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 Financial news you can use

 

Staying on a Budget over the Holidays 

By Southside Bank | December 7, 2017 | Personal Finance

The holiday season often seems like the busiest (and most expensive) time of the year. Presents, parties—the extra expenses can really add up! We’ve put together a few tips to help you manage all the extras and enjoy the season.

Set a budget: It sounds obvious, but it’s something many people simply don’t do. Decide how much you can reasonably spend on each person on your list, whether it’s $5, $50 or $500—and stick to it! When you are calculating how much you can spend, don’t forget to factor in the other hidden expenses of the holiday: extra groceries for big meals and guests; charitable donations; a new outfit for your company’s holiday party; decorations; boarding your pets if you’re traveling. These costs can sneak up on you so make sure you budget for them!

Make a list: And check it twice—just like Santa! Once you’ve established a budget and made a thorough list of all the expenses you’ll have whether they are gifts or greeting cards, mark off each one as you purchase it. And don’t be tempted to splurge on something extra at the last minute. If you love the excitement of last-minute shopping, save something small specifically for that time: stocking stuffers or sweet treats for the neighbors for example.

Track spending: If you don’t effectively track your spending, setting a budget won’t be much of a help. Consider opening a separate bank account for holiday expenses. You can have money direct deposited all year long, so you’ll have funds available when it’s time to shop. Keep your bank’s app on your phone, too. This allows you to check your balance and track spending anywhere, anytime. Even when you’re standing in line at the mall!

Focus on being present, not giving presents: Traditions are what make the holidays so special. But when you look back over your happiest holiday memories—did they involve gifts or did they involve spending time with people you care about? Traditions aren’t about what you spend. They are about time spent together. Enjoy an afternoon baking and decorating cookies; host a holiday movie marathon; go caroling in your neighborhood or spend an afternoon volunteering.  

The bottom line? The holidays should be a happy time spent with friends and family. Make sure you enjoy the season and avoid overspending!

 


 

Shop Secure on Cyber Monday

By Southside Bank | November 24, 2017 | Personal Finance

The holiday season is officially here! It’s a busy time of year when everyone can feel stretched too thin with parties, errands, family commitments and, of course—shopping! More and more consumers are avoiding the mall and doing all or part of their holiday purchasing online. And why not? It’s convenient, allows you to avoid the crowds and shop whenever and wherever you’d like.

But it’s important to shop smart (and secure), too. Here are six key tips to keep in mind when you buy online.

Shop secure sites: Make sure the companies you shop with take security as seriously as you do! According to Carlos Renteria, the Security Manager for Southside Bank, one simple way to do that is to make sure the url begins with “https” rather than “http.” The extra “s” indicates that communication between the website and your browser is encrypted. Secure sites will also have a small lock icon in the lower right corner of the screen.

Avoid public Wi-Fi: It’s very easy for scammers to access your personal information over unsecured public networks, such as those at your local coffee shop or hotel. Never make purchases or sign into personal bank accounts on a public network. And if you ever use a public computer, make sure you completely log out of every website and the computer itself when you are done.

Don’t store your information: It seems like every week a new data breach at a retailer makes the news. That’s why it’s important to never ask a website to remember your personal information. Lora Stockhammer, Southside Bank’s Senior Vice President, Operations recommends using services like MasterPass and mobile wallets instead, which still allow you to check out quickly while keeping your information secure.

Keep your devices up to date: One of the most proactive things you can do to stay safe while shopping online is to make sure you keep your phones, tablets and other devices up to date. Software updates typically remedy potential security issues. It’s important to have updated virus software installed as well.

Be wary of “incredible deals” on social media: The old adage about something being too good to be true definitely applies to online shopping. There’s been an alarming trend of upstart retailers offering high-quality merchandise at extremely low price points. When the merchandise arrives, it doesn’t look anything like what you purchased (if it arrives at all). Two tell-tale signs that a Facebook page might be a scam is if the page has no negative reviews or you can’t find a phone number or address for the company anywhere on their page.

Check your credit card and bank statements daily: Apps that control and monitor your debit card transactions can also offer tremendous protection. For example, MobiMoneyTM offers a feature that will decline any transaction made outside of a five-mile radius of your phone, which protects you from fraudulent purchases.

The bottom line? Shopping online is easy and convenient. Just make sure you also keep it secure by following the tips above!

 


 

Saving for a Rainy Day Is Easier Than You Think

By Southside Bank | November 6, 2017 | Personal Finance, Savings

How many times have we heard “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”? Unfortunately, things always seem to break—and at the most inopportune times! Whether it’s unexpected home repairs or a car that needs something replaced, unplanned expenditures can cause real problems.

Creating a rainy-day fund can help take the panic out of unplanned financial burdens. Bankrate.com recommends targeting $1,000-5,000 for a rainy day fund to help cover unforeseen expenses.

For cash-strapped families living paycheck to paycheck, saving for a rainy day can seem like something much easier said than done. But there are simple, painless steps you can take today to build an important financial cushion for you and your family in the future.

Open a savings account: Specifically a low- or no-fee option. Many banks offer savings accounts at no charge with a low minimum balance. You can have a portion of your paycheck diverted via direct deposit and grow a rainy-day fund without any noticeable change in your lifestyle. A mere $20 a week for a year puts $1,000 in reserve!

Bank your windfalls: Get a negligible raise or bonus? A small refund on your income tax? Put all or part of it in the bank. Finally pay off your car or credit card? You’re already used to paying that amount each month, so start depositing it into your savings account instead!

Cut back on lattes and lunches out: Everyone looks forward to a caffeine pick-me-up or a leisurely lunch with friends or co-workers, but they can be surprisingly expensive. Cutting out just one trip to the coffee shop and one lunch each week could save you up to $20. That adds up to $1,000 over the course of a year—venti expensive!

Clean out those closets: Chances are there are items gathering dust in your home you can easily sell. So whether it’s that size-too-small cocktail dress with the tags you bought on a whim or the super-hero memorabilia you no longer collect, turn those bad purchases into good money on eBay or at a consignment shop.

Check your “fixed” monthly expenses: We often ignore the fine print on our monthly bills, but there are ways to cut costs there, too. Are there expensive cable channels you are paying for but don’t watch? Have you shopped for a better deal on your car insurance lately? Do you really need the premium gym or tanning salon membership? These expenses are easy to overlook because we are used to them, but a few phone calls could save you between $50-100 each month—and that’s money you could easily put into savings.  

The bottom line?: Putting money back for emergencies may seem tough, but if you look for simple ways to save, you can easily establish a rainy-day fund.

 


 

Senior Scams: A Dangerous Form of Elder Abuse

By Southside Bank | October 26, 2017 | Personal Finance, Scams, Senior Citizens

Unlicensed roofers. Unethical caregivers. Unscrupulous computer hackers. We’ve all heard horror stories of strangers—and in some cases—friends or family who prey on the vulnerability of the elderly.

These types of schemes are considered low risk because they can be difficult to prosecute and often go unreported due to embarrassment. But that doesn’t make them low impact. They can be devastating to many older adults with little time, money or resources to recoup their losses.

In order to protect our loved ones and ourselves, it’s important to be aware of scams geared toward older Americans. Here are five very common ploys criminals use to target senior citizens.

Your grandchild is in trouble: Someone posing as your grandchild calls unexpectedly, pretending to be in a crisis situation (being arrested during Spring Break for example). They will claim to need a large amount of cash wired to them urgently to get out of jail and will often beg you not to tell their parents.

Your computer has a virus: Someone calls pretending to be from a major computer company saying he has detected a virus on your computer. He offers his services by requesting you log into a website that will enable him to control your computer and get rid of the virus. However, he uses this access to steal your personal information.

Your house needs repairs: As we get older, routine household repairs can become daunting. So when someone comes to the door offering to clean gutters or trim trees, it can sound like a great idea. Be wary of anyone asking for prepayment of services and only hire people you know or who are referred to you by someone you trust.

You are offered an unsolicited discount: Many scammers reach out to elderly people offering a discounted price on medical equipment such as heart monitors or bathtub benches. As part of the scheme, they will require a deposit and your personal information or Medicaid number in order to send the equipment, which never arrives.

 A caregiver offers to help with your financial transactions: Be skeptical of anyone who wants unlimited access to your financial information, even family or friends. It could leave you vulnerable to identity fraud or theft. If you need help paying bills or completing simple transactions, consider automating as many monthly expenses as possible through your bank.  

Sadly, these and similar scams are widespread. But there are ways you can protect yourself. Here are five key tips to avoid being the victim of a senior scam.

Never pay for anything you don’t remember ordering. You should also avoid giving out personal information to unknown third parties.

Work with financial institutions that have fraud protections in place. This makes it easier to protect your credit card and banking information.

Don’t click links in the body of an email, especially those claiming to be from your bank or credit card company. It’s safer to navigate to the bank’s official page, log in and verify you are dealing with the company directly.

Never let a stranger in your house. Ask them to leave their business card and say your spouse, child or lawyer will be in touch.

Be wary of family or caregivers with alcohol or drug problems. Unfortunately, the desperation caused by addiction could cause even someone you know and love to victimize you.

The bottom line? Many unscrupulous people can and do target the elderly. Awareness of common schemes is imperative in protecting you and your loved ones from this rampant and devastating fraud.

 


   

Lady on laptop working on her credit score

Don't Get Caught in the Phishing Net!

By Southside Bank | October 5, 2017 | Personal Finance, Phishing

We’ve all experienced it—you receive an email from a trusted business that just doesn’t seem right. Maybe the design doesn’t look like it normally does. Or there are tons of spelling errors. It could even ask you to share information in a way that makes you feel a little uneasy.

It’s called phishing, and it’s a very common way for scammers to obtain your personal financial information. Phishing is a serious problem that can manifest itself in many ways. Email spoofing is one of the most common methods phishers use to acquire sensitive information from you.

These emails often look like legitimate business communications in order to get you to call a phone number or visit a website to provide your account information. Southside Bank never wants you to be victimized by these scammers.

We asked Greg Simpkins, Vice President of Treasury Management, for his advice on how to avoid getting phished. As he explained, “Scammers are highly skilled at creating emails that look and sound legitimate. It’s important for customers to be aware of the types of tricks phishers use.”

Here are a few things to watch for to avoid getting phished:

Messages about system and security updates. A legitimate email will never tell you a business needs to confirm important personal information via email due to a system or security upgrade.

Requests for personal information. Be very wary of any email asking you to provide your Social Security number or ATM/PIN code.

Urgent appeals. Be skeptical of any claim that your account may be closed if you fail to confirm, verify or authenticate personal information via email.

Offers that sound too good to be true. Don’t trust an email that asks you to complete a survey in exchange for money and requests your account information in order to receive payment.

Obvious typos and other errors. Fraudulent emails and websites are often riddled with typos or grammatical errors. Be on the lookout for awkward writing and poor visual design.

Enable editing. Do not enable editing on word or excel documents you receive via email. These documents may sometimes allow perpetrators to access your computer. Contact the sender to verify the validity of the document.

The bottom line? Phishers can go to great lengths to gain access to your personal and bank information. Use a common sense approach and trust your gut instinct if something seems amiss! And if the suspicious email is from a familiar person or company, contact them directly if you still have any doubt.


 

Save or Shred? Simple Rules for Organizing Your Important Documents 

By Southside Bank | September 20,2017 | Personal Finance, Personal Organization

Paperwork can quickly get out of hand and become overwhelming. We are bombarded with notices, receipts, forms and documents—it can be hard to know what’s important and what’s inconsequential.

We’ve put together some guidelines to help you know what to keep and how best to keep it.

Forever—and close at hand: Some documents are so important that you should always keep them in their original paper form and store them in a secure, portable container at your residence. If you ever need to evacuate your home due to a natural disaster or catastrophic event, having these documents with you is essential. Obtain a small metal file box for birth and death certificates, citizenship papers, marriage and divorce decrees, custody agreements, passports, insurance policies, deeds, titles and military records. It will be easy to grab it and go in case of emergency.

Forever: It makes sense to keep tax returns as well as investment and retirement plan statements forever. Loan and mortgage documents; receipts for major home improvements or renovations; and appraisals and receipts for major purchases(appliances, furniture, jewelry, computers, etc.) should be kept for as long as you own the property or item. Consider storing these documents in a safety deposit box at your bank. The nominal fee will afford you tremendous peace of mind. Scanning and storing electronically is another viable option.

For a year: Keep all pay stubs, medical receipts, cancelled checks, receipts for deductible expenses and bank and credit card statements for a full year. If you want to limit the amount of documents you have on hand, paperless statements for your bank accounts will leave the information accessible to you without having to store it personally.

For a month: You can safely shred ATM and credit card receipts each month. Check your bank statement online frequently and carefully review your credit card statements when they arrive. Once you’ve verified the accuracy of the information, you can safely dispose of the receipts.

It’s equally important to make sure the documents you save and the documents you discard are handled securely to protect yourself from identity theft. Keep these three factors in mind.

Home safe home: Designate an unexpected place in your home to store paper records where they will be safe from damage or theft. All digital records should be archived and password protected.

Keep online accounts secure: Set complex passwords and change them frequently. Don’t use the same user name and password combinations on multiple accounts and consider investing in reliable antivirus software.

Shred! Shred! Shred!: Simply throwing away your private documents leaves you vulnerable to identity theft. Invest in a shredder and use it judiciously.

The bottom line? To keep your information and identity safe, follow these simple guidelines to know what to keep and how long to keep it! 

 


 

Lady on laptop working on her credit score

Equifax Breach–Is Your Information Vulnerable? 

By Southside Bank | September 14, 2017 | Personal Finance, Cybersecurity, Equifax Breach

On September 7, Equifax—one of the three largest American credit agencies—announced a cybersecurity incident potentially impacting consumer information, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, etc., leaving them vulnerable to identity theft.  

Southside’s Investment Services Team, through a partnership with Raymond James, wants to make sure you’re aware of available resources to ensure your personal and financial information is protected. Please follow the steps below to determine if you or anyone in your household was impacted by this incident: 

1. Go to equifaxsecurity2017.com.

2. Click on the “Potential Impact” link, and provide your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number when prompted.

3. Based on that information, you will receive a message indicating whether your personal information may have been impacted.

4. If your information has been compromised, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring to all US consumers through Tuesday, November 21, 2017.

While Southside, Raymond James and other financial firms employ the most up-to-date safeguards to protect client account numbers and other important personal information, you can also play a vital role in keeping your information secure. Here’s how:

The bottom line? Cybersecurity is a big—and ongoing—concern. Make sure you follow these simple steps to keep your personal information safe.  


 

Lady on laptop working on her credit score

Don't Pay Too Much at the Pump 

By Southside Bank | August 24, 2017 | Personal Finance

Most consumers are aware of the possibility of credit card fraud when shopping online or at their favorite stores, but it’s important to also protect yourself from credit and debit card fraud at gas stations in the form of skimming. Skimmers are illegal card readers that steal data from a credit or debit card that is swiped when making a purchase. Here are a few things you can do to avoid getting skimmed!

Select smart: The first step toward a secure transaction happens before you even get out of your car. Always choose a pump with high visibility to the cashier. Criminals are more likely to tamper with pumps at the far reaches of the station that attendants can’t easily monitor.

Phone it in: Your cell phone offers a great first line of defense. Thieves often utilize Bluetooth technology to transmit card and PIN information. Just turn on Bluetooth and search for a device. If you see a long stream of numbers trying to connect, beware–someone could be trying to obtain your information.

Be aware and compare: Does the reader at your pump look different than the others around it? Does it have any noticeable damage? Many stations apply a tamper-resistant seal across the cabinet panel. If it has been broken into, the label will read "void.”

Pay wisely: Consider using credit over debit when filling up your tank. If using your debit card, make sure to run it as a credit card to avoid entering your PIN. Cash and mobile pay are always safe options, too. If you are at all unsure about the card reader, go inside and pay directly. Make sure to report your concerns to the gas station attendant, too.

There’s an app for that: Apps that control and monitor your debit card transactions can also offer tremendous protection. For example, MobiMoneyTM offers a feature that will decline any transaction made outside of a five-mile radius of your phone, which protects you from fraudulent purchases.

The Bottom Line: Paying at the pump is convenient—just make sure you protect yourself by following these simple security precautions.


  

Lady on laptop working on her credit score

Get the Credit You Deserve 

By Southside Bank | August 7, 2017 | Personal Finance, Optimize Your Credit

We’ve all heard the phrase “bad credit happens to good people.” And unfortunately, it’s true. Unforeseen medical expenses, divorce, job loss–any or all of these events can have devastating effects on your credit, which can ripple out to other aspects of your life.

Having strong credit is an essential component of your overall financial health. We recently sat down with Brian Merritt, Senior Vice President, Consumer Lending Manager at Southside Bank for his five key tips on maximizing your credit.

As Brian explains, “Each person’s situation is different. When I visit with clients about how to best manage their credit, I can provide them with a more personalized action plan. But there are some simple factors that everyone can and should consider in order to optimize the credit available to them.”

Know what’s in your credit report: Visit annualcreditreport.com to obtain a copy of your report from all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Consumers may obtain a copy from all three reporting agencies once a year at no charge. Review the reports carefully, contest any inaccurate information and have them correct the error(s).

Use credit wisely: When obtaining credit, whether in the form of revolving accounts (credit cards) or installment loans (cars, boats, etc.), be sure the repayment terms match the use of the funds. This will prevent you from making payments on something months or years after you’ve stopped using it. It’s also very important to pay off debt as quickly as possible. Remember: the longer you carry a balance, the more interest you pay.

Limit your number of unnecessary accounts: Almost every retailer will offer customers a store charge account at some point, but that doesn’t mean you must say “yes” every time. Having more than one or two of these high-interest credit cards can have a negative effect on your credit.

Be mindful of how much you owe: A large part of how your credit score is calculated is based upon the ratio of the outstanding balances vs. available credit. When this ratio is high, it can drive your score down. Keeping this ratio low will also help you avoid having more debt than you can comfortably repay.

Use discretion when opening new accounts: One factor that many lenders consider is the average age of your accounts. Longevity makes a good impression on lenders, so the higher the average age, the better. New accounts lower the average age and can impact credit worthiness, especially if you are a relatively new borrower.

The bottom line? It’s important to make the most of the credit you have and to manage it wisely. Implement these simple steps and get on the road to getting the credit you deserve.


 

It’s National Simplify Your Life Week—Shouldn’t that Include Your Finances? 

By Southside Bank | August 2, 2017 | Personal Finance, Simplify Your Life 

 

Life can seem terribly busy these days! So many of us feel our day-to-day schedule is overly committed, overly complicated and overly cluttered. From late nights at work to the kids’ soccer practice to weekends that become one errand after another, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to simplify your life and carve out quality down time.

National Simplify Your Life Week encourages each of us to incorporate some invaluable “me time” back into our lives. There are lots of easy places to start: create an actionable to-do list; stop committing to activities and people that don’t bring value to your life; declutter a closet or garage–the possibilities are endless.

But if you truly want to tackle a stressful and time-consuming task, consider streamlining your personal finances. No one likes paying bills, and no one wants to spend time doing it either. Implement these five simple strategies to limit the time and energy you spend each month keeping up with your financial commitments.

Think of what you could do with the time you’ll save!

Consolidate: If you have several accounts spread out at different financial institutions, consider consolidating. You could not only save money on monthly fees but save time, too. Checking, savings and accounts for your kids or your business can easily be housed in one place–even your mortgage, car loans, credit cards and investments can be accommodated by a reputable, full-service bank.

Automate: Automating recurring monthly charges like utility bills, mortgage and car payments and credit cards instantly frees up time and relieves stress. There’s always that one pesky bill you forget to pay or that unforgiving vendor that adds on exorbitant late fees. Eliminate that hassle by setting up automatic drafts. Most banks don’t charge for this incredibly convenient and time-saving service. You should also consider switching to eStatements. This eliminates paper-statement fees and helps out the environment.

Modernize: Banking is a very competitive field, and most institutions are clamoring to be “top of mind” and “top of wallet” for their customers. This has led to some amazing innovations. You can now bank anytime, anywhere with mobile banking apps. This makes it easy to quickly check balances and perform simple transactions whenever and wherever you’d like. Exciting new technology like Interactive Teller Machines (ITMs) also make “banker’s hours” obsolete. Most banks that utilize ITMs offer real-time video chats with tellers during the evenings and on weekends, so you can bank when it’s most convenient for you. 

Protect: You work hard for your money–your bank should work hard to protect it. Look for a bank that utilizes mobile wallets and chip technology on debit cards. Both offer enhanced fraud protection, so you can shop securely. And both are widely accepted around the world so you can streamline your purchases even when traveling.

Consult: With so many multi-state banks out there, it can be hard to feel like a valued customer. And let’s face it–asking for help at a bank can be intimidating. Consider using a local community bank. Many of them employ the same technologies, services and products found at larger institutions, but maintain a more personal relationship with their customers. Spend a few minutes discussing options with your banker. Ask if there’s a better account or credit card option available to you. Discuss your short- and long-term financial goals and let them navigate a clear path for you. If a bank isn’t willing to help you manage your money, do they deserve to have it? 

The bottom line? National Simplify Your Life Week is a great way to become more organized and less stressed! Get started by utilizing the great resources available to you at your local community bank.