Leaving Your Job? Make Sure Your Wallet is Ready

One of the many pandemic’s lasting effects on the U.S. economy is the so-called Great Resignation of 2021. Employees are voluntarily leaving their jobs in droves. In fact, according to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, a whopping 20.2 million workers left their jobs from May 2021 through September 2021. Reasons for the high turnover range from availability of federal economic aid to general burnout, which reached a turning point during the pandemic. 

If you are considering becoming a part of the Great Resignation, it’s important to make sure your finances are in order before you give official notice at your job to cover any gaps in employment. Below, we’ve outlined some important steps to take before you leave your job.  

Review your savings

Before giving up a steady paycheck, make sure you have enough savings to tide you over until you find new employment. Ideally, you should have an emergency fund with 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses to help you survive periods of unemployment, such as when you’re between jobs.  If you don’t have this kind of money saved up, consider pushing off your resignation until you can put together a nest egg to help you get by without a paycheck. 

Check your benefits 

If your job includes employee benefits, like retirement funding, be sure to review them carefully before giving notice. Here are different options to consider for the most common employee benefits: 

  • Health insurance. Work-sponsored health coverage generally ends on an employee’s last day at work, though coverage will sometimes continue until the end of the month. Similarly, some companies start covering new employees on their first day of work, while others have a waiting period that can last from 30 to 90 days. If you’ll have a gap in coverage, try to negotiate for early coverage when securing your new job. If this is not possible, thanks to COBRA, you can continue your current health coverage at your own expense for 18 months after you leave your job. It’s important to note, though, that this can be a pricey option. You can also purchase a short-term policy through the marketplace. 
  • Pension. If your previous place of employment came with a pension, you may be able to keep it or take out the money when you leave. This depends on whether or not your contributions are vested and the other rules of the pension plan. In general, if you were only at this job for a short while, you likely will not be able to hold onto your pension. If you have a choice, it can be better not to take out a pension in a lump sum because you will likely get a better return with a pension than on other investments. If you do take out your pension, you may want to roll it over into an IRA or a 401(k), which is tax-deferred. 
  • 401(k). If your old job came with a 401(k), you’ll need to decide what to do with the funds. You can keep the account as it is without making any additional contributions, roll over the funds to a new 401(k) program, roll the money over into an IRA or cash it out. Consider the investment options in your current 401(k) when making your decision. 
  • Life insurance. Don’t forget to consider a possible gap in your life insurance coverage when leaving a job. You may be able to continue paying for coverage until you have a new plan through your next place of employment. 

Assess your risk tolerance

Before accepting a new job, make sure you can handle a possible blow to your income. Many jobs will present new employees with the possibility of better pay in the future, while initially only offering a starting salary. How comfortable are you taking a risk with a new job that doesn’t guarantee as much financial security? 

Adjust your budget for your new salary

If your new job comes with better pay, or you’ll be bringing home a smaller paycheck for now, you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly. You may want to increase the contributions you make toward your investments or find a new place to park your cash, such as a Advantage One Credit Union Savings Account, for the extra income while you decide on a more permanent strategy. On the flip side, if you’ll be earning less money now, look for ways to trim your budget so your paycheck can stretch to cover all your expenses. 

Leaving an old job and looking for a new one can be an exciting opportunity, but it’s important to make sure your finances are in order before taking that leap. Follow the tips outlined here before giving notice at your place of employment to ensure ongoing financial security.  

Your Turn: Have you recently changed jobs? Share your best tips and strategies in the comments. 

What are the Tax Benefits of Owning a Home

Q: I’m in the market for my first home, and I’m trying to get a complete picture of how owning a home will affect my finances. What are the tax benefits of owning a home?  

A: Owning a home can provide you with significant tax benefits. It’s important to learn how home ownership can impact your taxes so you know which home-related expenses to claim on your returns for maximizing your savings potential. 

Before we explore the specifics, let’s review how an income tax deduction works. A deduction reduces your taxable income by a percentage, which depends on your tax bracket. You can choose to take the standard deduction ($12,550 for individuals filing as single taxpayers, or $25,100 for married couples filing jointly) or to itemize your deductions, which involves listing each eligible deduction separately. After adding up the total of your itemized deductions, you’ll multiply that amount by your tax bracket for your total deduction. 

With this understanding, let’s take a deeper look at the tax benefits of owning a home. 

Tax benefits of buying a home

Purchasing a home offers the buyer several tax benefits. 

First, with the exception of very large loans, you can generally deduct the cost of the points you paid when securing your mortgage. If you’ve refinanced your original mortgage and paid points when taking out your new loan, the cost of these points can be deducted as well. 

Second, if you are an active-duty member of the armed services, you may be able to deduct your moving expenses from your taxable income. However, this tax perk is limited to active servicepeople who need to move because of a permanent change of station due to a military order. 

Tax benefits of owning a home  

There are multiple ongoing tax benefits to owning a home:

  • Mortgage interest deduction. Most homeowners can deduct the interest payments they make on their mortgage from their taxable income. There may be limits on how much you can deduct, which is dependent on how large your loan is. 
  • Real estate taxes. The money you pay in property taxes is deductible from your taxable income. If you pay through a lender escrow account, you’ll find the tax amount on your 1098 form. If you pay your taxes directly to your municipality, use your personal records, such as a copy of a check or automatic transfer, as proof. 
  • Private mortgage insurance (PMI). If you took out a loan that was equal to less than 20% of the home’s value, you may be able to deduct your PMI payments from your taxable income. This deduction depends on your adjusted gross income (AGI): If you’re single and your AGI is less than $50,000, you’re eligible for the PMI deduction. For married couples filing jointly, the threshold is $100,000. Once you’ve reached the max income allowed for the PMI deduction, the amount you can deduct begins to phase out.  
  • Home equity debt. If you’ve taken out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit against your home, the interest payments on these loans can be deducted from your taxable income, as long as the loan is used, in the words of the IRS, “to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan.”
  • Home office expenses. If you use a part of your home exclusively for work purposes, you may be able to deduct related expenses.

Are there any tax credits available for homeowners? 

Unlike a tax deduction, a tax credit directly lowers your tax bill, dollar for dollar. You may be eligible for a mortgage credit if you were issued a qualified Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) by a state or local governmental unit or agency under a qualified MCC program. In addition, depending on your home state, you may be able to claim a credit for a percentage of the costs of buying and installing items that help your home harness renewable energy, such as solar panels or geothermal heat pumps. 

Home ownership comes with many advantages, some of which include tax benefits. Keep that in mind as you explore your options, and as with all tax advice, please remember to consult a tax professional for the most current and accurate laws.

Your Turn: How has home ownership benefitted your taxes? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Should I Buy or Lease a Car Now?

Q: It’s no secret that the semiconductor chip shortage is driving up the price of both new and used cars, but I do need a new set of wheels. Am I better off buying or leasing a car now? 

A: The chip shortage and other factors relating to the pandemic and inflation have created a tight auto loan market, the likes of which haven’t been seen in years. 

As a result, finding a new or used car that meets your criteria is challenging in today’s market. Unfortunately, though, leases have also risen in price and there is limited availability among many models. 

If you need a new car right now, what’s your best choice? 

Let’s take a deeper look at buying and leasing a car, paying particular attention to factors that are unique to today’s market, to help you determine which option makes the most sense for you. 

Buying a car in 2021

If you choose to buy a new or used car, you’re looking at inflated prices and a supply shortage that’s been ongoing for months. Expect to pay approximately $40,000 for a new car and $23,000 for a used car, according to Edmunds.com. You’re also unlikely to get the service you may be used to getting at a dealership since salespeople likely have more customers than they can serve at present. This can translate into reluctance to move on the sticker price and in a delayed processing of a car purchase. 

Leasing a car in 2021

The leasing market has not been spared the after-effects of the chip shortage and resultant lag in supply of new vehicles. Many lease companies are struggling to service customers while facing a shortage in available cars. The rising prices have hit this market, too. 

If you’re nearing the end of a lease, you may be in luck. Auto dealerships are in desperate need of cars to sell, and they may offer to buy out your lease at an inflated price, leaving you with extra cash to finance your next car. The dealer pays the leasing company what you owe, and gives you a check for the remaining equity. Of course, you’ll also be facing high prices, but it may be worth getting a head-start on your purchase. 

Buying VS. leasing

In every market, there are some drivers who are better suited toward owning a car and others who benefit more from leasing. Here are some important factors to consider when making this decision: 

  • How long do you hold onto your cars? If you like to swap in your cars for a newer model every few years, a lease may be a better fit for your lifestyle. On the flip side, if you tend to hold onto your cars for many years, consider buying a car instead. 
  • Insurance costs. Leases require full insurance coverage, which can be pricey. When you own your vehicle, though, the amount of insurance coverage beyond what is required by law is your decision. If you like having full protection, including GAP insurance, which pays the difference between what you owe on a car and its true value if it’s totaled in an accident or stolen, a lease may be a better choice for you. If, however, you tend to purchase just minimum coverage, you may be better off purchasing your vehicle. 
  • Mileage. If you usually put more than 10,000 miles on your car each year (the standard amount allowed by most leasing companies before charging extra), you may be better off buying a car. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll still need to pay for those miles in depreciation costs of the car. 
  • Maintenance costs. When you lease a car, most maintenance costs are on the leasing company. You’ll need to spring for anything related to wear and tear of the vehicle, but most other repairs will be covered. You’ll also have the option to pay extra for tire protection, and dent and scratch insurance. 

When you own your car, you’ll be footing the bill for all these costs, plus any maintenance needs. To minimize these costs, don’t finalize a car purchase without first ensuring it’s in good working order. You can do this by using its VIN (vehicle identification number) to look up its history and by having it professionally inspected by a mechanic.

While individual circumstances vary, in general, you can expect the cost of purchasing and leasing a vehicle to break even at the three-year mark. While a lease may offer you cheaper monthly payments, you’ll likely earn back two-thirds of the price you paid on a car if you sell it after three years. 

Today’s auto loan market makes every decision challenging. If you’re choosing between buying or leasing a car, be sure to weigh all variables carefully before making your decision. 

Your Turn: Do you buy or lease your cars? Which factors drive that decision? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Don’t Answer Calls from These Area Codes

Robocalls have got to be one the most annoying inventions of the 21st century. Unfortunately, those phone calls can do a lot more than disrupt your dinner to send you running to the phone just to hear about an offer for an extended warranty on your car. Using sophisticated spoofing methods and dogged persistence, they can swindle unsuspecting targets out of hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, using nothing but a phone. In fact, according to data from Trucaller, Americans lost close to $30 billion to phone scams in 2020.

Technology has made it far too easy and cheap for scammers to place a huge number of robocalls in seconds. New robocall platforms can make up to 5,000 simultaneous calls a second for as little as a dollar. Even if only 10 of these phone calls have their desired effect on the targets, the scammers have pulled in a solid profit. 

Here’s what you need to know about phone scams and how to avoid them. 

Traffic pumping

According to federal law, rural carriers are allowed to charge wireless and long-distance carriers higher fees for calls to local subscribers. To earn a quick buck – or a few hundred – rural carriers partner up with chat lines, adult entertainment numbers and “free” conference call service providers, as well as other numbers that are based overseas. Their goal is to artificially inflate the call volume in the home area codes of the rural carriers so they, in turn, can bill the wireless and long distance companies an exorbitant amount of money and give the chat lines a kickback,too. This is known as “traffic pumping.”

The bad news for private consumers is that their wireless or landline provider will pass the higher cost structure onto them. Sometimes, the caller will be warned of a higher charge, but other times, the consumer will believe these calls are completely free – until the bill arrives.

Area code alert: The 712 area code and the 218 area code are infamous for traffic pumping. 

The one-ring scam

In this ruse, scammers use robocalling technology to call wireless numbers and hang up after only one ring. The scammers are hoping the target will be curious and careless enough to return the call. If they do, they will likely be calling a number in the Caribbean, which can cost them up to $30 a minute. A prevalent one-ring scam that originates in Japan brings that cost up to $50 a minute!

Whenever you receive a call from an unfamiliar number, it’s best to let it go to voicemail instead of picking up. Curious enough to return a one-ring call? First Google the number to see who the caller is. If it’s a scammer, you’ll likely find some warnings posted online when you look up the number. 

Area code alert: The FTC warns consumers about returning one-ring calls from these area codes: 

  • 268–Antigua and Barbuda
  • 284–British Virgin Islands
  • 473–Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique
  • 664–Montserrat
  • 649–Turks and Caicos Islands
  • 767–Commonwealth of Dominica
  • 809, 829, 849–Dominican Republic
  • 876–Jamaica

When an unfamiliar number comes up on your phone screen, you’re better off waiting for a voicemail to determine if you have a legitimate caller before calling it back. You can also Google the phone number itself. If the number is a scam, chances are good that others will have posted warnings about it online. 

Protect your phone

If the robocalls are driving you crazy, there are steps you can take to limit the amount that reach your phone. First, place your number on the Do Not Call list. You can also reach out to your phone service provider to ask about robocall blocking functionality they may offer, though you may need to pay for this extra service. Finally, consider using a robocall-blocking app, like Hiya, YouMail or RoboKiller

Think twice before picking up the phone on an unknown caller, or returning a call from an unfamiliar number. Stay safe!

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

4 Scams to Watch Out for this Black Friday

Black Friday has traditionally been the day that kicks off the holiday shopping season, sending hordes of crowds surging through malls and big-box stores all over the nation. Unfortunately, it’s also been a day that kicks off the season of shopping scams. 

Here are four scams to watch out for this Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season:

  1. The Amazon Prime service fraud scam

In this ruse, a scammer posing as an Amazon representative will call a target to notify them about an alleged problem with their Prime account. The victim will be prompted to download a tool on their computer or mobile device. That “tool” will give the scammer remote access to “help them resolve the problem” that is at hand. If they comply, the victim will then be instructed to log onto their banking account, supposedly so the caller can be compensated for their time. Unfortunately, doing this will give the scammer direct access to the victim’s accounts. 

  1. Phishing emails

Phishing emails are nothing new, but they can be difficult to spot among the barrage of promotional emails flooding inboxes during this time of year. 

Here are two common variations of phishing scams: 

  • Account verification. The victim receives an email appearing to be from a retailer they frequently shop. It informs them that someone has tried to hack into their account. They’re asked to verify their account, or update their account details, through an embedded link. Doing so, however, will give a scammer access to their account. The scammer can now rack up a huge bill and leave the victim to pick up the tab. 
  • Order confirmation. The victim receives an email asking them to confirm an order made through Amazon or another large e-tailer. They’ll be asked to verify the order details through an embedded link. Unfortunately, doing so will give their personal information directly to the scammers. 
  1. Delivery issues

The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the way Americans shop. It’s resulted in the volume of U.S. online purchases increasing steadily, according to the Census Bureau’s quarterly e-commerce reports. Scammers are well aware of this, and they’ve been quick to capitalize on the opportunities to pull off delivery scams, especially this time of year. 

Delivery scams generally take the form of a message appearing to be from UPS, FedEx or another delivery service, informing the victim of a “delivery issue” with an order. They’ll be asked to confirm or update their information with the provided link. Doing so will give the scammer access to their financial information and open the door to identity theft and more. 

In another variation of the delivery scam, a victim will be asked to pay a fee for covering a customs charge or tax. Of course, these fees are invented by the scammer, who will gladly pocket the money. 

  1. Non-delivery scam

Another scam whose prevalence has spiked with the increase in online shopping is the non-delivery scam, which involves a purchased gift that never arrives. The victim, likely lured in by an ad promising a super-low price on a desired item, rushed to complete the purchase without researching the seller. Unfortunately, the seller then disappears and the victim has no way of notifying them about the no-show or requesting a refund. 

How to avoid Black Friday scams

Follow these tips to keep your shopping free of scams:

  • Don’t open links in emails sent from unverified contacts. 
  • Never allow a stranger access to your device and/or accounts. 
  • Don’t share sensitive information on the phone or online with an unknown contact.
  • If contacted by an alleged representative of Amazon or another large company about an issue with your account, hang up and check your account to see if an issue is actually present.  
  • Always keep the privacy and spam settings on your computer and mobile devices at their strongest settings. 
  • If you have an issue with an ordered item, contact the retailer directly through their site and not through a pop-up ad appearing to represent them. Likewise, it’s a good idea to not click through to “support links” that are posted on troubleshooting forums, as they may not be to legitimate service sites. 
  • Only purchase items from reputable sellers. When shopping on a new site, look for a physical address, a customer service number and copy that’s free of spelling errors and typos. 

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Black Friday scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

9 Ways To Thank A Veteran This Veterans Day

Our service members past and present are the true heroes of our nation. U.S. veterans selflessly served our country, spending months or years away from home, undergoing grueling training and often putting their lives at risk, just to keep us safe.

It’s time to say thank you! Take a few minutes to show your appreciation for our country’s veterans on Nov. 11, Veterans Day. Join Advantage One Credit Union as we thank the members of our military this Veterans Day! Here’s a list to get started to celebrate our nation’s heroes.

1. Fly a flag-the right way Veterans Day offers a wonderful opportunity to fly Old Glory. Just make sure you’re observing the proper rules for its display this time of year. Read up on all you need to know about flying the flag on the military’s guide to the flag.

2. Send a care package Security measures make sending a care package to an anonymous soldier a near impossibility in our hyper-vigilant climate, but you can still show your gratitude. There are several organizations that will enable you to safely send a care package. Instead of putting the goodies together yourself, you’ll make a donation to one of these recognized organizations and they will assemble and send the package for you. You can find a list of these organizations and contact them directly here. Lots of these funds are 501(c) (3) organizations, which makes your donation eligible for a tax deduction. To find out whether a charity is qualified charity, check out the IRS’ list of federally recognized organizations.

3. Make a donation Sometimes, a monetary donation is the best way to show where your true values lie. There are loads of nonprofit organizations out there that offer a plethora of services to members of the military and gladly accept donations. Look through this list to find the one that’s right for you.

4. Donate your car If you’ve just bought a new set of wheels and you’re looking for a way to get rid of your old vehicle, consider donating it to the military. There are lots of organizations, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation, which will happily take your old car, truck or RV and donate its value to the military. These services are free of charge, highly convenient, and many are federally recognized charities that can net you a tax deduction for your donation. Let your vehicle serve our country even after it’s retired!

5. Attend a Veterans Day event Find out about the Veterans Day events and parades being hosted in your town and attend at least one of them to show your support for the military.

6. Bake some cookies Sometimes, a homemade gesture is the best way to express your gratitude. Whip up a batch of your favorite cookies to share with a service member you know on Veterans Day. You’ll be showing the veteran how much you appreciate their service in the sweetest way possible.

7. Send a card or email If you personally know a veteran, take this opportunity to send him or her a postcard or email that recognizes their contributions to the country. If you don’t know any current or past service members, you can look up the closest military station and simply send one there. An anonymous soldier will be gratified to know that the people of this country appreciate all they have done to keep us safe and protected.

Veterans Day is about a lot more than a day off from school and awesome sales at your favorite store. This Veterans Day, make sure to thank a vet and show your appreciation for our country’s true heroes.

Your Turn: How will you thank a veteran this Veterans Day? Tell us about it in the comments.

8 Holiday Shopping Hacks to Help You Save Big This Season

Ready, set… charge! The holiday shopping season is here, and between inflated prices, the rising cost of gas and the urge to splurge this time of year, it can be harder than ever to stick to your budget. Here, we’ve listed eight holiday shopping hacks to help keep your spending under control while still finding the perfect gifts for everyone on your list. 

  1. Make a list and check it twice

It’s not just for groceries—this tried-and-true shopping hack can really help you keep costs down this holiday season. When you shop with a list in hand and you’re careful to stick to it, you can make responsible shopping decisions instead of buying anything and everything that catches your eye. 

  1. Compare prices

In the age of apps and the internet, comparison shopping is a lot easier than trekking across town from store to store. All it takes is a few quick clicks to check if the item you want to purchase is available elsewhere, and for less. You can also use a price-checking app like ShopSavvy and BuyVia to make the search for the hottest deal even easier. 

  1. Don’t shop alone

Grab a friend when you shop to help keep you on track. You can share your intended budget with your friend, or let them know which gifts you’ll be looking for on this particular shopping trip and ask them to gently remind you to stay within budget and on-plan as you browse. A friend can also come in handy when you find a fantastic BOGO (buy one get one free) offer, but only need one item — go splitsies to gain some savings. 

  1. Take advantage of rebates and refunds

Wouldn’t it be awesome to get paid to shop? When you make a purchase through a rebate app like Earny or Rakuten, you get cash back for every purchase you make.

Why not get paid from the retailer, too? Some retailers offer refunds for late deliveries or will give you money back if there’s been a price change on an item since you’ve purchased it. Use a free app like Paribus to scan your receipt and search the web for price drops and to track policies that may help put more money back in your pocket. 

5. Buy discounted gift cards

Gift cards are a great way to save time on gift-shopping — and money, too! You can find discounted gift cards on sites like GiftDeals, Raise and CardCash for big-name brands of all kinds, including Lowe’s, Old Navy, Starbucks, Amazon and dozens more. Best of all, the person receiving the gift card never has to know you snagged it at a discounted price.

  1. Shop with coupons

No need to touch a pair of scissors to take advantage of coupons in 2021! Before completing an online purchase, do a quick search of sites, like RetailMeNot, to check for available coupons that can bring down the price. You can also use a browser extension, like Honey, which will automatically find and apply coupons while you shop.

7. Shop early

It’s always a good idea to get your shopping done well before the holidays to keep from overspending when you’re harried and pressed for time. This year especially, with delivery delays and supply shortages expected to last into 2022, it’s best to tackle your holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. When you shop with a clear head and when the store shelves are still well stocked, you’re more likely to stick to your budget and make responsible spending decisions.

  1. Buy electronics on Black Friday or Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are rarely worth the hassle — with the exception of electronics. While most big-ticket items, like furniture and home appliances, are usually cheaper during other sale events, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals you’ll find on TVs, laptops, audio equipment and other electronics will likely be the best you’ll find all year. If any of these items are on your list, plan your purchase for Black Friday weekend for steep discounts. 

The holidays are coming, but that doesn’t mean you need to kiss your budget goodbye. Follow the tips outlined above to save big on gift-shopping this year. 

Your Turn: What’s your favorite holiday shopping hack? Share it with us in the comments. 

What to Expect for Holiday Shopping 2021

The holidays are coming and it’s time to hit the shops! Retailers and consumers around the nation are anticipating a holiday season that’s a lot closer to pre-pandemic days than last year’s festivities. Unfortunately, though, suppliers are cautioning consumers to expect supply shortages, shipping delays and higher price tags than ever.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what you might expect to see this holiday shopping season.

Supply shortages

You may have already noticed the dearth in available products, from household goods to the season’s hottest toys, when shopping for the holidays and everyday goods. Suppliers are struggling to stay ahead of shoppers’ demands while still catching up on the manufacturing lag they experienced during the lockdown. Suppliers are also dealing with a labor shortage, which makes it challenging to meet their own manufacturing quotas. Finally, many manufacturers rely on other suppliers for the materials they need for fulfilling their product demands — shipping delays (described in more detail in a moment) and worldwide supply chain bottlenecks are slowing down their production processes even further.

Shipping delays

Even when manufacturers manage to keep the supply of their products ahead of the demand, there can be significant delays when the goods land in the U.S. To illustrate, in mid-September, a record 70 cargo ships were waiting to dock in the LA and Long Beach ports, two ports which handle approximately 40% of the country’s imported goods. The logjam is a direct result of a scarcity in available storage containers, as well as uneven deliveries of shipped goods as suppliers race to catch up with demand.The backup has since decreased in intensity but is still present, and will likely continue to be a kink in the delivery chain deep into 2022.

Understaffed shops

Don’t expect the royal treatment when you hit the shops this holiday season. Salespeople are likely to be even more overworked and stressed than they usually are during this time of year, as employers face massive staff shortages and are forced to place extra responsibilities on their workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent report, there are 10.4 million job openings in the U.S. right now, a number that has more than doubled since last year. Retailers are struggling to provide their standard level of service with fewer hands on deck, and the harried salespeople you encounter may very likely be doing the jobs of several workers.

Fewer deals and higher prices

Don’t count on finding super-hot deals this season while shopping to complete your gift list. In fact, the prices you’ll find on toys, clothing, electronics and other items will likely be higher than usual, thanks to factors like inflation, the rising cost of fuel and supply that falls well below demand. With shoppers eager to get their hands on the few goods that are available, retailers also have less of an incentive to offer promotions and steep discounts on any gift items. This isn’t the year to plan on shopping the sales to help you stay within budget.

Shop early

As a consumer, there’s not much you can do to fix the supply shortages and delays in shipping. What you can do, though, is shop early to avoid facing bare shelves and a delivery date that’s weeks past the holidays. In fact, suppliers and retailers are urging consumers to get started on their holiday shopping before Halloween this year to get the best selection at the best prices. If you’re the kind of shopper who doesn’t think about gift shopping until two weeks before the holidays, this may be the year to rethink your approach.

A scarcity in supply, delivery backups, staff shortages and high prices will likely make holiday shopping more challenging this year. However, by planning ahead and starting early, you can enjoy this season’s gift shopping and still stick to your budget.

Happy shopping!

Your Turn: How will your approach toward holiday shopping be different this year? Tell us about it in the comments.

All You Need to Know About Multi-factor Authentication

In our digital world, passwords are as much a part of our lives as Netflix and Amazon. Keeping information stored in dozens of accounts across the web can make it easier to stay on top of your finances, order a new pair of jeans or even schedule a dentist appointment. Unfortunately, though, passwords can be relatively easy for scammers to hack, opening the door for identity theft, credit card fraud and more. 

Here’s where multifactor authentication (MFA) comes into play. As a means of securing your information, MFA provides an extra layer of protection for your accounts and sensitive data. 

Here’s all you need to know about MFA, how it works and why it’s an important step in protecting your information. 

How multifactor authentication works

Multifactor authentication utilizes two or more factors to allow the user to sign into an account. Generally, these will consist of something the user knows, like a password or PIN, along with one or both of the following: 

  • Something the user has. This can include a phone, key fob or smartcard. 
  • Something the user is. This can include an iris or fingerprint scan, or voice or facial recognition.

Accounts that use MFA will not allow the user to sign into their account unless both factors are verified.

Why multifactor authentication is crucial for protecting sensitive information

While passwords can provide some protection against hackers, they’ve proven to be an abysmally weak barrier against hackers. A recent study by Digital Shadows, a digital risk protection company, found evidence of approximately 15 billion passwords and logins floating around the darkweb as a result of 100,000 data breaches. These passwords are up for sale to  other cybercriminals, potentially providing them with access to the victims’ financial accounts, credit card information, Social Security data and more.

In addition to opening up the door to sensitive information, a single password can give the hacker entry into a victim’s private life. For example, by hacking into a victim’s Google password, the cybercriminal now has access to their email history, which can include important correspondence and other information; calendar, which can provide a complete picture of the victim’s upcoming events and meetings; YouTube account, which unlocks the victim’s viewing history and uploads, and any other apps that allow users to sign in with a Google account, such as Asana and Mint.

Unfortunately, passwords can be cracked by amateur hackers, even without a data breach. Many consumers make it even easier for hackers to break into their accounts by using weak, ineffective passwords that are simple to guess, and by using the same password across multiple accounts. For these reasons, using MFA when available — especially for accounts that store highly sensitive information — is crucial for ongoing security and protection. This way, in the event of a data breach or hack providing a criminal with your password or login credentials, your information will still be protected. Without access to your account’s second factor for authentication, the hacker has no way to gain entry into your account. 

Where you may encounter MFA

In general, the more sensitive the data an account stores, the stronger security measures the company hosting or providing the account will use. Consequently, you’re most likely to encounter MFA on banking apps and accounts, money management apps, investment apps and the like. Depending on your line of work, you may also need to use MFA to sign into your personal workplace account. Finally, some retailers may offer clients the option of using MFA to sign into their accounts. 

Under each of these and similar circumstances, using MFA means a login time that’s a bit longer and more complicated than just inputting a password or PIN. However, measuring this inconvenience against the time, stress and money it will take to recover from a potential data breach makes it more than worth the extra few minutes. 

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Which means of MFA is your favorite? Tell us about it in the comments.

Should I Trade in my Car Now?

Q: I’ve heard that used cars can currently fetch a pretty penny from dealers because of a nationwide vehicle shortage. Should I trade in my car?

A: The auto market has been red-hot for months as manufacturers scramble to catch up on pandemic-induced supply shortages. While circumstances vary, this can be a great time to get top dollar on a used car. 

Here’s what you need to know about the current auto market for sellers.

How high did prices go?

According to online automotive resource Edmunds, the average transaction price for a used car in the second quarter of 2021 was $25,410, which is up 21% year-over-year. This was the first time the average list price for used cars in the U.S topped $25K. Also, fewer than 1% of used cars on dealership lots were priced below $15,000 during this quarter, compared to 18% offered below this mark the previous year. 

Why have prices of used cars increased so sharply? 

Several interconnecting factors have led to the increase in auto prices. 

First, the pandemic put a freeze on the production of new vehicles for nearly a full business quarter. Factory output at the time of the nationwide lock-downs was reduced by 3.3 million vehicles and sales dried up, which also reduced the volume of trade-ins. This led to a decrease in the available supply of used cars and led to a driving up of prices. 

With production on pause, chip-makers focused on the electronics industry instead of creating semiconductor chips for automakers. When production resumed, manufacturers faced a worldwide shortage of these chips, which experts predict will last well into 2022. Consequently, manufacturers have been limited in the number of new cars they can make. This, too, means there are fewer trade-ins and fewer used cars available for buyers, leading to an increase in prices.

A third factor that has influenced the fall in the supply of used cars is the months-long shutdown of business and leisure travel during the lock-downs. Car rentals were virtually unused at this time, prompting the agencies to hold onto the cars in their lots instead of selling them to used car dealerships. This, of course, led to a reduction in the number of used cars available for sale and contributed to the spike in prices.

Finally, the single factor unrelated to the pandemic that has decreased the supply of used cars is the fact that today’s used cars were manufactured during the Great Recession. During this time, automakers faced severe financial challenges and the number of cars sold during that time was far lower than average. Today’s dearth in used cars, then, is also a trickle-down effect of the Great Recession and now directly impacting the current auto market. 

Will the market settle down soon?

Auto prices are already showing signs of leveling off, with some used car prices dropping by as much as $2,000 over the month of July. Many drivers are eager to sell their cars at top dollar now, adding more used cars to the available supply. Car rental agencies are also recovering from their business freeze during the pandemic, adding their own vehicles to the available pool of used cars. While it will take some time for the market to recover completely, it does seem to be cooling off from its post-pandemic sizzle. 

Should I trade in my car now? 

If you plan on trading in your car sometime in the near future, you may want to do so sooner rather than later. With inventory still low, dealers are eager to get their hands on as many used cars as possible and will offer you more than you’d typically expect. Be sure to check what price you can get from several dealers before you sell. It’s equally important to note that those same inflated prices will work against you if you plan on buying a new car now. 

Used cars can fetch a pretty penny in today’s hot auto market, but it’s crucial to weigh all factors carefully before deciding if trading in your car now can work in your favor. 

Your Turn: Have you recently traded in your car? Tell us about it in the comments.