Translating Your Pet’s Body Language

Have you ever wondered whatIMN1822T2 your pet is thinking? Is it hungry? Angry? Happy? Around the world, animal experts and average pet owners alike have theories about animal communication.

It may be clear to you that your dog’s tail wags when he or she is excited, but here are some other body language signals as observed by the Mendocino Coast Humane Society in California:

  • A tail curled under, along with a head and rear lowered with an arched back may mean that your dog is worried.
  • An open mouth with tail down and weight flat on feet can indicate that he or she is relaxed.
  • A confident dog will have his or her ears forward while a submissive dog, or one who is feeling meek, will often have its ears flat or back.

Cats are often independent creatures, and like the Sphinx of Egypt, they emit an aura of mystery. The Animal Health Clinic of Funkstown, in Maryland, offers some guidelines for understanding your feline friend:

  • While purring is usually something a cat does when happy, the experts in Funkstown believe that cats sometimes purr when in fear.
  • A twitching tail can indicate that your cat is excited over something (such as a bird or squirrel), but it can also signal territorial arousal.
  • Leg rubbing is part of a natural marking behavior, and your cat will attempt to cover you in his or her pheromones (from glands found on the face), so you and your environment will have a comforting scent.

Rabbits may seem like pretty passive creatures, but the folks at the Wisconsin Humane Society believe that these furry friends have a more complex communication system than we may think. Here are some of their observations:

  • Gnashing of the teeth signals that the rabbit is completely relaxed, often occurring during petting.
  • Thumping or tapping of the feet may indicate that the rabbit is fearful or excited. In the wild, thumping is used in burrows to announce danger to other rabbits.

No matter what type of pet you have, whether a guinea pig or a goldfish, you probably recognize certain signals and body language movements. Although every animal has a different personality, current research indicates that there is perhaps a universal set of signals that certain animals use to communicate with each other and their human companions. For more science and fascinating facts about the communication abilities of everything from mosquitoes to elephants, visit The Animal Communication Project’s website at http://acp.eugraph.com/#.


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The ABCs of E-Payments

The Internet has brought about a world of convenience. You can chat with people from around the world; search and apply for jobs; and, of shutterstock_73863952course, purchase goods and services with just a few clicks of the mouse. As the popularity of purchasing goods and services online continues to grow, so too do the number of methods people are using to pay for them. Though debit and credit cards are still the most popular types of electronic payments, or e-payments, other payment methods have been developed:

Electronic money (e-money)
You can’t go into a pharmacy or retailer today without noticing gift cards, which can be used online. These gift cards are examples of e-money. Another type of card is a stored-value card. These types of transactions are common with public transportation passes or telephone cards. Note that some stored-value cards can be “reloaded” at cash machines or by the merchants, while others are simply thrown away after their use. Some of these cards may also be “smart cards,” which means you can use them as either credit cards or debit cards.

E-wallets
According to the FTC, “some Internet-based payment systems allow value to be transmitted through computers.” These are called e-wallets and are usually for making small online purchases, such as coffee or magazines. Transactions made with e-wallets may be accessed via stored value or through an online account.

Protect yourself
As with any type of electronic banking, it’s important to take steps to ensure that your money and your personal information are protected. The FTC offers these tips:

  • Deal with businesses you know and trust: And make sure you’re entering personal or financial information where it should be – on an order form.
  • Read the merchant’s privacy policy before you make any payment: This will help you determine what information they will need and how it will be shared with others. If you are uncomfortable with a policy, don’t make the purchase.
  • Guard your personal information: Be careful when giving out your address, telephone number, Social Security number, account number or e-mail addresses. Remember that some scam artists may pose as merchants you do business with and ask for this information online. Before giving out information, contact the merchant by phone or via the website to verify that the merchant is requesting your information.
  • Check your browser: Is your computer’s Internet browser, which encrypts information you send over the Internet, up to date? Be sure to check with the creator of the browser and download the latest version. Also, every time you purchase something online, watch for the lock symbol and the letters “https” in the URL of the website. These show that you have a secure connection.
  • Read the fine print regarding returns and shipping: This type of information should be available on the merchant’s website.
  • Never give out your password to anyone online: Also don’t choose passwords that are easy to guess, such as your address or phone number.
  • Do not download files from strangers or click hyperlinks: These may contain viruses or programs that capture information in your computer.
  • Watch your account activity: By monitoring your accounts, you’ll be able to detect fraud. If you notice an unauthorized transaction, report it immediately. And if your card is stolen, report it immediately.

Know your rights
According to the FTC, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) offer protection from the following:

  • Charges or transfers that you or anyone authorized to use your account have not made
  • Charges or transfers that are improperly defined or have the wrong purchase amount or date.
  • Mathematical or similar errors
  • A creditor’s failure to properly reflect payments, credits or electronic fund transfers
  • A creditor’s failure to deliver credit billing statements to your current address, provided you sent written notice of your address 20 days before the billing period ended
  • Credit charges or electronic fund transfers for which you have requested an explanation or documentation due to possible error

Learn more
If you have any questions about your account activity or making online payments and purchases, give us call – we’d be happy to help


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Going Green with Food

Purchasing locally sourced ingredients can lead to a healthier and more environmentally responsible lifestyle. More and more people are becomingLifestyle_Going_Green_With_Food1 aware of the environment and making a conscious effort to become more responsible. Without exception, food is one of the most important ways consumers can live a more efficient (and often healthier) lifestyle. A few simple changes can yield big results in your budget, health and environmental footprint.

Grow and can your own foods
Canning is making a comeback. Consider growing some of your own fruits and vegetables and “putting up” jars of fruits, vegetables or soups for future months. Not only is home-grown food healthier for you, but you can control the ingredients when it’s time to preserve them. Once you make the initial investment for supplies, canning can also be economical. Save your vegetable peels and organic leftovers for a compost pile – this provides rich soil that can keep your garden going. The USDA offers a free guide on home canning at the website http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html.

Purchase foods with minimal packaging
Select items with as little packaging as possible. Less energy was used in the production of those items, and there will be less waste once you open the food. Minimally packaged foods are often healthier choices, which is also an added bonus.

Shop at local farms and farmers markets
When possible, shop for fresh ingredients from local farmers. The produce will be noticeably fresher than the food you find at the grocery store, and your money will support your local economy (your friends and neighbors).

Eat at restaurants that buy from local farmers
When dining out, choose restaurants that buy from local farmers. You’re guaranteed a vibrant, healthy meal, and you’ll support a local business.

Avoid fast food restaurants with lots of packaging
Skip the local fast food joint, which gives you three bags, a drink carrier and a large plastic cup for purchasing a value meal. The excess packaging creates waste. The energy used in shipping the products across the country is not environmentally friendly, and the food itself may include processed products, additives and unknown preservatives.

Bring your own coffee mug
Many coffee shops now allow you to bring your own travel coffee mug with you when you purchase coffee. Some will even provide a small discount for providing your own cup. If you stop for coffee every morning, consider taking your own cup to prevent the waste of a paper cup each day.

Only buy what you need or can store for future use
Purchasing more food than you can eat (before spoiling) will just produce waste that must be composted or thrown in a landfill.

Keep a pantry of food
Having a stash of food will prevent you from running to the store more often than necessary. You will also be prepared if there is a large storm or power outage.

Use cloth grocery bags
Not only will you use less plastic by bringing your own bags, but you may save a few cents, as some stores provide a discount for using your own cloth bags.

Buy a reusable water bottle
A good water bottle can be used for years, and you’ll prevent hundreds of water bottles from going to waste.

A few small changes in your purchasing and eating habits can lead to a healthier and environmentally responsible lifestyle.


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Six Myths About Credit Cards

Credit cards can be an incredibly valuableshutterstock_64945411 part of your financial toolbox. With the amount of credit card advice offered on the Internet or by friends and family, it can be difficult to separate fact from reality. Suggestions about the best way to cook eggs so that the shells peel off easily or chop an onion without crying may contain more fiction than fact, but these innocent pieces of misinformation aren’t especially harmful. Credit card myths, on the other hand, can be damaging. Here are six credit card myths that you may have heard before and maybe even repeated. The corresponding facts will clear up the confusion:

1) Credit or Debit? It Doesn’t Matter
Unless you have a personal assistant who does all of your shopping, you are probably asked “Credit or debit?” several times a day. If you answer, “It doesn’t matter,” then you are perpetuating this first myth. Even if your credit card has the same logo as your debit card and you monitor them on the same site, they don’t do the same thing for your finances. Only purchases made on your credit card affect your credit score. If you use your credit card reliably and pay your bill responsibly each month, you will build credit, so stop to consider this next time you swipe your card. Your credit score can also be harmed if you do not use any credit at all.

2) You Need to Pay Only the Minimum Balance
A credit card statement lists several figures in summary of the previous month’s activity. These include the balance of the previous statement period, minimum amount due, APR and total available credit. Checking your statement online gives even more information, including current balance, current available credit and activity since the previous statement. With all these numbers to consider, you may zero in on the phrase “amount due” when you write your check or pay online. The minimum amount due is not the most important figure, however, because it is only the amount of money that you need to pay to avoid a late fee or other penalties. The total balance of the previous statement period is actually the complete amount owed. If you pay only the minimum balance, you will be charged interest on the remainder. This is how credit cards make money and why they typically suggest such low minimum balances.

Furthermore, if you avoid paying your full balance because you’ve heard that having a balance is better for your credit score, you are paying interest for no reason. MSN Money contributor Liz Weston clears up the confusion, stating that “your credit reports and scores don’t ‘know’ whether you’re carrying a balance or paying it off in full every month.”

3) You Should Always Pay Your Current Total Balance
If you have focused on the total balance of your online statement, you are in better shape than are those who pay only the minimum but don’t fully understand how much they owe. Paying off the full balance is important, but it is the full balance from the previous statement period that matters. The total balance includes both the previous statement balance and all activity since that statement. You will not be expected to repay those new charges, however, until they appear on your next statement. Paying just the previous statement balance and not the total balance will not hurt your credit or accrue interest.

4) There Is No Minimum Credit Card Purchase
If your desk drawers are full of packets of gum that you’ve grabbed in check-out aisles to bolster your bill to a minimum credit card purchase amount, you may be interested to know that this practice is not technically legal. Although not usually enforced by credit companies, there is no true minimum purchase necessary to use your credit card. Stores enforce this to offset the fee they pay on each purchase made with a credit card. If you are uncomfortable with this practice, you can seek out local businesses that do not enforce minimums or that charge a small fee for credit card transactions on small purchases, which is a more transparent policy.

5) Your Fixed Interest Rate Will Stay Fixed
If you have a fixed interest rate, you may think that the case is closed, but that is not so. In fact, you may find that your rate increases if you miss a monthly payment, fail to pay the full amount, transfer your balance to a new card or take a cash advance. Make sure to find out how much you will be penalized for these activities in order to decide if they are worth the price.

6) You Should Use All of Your Credit
Even though you are allowed a certain amount of credit, you do not have to use all of it. Yes, using little or no credit can negatively affect your credit score, but so can using all of your credit. Paul Sisolak of the website GoBankingRates.com says that “creditors also make use of a term called ‘low utilization,’ which means that using a smaller amount of credit in your account looks better to the credit bureaus, and subsequently, your credit score.” Monitoring your credit score can help you determine if you are using an appropriate amount of your credit.


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Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

Has our recent brutally cold weatherSnowboundCar got you thinking that your current car might not make it another year? You’re not alone! If you’ve decided now is the time to buy a car, here are some tips to keep in mind as you search for your new pre-owned vehicle.

If you’ve decided that it’s time to buy a car, but you don’t want to deal with buying from a dealership, there are plenty of private sellers that have used vehicles for sale. However, knowing what to look for as you shop and knowing the signs of a less than trustworthy seller could make the difference between enjoying a new used car or getting stuck with a money pit. Here are some tips to help.

“Buying a used car from a private party can score you a deal – often discounts of 15-20 percent when buying from a private seller over a dealership,” states Angie Fisher of AutoWeek.com. To avoid signing on a deal that could turn out to be too good to be true, Fisher goes on to offer some things to consider as you search.

Ask the right questions.
Regardless of the car’s mileage, low or high, it’s important to ask if it has been in any accidents and how severe. Ask for maintenance receipts to show if the car has been well cared for. Ask if the seller is the original owner and if not, how much they know about who they purchased the vehicle from. Finally, always ask why they are selling; if they can’t seem to give you a straight answer, be careful about moving forward.

Know what to look for when inspecting the car.
As you look over the prospective vehicle, keep an eye out for evidence of repairs, maintenance or required repairs. Some things to look for include worn tires, bent wheels, oil leaks, missing body fascia, dull paint, etc. All of these could be signs for maintenance. If you spot any of these, ask the seller about the history and gauge their reaction.

Request specific documentation.
Ask for a bill of sale that includes the vehicle identification number (VIN), make, model, selling price, mileage and any agreements that you and the seller have discussed.

Research the vehicle’s value.
While Kelley Blue Book can be a helpful tool, there are other ways to determine a fair buying price for the vehicle. Look on local websites and in the local paper and see what vehicles of the make and model are selling for. You can also try calling a local auto dealer and give them your prospective vehicle’s description; ask them what the trade-in value would be. Use this information to calculate where you think your first bid should be.

When it comes to purchasing a new used vehicle, there are pros and cons to buying from either a dealership or a private seller. Whereas a dealership will have their own policies and hoops to jump through, “a private party seller is an individual just like you,” states an article from JDPower.com. “…someone who owns a vehicle that they need to sell, and who is likely selling the vehicle themselves in order to extract maximum value for it.” Some of the benefits of buying from a private seller can include:

Lower costs.
There are four values for a used vehicle: retail, private party, trade-in and certified pre-owned. The private party value typically tends to remain on the lower end of the scale when it comes to vehicle costs since the seller isn’t concerned about overhead; they are also typically more flexible on the price as they’re eager to sell their vehicle.

No games.
Private party sellers are generally in more of a rush to sell their old vehicles. If they see that you’re a serious buyer, they may be more likely to want to complete the transaction with you as quickly as possible.

If you have questions about purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, or other financial questions, stop by any of our three conveniently located branches. We’re always ready to help.


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Popmoney = Convenience

The Popmoney® personal payment service is our new eService that lets you send, receive or request money from friends, family or just about anyone with an email address or mobile number*. Popmoney is integrated directly into ePay, our online bill payment service, to let you move money from your bank account to theirs safely and securely, with ease. You can move money right from your MyBranch home page! And Popmoney is easy for your friends and family to use at their bank or at Popmoney.com, too. Click here to visit our page and see how to set up Popmoney on your account. And if you want to view even more information on Popmoney, you can visit them on their home page here.

*Terms and Conditions Apply. **Popmoney® personal payments services offered at  http://www.popmoney.com are provided by CheckFreePay Corporation, a licensed money transmitter, and CheckFreePay Corporation of New York, which is licensed as a Money Transmitter for payment services by the New York State Department of Financial Services.

The Pros and Cons of Automatic Withdrawal

According to a report fromshutterstock_22975780 the United States Department of Labor, Americans typically spend more than two hours per day on household maintenance duties such as cleaning, cooking and financial management. One way to cut down the amount of time you spend on managing your household’s finances is to set up automatic withdrawals for your monthly bill payments and savings contributions. But before you do, consider the pros and cons:

Pros
Less credit card interest: Paying your credit card bills through automatic withdrawals can drastically reduce the amount of interest you pay on your balance if you can break your normal monthly payment down into weekly payments. This technique can also significantly reduce the amount you pay in home mortgage and auto loan interest and may even shorten the terms of your loans.

Increased savings: When you set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to your retirement and other savings accounts, you ensure that the transfer is made and that the money is saved, allowing it to accumulate over the years and ensuring tax deductions for retirement account or health savings contributions. As with the example above, if you make contributions weekly rather than monthly, you can make an even bigger difference in your money’s ability to grow.

Fewer late fees: If you set up your automatic withdrawals to occur well before your bills are due each month, you can ensure that late fees are not imposed as a result of simply forgetting to make payments. Not only does this protect your wallet, but it also preserves and improves your credit rating.

Cons
Lost interest: When you pay a bill by check, it takes time for the check to arrive by mail and for the company to cash it. Meanwhile, your money sits in your account earning additional interest. Paying your bills through automatic withdrawal often removes the money immediately.

Insufficient funds: If you do not have sufficient funds to pay an automatic withdrawal, the company that withdraws the funds may charge you a late fee for insufficient funds.

Loss of flexibility: When you pay your bills online or by check, you have control over how much you send and when you send it. Automatic withdrawals remove much of this month-to-month flexibility, since, in order to take effect, changes may have to be requested several weeks in advance of a due date.

There is no single method of paying bills that works for all consumers. If you aren’t sure which approach will work best for you, stop by. We will be happy to discuss the options available and work with you to help create a solution to your bill-paying concerns.


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