Online Banking: How to Avoid Being Hacked

Helpful ways to minimize getting hacked

Online banking isDollarphotoclub_61323371_web convenient, efficient and simplifies your finance management immensely. No more statements and papers — everything is on your computer or mobile device, right at your fingertips.

“Banking online comes with serious risks,” says Brian Krebs, a cyber-security expert and blogger. In fact, even large corporations, like Target, Neiman Marcus and Michaels, have all been the subject of hacking.

The good news is that you can protect yourself, and your assets. To reduce your odds of being hacked, follow these steps:

Create complex passwords
There’s a reason most websites call for case-sensitive passwords or ones with numbers or symbols. Making a strong password decreases the chance that a hacker can easily figure it out and log into your account. The problem is, most people are still using easy-to-guess passwords. In an analysis done of 32 million passwords by Imperva, an Internet and data security company, it was found that the top 10 passwords are as follows: 123456, 12345, 123456789, Password, iloveyou, princess, rockyou, 1234567, 12345678 and abc123. These make it easy for hackers to get into your account, so it’s important to avoid using these or any similar variations.

Use unique, long passwords for every account — and change them often
Steer clear of making the same password for numerous online accounts.

“Hackers are hoping that people use the same password across multiple sites,” says Roy Nutter, computer science and electrical engineering professor at West Virginia University. “Don’t make it easy for them.” And when making your different passwords, keep in mind the length of them, too. “The longer the password, the better,” Nutter advises. “I recommend at least a 12-character password — more than the 8-character general rule — because it is less vulnerable.” In addition, it’s important to change passwords frequently, which will increase security.

Log out of accounts, especially in public
How many times have you shut your laptop without closing out of the tabs you have open? This is especially concerning when using public Wi-Fi, say at a hotel or coffee shop.

“People generally don’t bother to check out the security characteristics of public networks before logging on, plus wireless transmissions can be intercepted by nearby Bluetooth-type devices,” says Richard Barrington, a spokesman for MoneyRates.com. That includes public libraries, too. “The PCs [at libraries] are subject to viruses and spyware that you have no control over,” explains Robert Sicillano, a consultant for McAfee and expert on identity theft. Be sure to log out of all accounts thoroughly after using public (or regular) Wi-Fi.

Don’t get personal with social media
In other words, avoid over sharing on accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and others.

“The way social media accounts are accessed also leaves users vulnerable,” explains Larry Bridwell, global security strategist at Sticky Password. “When updating your status or posting a picture to Instagram, users may have to access an open Wi-Fi network. However, they may find themselves falling prey to hackers who utilize open Wi-Fi networks to gain access and information into accounts.”

So what kinds of things shouldn’t you post?

“Be careful sharing your pet’s name, your children’s names or the name of the high school you attended, especially if you use this information as account passwords or answers to security questions,” says Lisa Robinson, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Internet Services Group. “Never share your mother’s maiden name, your Social Security number, your bank account numbers, or your user names or passwords for any account.”

Utilize anti-virus and anti-spyware protection
This kind of software helps detect and protect you from malicious software (malware) and computer viruses.

“[Common viruses like] trojans and worms can infect your computer and use keystrokes and other tactics to get your bank credentials,” says Sol Nasisi, chief economist at BestCashCow.com. In turn, this software discourages hackers and helps your accounts stay safe. One tip: Set up your protection software so that it automatically updates daily. That way, you don’t forget to do it when needed.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

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Financing a Car? Head to Your Financial Institution

Why your financial institution is the best place to get an auto loan
Looking to buy a 474480091(1)new vehicle? If you’re like most people, you probably plan to use an auto loan to finance your new purchase. And if that’s the case, you’ll need to determine the best place for you to obtain financing.

Where you receive an auto loan can make or break a good decision.

“The big mistakes are made in the financing office,” explains Phil Reed, the senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com, a leading auto research website. “Making the right decisions can save thousands over the life of the loan.”

One of the best options for getting an auto loan, according to a report on car dealer financing from the Center for Responsible Lending, is through a financial institution, preferably the one that you do your personal banking with.

There are more advantages to seeking a loan through your financial institution than going through a dealership. Here’s why it may work in your favor:

You can get pre-approved early – Getting a loan through your financial institution means that you can apply for a loan before you visit a car dealership, and that way, you’ll know how much you can actually afford to pay before going car shopping. In turn, you’ll eliminate any potential embarrassing moments at the dealership, such as getting declined for financing or approved for a smaller amount than you thought you would be.

You’ll get the best loan rate – By knowing your financing rate and terms, you also have more of an upper hand when negotiating the final price of the car, whereas dealers don’t have to give you the best loan possible.

“Most consumers aren’t aware that dealers can mark up rates without their consent and often don’t know what the interest rate is on their car loan. Dealer finance staff members may tell buyers the rate quoted is ‘the rate that is available,’ rather than the ‘best rate they qualify for,’ to avoid legal challenges over deceptive practices,” notes a New York Times blog. According to the Center for Responsible Lending report, consumers who presumed that their dealer gave them the “best” loan possible actually paid rates 1.9 percent to 2.1 percent points higher than others in a similar credit rank.

You’ll obtain a lower interest rate – Your financial institution may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate for you. And that means you’ll have lower monthly payments or even a shorter loan term, thus you’ll save money and ultimately pay less for the car. If you go through a dealer, you may think you’re saving money, but they could easily burn you with a high interest rate.

“You might think you’ve negotiated the best price on a new car or truck, but the dealer could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars extra by offering an auto loan with an interest rate that’s much higher than you could have won on your own,” says Interest.com.

It’s more convenient – If you’re financing your car through your usual financial institution and you have an open banking account there, you may be able to add your loan to that account, which will make it easier to make payments simply by logging onto your account that you already have.

Ready to get an auto loan from your financial institution? Stop by or give us a call today to see what we can offer you.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Go Green for the Holidays

Ways to be eco-friendly this season
People sometimes155959925(1) tend to indulge over the holiday season, increasing their waistlines and decreasing the amount in their bank accounts. But when it comes to being environmentally safe, that is one area where you should NOT indulge. According to the Green America® organization, waste disposal in the United States increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, causing an extra five billion pounds of waste to enter the landfills.

While holidays are a special time to give thanks and celebrate with the ones you love, they don’t have to have a negative impact on our atmosphere. There are numerous ways covering a variety of topics to go green throughout the season.

Decorations
Turn off holiday lights during the day. This will save energy and allow your lights to last longer. There’s no sense in wasting energy when no one is around to appreciate the lights, or when they aren’t well-displayed in the daylight.

Use LED lighting. “LEDs are exceptionally energy efficient when producing individual  colors, many using up to 90 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light,” stated the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Close up your fireplace when not in use. While not technically a decoration, ornamented mantels are a staple this time of year, and a nice warm fire sure does make you feel cozy on a cold winter’s night. Just be sure that when you are not using your fireplace, close the flue and block the hearth to prevent heat loss.

Gift-giving
Buy items with minimal packaging or packaging made with recycled materials. As for the product itself, check labels to see if it is recyclable. Better yet, give personal gifts like donating your time and talent to friends and family, or make donations to your loved ones’ favorite causes in their names.

Avoid toys made with PVC plastic, as it is toxic. “Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen,” stated Green America®. ”Also, additives, such as lead and cadmium, are sometimes added to PVC to keep it from breaking down; these additives can be particularly dangerous in children’s toys. PVC is also the least recycled plastic.”

Bring your own bags on shopping trips so stores won’t have to give you new ones with your purchases. Furthermore, keep gift boxes for next year and don’t accept new ones with the store employees offer them.

Don’t buy wrapping paper. Save and reuse old paper, when possible, or use newspaper, fabric, magazines or calendars. Reusable gift bags are also a solid choice.

Consider products’ durability before purchasing as a gift. Cheaper usually equals lower quality, so keep that in mind when debating over items. Also, when thinking about purchasing electronics as gifts, just recall that the manufacturing and disposal of these items create substantial human health and environmental threats. Green America® noted that the Recycled Video Games Network is an invaluable resource if looking to  dispose of old equipment.

Food
Compost scraps and store leftovers in reusable containers.

Buy food ingredients with the least amount of packaging, and go for organic when possible.

When eating your holiday meal, put your food on non-disposable tableware. Use cloth napkins and set the table with reusable dishes, glasses and silverware. It may be easier to go paper and plastic, but it is definitely not the most efficient.

Cards
Buy holiday cards made from recycled paper and printed on white stock with non-toxic inks and without metallic or plastic coatings, as they are not very efficiently made. There are also cards out there that are completely tree-free, made from kenaf and hemp.

Send holiday postcards instead. Eliminate the need for a paper envelope with this method, or you can skip the post office altogether and send e-cards over the Internet.

Don’t know what to do with the cards you receive in the mail from friends and family? Cut it apart, recycle the back of it and use the front, designed side as a gift tag going forward.

Trees
The U.S. EPA recommends the following tips regarding fir trees over the holidays:

Buy a living tree you can later plant outside or keep as a houseplant after the holidays.

Buy a tree grown locally to save energy associated with transportation.

Buy a smaller tree. There’s less to dispose of when you take it down, and shorter growing time translates into less land required.

Other tips include using mass transportation when traveling to see family, and also do so when out doing your shopping, or walk, bike or carpool there instead. Cutting down on the millions of miles Americans travel over the holidays will eliminate a ton of greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, remember the basics — recycle, reduce, reuse. Recycle cans, paper, glass, etc., as well as cardboard packaging and Styrofoam packing peanuts. Doing any of the above activities can leave a positive impact on our environment and your future.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

The Best Affordable Vehicles for Poor Weather Climates

These vehicles make weather one less thing to worry about
With all of the impressive technologies available today, it’s kind of amazing to think that the weather is still something that can wreak such havoc on our lives. Winter blizzards, torrential rains and even road hazards can make our daily commutes far more adventurous than we expect. But the right vehicle can help alleviate some of those concerns.

Jeep Grand Cherokee
As the most awardedJeep-Grand-Cherokee SUV ever, it’s no surprise to see the Grand Cherokee on this list. There are three available four-wheel drive systems: Quadra-Trac I®, Quadra-Trac II® and Quadra-Drive® II (the latter with class leading capability and an Electronic Limited Slip Differential). There is also a feature called Selec-Terrain traction control that lets you choose from Auto, Rock, Snow, Sand and Mud to custom tailor your drive to the conditions, as well as Quadra-Lift air suspension that raises and lowers the Grand Cherokee for easier entry and exit.

There are three engine options, too, ranging from the award-winning 3.6-liter V6, to the powerful HEMI V8 and the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel that provides a whopping 420 lb/ft of torque while giving back up to 30 mpg highway, and a 730-mile range. Towing is rated up to an impressive 7,400 pounds. There are also a slew of winter busting features including High Intensity Discharge headlights, heated front and second row seats and a heated steering wheel.

Subaru Legacy
The Legacy hasSubaruLegacy been redesigned for 2015, but retained all of the things that have made it a favorite for those who want a midsize sedan that can conquer the worst winter has to offer. All models come standard with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, a feature that almost no other competitor in the segment offers, and is also available with the EyeSight driver assist technology that sounds an audio warning, and a visual warning, to get you to react, and can even stop the car by itself. The Subaru STARLINK infotainment system and Bluetooth technology help you keep your eyes on the road, too. The Legacy also has one of the best safety records in the industry today, and was named a “2014 Top Safety Pick+” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

“Although not without its faults, the 2015 Legacy remains the only vehicle in the segment to offer standard all-wheel-drive while still returning up to 36 mpg on the highway (on par with most front-wheel-drive competitors),” according to Kelley Blue Book. “This unique powertrain story coupled with a higher-quality interior, attractive pricing, and relevant in-vehicle electronics have elevated the Subaru Legacy into a genuine competitive posture with entrenched nameplates like Camry, Accord and Altima.”

Ford Edge
If you’re lookingldfinance_e_a003070465 for a vehicle that can handle both the weather, as well as your family, the Ford Edge is a great choice. The Edge was named by US News as a Best Cars for the Money Winner and was reviewed by Autotrader as a “sleek, two-row crossover SUV that does just about everything right.”

Available in four models (SE, SEL, Limited and Sport), the Edge can be equipped with one of three engines, a 3.5-liter V6, a 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder that gets up to 30 mpg highway and a 3.7-liter V6 that cranks out 305 horses. Intelligent Active All-Wheel Drive helps maintain control, regardless of the weather outside, and safety features like Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning with Brake Support and Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert help keep you out of trouble.

There are plenty of smart options that can help you stay safe this winter, but regardless of what you choose, stop by and let us help you with the financing.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Are Scholarships Federally Taxed?

Determining how scholarships, fellowships and educational grants are taxed

If you recentlybankingon_e_a003070905 received a scholarship to attend school, the news likely brought a lot of joy with it. It may also have brought some questions, like will you need to report the money as income and pay federal taxes on it? The following information can help you clear up the confusion.

First, it’s important to know that, in general, state and federal educational grants are lumped together with scholarships and fellowships for tax purposes. Whether or not you owe federal taxes on a sum received from one of these sources depends on what type of education you’re pursuing and what the money is used for.

So when is it tax-free?
“Here’s the easy rule: a scholarship, fellowship or grant is tax free only if you are pursuing a degree at an eligible educational institution and you use the scholarship or fellowship to pay qualified education expenses,” states Kelly Phillips Erb, Forbes contributor. “If you are not pursuing a degree, the full amount is subject to tax.”

If the scholarship you receive was won in a contest, it will be taxed unless there is some other reason why you have tax-exempt status for it. Similarly, athletic scholarships are also subject to taxes.

The money you use to pay for tuition and things needed for your courses, such as books will not be taxed. Other expenses that are not taxed include certain supplies needed for class and items that the school requires students to purchase.

“Money for anything else not required for enrollment, including housing and travel, is taxed as income,” states Kimberly Lankford from Kiplinger.com. “And any scholarship money received as payment for services, such as teaching or assisting in a lab, may be taxed.”

There are a few cases when certain scholarship or fellowship money that is received in payment for services will not be taxed.

“Exceptions apply if you receive funds under the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program or the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship and Financial Assistance Program,” states Phillips Erb. “Additionally, payments you receive for education, training, or subsistence under any law administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are tax free.”

Although you may be disappointed to learn that what you thought was free money does come with some tax strings attached, there is a silver lining. When scholarships are taxed, it’s typically at the student’s rate and not at the higher rate of the parents.

If you don’t owe federal income taxes on your scholarship, and you have no other income, you won’t need to send in a federal income tax return. However, you will likely need to report any taxable portion of your scholarship. It can be confusing to determine exactly which portion is taxable, which is why speaking to a tax professional is advisable.

Furthermore, keeping good records is necessary because schools don’t always have to issue W-2 forms.

“And remember: no double-dipping,” cautions Phillips Erb. “You can’t exclude fellowships and scholarships from income and then deduct them as educational expenses.”

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.