green fill color with white classic rotary phone handset icon in balloonWhatsApp
The Facebook-owned messaging app debuted in 2009 as a mobile alternative to Skype. Now, just a decade later, it has easily cornered the market with a user base topping one billion.

WhatsApp offers users an extensive platform for text and video messaging along with a brilliant, cellular-powered voice call feature, allowing users to connect from around the world. There’s no word or minute count with WhatsApp; the only limit is your data.

Best features
WhatsApp offers a simple, clear interface that’s easy to use and everything you’d expect from a messaging app; however, its best feature may actually be its popularity. With 1.5 billion users in more than 180 countries, it’s safe to assume the contact you’re messaging or calling is a WhatsApp user, too.

Aside from its broad reach and many convenient features, WhatsApp has distinguished itself from other messaging apps though its outstanding network connection, especially in picking up dropped calls.

Glaring glitches
The one feature missing on WhatsApp’s platform is the message self-destruct feature. Unless you connect to a third-party app like Kaboom, your WhatsApp messages are there to stay.

Some users also complain that WhatsApp calls don’t offer the clearest connection.
Viber logo - purple dialog balloon with a white classic rotary handset and the word "Viber" in white. "Connect. Freely" is written in purple print underneath the balloon.

Viber
With over 800 million users, Viber is easily WhatsApp’s biggest competitor. The messaging app created a name for itself by being the first of its kind to offer the ability to seamlessly transfer calls between mobile devices and desktop computers.

Best Features
The primary feature setting Viber apart is its high-bandwidth connections, which allow for HD-quality voice calls. There’s nothing tinny or fuzzy about a Viber call; it’s all crisp and clear. If you’ll be using your messaging app primarily for phone calls, this may be a deciding factor for you.

Viber’s huge selection of stickers to add to your messages is another outstanding feature that is a favorite with the younger crowd.

The app also offers self-destructing messages that delete after a predetermined amount of time for added privacy.

Glaring Glitches
Viber has a rich interface that many users find cluttered and complicated. The vast library of stickers can also be overwhelming, not to mention further complicating the interface. If you like your apps clean and simple, this issue may really annoy you.
Viber’s smaller user base, (1.1 billion users) is another negative point of the app. Like WhatsApp, Viber allows you to call Viber users all over the world at no cost. But, if you want to use the app to call a non-Viber user, you’ll have to pay a small fee.

How they stack up

App NameNumber of UsersMessage Self-DestructClean InterfaceClear Connections
WhatsApp1.5 billion as of 2019NoYesNo
Viber1.1 billion as of 2019YesNoYes

Your Turn:
Are you a WhatsApp addict, or do you prefer Viber? A dark horse third option, perhaps? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
pcmag.com
webwise.ie
whatsapp.com
viber.com

Take Caution Before You Borrow Someone’s Charging Cable

Young black male teen enjoys content on his phone that is plugged into a wall charger.You know the feeling. It’s like a bona fide coffee addict running low on caffeine, or like a hiker almost out of drinking water. You’re travelling and your phone is running low on juice. Frantic, you’re searching for a place to plug in and recharge. The last thing you want is to be completely stranded in a strange place with no way to order an Uber or pay for your dinner. In one last desperate move, you search through your bag for the charging cable you always keep there – and then you remember you lent it to your friend and never got it back.

What to do?

And then, like an angel, a stranger appears out of nowhere with a friendly smile on their face. They’re holding a wonderful, beautiful charging cable in their hands.

“Do you want to use this?” they ask.

What do you do?

A. Smile your thanks, grab the cable and plug in your phone.
B. Say “No, thank you,” before walking away, dead smartphone and all.

If you chose B, you made the right decision. Cybersecurity experts are warning against using a stranger’s charging cable or even borrowing one from an airport official or front-desk concierge at a hotel.

“There are certain things in life that you just don’t borrow,” says Charles Henderson, global managing partner and head of X-Force Red at IBM Security. “If you were on a trip and realized you forgot to pack underwear, you wouldn’t ask all your co-travelers if you could borrow their underwear. You’d go to a store and buy new underwear.”

Henderson heads a team of hackers that clients privately hire to break into their computers to identify vulnerabilities before blackhat hackers do. Henderson’s team will often send clients a compromised iPhone cable in the mail to see if the client will plug it in or if they’ve learned to be more cautious by discarding the charger instead.

Henderson warns that cyberhackers can easily implant charging cables with malware that can be used to hijack mobile devices and computers. This can spell complete disaster for the desperate traveler who graciously accepted the spare cable from their fellow passenger and plugged in their device.

At the annual DEF CON Hacking Conference in Las Vegas, a hacker known as MG showed the attendees how he had modified an iPhone lightning cable to serve as a hacking device. MG used the cable to connect an iPod to a Mac computer and then remotely accessed the cable’s IP address to take control of the Mac. These compromised cables are available on the Darknet for just $200 each.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that charging cables left over by previous guests in the front desk of the hotel are any better than a cable offered by a stranger.

“If the front desk had a drawer full of underwear,” says Henderson, “would you wear those?”

Unlike most scams aiming for as wide a target base as possible, using a charging cable to hack a victim’s device can only be pulled off on one victim at a time. Lucky for us, this means the charging cable hack isn’t as popular or widespread – yet. Henderson warns that the relatively inexpensive technology required for the hack and the fact that it is so easy to make the cable look completely innocent could mean an upsurge in these scams in the near future.

For now, it’s best to be aware of this threat and to practice caution when travelling.

Henderson adds that using public USB charging stations is currently a larger threat than compromised cables. These stations can easily be compromised and open your device to all sorts of malware and vulnerabilities. It’s best to use your own charger at all times.

“In a computing context, sharing cables is like sharing your password,” says Henderson, “because that’s the level of access you’re crucially conveying with these types of technology.”

To avoid falling victim to this hack, always pack an extra charging cable in your handbag. If you forgot to take one along or you can’t seem to find it, purchase a new one to use while you’re away. You can find charging cables in almost any convenience store for under $10 – a small investment for your safety.

The next time you’re running low on juice and a stranger offers you the use of their charging cable, make the safe choice!

Your Turn:
Have you ever been targeted by using a borrowed charging cable? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
forbes.com
headtopics.com
frnews.ng

Step 10 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Make It Automatic

Young black woman manages her finances and checks her credit card balances on a laptopNow that you’re maximizing your payments toward the debt you’ve prioritized, make sure it happens by automating your payments. Set up an automatic transfer in your designated amount from your checking account or your savings account to that debt each month, and it will be well on its way to disappearing!

Your Turn: How much time can you save each month by making all of your payments automatic? Brag about it in the comments!

Thanksgiving Hacks To Save Time, Stress And Money

View from inside of oven - young man removes perfectly baked turkey from oven.Thanksgiving prep stressing you out? Wondering how you’re going to get everything done in time for the big day and stick to your budget at the same time?
We’re here to help! Whether you’re travelling home for the holiday or hosting a houseful of guests, we’ve got you covered. Advantage One Credit Union is proud to present 15 clever Thanksgiving hacks to save you time, stress and money as you prepare for Turkey Day.

1. Book your flight early
If you’re flying home for Thanksgiving, book your flight as early as possible – preferably in September. According to travel app, SkyScanner, booking a Thanksgiving flight in September can save you 4 percent off the ticket price.

2. Travel light
You likely won’t be gone for long. Plus, if you’re going home, you can always dig up something to wear if you haven’t packed for every occasion. Why waste all that time packing and pay for extra bag-checking?

3. Get an accurate guest count as early as possible
If you’re hosting, this should be your first step – even before you start thinking menus and recipes. Find out exactly how many guests you’re expecting for Thanksgiving dinner so you don’t overcook or need to run out at the last minute for more groceries.

4. Plan your menu early
Draw up an exact menu as early as possible before you start stocking up on ingredients. This way, you won’t pick up random food items just in case you may end up needing them.

5. Take stock of your pantry and fridge before shopping
Don’t buy a thing until you know what you already have at home, this way you won’t be unpacking three cans of pumpkin filling from your grocery bag only to find you already have four cans sitting in your pantry.

6. Shop early and shop the sales
Most supermarkets spread their sales weeks before the big day.. Save big by picking up what you need, as it gets marked down in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. As always, be sure to monitor coupon sites like Coupon.com, Flipp.com and RetailMeNot, as well as local circulars, to see what’s on sale before hitting the stores.

7. Use a cooler as a fridge
As you cook your way through your menu, refrigerator space will become a precious commodity. Make room by using a cooler to store bottles of salad dressing and condiments you don’t need for Thanksgiving. Fill the cooler two-thirds of the way with ice so your banished foods don’t go bad, and keep it in the garage until your fridge is roomy once again. Use the space these items leave behind in your fridge to store the dishes you’ll need for the great feast.

8. Use pennies instead of pie weights
You need to pre-bake your pie shells before filling them, but you don’t want the shells to puff up and crack. Professional bakers recommend using a pie weight to keep this from happening, but there’s no need to waste money on yet another kitchen gadget. Instead, line your pie shell with foil and then fill the center with pennies or dried beans to keep the dough weighed down as it bakes.

9. Keep your mashed potatoes in your slow cooker
No one wants cold and lumpy mashed potatoes with their turkey, but how do you keep yours soft and smooth when every burner on your stovetop is occupied in the hours leading up to Thanksgiving dinner? With this hack, of course! After preparing your potatoes, spread some butter on your slow-cooker insert, add some heavy cream or milk and then pour in the potatoes. Keep the temperature on low and stir occasionally to keep the spuds soft and creamy.

10. Use aluminum foil instead of a roasting rack
There’s no need to rush out and buy a pricey roasting rack so your turkey can cook evenly. You can get the same results by fashioning a rack out of aluminum foil. Twist some foil into thick ropes and weave them across the bottom of your roasting pan until they’re strong enough to hold your bird.

11. Spray-paint plastic fruit instead of springing on expensive décor
You can find fake fruit for super-cheap at dollar stores-or you may already have some at home. Spray-paint the fruit in gold, silver or any colors that match your décor for a festive look that doesn’t break the budget.

12. Buy a frozen turkey
Frozen turkeys are a lot cheaper than their fresh counterparts, and if you prepare it well, no one will be able to tell the difference.

13. Buy in bulk
You can save a ton on your ingredients by buying in bulk. If you can’t see yourself using up a mammoth sack of potatoes or an enormous amount of cranberry sauce, find a friend who is also hosting Thanksgiving dinner and ask about splitting the cost and the item. You’ll still save a ton off the regular price.

14. Skip the appetizer
Appetizers can take a ridiculous amount of time to prepare, and you don’t want your guests filling up on miniature fried wontons before you bring out your turkey with all the trimmings. Consider skipping the appetizer this year and just starting with a tossed salad.

15. Cook most things from scratch
Convenience is important, especially when your to-do list outpaces your available time, but some shortcuts are just not worth the cost. Instant mashed potatoes and store-bought gravy don’t come close to the authentic version and can be a real waste of money.
Sometimes, though, if preparing something yourself means purchasing a pricey item for a small end-product, like pumpkin pie filling or cranberry sauce, you’re better off going with the pre-made stuff.

If you don’t think you can possibly do it all without buying as much premade as you can, split the smaller items on your to-do list with a neighbor or a friend who is also hosting dinner, and share the goods. We promise not to tell your guests.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union.

Your Turn:
Do you have any genius Thanksgiving hacks? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
foodnetwork.com
makinglemonadeblog.com
moneypantry.com

6 Ways To Keep Your Finances Intact This Holiday Season

Middle aged black woman holiday shops online from the comfort of her cozy living room‘Tis the season to shop until you drop-or until you go broke. But you don’t have to overspend. There’s no need to rack up a huge credit card bill or go into debt just to cover your holiday expenses. Enjoy a stress-free season by keeping your spending in check with these six tips:

  1. Create a detailed list of all your expenses
    Don’t leap into your holiday shopping armed with nothing but a credit card. Before you hit the mall or start browsing, sit down and draw up a complete list of every holiday expense you can anticipate. Include all gifts, holiday décor, travel expenses, charitable donations and food costs. Try to keep this list as trim as possible by cutting out any non-essentials and using stuff you may already have in storage from previous years. Bonus points for any homemade gifts!
  2. Determine how much money you can spend
    Once you have all of your expenses written out, work on finding a magic number that will cover everything on your list and that you can realistically afford. Ideally, this money should come from funds you’ve set aside just for this purpose.
  3. Divide and conquer
    Next, assign specific amounts of money in your budget for each expense category and for every person on your gift list. For example, you can decide to spend $300 on your preteen daughter’s gifts and to donate $100 to charity this season. Again, make sure your numbers will work from both a financial and practical perspective.
  4. Track as you shop
    You’re ready to hit the mall! As you shop, keep a careful account of exactly how much money you’ve spent for each person and in each expense category. It’s best to use cash or a debit card when shopping, and to review your budget often to make sure you’re staying on track. This way, you’ll know how much you’re spending and you won’t be hit by awful “Santa shock” come January when you need to pay those credit card bills.

    To make this job easier, use an app designed for this purpose. A common favorite is one called Santa’s Bag. The app allows you to set a budget for each person on your list and then makes tracking the amount you spend super simple. It will even warn you when you’re nearing your preset spending limit or when you’ve gone over budget.

  5. Shop smartly and spend less
    Keep your spending to a minimum by following these hacks:

    1. Use shopping apps
      Use the Coupons App and Shopular, to get your favorite retailers’ best deals and coupons delivered right to your phone.
    2. Follow the 24-hour rule
      Before purchasing anything on the expensive side, wait 24 hours. Sometimes, after sleeping on it, you’ll find that you don’t need to buy that pricey gift after all. Or, you might find the same item somewhere else at a lower price.
    3. Shop online on Tuesday morning
      Research shows this time of week is when you’ll find the hottest online deals.
      Shop with a friend. Take advantage of BOGO sales by splitting the cost of a single item with a friend and each of you taking one item home.
      Shop late. Everyone likes to get an early start on holiday shopping, but prices actually drop in the weeks leading up to Christmas as retailers seek to clear out their holiday inventory.
  6. Let Advantage One Credit Union help
    If you’re having trouble covering your holiday expenses, or you want to get a head start on next year’s costs, let Advantage One Credit Union help! Here are three ways we can take the financial stress out of the holiday season:

    1. Skip-a-Payment
      We get it. The holidays are crazy expensive. That’s why we allow qualifying members to skip a payment on a qualifying loan this time of year without hurting their credit or defaulting on their loan. It’s extra breathing room, just when you need it most!
    2. Personal Loan
      If you can’t come up with the funds you need for the holidays, consider taking out a Winter Loan. Our fantastic terms and affordable rates make it a no-brainer!
    3. Christmas Club Account
      Spread the cost of the holidays across the year with an account created just for that purpose. You’ll set aside a little bit of money each month into your Christmas Club Account, and next year, when the holiday season rolls around, you’ll have all the funds you need on hand.

Don’t let financial stress ruin your holiday cheer this year. Follow our tips to keep your spending down, and stop by Advantage One Credit Union to see how we can help!

Your Turn:
How do you get through the holidays with your finances intact? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
thebalance.com
investopedia.com
mentalfloss.com

The Ultimate Smart Shoppers Cheat Sheet

Middle-aged woman in business attire shopping for a new stove in a big-box appliance store.You’ve already perfected your monthly shopping schedule to get the best possible prices throughout the year: linens in January; luggage in March; household appliances in May; patio furniture in September and wedding dresses in December.

But, did you know you should be timing your shopping throughout the week as well? That’s because each weekday brings its own deals and specials. There are some items you can get the cheapest on Wednesdays, others that are best bought on Fridays and still others that will see their biggest markdowns on Sundays.

Here’s the ultimate cheat sheet for your weekly shopping.

Sunday: Large household appliances
Does your refrigerator need replacing? Looking to swap out your oven for a newer model? Home improvement stores, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, tend to mark down their large appliances on Sundays.

Monday: Deals on wheels and electronics
If you’re in the market for a new car, hit the dealer’s lot on Monday. Car dealerships are busiest over the weekend, and the comparative quiet of a Monday will put you in a favorable position to negotiate a great price on a new car. [Don’t forget to stop by Advantage One Credit Union to ask about our auto loans before you start shopping!]

You’ll also want to check out the large chain stores for discounted electronics on the first business day of the week. Stores like Best Buy offer exclusive manufacturer rebates on Mondays, which can significantly lower the price of an expensive product.

Tuesdays: Houses, airline travel and more
Tuesdays are the recommended weekday for making an offer on a house, particularly the first Tuesday of the month. This is when most sellers will review the activity surrounding their home from the last month and be more open to accepting an offer that’s considerably lower than their original asking price.

If you’re looking to fly in the near future, book your flight on a Tuesday morning. According to data analyses performed by travel-planning company Skyscanner, airlines mark down flight prices by 15-25 percent late each Monday evening. By Tuesday morning, competing airlines will offer matching or lower prices, giving you the best selection of affordable flights.

Tuesdays are also great for purchasing computers online from major retailers, like HP or Dell. Don’t look for discounted MacBooks, though, as Apple rarely marks down its products.

For a terrific way to end your Tuesday, go see a movie. Tickets to the latest blockbusters are usually discounted during the mid-week slump.

Wednesdays: Groceries, discounted apparel and fuel
Forget the weekend grocery run; the best time to restock your pantry and fridge is on Wednesday. Most supermarkets roll out their new sale events on this day, rearrange their aisle end-caps and slap discounts onto perishable products that are left over from the beginning of the week, such as meat, poultry and cheese. If you can swing it, shop early to take full advantage of the sales. Feel free to load up on the marked-down perishables, which will still be days away from their sell-by date. Stick them in the freezer if you won’t use them before they go stale. You’ll also get the biggest bang for your buck in the produce aisle on Wednesdays, when most groceries set out a fresh display of fruits and vegetables.

If you’re a fan of discounted quality clothing, you’ll want to hit TJ Maxx and Marshalls on Wednesdays, as this is when these stores post their new markdowns. Old Navy also features new discounts on Wednesdays.

Unless gas prices are on a downward spiral, fill ‘er up on Wednesday! Weekly gas hikes will take effect over the weekend, often as early as Thursday morning.

Thursday: Clothing, shoes and handbags
Get first dibs on weekend clothing sales at the big-name stores by hitting the mall late on Thursday. Shop for matching footwear with in-store coupons, which also debut on Thursday. Then, complete your new look with a new handbag, which see steep online discounts each Thursday.

Friday: Accessories
Pick up your costume jewelry, belts and scarves on Fridays to score the best prices. According to Lifehacker, online accessories see an average discount of 42 percent on the last workday of the week.

Saturday: Books and yard sale treasures
Amazon offers discounts on books and e-books on most Saturdays, so you’ll want to check out the e-tailer giant at the beginning of the weekend for the best selection at the best prices.

Saturdays are also prime time to pick up treasures at neighborhood yard sales and thrift stores. You’ll get the best picks in the early morning hours, but you’ll score the hottest deals later on in the day when the owners are itching to get rid of all their wares and close up shop.

Your Turn:
Is there a weekday shopping hack that has worked for you? Tell us your secret shopping strategy in the comments.

Learn More:
thekrazycouponlady.com
aol.com
dcrstrategies.com
thekrazycouponlady.com/cheatsheet
rather-be-shopping.com

Can I Buy A House When I’m Paying Off A Student Loan?

A young couple sits on the lawn of their modest home watching their two young children play in the yardQ: I graduated college with a huge student loan debt. Since then, I’ve landed a decent job and I’ve been making steady payments toward paying down my loan. Is it possible for me to buy a house while I’m still paying off this debt?
A: Student loan debt that is managed responsibly should not hold you back from purchasing a house. There are several important factors to consider before making this choice and steps you’ll want to take before you start house-hunting.
Are you really ready to buy a house?
Before you take a look at your finances to determine if you can pull off this purchase, make sure this goal is in your best interest.
For starters, do you really know which city or neighborhood you’d like to live in at this point in your life? You are likely just starting out in your career and you might be better off with the flexibility that comes with renting. This way, if an excellent employment opportunity requiring a move arises, you’ll be free to accept it. You also may or may not have settled down in terms of a life partner. It generally does not pay to buy a home you’ll only live in for a few years before selling.
Next, think about the financial ramifications of this purchase. Are you really comfortable taking on another huge loan right now? Also, you will likely have to live with a bare-bones budget to meet your mortgage payments without neglecting your student loan debt. Do you really want to live with a no-frills spending plan in the foreseeable future?
Consider these questions carefully before making your decision.
Getting started: Boost your credit
Once you’ve determined if it would be beneficial for you to purchase a home right now, you’ll want to start improving your credit. Your credit wellness is the primary factor that home lenders consider when deciding if you’re eligible for a mortgage. It also figures into the rate they will offer you.
Here are some ways you can boost your credit score in the months leading up to your mortgage application:
  • Pay all your bills on time. Set up automatic payments to make it effortless.
  • Keep your credit utilization at less than 30 percent.
  • Pay your credit card bills in full, and before they’re due.
  • Don’t close old accounts or open new cards. You want your credit history to be lengthy, and both of these steps can significantly bring down your average.
How high is your DTI?
Lots of young college graduates think it’s impossible, or difficult, to obtain a mortgage when carrying student loan debt. In fact, a 2018 Student Loan Hero survey found that 43% of college-educated Americans with student loans postponed buying a home because of their student debt.
Lucky for you, there is very little truth to this concern. As mentioned above, a student loan that is handled well should not be a deterrent to getting a mortgage. To make sure you’re managing your student debt responsibly, set up automatic monthly payments on your loan so you never miss a payment or a due date.
In addition, make an effort to pay your student loan back as quickly as possible so it doesn’t reflect badly on your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Since taking out a mortgage means accepting more debt, lenders are careful to check that you aren’t carrying too much other debt. Ideally, your total debt payments, including your mortgage, should account for less than 36 percent of your income.
If your DTI is on the high side, you may not be eligible for a mortgage just yet. Consider refinancing your student loan to a loan with lower interest rates so you can pay it off sooner and then apply for a mortgage when your DTI improves. You can also look for ways to increase your income to tilt your debt ratio in your favor.
If you’re carrying any other debt, such as credit card debt, you’ll want to pay it down as quickly as possible as well.
Determine how much house you can afford
Before you start shopping for a home, find out how much house you can actually afford. The best way to obtain this information is by applying for a preapproval from a home lender. This will tell you exactly how high you can go while showing sellers that you’re serious about buying.
If you won’t need your pre-approval just yet, but you’d like an idea of how much you’ll need to save for a down payment, you can use an online mortgage calculator to get your magic number.
Start saving for a down payment
Once you have your numbers worked out, you’ll need to save up for a down payment. Trim your budget in any way you can and look for side hustles to boost your income and make saving simple. Then, set up an automatic monthly transfer to your Advantage One Credit Union Savings Account so your money can grow while you sleep.
At this point, you may want to look into a local down-payment assistance program or a federal loan program, such as an FHA loan, which only requires a down payment of 3.5 percent. If you live in a rural area, you might qualify for a USDA loan, and if you’ve served in the military, you’re likely eligible for a VA loan.
[When you’re ready to take this step forward, call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union to find out about our home loans. Our rates and hassle-free pre-approval process make a Advantage One Credit Union home loan an excellent choice!]
Your Turn: Do you think it’s a good idea for college graduates to buy a house while they’re paying off a student loan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Learn More:

Step 9 of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Put All Windfalls In Your Snowball

Young man and woman look at one another happily over fanned 1 dollar bills in their hands.Let your debt snowball grow by packing it with all your unexpected windfalls. Seasonal bonus at work? Add all or most of it to your snowball. Unexpected refund? Let it go toward paying down your debt. Birthday gift money from Great Aunt Sally? You know where it’s going!

It isn’t easy to say goodbye to an unexpected windfall, but all that extra money will help you reach your goal that much sooner.

Your Turn:
Which windfalls did you pack into your debt snowball this month?

Your Complete Guide To Identity Theft Protection

Young woman in business attire seated at an outdoor cafe stares worriedly at a laptop screen with her head in her hands.Did you know there were 14.4 million victims of identity theft in 2018? According to Javelin Strategy, each case cost the victim an average of $1,050 – and that’s only the cost in dollars. When an individual’s identity is stolen, the thief wreaks major havoc on the victim’s financial health, which can take months, or even years, to recover from.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming the next victim. Here is your complete guide to identity theft protection.

1. Monitor your credit
One of the best preventative measures you can take against identity theft is monitoring your credit. You can check your credit score for free on sites like CreditKarma.com and order an annual report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditreport.com. Also remember that Advantage One offers members a free annual credit checkup as well. However you obtain your score, be sure to check for any sudden hits and look through your reports for suspicious activity. It’s also a good idea to review your monthly credit card bills for any charges you don’t remember making.

2. Use multi-factor authentication
When banking online, or using any other service that utilizes sensitive information, always choose multi-factor authentication. If possible, use your thumbprint as one means of identification. Otherwise, use multiple passwords, PINs or personal questions to make it difficult for a hacker to break into your accounts.

3. Use strong unique passwords
Never use identical passwords for multiple accounts. If you do so, you’re making yourself an easier target for identity thieves. Instead, create strong, unique passwords for every account you use. The strongest passwords use a variety of letters, symbols and numbers, and are never mock-ups or replicas of popular phrases or words.

If you find it difficult to remember multiple passwords, consider using a free password service, like LastPass. You’ll only need to remember one master password and the service will safely store the rest.

4. Only use Wi-Fi with a VPN
Did you know you are putting your personal information at risk every time you use the free Wi-Fi at your neighborhood coffee shop (or any other public establishment)? When using public Wi-Fi, always choose a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of your default Wi-Fi settings to keep the sensitive information on your device secure.

5. Block robocalls
Lots of identity theft occurs via robocalls in which the scammer impersonates a government official or the representative of a well-known company. Lower the number of robocalls reaching your home by adding your home number to the Federal Trade Commission’s No Call List at donotcall.gov. It’s also a good practice to ignore all calls from unfamiliar numbers, because each engagement encourages the scammers to try again.

6. Upgrade your devices
Whenever possible, upgrade the operating system of your computer, tablet and phone to the latest versions. Upgraded systems will keep you safe from the most recent security breaches and offer you the best protection against viruses and hacks.

7. Shred old documents
While most modern-day identity theft is implemented over the internet or through phone calls, lots of criminals still use old-fashioned means to get the information they need. Dumpster-divers will paw through trashed papers until they hit upon a missive that contains personal information. It’s best to shred all documents containing sensitive information as soon as you don’t need them.

8. Keep personal information personal
Be super-cautious about sharing sensitive data, like your Social Security number and banking PINs, with strangers – and even with friends. It’s also a good idea to use the strongest, most private security settings on your social media accounts to keep hackers out.

9. Invest in identity theft protection
If you’re still nervous about being the next victim of identity theft, you may want to sign up for an identity-theft protection service. Advantage One offers affordable Identity Theft Protection service in conjunction with our Benefits Plus checking account. Other services don’t come cheap, but services like LifeLock and IdentityForce will monitor your personal information online and immediately alert you about any suspicious activity.

Identity theft can be an expensive nightmare. Be proactive about protecting your identity and keep your information and your money safe.

Your Turn:
Which safety procedures do you follow in order to protect yourself from identity theft? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
safesmartliving.com
wisebread.com
centsai.com

Understanding The Credit Card Trap

Young couple uses credit card to pay for their stay at a pricey hotelDid you know the average American household carries $6,358 in credit card debt?

If that doesn’t sound too alarming, consider this: A debt of $5,000 with an interest rate of 24.99% (which is the current rate of a typical Capital One or Citibank card), where only the minimum payment is made each month and no additional charges are made to the card, accumulates $4,823 in interest over five years. That means the cardholder would be paying nearly double the amount that was originally spent!

Why do most Americans carry so much credit card debt and find themselves stuck in the debt trap? Let’s take a deeper look at credit card usage, debt and interest rates so we can understand this phenomenon and ensure credit cards are used responsibly.

The minimum payment mindset
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research website, a third of credit card holders make just the minimum payment each month.

Here’s how it usually happens: You use your card for a purchase you can’t really afford, or you want to defer paying for it from your savings. When your credit card bill arrives, you either choose to make just the minimum payment or it is all you can afford to pay at the time. You figure you’ll pay off the rest when your finances improve. Soon, you’re in the trap of pulling out your card whenever you want to purchase something beyond your budget. Since you’re only making the minimum payment, it seems like it doesn’t matter all that much if your credit card debt grows a little larger. From there, the cycle continues as debt climbs and you continue using your card for purchases you’d be better off not making.

This is a quick illustration to show how your “small balance” of just a few thousand dollars can really mean paying more than double that amount over the years because of interest.

Also, when you’re trapped in this mindset, your balance barely budges. With a debt of $5,000 and a minimum monthly payment of $150 (at 3% of the total balance), you’ll only be paying $47.30 each month toward your principal. The rest goes toward your interest accrued.

Take a moment to think about this the next time you decide to use your credit card to pay for something you can’t afford. Is it worth paying $5,000 over the next five years for a $2,500 vacation?

Credit scores and prolonged debt
Another important aspect of prolonged credit card debt is the detrimental effect it can have on your credit score. Your credit score gives potential lenders and employers an idea of how financially responsible you are.

One of the crucial factors used in determining your credit score is your debt ratio, or the percentage of available credit that you’ve already spent. In most credit score formulas, the more credit you’ve used, the lower your score. If you’ve fallen into the habit of using your credit card whenever you’re short on cash, and are only making the minimum payment each month, you likely use a high percentage of your available credit.

Even worse is when your credit card company sees that you’re running low on available credit, and may offer to increase your line — or even do it automatically. If you agree to the upgrade, there’s nothing stopping you from racking up another huge bill, further decreasing your score.

Another important component of your credit score is the trajectory of your debt. If you’re barely making progress on your balance, you won’t score high in this area either.

A low credit score can prevent you from qualifying for a mortgage, auto loan or even an employment opportunity. If you do get approved for such loans with your less than stellar credit score, you’ll likely be saddled with a hefty interest rate, which significantly increases your monthly payments and the overall interest you’ll pay.

Is it really worth racking up that credit card bill?

Should I throw out all of my credit cards?
Hold onto your cards. You need to have some open and active cards for maintaining a healthy credit score; however, it’s important you use your cards responsibly.

First, be careful not to fall prey to the minimum payment mindset. Live within your means and learn to find happiness in what you have instead of chasing the elusive and transient thrill of material possessions. Before using your card for something you can’t afford, imagine this purchase haunting you for years to come. Is it worth paying double the amount it costs in interest payments? Is it worth harming your financial health?

Second, if you’re already carrying a large credit card balance, stop using that card and work on increasing the amount you pay off each month. Even a relatively small monthly increase can make a big difference in the total amount you ultimately pay toward your balance.

Third, to use your cards responsibly and keep your score high, it’s best to use your credit card for non-discretionary payments, like your monthly utility bills. This way, you’ll be keeping your accounts active without running the risk of overspending. Remember to pay your credit card bill on time to avoid paying interest.

Finally, take a long look at your current cards. What’s the interest rate on your cards? As mentioned above, the current interest rate on a typical Capital One card is 24.99%, which can nearly double a balance of a few thousand dollars over the course of five years. Look at alternatives, like an Advantage One Platinum Rewards Visa® credit card that may offer you a substantially lower rate. If the new card rate is substantially lower, you could literally save yourself thousands of dollars over the coming years.

Your Turn:
Have you gotten yourself out of the minimum payment trap? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
nytimes.com
creditkarma.com
genxfinance.com