Six Ways to Avoid Holiday Shopping Scams
In the wake of recent data breaches, shoppers should be on high alert while purchasing their presents this holiday season. “While millions of credit and debit card transactions are conducted safely every day, it’s important that consumers are aware of the potential for holiday scams,” said Karen Graham, SVP, Chief Operations Officer for Crest Savings Bank. Crest Savings offers the following tips to help consumer keep their information safe whether shopping in the store or online:
- Monitor your account. Use online and mobile banking to keep an eye on your transactions, especially during the holidays. Notify the bank right away if there’s any fraudulent activity.
- Beware of phishing scams. During the holidays, criminals will create a fake email for a deal that’s too good to be true. If you click on any links within the email, you may be downloading malware onto your computer or you may be asked for payment information that could lead to fraud.
- Limit large sums of cash. Even though we’ve seen financial crime migrate from physical to cyber, customers should be careful not to carry around large sums of cash when shopping. If cash is stolen, your money is gone.
- Secure your internet connection. If shopping online, make sure you do so from a password protected Wi-Fi network. Never access online banking from a public Wi-Fi network.
- Shop safely. Before making an online purchase, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
For helpful information about money, banking and ID theft prevention in our Money IQ section.
Wire Fraud Alert
New Jersey residents and businesses involved in real estate transactions, including real estate brokers, attorneys, and title agents, are being targeted by profit-motivated cybercriminals using phishing and social engineering tactics to defraud homebuyers and agents. The NJCCIC has observed a steady increase in reported incidents involving these scams; one homebuyer was recently defrauded out of tens of thousands of dollars. Once a malicious actor has gained access to one party's email account and discovers an ongoing real estate transaction, they often wait for the most opportune time to send an email with fraudulent account details requesting wire transfers for deposits and closing costs. In other instances, threat actors simply create an email address and impersonate a known real estate or title agent. The subject and body of these emails will often portray a sense of urgency in an attempt to have targets immediately wire money before they have an opportunity to fully review the email’s content and question its legitimacy. Scams such as these are likely to increase again next year between April and August, as this is typically the most active time for real estate transactions and agents may be more likely to miss red flags in emails. Agents may also be held liable if a client loses money due this type of scam. In 2016, a title company sued a California real estate broker for $513,000, claiming the agent failed to secure his email account, leading to a fraudulent wire transfer. The NJCCIC recommends homebuyers and real estate entities educate themselves on these malicious tactics and remain vigilant during and immediately after the closing process. We strongly recommend real estate businesses implement new policies aimed at preventing fraudulent wire transfers and other scams. For example, forbid the sharing of wire transfer account information via email and instead utilize video chat applications, phone calls from trusted numbers, or in-person meetings.
Employee of the Quarter
Please join us in congratulating James Belles, our Employee of the Quarter winner in recognition of "Outstanding Performance". Jim was nominated by his peers and selected through a voting process by the HR Committee.
The following are some of the comments made regarding Jim's performance:
"Jim has gone far and beyond what any employee is expected – he even saved the Holly Beach building without even thinking about it. He is always busy with behind the scenes working to help keep the bank in tip top shape! I have seen him on a daily basis working and he would do anything for you or Crest Savings Bank."
“Jimmy is always helping out at a lot of events. Anything that needs to be taken care of or brought back to the administration office, he never has a problem and takes care of it.”
“Jim is expected to do maintenance for Crest, but to help members of the community and go out of his way to make sure we had everything we needed and more during the move to 113, is so meaningful.”
"Jimmy is truly an asset to Crest and is a team player, we are lucky to have him.”
6 Smart Money Moves for New College Graduates
More than 70 percent of college graduates began their career owing more than $37,000 in student loans in 2017. Considering the additional living expenses they’ll soon face, new college graduates would be wise to focus on their financial future right now, says Crest Savings Bank. Crest Savings has highlighted six smart financial decisions college graduates should consider to position themselves for financial success as they embark on their next phase of life.
The habits new graduates develop right now will have a big effect on their financial future. Living expenses add up quickly once you’re out on your own, and many young adults who didn’t plan ahead are delaying major milestones like getting married or buying a home because of their financial situation. The good news is that you can have a bright financial future if you think strategically about money right out of the gate.
Crest Saving Bank recommends the following financial tips for new college graduates:
- Live within your means. Supporting yourself can be expensive, and you can quickly find yourself struggling financially if you don’t take time to create a budget. Calculate the amount of money you’re taking home after taxes, then figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month while contributing to your savings. Be sure to factor in recurring expenses such as student loans, monthly rent, utilities, groceries, transportation expenses and car loans.
- Pay bills on time. Missed payments can hurt your credit history for up to seven years and can affect your ability to get loans, the interest rates you pay and your ability to get a job or rent an apartment. Consider setting up automatic payments for regular expenses like student loans, car payments and phone bills. Take advantage of any reminders or notification features. You can also contact creditors and lenders to request a different monthly due date from the one provided by default (e.g., switching from the 1st of the month to the 15th).
- Avoid racking up too much debt. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit. Shop around for a card that best suits your needs, and spend only what you can afford to pay back. Credit is a great tool, but only if you use it responsibly.
- Plan for retirement. It may seem odd since you’re just beginning your career, but now is the best time to start planning for your retirement. Contribute to retirement accounts like a Roth IRA or your employer’s 401(k), especially if there is a company match. Invest enough to qualify for your company’s full match – it’s free money that adds up to a significant chunk of change over the years. Automatic retirement contributions quickly become part of your financial lifestyle without having to think about it.
- Prepare for emergencies. Hardships can happen in a split second. Start an emergency fund and do your best to set aside the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Start saving immediately, no matter how small the amount. Make saving a part of your lifestyle with automatic payroll deductions or automatic transfers from checking to savings. Put your tax refund toward saving instead of an impulse buy.
- Get free help from your bank. Many banks offer personalized financial checkups to help you identify and meet your financial goals. You can also take advantage of their free digital banking tools that let you check balances, pay bills, deposit checks, monitor transaction history and track your budget.
6 Worthwhile Ways to Use Your Tax Refund
According to the Internal Revenue Service, more than 70 percent of the nation’s taxpayers received a tax refund averaging nearly $3,000 in 2017 and will get a similar amount this year. As Americans receive their refunds, Crest Savings Bank has six tips to help use the money wisely.
- Save for retirement or your child’s education. Open or increase contributions to a tax-deferred savings plan like a 401(k) or an IRA. Crest Savings can help set up an IRA, while a 401(k) is employer-sponsored. Look into opening a tax-advantaged 529 education savings plan through Crest Wealth Management to cover school expenses when your child reaches college age.
- Pay off credit card debt. Pay down existing balances either by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
Invest in your current home. Home improvements can pay you back in the long run by increasing the value of your home. If you have substantial renovations in mind, Crest Savings can help with a home equity loan or line of credit.
- Pay down your mortgage or student loans. Make an extra payment on your mortgage or student loans to save money on interest while reducing the term. Be sure to inform your lender that your extra payments should be applied to principal, not interest.
- Save for emergencies. More than 60 percent of Americans are not prepared for unexpected expenses. You can prepare by opening or adding to an account that serves as an “emergency fund.” Ideally, it should hold about three-to-six months of living expenses in case of sudden financial hardships. Crest Savings offers savings and CD rates at www.crestsavings.bank.
- Donate to charity. Giving to charity will make a difference in your community, and you can also claim the tax deduction, if you itemize.
“Tax season is the perfect time to hit the reset button on your finances,” said Anthony DeSalle, President & CEO. “Your refund can help put you on the right path towards reaching your financial goals.” Visit us online at www.crestsavings.bank or stop by one of our locations to see how we can help.
5 Tips for Improving Your Credit Score
An important step to finding a home, whether you’re renting or buying, is ensuring that you have a good credit history. Crest Savings Bank suggests the following tips to improve your credit score.
- Request a copy of your credit score report – and make sure it is correct. Your credit report illustrates your credit performance, and it needs to be accurate so that you can apply for other loans – such as a mortgage. Everyone is entitled to receive a free copy of his or her credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies, but you must go through the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228. Note that you may have to pay for the numerical credit score itself.
- Set up automatic bill pay. Payment history makes up 35 percent of your FICO credit score. The longer you pay your bills on time, the better your score. Avoid missed payments by setting as many of your bills to automatic pay as possible.
- Keep balances low on credit cards and ‘revolving credit.’ Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month. You often can increase your scores by limiting your charges to 30 percent or less of a card's limit.
- Apply for and open new credit accounts only as needed. Keep this in mind the next time a retailer offers you 10 percent off if you open an account. However, if you need a new line of credit, don’t jump at the first appealing offer; compare rates and fees offered through mail solicitation, on the Internet or at your local bank.
- Talk to credit counselors if you’re in trouble. Using legitimate, non-profit credit counseling can help you manage your debt and won’t hurt your credit score. For more information on debt management, contact the National Foundation for Consumer Credit (www.nfcc.org).
When you are ready to buy a home and get a mortgage, talk to us first before you borrow elsewhere 609-522-5011. www.crestsavings.bank
Tips every homebuyer should know
With housing prices and mortgage interest rates at record lows, now is a good time to explore buying a home. “Buying a home is the single largest investment that most people will make in their lifetime,” said Ed Savino, VP Residential Loan Manager. “So it is important to make sure you are fully prepared.” Here are a few tips to help:
- Review your finances. Calculate all of your monthly expenses, in addition to your potential mortgage payment, homeowner’s insurance, taxes and condo fees. Include other obligations like car payments, credit card debt and living expenses. Budget for home maintenance costs also. Keep the mortgage payment and all other obligations below 40 percent of your monthly income and stay within your budget.
- Check your credit score. Most lenders rely on the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) credit score when reviewing your loan application. The score reflects how well you manage your debt and is calculated using data from your credit report. A lower credit score could result in a higher interest rate on your loan.
- If your score is too low, you may not be approved for a loan at that time. You can improve your credit score by paying your bills on time and keeping your credit card balances below half of your available credit. To learn more visit www.myfico.com.
- Organize your finances before you go to the bank. A variety of documents will be needed including, but not limited to, pay stubs, tax returns and bank statements that are less than 60 days old. Provide copies of credit cards, car and student loan payments. Bring any additional information you think will help evaluate your financial situation.
- Factor in closing costs. Once you have found a home there will be costs associated with closing the sale. These will vary and depend on the purchase price and whether a real estate attorney or title/escrow company will be involved. By law, lenders are required to give you a written estimate of closing costs within three days of accepting your loan application.
For more information, visit www.crestsavings.bank or call our Residential Lenders at 609-522-5011.