Beware Back-to-School Tuition Scams

College age girl on bench reading book at schoolBack-to-school season means a flurry of shopping — and a flurry of scams. Scammers know that students and their parents are caught up in a frenzy of preparations and errands and are, therefore, more likely to fall victim to schemes. As you get ready for school, look out for these scams targeting college students and parents of private school students that tend to peak before the start of the school year.

The tuition fee scam
How it plays out: A college student, or the parent of a private school student, receives a phone call from a caller introducing themselves as a secretary or administrator at their school, or their child’s school. The caller claims the student or parent owes tuition fees and will not be allowed to return to school for the coming semester unless the fees are paid. They may explain that a tuition check has bounced or that a credit card payment didn’t clear. Alternatively, the caller claims the student’s grant or scholarship was abruptly canceled and the student is now being billed for the full tuition fee.

The caller insists on being paid the outstanding sum immediately or the student will lose their spot in the school. The “secretary” or “administrator” provides the victim with detailed information for wiring money or dropping off the cash at a private address. Of course, once the money is sent, it will never be seen again.

Protect yourself: This scam is easy to spot because most schools will not insist on immediate payment, or payment through a wire transfer. If you receive a call like the one described above, ask the caller detailed questions about the school, their position and the money owed. If it’s a scam, the caller will not be able to answer well. You can also explain that you need to see the actual bill before making any payments, and that you’d like to pick up the bill yourself from the school. Finally, you can insist on calling the school directly to make the payment.

The student tax scam
How it plays out: In this scam, someone allegedly representing the IRS calls a college student at a public university and claims they neglected to pay their student tax. The caller explains that the student tax helps fund the university and that failure to pay this tax can result in disqualification from class and possible imprisonment. They will insist on immediate payment via prepaid gift card or wire transfer.

Protect yourself: You can spot this scam by remembering that the IRS will always first contact people by mail. Also, the IRS won’t insist on being paid through gift card or wire transfer.

The scholarship scam
How it plays out: A scammer reaches out to a college student telling them they’ve been guaranteed approval for a scholarship or grant. The only catch is that the student must pay a hefty fee to receive it. Unfortunately, the scholarship is bogus and, if the victim falls for the scam, they will never see that money again.

In a similar scam, a victim is instructed to pay a fee to a company that will allegedly file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in their name. Of course, no FAFSA form will be filed, and the money paid for this “service” will go directly into the scammer’s pockets.

Protect yourself: Student scholarships and grants are designed to help students and their parents pay for education; they don’t charge for eligibility. If an alleged scholarship claims to charge a fee before granting approval, it is most certainly a scam. Also, no company will guarantee approval for a scholarship or grant; there is always a vetting process of some kind before eligibility is determined. Finally, there is no reason to pay to have a FAFSA form filed; it can be completed easily online here. For additional help, college students can contact the financial aid office at their university.

Scammers are out in full force before the start of the school year. Don’t let them make the grade! Stay alert and stay safe.

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

Learn More:
scam-detector.com
mysuncoast.com
fraud.org

Am I Really Ready to Buy a House?

Young black couple signs paperwork with agentQ: I’ve saved a down payment, narrowed my choices of neighborhoods and drawn up a wish list of what I’m looking for in a home, but I’m getting cold feet. How do I know if I’m really ready to buy a house?

A: It’s perfectly normal to feel hesitant about going through with what may be the biggest purchase of your life. To help put you at ease and to make sure you’re really prepared for this purchase, we’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself before buying a new home.

Can I afford to buy a house?
Before viewing properties, remember that purchasing a new home will cost more than just the down payment. Buyers also need to cover closing costs, which typically run at 2-4 percent of the total purchase, as well as moving costs, and possibly new furniture and renovations for their new home.

Can I afford the monthly mortgage payments?
Most lending companies will grant a loan to a home buyer if the monthly mortgage payments do not push the buyer’s debt-to-income (DTI) ratio above the recommended 43 percent. This means that the total monthly debt the buyer carries, including their mortgage, credit card, loan, and car payments, do not exceed 43 percent of their monthly income. You may want to work out the total for your pre-mortgage debt before applying for a loan so you have an idea of how much house you can afford.

When determining whether you can actually afford your monthly payments, though, remember that there’s more to home ownership than a monthly mortgage payment. Be sure to include calculations for taxes, insurance and a possible increase in utility bills. A mortgage lender should be able to provide some of these numbers for you.

Am I ready to settle down?
The average length of time that homeowners in the U.S. live in a house is only seven years. Buyers who don’t plan on staying in their homes long-term may end up incurring a loss. Consider factors like your career, family planning, changing demographics of a neighborhood and more when trying to answer this question. Experts advise buyers to only purchase homes they plan on living in for a minimum of five years.

Does buying a house in my neighborhood make financial sense?
Many Americans view home ownership as a rite of passage into adulthood, but that doesn’t mean purchasing a home always makes financial sense. In some neighborhoods, rentals are relatively cheap while houses sell for far more than they are actually worth. In these neighborhoods, buying a home may not be the logical choice, even if the buyer can easily afford the purchase.

Is my credit score high enough?
A fairly decent credit score is necessary to qualify for a home loan. Most lenders will only grant a home loan to borrowers with a credit score of 650 or higher. A score that doesn’t make the cut can be increased by being super-careful about paying all bills on time, not opening new credit cards in the months leading up to the home loan application, paying credit card bills in full each month and keeping credit utilization low.

Do I have a plan in place for repairs?
When a renter has a leaky faucet, they call the landlord and the problem becomes theirs. When a homeowner has a leaky faucet, it’s their own problem. They can either fix it or hire someone to do the job, but it’s a good idea to have a plan in place before the first thing in a new home needs fixing. If you’re handy enough to handle repairs on your own, you’ll need to be ready and willing to give up some of your free time on weekends to tend to things around the house. Otherwise, it’s best to have a tidy sum put away to pay for necessary repairs before purchasing a home.

Sometimes, an appliance or a system in the house will be broken beyond repair and will need replacing. Homeowners need to have enough money stashed away in their emergency fund or rainy-day account to cover these purchases, too.

Buying a first home is an exciting milestone that only happens once in a lifetime. If you think you’re ready to take this step, first make sure this purchase is the right choice for you at this time on a financial and practical level.

If you’re ready to get started on your home loan application, click or call to hear about our fantastic home loan options.

Your Turn:
How did you know you were ready to buy a house? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
investopedia.com
thebalance.com
rubyhome.com
creditsesame.com
moneyunder30.com

Preparing for an Interview

Young asian man interviewed by two asian womenYou’ve fired off your resume to a potential workplace, and they’ve contacted you to set up an interview. You’re super-excited to prove yourself, but also super-nervous. What if you mess up and jeopardize your chance at landing the job? What happens if you get tongue-tied and can’t answer the interviewer’s questions?

There’s no need to panic; Advantage One Credit Union is here to help! Here’s how to prepare for an interview that will have you presenting yourself as polished, professional and capable to any potential employer.

  • Research the company well
    Before you step through that door, you’ll want to learn all you can about your potential new workplace. Speak to current employees and study the organization’s website to get a sense of the company culture, goals and services. You can look up company reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Vault to see what it’s like to work for this business.
  • Highlight what you can bring to the company
    At this point, your interviewer doesn’t care much about your personal salary needs. All they want to know is what you can bring to the table. Prepare a mental list of your strengths and talents and explain how you can use them to help the company grow. At the same time, avoid talking about salary and days off during your first meeting. If you land the position, there will be plenty of time to talk about that later.
  • Anticipate and rehearse for challenging questions
    Spend some time researching common interview questions and prepare your answers. If possible, grab a friend and role-play these questions in advance. This exercise can go far in reducing your anxiety at the interview.
  • Rest up, eat well and plan your attire carefully
    You want to show up looking sharp and focused. The best way to achieve this is to get a good night’s sleep before the interview and eat a nutritious breakfast. You’ll also want to prepare your interview clothing the night before, taking care to present yourself as neat, professional, and polished. Appearances matter.
  • Act confident
    You may be quaking inside, but it’s crucial that you put on a show and appear confident for the interview. Sit up straight in your chair, look your interviewer in the eye and speak in a clear, confident tone. Here, too, you may want to practice a bit to get this right.
  • Follow up
    After the interview, follow up with a brief email to the interviewer. Thank them for their time, let them know what a pleasure it was to meet them and reiterate any important points from your conversation. This shows your interest in the position and leaves the interviewer with a positive impression of your personality and people skills.

Your Turn:
Have you recently landed a job? Share your best interview tips in the comments.

Learn More:
nelsonjobs.com
huffpost.com

All You Need to Know About Student Loan Changes During COVID-19

Female College student with class supplies in arms smiles as she is walking on campusWith unemployment levels rising and many employers cutting work hours, lots of college grads are now struggling to meet their student loan payments. Thankfully, the federal government has passed legislation to ease this burden. Unfortunately, though, many borrowers are confused about the terms and conditions of these changes.

Here’s all you need to know about the changes to student loan debt during the coronavirus pandemic.

All federal student loan payments are automatically suspended for six months
As part of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) signed into law on March 27 all federal student loan payments are suspended, interest-free, through Sept. 30, 2020. If borrowers continue making payments, the full amount will be applied to the principal of the loan. The suspension applies to all federal student loans owned by the Department of Education as well as some Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) and some Perkins loans. Students do not have to take any action or pay any fees for the suspension to take effect.

Additionally, during the suspension period, the CARES Act does not allow student loan servicers to report to the credit bureaus borrower nonpayments as missed payments. Therefore, the suspension should not have a negative effect on borrowers’ credit scores.
If you’re not sure whether your student loan is federally owned, you can look it up on the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website. Be sure to have your FSA ID handy so you can sign in and look up your loans. You can also call your loan servicer directly to clear up any confusion.

Here is the contact information for federal student loan servicers:

Suspended payments count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness and loan rehabilitation.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal program allowing borrowers to have their student loans forgiven, tax-free, with the stipulation that they work in the public sector and make 120 qualifying monthly payments. A disruption of these 120 payments can disqualify a borrower from the program.

According to the CARES Act, suspended payments will be treated as regular payments toward PSLF. This ensures that borrowers who have been working toward these programs will not lose the progress they’ve made toward loan forgiveness.

The same rule applies to individuals participating in student loan rehabilitation, during which borrowers with defaulted student loans must make nine out of 10 consecutive monthly payments to pull their loans out of default. The U.S. Department of Education will consider the six-month suspension on payments as if regular payments were made toward rehabilitation.

Some states and private lenders are offering student loan aid for struggling borrowers.
If your student loan is not federally owned and you are struggling to meet your payments, there may still be options available, such as loan deferment or forbearance. If you are in need of such assistance, contact your lender directly to discuss your options. Consider an income-driven repayment plan.

If you have an FFEL that is ineligible for suspension, you can lower your monthly payments by enrolling in an income-based repayment plan, which adjusts your monthly student loan payment amount according to your discretionary income. Other lenders offer similar plans, often referred to as income-driven repayment plans. If your salary was cut as a result of COVID-19, or you are currently unemployed, these plans can provide relief by making your monthly payments more manageable.

Employers can contribute toward employees’ student loan debt for temporary tax relief
The federal government offered temporary tax relief for employers contributing up to $5,350 toward their employees’ student loan payments. This benefit is in effect until Jan. 1, 2021 and it can be used for any kind of student debt, whether federal or private.

If you don’t qualify for the student loan payment suspension, you can try speaking with the human resources department at your workplace to find out how they can help you with your student loan debt at this time.

Your Turn:
Have you taken advantage of student loan debt relief offered during the coronavirus pandemic? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:

How Can I Use a Job Loss as a Stepping Stone for Growth?

Man sitting across desk in business casual attire.Q: I’ve been laid off from my job, and I’m struggling with my next step. I’m trying to remain positive and to see this as an opportunity, but it hasn’t been easy. On a practical level, how can I use these circumstances as a stepping stone for growth?

A: Losing a job, whether due to the economic fallout of COVID-19 or for a different reason, is never easy. Choosing to view this time as an opportunity instead of a crisis is commendable and will likely have positive long-term effects on your career path.

Let’s take a look at some practical steps you can take as you embark on a new direction in your life.

Take a giant step back
Before making any efforts to find a new job, take a moment to look at where you stand career-wise. Did you feel trapped at your old job, or were you truly happy? Where do you want to go next? Would a complete pivot really be in your best interest, or would you do better with just a small career shift, such as a change in position within the same field?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you gain clarity on your future career path:

  • What did I love about my old job?
  • What did I really not like about my old job?
  • Which valuable skills and experience that I gained at my old job can help me move forward?
  • What are my unique strengths and talents?
  • Which parts of my old job played to those strengths?
  • What were my long-term career goals 10, 20 or even 30 years ago?
  • Have I achieved those goals? If not, what has stopped me from reaching them?
  • What’s my secret dream job?
  • Have I always wished I could open a business of my own?

If you have trouble answering some questions, you can do this quick thought exercise: Close your eyes, breathe deeply until you are fully relaxed and try to let your mind float freely. Picture yourself waking up in the morning and going off to your dream job. What job is it? Your subconscious might just help you out here.

Narrow down your choices
Once you have some idea of what you’d like to do now, jot down your job options and review them carefully. Which of these choices is really best for you? Narrow down your list until you have less than five options.

Consider these factors as you work through the list:

  • The career should play to your natural strengths. It’s always easier to hone an existing skill than to try building one up from scratch. You’re also more likely to enjoy a job at which you naturally excel.
  • The expected salary should meet your needs. It can be helpful to review your monthly expenses and spending habits to refresh your memory. To find out if a possible career can adequately meet your financial needs, look up salary averages on Payscale.com.
  • The field or career you choose to pursue should align with your personality. Some people do better in strictly administrative positions, some only feel fulfilled in a “helping job,” while others thrive in careers that require creativity. It’s best if your chosen career matches your particular needs.

If you’ve chosen to use this opportunity to realize your dream of opening your own business, stop by to learn about the unique products we have available to help you achieve your goal.

Build a killer resume
Your resume is your passport to that dream job. Make yours stand out from the pack by polishing it until it truly shines.

Creating a brilliant resume is going to take some work, but you don’t have to go it alone. You can download a basic resume template from Resume Gig, My Perfect Resume or Resume Now. You can also hire a professional resume writer. It’s not cheap, but if you’re looking for a managerial job, it can be vital.

As you work on your resume, make sure to include all the basics, including your complete educational background, full career history and a select few references who can vouch for your skills and reliability. It’s also a good idea to highlight accomplishments, such as projects or campaigns you’ve initiated, led and/or successfully completed at your previous place of employment. Triple-check the spelling and grammar and have a friend look it over to provide some feedback before submitting your resume to a potential employer.

Network and job-hunt
The easiest way to land a dream job is to already have a foot in the door of a company. A friend or family member who knows of a perfect position can help you out here, but only if they know you’re looking for a job. Spread the word to everyone you know. Share your resume with anyone you reach out to so they have a better idea of your career choices. Social media can be a big help here, too, giving your messages a wider spread. Tell them about the kind of job you’re seeking and ask if they know of any open positions that might suit you. They can also help out by providing contacts who can lead you in the right direction. Follow up every few weeks to remind people that you’re still job-hunting.
If friends and family can’t help you out, you can also look up available positions in your chosen field and pursue them directly. Online job boards like Indeed.com and Careerbuilder.com can be a great place to start your search.

Finding that dream job can take several weeks or even several months. You may want to use this time to build up your skills by investing in a course or a lecture series given by a professional in your chosen field.

Hopefully, your efforts will soon pay off and you’ll find that dream career. In a few years’ time, you may look back at your present unemployment and begin to truly appreciate it for the blessing that it was.

Your Turn:
Have you used a lost job as an opportunity for growth? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
careerplanner.com
psychologytoday.com
knsfinancial.com

Getting Ahead on Your Student Loan Before You Graduate

young woman working at a laptop in an officeAs you prepare for graduation and begin scouting different employment opportunities, be sure to look at the larger picture before you accept a position.

Hopefully, you’ve chosen a career path that will bring you joy and gratification. Equally important, though, is a job that can support your lifestyle choices. While the positions you consider for your first post-college job will likely offer the opportunity for growth, you’ll still need to pay your bills—and make your student loan payments—as soon as you graduate. A job that brings you satisfaction and a pleasant working environment will not last long if the salary it offers causes you to sink into debt.

How do you determine what kind of salary will be large enough to support your desired lifestyle?

To get this information, you’ll need to create a mock monthly budget for your post-college self.

Using a spreadsheet or paper and pen, create two columns, one for expenses and one for actual dollar amounts. In the expense column, list your typical monthly expenses, including housing costs, transportation costs, health insurance, groceries, entertainment costs, clothing costs, dining out, savings, etc. In the dollar column, list the amount of money you expect to pay every month for each expense.

Your budget should look something like this:

ExpenseMonthly Cost
Housing$1,200
Transportation$300
Health Insurance$250
Groceries$350
Student Loan Payments$350

It will take some research and some hard, honest thinking to come up with these numbers. For housing costs, take a moment to think about where you see yourself settling down after college. You don’t have to know the exact neighborhood you’ll live in, but it’s good to know the city that will work best for you in terms of lifestyle, career path, and family plans. You can narrow this down to a few choices so long as you keep it reasonable. Once you’ve chosen your desired location, research the median rental prices in the area on real estate sites like Zillow and Redfin.

Next, work on transportation costs. If you already own a car, you’ll have an idea of what it costs you each month. Otherwise, spend some time thinking about what kind of car you want to drive. You can find listings on Carfax.com. Include costs like auto insurance, gas, and upkeep, in this category.

Or, if you plan on living somewhere with reliable public transportation, you might choose this route instead. Make a calculation of how much you’ll spend on bus and/or train rides, along with the occasional cab or ride-share ride.

Complete your budget using your best estimates for each category. Once you’ve filled out each expense amount, add up your total and multiply it by 12 to give you the amount of money you’ll need each year for supporting the lifestyle of your choice. (This number will increase with inflation, but since current salaries will likely increase along with the inflation rate, this exercise can still give you an idea of the annual salary you’ll need.)
Now that you have these numbers, you’re ready to go ahead with your job search. When considering possible positions, you don’t have to choose the one that pays the highest salary if there are other things about the job you don’t love. However, it’s best to pursue positions that can actually support you.

Your Turn:
Are you choosing your first job for the salary or for other factors? Share your take with us in the comments.

Learn More:
knsfinancial.com
usnews.com
usnews.com
brazen.com

How’s Your Credit?

Medium credit score displayed on a man's smartphoneGive your credit its annual review by ordering your free annual report from Annualcreditreport.com. Check your score and read through the report carefully to see if there are any suspicious charges, unfamiliar accounts or mistakes of any kind. If you find an error, be sure to dispute it and follow up on the mistake. You’ll want to close any inactive accounts as well, as they can drag down your credit file.

Keep that score climbing!

Your Turn:
How do you monitor your credit? Share your best methods with us in the comments.

Why Does My Credit Score Matter?

Woman holding her credit reportYour credit score is made up of three numbers, serving as an indicator of your financial history, wellness and responsibility. These three little numbers can spell the difference between approval and rejection for a mortgage, a job, a rental unit and so much more.
We have outlined how your credit score is calculated, why it matters and steps you can take to improve your score.

How is my credit score calculated?
There are three major credit bureaus in the U.S.: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Each one collects and shares information about your credit usage with potential lenders and financial institutions. Most lenders use this information along with the FICO scoring model to calculate your credit worthiness. Some lenders use the VantageScore model instead of FICO.

While there are several slight differences between the FICO and the VantageScore formulas, both scoring models look at the following factors when calculating your score:

  • The age of your credit
    How long have you had your oldest credit card? When was your first loan? An older credit history generally boosts your score.
  • The timeliness of your bill payments
    Are you paying all of your monthly bills on time? Chronic late payments, particularly loan and credit card payments, can drastically reduce your score.
  • The ratio of your outstanding debt to available credit
    The VantageScore formula views consumers with a lot of available credit as a liability, while the FICO formula considers this a point in your favor.
  • The diversity of your credit
    Lenders want to see that you have and have had several kinds of open credit. For example, you may be paying down an auto loan, a student loan and using three credit cards.
  • The trajectory of your debt
    Are you accumulating new debt each month, or slowly working toward paying down every dollar you owe?
  • Your credit card usage
    Financial experts recommend having several open credit cards to help boost your credit score, but this only works if you actually use the cards and pay off your bills each month. It doesn’t help much to have the cards sitting in your wallet.

How does my credit score affect my life?
Your credit score serves as a gauge for your financial wellness to anybody who is looking to get a better idea of how responsible you are with your financial commitments.
Here are just some ways your credit score can affect your day-to-day life:

  • Loan eligibility
    This is easily the most common use for your credit score. Lenders check your score to determine whether you will be eligible for a loan.
  • The larger the loan, the stricter the requirements
    A poor credit score can hold you back from buying a house, a car, or getting a personal loan at Advantage One Credit Union.
  • Interest rates on loans
    Here too, your credit score plays a large role in your financial reality. A higher score can get you a lower interest rate on your loan, and a poor score can mean paying thousands of extra dollars in interest over the life of the loan.
  • Employment
    A study by the Society for Human Resources Management found that 47 percent of employers look at the credit scores of potential employees as part of the hiring process.
  • Renting
    Many landlords run credit checks on new tenants before signing a lease agreement. A poor credit score can prevent you from landing that dream apartment or it can prompt your landlord to demand you make a higher deposit before moving in.
  • Insurance coverage
    Most insurers will check your credit before agreeing to provide you with coverage. Consumer Reports writes that a lower score can mean paying hundreds of dollars more for auto coverage each year.

How to improve your credit score
If you’re planning on taking out a large loan in the near future, applying for a new job, renting a new unit or you just want to improve your score, follow these steps:

  • Pay your bills on time
    If you have the income to cover it but find getting things paid on time to be a challenge, consider using automatic payments.
  • Pay more than the minimum payment on your credit cards
    Your credit score takes the trajectory of your debt into account. By paying more than just the minimum payment on your credit cards, you can show you’re working on paying down your debt and help improve your score.
  • Pay your credit card bills before they’re due
    If you can, it’s best to pay your credit card bills early. This way, more of your money will go toward paying down your outstanding balance instead of interest.
  • Find out if you have any outstanding medical bills
    You may have an unpaid medical bill you’ve forgotten about. These can significantly drag down your credit score, so be sure to settle any outstanding medical bills as quickly as possible.
  • Consider debt consolidation
    If you’re paying interest on multiple outstanding debts each month, you may benefit from paying off your debt through a new credit card that offers an introductory interest-free period, or from taking out a [personal/unsecured] loan at Advantage One Credit Union. This way, you’ll only have one low-interest or interest-free payment to make each month. (Note: If you’ll be applying for a large loan within the next few months, it’s better not to open any new cards.)

It’s crucial that you make the effort to improve and maintain your credit score. It’s more than just a number; it will impact your financial wellness for years to come.

Your Turn:
How do you keep your credit score high? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
discover.com
fool.com
nerdwallet.com
thebalance.com

Beware of Zoom-bombers

Young man on laptop interrupting a video conferenceWith social distancing mandates in order until at least the end of April, and three out of every four Americans under statewide lock-down, huge parts of normal life have now moved into the virtual world.

Social visits, executive meetings, classes and more happen over videoconferencing apps, with Zoom being the most popular. The app was downloaded 62 million times during the third week of March, and 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies are now using Zoom.

Zoom’s simplicity is likely the driving factor behind its popularity — and its vulnerability. The FBI is warning of a new kind of scam in which criminals join Zoom meetings with malicious intent.

As they explain it, without protective measures, like passwords and screen-share locks, anyone can join and disrupt a Zoom conference. “Zoom-bombing” is happening more and more often, with hackers hurling racial slurs or displaying graphic content in the middle of classrooms and business meetings.

Some criminals take it one step further by creating bogus domains that impersonate Zoom. When video conferences are set up on these domains, the hackers will use the opportunity to steal personal information from meeting participants, which they then go on to sell or use for criminal purposes.

The bureau recommends that Zoom users take the following precautions to protect their conferences from being Zoom-bombed:

  • Make meetings private by requiring a password or using the waiting room feature, which controls admittance of guests.
  • Share teleconference links directly with participants instead of posting them in a public forum, like a social media page.
  • Control screen-sharing by choosing “Host Only” in the screen-sharing options.
  • Make sure all participants are using updated software

Videoconferencing apps like Zoom are helping millions of Americans maintain a semblance of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow the FBI’s guidelines for secure videoconferencing to avoid getting Zoom-bombed. Stay safe!

How to Work from Home

young man working from home at his computerThe coronavirus pandemic has taken the world as we know it and turned it upside down. Hospitals are scrambling to meet the needs of their patients as the federal and local governments are issuing stricter guidelines to help stop the spread of the virus.

Shopping malls that were filled with crowds just a week ago now stand vacant. Universities and schools have emptied out and students are continuing their education online to diminish the spread of the virus. Small businesses have shuttered their doors as they choose their health and the health and safety of their customers over profit.

As part of this upheaval, millions of Americans have been sent home from work with laptops in hand and strict instructions to remotely tend to their usual workload.

Unfortunately, this can prove to be a lot harder than it sounds. If you find yourself struggling to complete your workload from home during the outbreak, we can help!
Here are some tips on how to stay focused, on-task and productive as you work from home.

Create a workstation
Propping up your pillows and working in bed can sound like a good idea until you find yourself nodding off in front of your computer screen. To keep your brain focused and in “working mode,” it’s best to designate one area of your home to serve as your workstation as you wait out the outbreak. Keep the area clean and stocked with all the supplies you may need during your work hours.

Set your hours
A major boon of working from home is choosing your own hours — but this can backfire quickly. Lack of a proper schedule is the biggest enemy of the procrastinator. To keep from finding yourself with a huge amount of work to complete in an impossibly short amount of time, set up working hours and stick to them. If there are children home with you, work around their routine by scheduling your work hours during naptime or late at night when they’re asleep.

Collaborate
For most of us, home is where we unwind and kick off our shoes after a long day of work. Keeping focused and staying on task when working in your own comfortable surroundings can be super-challenging. Bring home some of the motivational work atmosphere by collaborating with your colleagues as much as possible. Utilize video conferencing to swap ideas, plan long-term projects and communicate on platforms like Slack, which is created just for this purpose.

Get rid of all distractions
It can be hard to keep your mind on work when each beep of the phone brings more horrific news and updates about the spread of the coronavirus. If you can, hide or shut off your phone during your work hours. If that’s not possible, consider turning off your notifications and social media apps. You can also use an app, like ColdTurkey, which makes it easy to minimize distractible apps and websites on your phone.

Your Turn:
Are you working from home? Tell us how you’re making it work in the comments.