Spring Cleaning: Seven Consumer Tips for Eliminating Financial Clutter

The season for spring cleaning has arrived and while many may be focused on organizing closets or scrubbing floors, the American Bankers Association encourages consumers to clean up their finances, as well.

“Spring is a great time to take a hard look at your finances and identify ways to manage them more efficiently,” said Frank Keating, ABA president and CEO. “By getting your financial house in order, you can set the stage for a stronger, more successful future.”
 
Below are seven tips from ABA to help cut back on financial clutter this spring:
  1. Evaluate and pay down debt. Take a look at how much you owe and what you are paying in interest. If there are better rates available now, consider requesting a lower credit card interest rate or refinancing your mortgage. Begin paying off existing debt, whether that’s by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
  2. Review your budget. A lot can change in a year. If you’ve been promoted, had a child, or become a single income household, be sure to update your budget. Determine what expenses demand the most money and identify areas where you can realistically cut back. Develop a strategy for spending and saving and stick to it. 
  3. Check your credit report. Every year, you are guaranteed one free credit report from each of the three bureaus. Take advantage of these free reports and check them for any possible errors. Mistakes can drag down your score and prevent you from getting a loan, or cause you to pay a higher than necessary interest rate. 
  4. Sign up for e-statements and paperless billing. Converting to paperless billing will help keep your house, physical and financial, more clean and organized. 
  5. Set up automatic bill pay. By signing up for automatic bill pay, you’ll never have to worry about a missed payment impacting your credit score. You can set it so that money is withdrawn from your checking account on the same day each month.
  6. Consolidate your accounts. Managing several accounts can be challenging. If you have open accounts that you rarely use, consider closing them. It’s important to note that cancelling accounts may come with a fee or impact your credit score. Other options include streamlining all your accounts under a single bank, or using a bill management service that allows you to view all of your financial accounts, bills, subscriptions and travel rewards in one place with a single password.
  7. Download your bank’s mobile app. Many banks now offer mobile apps that allow consumers to manage their finances from the palm of their hand. With the click of a button, you can make a deposit or access a record of all your recent transactions.

Raising Financially Savvy Kids

“Mom, I want that!”  “Dad, can I get this?”  “Why can’t I just get a new one?”  Have you ever heard your child utter those words?  Or maybe you have heard someone else’s child complaining as you rolled by with your little one in the stroller thinking, “That isn’t going to happen to me.”  It doesn’t have to happen to you if you work to help your children understand how to be financially savvy at a young age.  

More often children learn from observation and imitation rather than through any other method.  As you do your best to make sound financial decisions, your children will see and often emulate your commitment to fiscal responsibility. Outside of being an example for your children, you should also talk to them about fiscal responsibility. Here’s a few tips for what you should emphasize in these lessons.

Lesson #1:  Money has value.  One of the first lessons to teach children is that money has value.  Whether you have millions of them, or only a few, one dollar is one dollar.  It has the same purchasing potential regardless of who is holding it.  As children learn that money has value, you should explain that they will acquire the things they need and want by using money.

Lesson #2:  Understand the difference between “wants” and “needs.”  While this may be a different discussion for different age groups, it is important for your child to understand that not everything he or she “wants” to have is a “need”.  You can use the example that food is a “need,” but candy is a “want” even though it is considered “food”.  As children get older, the lines blur between wants and needs, so be sure to teach this lesson when your children are young.  It’s important to impress the point that, acquiring the things we “want” is not bad. But, it should only happen after our needs are met, and there is money available to do so.  

Lesson #3:  Patience is an important virtue when it comes to money matters.  Exercising patience is another virtue that can pay dividends when teaching your children financial responsibility.  While it is enticing (and easy) to purchase a “want” right now, it is not always the best move. For example, purchasing the newest cell phone technology the first day it becomes available isn’t a fiscally responsible move.  When the technology is new it costs more, but if you are patient for six months you can save a good deal of money and possibly avoid technology glitches or design flaws.

Lesson #4: Providing an allowance.  Using an allowance is a method many parents use to teach their children about money; but it can be a harmful endeavor, depending how you go about it.  If money has value, and you intend to give your child an allowance, it would be consistent with earlier lessons to require your child to put forth effort and earn the allowance. Take care to interfere with that lesson by adding variables to it.  For example, if you want to teach the concept that “work equals money,” you would not also want to teach lessons about behavior or grades using the same trade off.  It can be confusing for a child to distinguish between money they’ve received for grades or behavior versus money they’ve received for their effort.

Lesson #5:  Allow them to make final decisions.  One of the more difficult parts of teaching about finance is when it comes time to take a step back and watch your children implement what you have taught them. It can be difficult to step aside and let them make their own choices, but it’s important to let them do so.  When they ask for something, you should simply respond with the statement, “it’s your money.”  Children need to learn to make decisions, and then discover both the benefits and consequences, before they reach an age where a financial decision can make or break their credit history.

Cyber Tips

By 2017, the number of smartphone users in the U.S. is expected to surpass 200 million, nearly 65 percent of the population. Below are some key actions users can take to help minimize the likelihood of a successful cyber attack.

Regularly update your device.
Mobile malware increased 75% in 2014 from 2013 , and further increases in malware are expected in 2015, particularly in mobile ransomware. Updated operating systems and security software are critical in protecting against emerging threats.

Enable encryption.
Enabling encryption on your smartphone is one of the best ways to safeguard information stored on the device, thwarting unauthorized access.

Use a passcode.
In case your phone ever does fall into the wrong hands, don’t make it easy for someone to access all your important information! Enable strong password protection on your device and include a timeout requiring authentication after a period of inactivity. Secure the smartphone with a unique password – not the default one it came with. Do not share your password with others.

Do not use public Wi-Fi.
Do not log into accounts and do not conduct any sensitive transactions, such as shopping or banking, while using public Wi-Fi. Disable the “automatically connect to Wi-Fi” setting on your device.

Install applications from trusted sources.
Last fall, Gartner issued a prediction that more than 75 percent of mobile applications will fail basic security tests through 2015.   When downloading apps, be proactive and make sure that you read the privacy statement, review permissions, check the app reviews and look online to see if any security company has identified the app as malicious.

Install a phone locator/remote erase app.
Misplacing your device doesn’t have to be a catastrophe if it has a locater app. Many such apps allow you to log on to another computer and see on a map exactly where the device is. Remote erase apps allow you to remotely wipe data from your device, helping minimize unauthorized access to your information in the event you cannot locate the device.

Disable unwanted services when not in use.
Bluetooth and Near Field Capabilities (NFC) can provide an easy way for an unauthorized user near by to gain access to your data. Turn these features off when they are not required.

Carefully dispose of mobile devices.
With the constant changes in the smartphone market, many users frequently upgrade to new devices. Make sure you wipe the information from your smartphone before disposal. For information on how to do this, check the website of your mobile provider or the manufacturer.

Avoid these Three Issues and Increase your Business Security

If your business uses the internet or any other network application to reach customers, the question you should be asking yourself is this: Is my business secure?  Check out some of the common security issues among businesses today, as well as simple ways you can protect yourself, your business, and your customers:

Security Issue #1:  Worms and Viruses

According to Cisco Systems, 75 percent of small and medium-sized businesses were affected by a least one virus over the last year.  Worms and viruses can have a devastating effect on a business.  Be sure that your computer systems and any other electronic access to your business is armed with the appropriate programs to detect and repel worms, viruses and spyware at all points of contact.

Security Issue #2:  Information Theft

Unfortunately, information theft is a lucrative business.  Hackers break into business networks to steal credit card and other personal information from consumers.  They then sell that information to the highest bidder for a large profit.  Make the investment to protect your network using firewalls or other protective software.  Additionally, you must make sure you have internal policies and procedures in place to keep this information out of the hands of your employees as well.

Security Issue #3:  Security Legislation

Federal and state privacy laws dictate strict adherence to the privacy of customer data.  In certain industries, your business is held accountable for the adherence to these laws, and ignorance of these laws is not a defense in a court of law.  So, it is imperative that you are clear on the steps you must take to protect your data at all costs.  Check with your attorney and/or compliance officer to be sure you are in compliance with all of the privacy rules and regulations applicable to your particular industry.  Non-compliance with privacy laws can be costly and potentially devastating to your reputation as well as your profitability.

What can you do?

With every advance in technology comes new ways to exploit that technology for gain. New hardware or software releases present such opportunities. When peer-to-peer networking and instant messaging were still relatively new applications, for example, their users were attacked by malicious code written specifically for them. Now, mobile phones are frequent targets of viruses. Without the ability to predict what is coming next, the best defense is one that can easily adapt to future threats, and that is affordable.

The best thing you can do as a business is to keep up-to-date on all anti-virus and malware software, maintain employee policies that limit the use of outside or non-business programs or software, and continuously monitor your system for performance and other threats.  Diligence and preparation are the keys to preventing a major catastrophe at your organization.

Take Control of Your Finances: Part 5

Focus on Your Future (Article #5 in a Series of 5) 

Taking control of your finances is more than just spending less and earning more money.  You must save effectively, get out of debt, and have a great plan for your future.  There are five critical steps to follow to help you gain more control of your finances, which are: 

  • Track Every Penny You Spend
  • Develop a Useful Budget
  • Start an Emergency Fund
  • Get Out of Debt
  • Focus on Your Future

In this article, we will focus on the last step in the process, which is:  “Focus on Your Future.”

There are three critical areas of focus to consider when trying to establish a successful financial future: 1) Increase your earning power; 2) Focus on your net worth; and 3) Plan for your future.  Let’s look at each of these areas in a little more depth.

#1:  Increase Your Earning Power.

We have all learned from the dawn of the Information Age that education and training must be an ongoing process throughout the remainder of our lives.  It is not only important for our children to be educated, but each one of us must be willing to adapt to a rapidly changing world no matter how old we are.

Take a few minutes to contemplate your current earning situation.  Are you earning an amount of money that is adequate for the basic needs of your family? If not, you need to give serious thought to receiving additional training in a more marketable skill. Simply put, unskilled workers do not have as much economic leverage in today’s high tech marketplace as those who are skilled. 

If you are making an adequate living, you should still continue to look to the future and review where you may have growth opportunities within your industry.  Take the steps necessary to be the most informed and trained you can be and your earning power will continue to increase.

#2:  Focus on Your Net Worth.

All of the work you do to improve your financial situation will be manifest in one fundamental way; it will increase your net worth.  If your financial activities are not accomplishing this, then you must adjust in some way.  As the old saying goes, “it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.” Whether you are taking steps to save more money, increase your earning power, or eliminate debt, your ultimate objective must be to increase your financial net worth.

To calculate your net worth, add up the current market value of all of your assets (e.g., home, automobiles, stocks, cash and other investments).  Then, subtract from that value all of your liabilities or debt (e.g., home mortgage balance, auto loans, credit card debt, student loans, and other personal debt obligations).  If you use a money management software program, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, it will usually provide you with your net worth automatically from the information you put into the system.

Take the time to understand where you currently are. If you currently have a negative net worth, do not panic. You can take steps to improve your financial situation (e.g., get out of debt, increase your income, save more money, etc.), and you will slowly see your net worth improve.  Make wise use of bonuses, tax refunds and other financial windfalls.  Instead of spending them, put them into productive assets or into paying off debt, and you will be able to make even more progress in your goal of having financial security. 

#3:  Plan for Your Future

Decide now where you want to be and when. Then, develop a realistic (but aggressive) road map to get there.  You must write down how you plan to take control of your financial future.  Do not rely on the government, an employer, your church, a friend, or a rich family member to plan it for you.  The only person qualified to make decisions about your long-term financial future is you.  Be specific and take advantage of the financial tools available to make a difference in your life. 

Take a moment to review the five steps we have discussed in the past several articles.  Don’t become overwhelmed; start with one step and move on to the next.  Eventually, you will begin to see progress and start feeling better about your financial future.

Take Control of Your Finances: Part 4

Get Out of Debt (Article #4 in a Series of 5) 

Taking control of your finances is more than just spending less and earning more money.  You must save effectively and get out of debt (and stay out).  There are five critical steps to follow to help you gain more control of your finances, which are: 

  • Track Every Penny You Spend
  • Develop a Useful Budget
  • Start an Emergency Fund
  • Get Out of Debt
  • Focus on Your Future

In this article, we will focus on the fourth step in the process, which is:  “Get Out of Debt.”

Debt is a killer when it comes to managing your finances.  Maybe you struggle with heavy credit card debt or student loans.  There is a method to help you eliminate the debt you have, but you will need to be patient and consistent in this effort.  To start, pay off your debts beginning with the lowest balance first.  Let’s take a look at how this works:

  1. Order your debts from the lowest to the highest balance.
  2. Pay the minimum balance on all debts, except for the lower balance, where you can make a higher payment.
  3. Using your budget, designate a fixed amount you will pay monthly toward each debt.
  4. When the lowest debt is gone, work on the next lowest debt, and so forth.

When you pay off your debt, you will feel an accomplishment that may motivate you to continue the process.  Furthermore, once you get out of debt, don’t get back into it.  Limit your credit cards and other loans to “emergency only” use.  You should also consider using credit only for larger purchases (e.g., vehicles, homes, etc.), but make sure you are getting the best deal all the way around.  The key is to spend less than you earn each month.

A great way to stay out of debt is to make sure you understand the difference between needs and wants.  A need is something that is required for you to survive, such as water, electricity, a vehicle (for many), food, etc.  A want is something that is not necessarily critical to your survival, but you enjoy having it.  For example, wants could be things like attending a professional sporting event, buying a Corvette, getting a morning coffee every day at the local coffee shop, etc.  Stick to using your money to cover your needs. Then, when you have some extra money in your budget, you can then start getting some of your wants.  

Getting out of debt is a critical way to take your life back.  You will feel freer and happier because you will not have the stress of bills and other expenses weighing you down. 

Take Control of Your Finances: Part 3

Start an Emergency Fund (Article #3 in a Series of 5)

Taking control of your finances is more than just spending less and earning more money.  It is also about preparing properly for your future by saving effectively and having funds available in case of emergency.  There are five critical steps to follow to help you gain more control of your finances, which are: 

  • Track Every Penny You Spend
  • Develop a Useful Budget
  • Start an Emergency Fund
  • Get Out of Debt
  • Focus on Your Future

In this article, we will focus on the third step in the process, which is:  “Start an Emergency Fund.” 

Many people live paycheck-to-paycheck and figure they cannot save. That’s just not true. Everyone can save…it just takes discipline.  As part of your budget, you need to develop an emergency fund for things like unexpected medical or vehicle expenses.  Many financial experts suggest that once you have safely put together an emergency fund of at least $1,000, you can then move on to attacking your debt.

But, how can you create a fund when you are living so tightly month-to-month? 

Pay yourself first!  Make having an emergency fund something you must do to survive, at least as important as paying the rent, mortgage or electricity bill.  The rule of thumb is to save approximately 10 percent or more of your gross income. However, many experts recommend saving three to six months worth of monthly expenses that can be easily accessed in case of an emergency. 

To calculate your current savings rate, divide how much you save each month by your monthly income.  For example, if you earn $5,000 each month and you save an average of $250 each month, your savings rate is 5%, which is low.  Of course, saving some money is better than nothing, but you may want to adjust to save a little more each month.  Remember, you want to have an emergency fund set up prior to paying down any other debt.

Be sure the money you save for your emergency fund is liquid, or in other words, you must be able to access it.  For example, you should consider a basic savings or money market account for this purpose.  While these accounts do not yield the highest rates, they do allow you to access your money easily. 

To learn more about the savings options available at Central National Bank, click here.  Or, if you prefer, you may call one of our representatives at (888) 262-5456, or stop by one of our branch locations for more information.

Take Control of Your Finances: Part 2

Develop a Useful Budget (Article #2 in a Series of 5) 

Everyone wants to have complete control of their finances and be able to live comfortably and happily. There are five critical steps to follow to help you gain more control of your finances, which are:

  1. Track Every Penny You Spend
  2. Develop a Useful Budget
  3. Start an Emergency Fund
  4. Get Out of Debt
  5. Focus on Your Future

In this article, we will focus on the second step in the process, which is:  “Develop a Useful Budget.”  Budgets are a necessary evil.  They are the only practical way to get a handle on your spending and make sure you are using your money the way you want to.  Creating a useful budget requires three key steps:

#1:  Identify how you are spending your money.

The easiest way to track your spending is by using a software program, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, because they have built-in programs to help you review everything you have earned and spent simply by clicking a few buttons.  The more often you download transactions and categorize them, the more updated information you will have and the easier your review will be at a later date.  However, if you prefer, you can keep track of your receipts and write down everything you have spent over a period of time for evaluation.

#2:  Evaluate your current spending and set goals.

Now that you have tracked your spending, it is time to sit down and determine your financial goals.  Do you want to own a home in two years?  Do you want to buy a car at the end of the year?  What types of things does your family need for home improvement purposes?  How old are your children and how much can you save each month for their college education?  What does your retirement investment strategy currently look like?

All of these things must be considered as you establish your household budget.  Budgeting is usually not a very fun process because you have to figure out what you should cut.  In fact, sometimes it can lead to some frustration within the home.  However, if the goals are established, cuts will have to be made.  And, your goals will only be accomplished if everyone is “on board” with the created budget.

You must also consider things such as medical expenses, recreational or sports team fees, insurance costs, etc., as you develop your budget.  It is wise to make sure you have developed an emergency fund should you have car problems or a major medical issue.

Go through everything you spend money on and analyze why you spend that money and if it is possible to spend less in that category.  For example, John and Alice were reviewing their household spending and found that they spent nearly $400 each month dining out, whether going out to lunch or dinner.  In conversation, they committed to only going out to dinner once a week and out to lunch twice a week.  They felt this was a realistic option and would save around $200.

Once you go through every expense item, you need to write down exactly what you think you will spend in the coming month, or establish a budget for your family.  If you use Quicken or Microsoft Money, you can actually create your budget right in the system.  Then, each month when you review your budget, you simply print the budget-to-actual household budget, which is done automatically.  Focus on the things that you are trying to control more than every single penny you are spending.  For example, in John and Alice’s case, they would pay special attention to the food budget because they are trying to control that area of their spending.

The idea is not to deprive because no one will follow that budget.  A budget should be something that is in the forefront of everyone’s minds when they are making purchasing decisions, yet doesn’t create hostility within the home. 

#3:  Track your spending to make sure you fall in line with your goals.

It is a good idea to monitor your budget on a monthly basis.  Have a meeting with your spouse, significant other, and/or other members of the family to review where you stand.  Do you need to make more cuts?  Are you on track with the goals you have established?  Why were certain things purchased that may not have been budgeted?  

Whatever the case may be, this is the time to discuss financial goals and keep the budget “top-of-mind.”  We all know that anything not measured will not be obtained; household budgets are no different.  You may find that the budget may be a little too stringent in one area and maybe not stringent enough in another.  This is also when you discuss modifying any portion of the budget and recommitting to make it work.

Your Budget

Creating a budget is a not usually a fun task.  You have to review how you are spending your money; much less how other members of your family are spending as well. You have to “get real” with your finances, which can be a painful process for many.  Just be sure to keep your eyes on the goals you have established and work toward a better tomorrow.