Beware the Tax Scam

Beware the Tax Scam

Tax season may be over, but there is still a prevalance of scams involving taxes, the most recent involving crooks imposing as IRS agents.   These scammers call or email their victims and demand tax payments. They tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver's license.   To lend credibility, the crooks often know the last four digits of the taxpayer's Social Security number, and the calls are made with spoofed caller identification software that makes it appear the call is originating from the IRS.   Rememner, If you owe taxes, the IRS will contact you by U.S. mail -- not emai.  They will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text or social media.   If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS and asking for a payment, hang up and call the IRS directly.   For more information on this and the answers to other financial questions, visit BECU's collection of resources.

 

Tax Returns: How Long Should You Keep Them?

Tax Returns: How Long Should You Keep Them?

Tax day has come and gone and many of us are throwing our 2013 paperwork in with a pile of years past. So how long should we hold on to our prior year Tax returns?

 
The good news is you don’t have to keep them forever. The IRS has statute of limitations, or a period of time in which they can take action. In auditing your return the period is three years.  However, for unreported income, they have six years. It’s important to note that both limitations are from the date you actually file your return.
 
A good rule of thumb is to hold on to your tax returns for seven years.
 
If you have records connected to assets, such as the purchase of property or other investments, you’ll want to hold on to those records until the statute of limitation expires for the year in which you dispose of the asset. 
 
If you are in doubt, check with your tax preparer. And remember, when you do decide to get rid of your returns, make sure all the paperwork is shredded.
  
For more information on this and other financial questions, visit BECU’s collection of resources.

How to Remember Your Password

How to Remember Your Password

In today’s world you need a password to access almost all of your on-line accounts. Our desire to remember dozens of passwords for different sites often results in the creation of a password that can easily be cracked by hackers.

So how do we develop a password that we can remember but cannot be stolen by the thieves?
 
First off, stay away from things like your pet’s name or your daughter’s birthday. Numbers and names that are common in your day-to-day life will be easy for criminals to guess. Try to come up with a series of letters and numbers, using both capital letters and smaller case letters within the password.
 
One strategy is to us a “passphrase” or a sentence that you can remember then replace each word in the phrase with its initial or similar digit or symbol.
 
For example, if your password is 1ltwb1ts”, your passphrase may be “I Like To Watch Baseball In The Sun”. In this case, you’re using the number one for the letter “I” in the sentence, and initials for the rest of the words.
 
If you know there is now way you’re going to remember your password, write a reminder somewhere and hide the paper. But be sure to write the phrase or hint, not the actual password.  
 
 For more information on this and other financial questions, visit BECU’s collection of resources.

 

How Much Will You Need in Retirement?

How Much Will You Need in Retirement?

Whether it’s 30 years away or 5 years away, retirement is imminent for almost all of us. But how much do you need to save to live comfortably in your glory years?

 
It’s a simple enough question. But the answer is complicated because there are so many variables—some known, others impossible to pin down—that can shape the answer, sometimes dramatically.
 
A popular rule of thumb says that you should withdraw three percent to five percent of your savings in your first year of retirement and that you should increase your withdrawals over time to account for inflation.
 
But is that a realistic rule to follow? Let's say you have $500,000 saved for retirement. Using 5% as the rule, this would provide you with $25,000 in your first year of retirement. Coupled with social security and your other income would this be enough for you? Be honest with yourself about expenses, both fixed and variable. $25,000 probably isn’t enough if you’re still paying off your mortgage or you plan on traveling during retirement. To get the real dollar amount you need to save, you’ll need to do some serious number crunching, starting with an estimate of your expenses in retirement.
 
If you feel lost, you’re not alone! Ask for help from a professional to get you on the right track toward retirement. Just don't stop saving.
 
For more information on this and other financial questions, visit BECU’s collection of resources.
 
 
 

Watch Out for Card Popping

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There’s a scam making its way through Facebook® or Twitter®, offering a “legitimate” way to make $1,000, $5,000 or more in exchange for personal information, such as your debit card number and PIN. Don’t fall for it. It’s fraud.

In this scam known as “card popping,” fraudsters claim that if you give them your account information, including debit card number, PIN, online login and other sensitive information, they’ll use your account for allegedly legitimate purposes and leave you with more money than they take out.
 
In some cases, the scammers say they’ll use your bank account information to cash checks because they are unable to do so themselves.
 
Once the scammers gain access to your bank account, they use it to deposit bad checks, and then withdraw money before the checks are discovered to be fake.
 
If the opportunity sounds to good to be true it probably is. Protect yourself from scammers and talk to your banker before you hand out any account information. 
 
For more information on this and other financial questions visit BECU’s collection of resources.

 

4 Questions to Help with Financial Housekeeping

home finance, money, house, investment, becu

It’s very easy to put off chores. But now that the year is nearly over, try to set aside some time to do some financial housekeeping. To help you get started, here are four questions that you will want to answer:

 
1.     Are you contributing enough to your 401(k) to meet your retirement goals?
 
2.     Is your insurance premium and deductible suitable for your medical needs?
 
3.     When was the last time you updated your will and checked the beneficiaries on your accounts?
 
4.     Have you used up the tax-free money in your flexible spending account, if you have one?
 
Need help answering some of these questions? Consider seeing a Financial Advisor.
A Financial Advisor can provide you with a portfolio analysis to help you determine when you can retire. You might want a general financial checkup for your family to ensure you have the right insurance and an adequate estate plan in place. You may want to know how well your assets are diversified, need help with a question about IRA rollovers, or just want to be sure you have a plan in place to get off to a solid start early in life. In all of these situations, a Financial Advisor can help.
 
Financial Advisors at BECU Investment Services are a great resource if you desire financial and investment advice from trusted professionals. Learn more about BECU Financial Advisors at Investment Services.

Using Credit Cards Responsibly for Holiday Shopping

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With the holiday season comes the temptation to spend more that we can afford resulting in debt that limits your ability to achieve other financial goals in the coming years, but with a little planning this doesn’t have to be the case.    

 
When Should You Charge It?
Sometimes it's actually better to make a purchase with your credit card than with cash or a check. That's because credit cards often come with a special insurance feature that covers you if your purchases are damaged or stolen, which is particularly useful when your new TV arrives from the store with a cracked screen. Check the terms of your card (you can read the application literature or call the customer service line) to see if you have this coverage. Your credit card issuer may also play intermediary if you ever have a dispute with a merchant over the delivery of the goods or services you've bought.
 
For the most part, credit cards are also considered safer and more convenient to use, especially if you're traveling during the holidays. Why worry about losing your money or having a personal check rejected when you can carry a single piece of plastic that's accepted most places and can be canceled if lost or stolen? If you make purchases online, your credit card can provide protection against Internet fraud, too.
 
Avoid Common Credit Card Pitfalls
The biggest mistake people make with their credit cards is overusing them, which is easy to do whether you have one card or a whole wallet full of them. You can avoid a credit crunch by following certain guidelines you set for yourself. For example, you may decide to have only one card to do your holiday shopping with a very manageable limit so that you can't overspend. Or you might decide to use your card only for emergencies or things you can't pay for in cash (an airline ticket bought by phone, a tow for your broken-down car, an auto rental, or an online purchase, for example).
 
Think twice before accepting retail store cards during the holidays. Though they often come with a tempting merchandise discount, they also tend to charge higher interest rates than the kinds of credit cards that can be used anywhere. Why add another card to your wallet, especially one that has limited usefulness? Not only does it tempt you to spend, it also makes you that much more vulnerable to credit card fraud.
 
BECU offer free financial education to help you make wise credit decision. To learn more visit BECU debt and credit financial education articles
 

Check Out the Savings at Your Local Library

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Entertainment during these cold, dark winter months usually involves staying indoors, but it does not have to include a bucket of popcorn and a movie ticket. Your local public library is an excellent free resource for year-round enjoyment, offering much more than endless shelves of dusty books.
 
Watch: Choose from a wide range of DVDs including new releases, timeless classics, and your favorite TV series. Similar to many streaming programs that cost money, you can have a queue of DVD’s lined up on hold to get you through the season at no cost.
 
Read: Beyond traditional books, reading has gone digital. Libraries now offers thousands of titles available for download that can be accessed on PCs, laptops, tablets, and even smart phones. Finding time to finish a book becomes much easier when it is readily available in digital format; diffuse impatience by reading as you wait in long shopping lines this holiday season.
 
See and Do: There is something for everyone at the library. Interactive story-telling, often complete with music and character voices is available for the kids. Adults on the other hand can check out readings from some of their favorite authors and participate in book clubs with fellow literature enthusiasts.
 
Learn: Many libraries offer classes to stimulate the mind, and resources to better understand the evolving workforce and community. Current classes being provided at the Seattle Public Library include: job-interview classes, understanding the new healthcare plan, natural disaster prevention, and technology basics. Some classes may require registration and a small fee, so be sure to check in advance.
 
Improve your financial literacy at the local library with BECU.  As a not-for-profit Credit Union, BECU offers free financial education classes to both members and non-members all over the Puget Sound. To sign up for a seminar near you, register online.
 
Find out how to become a library member and take advantage of all your local public library has to offer.
 

Tips for Smart Online Shopping

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We’ve all heard that it is important to stick to a list and avoid impulse shopping when visiting stores—this is just as important with online shopping too. Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you prepare for Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping deals:
 
Look out for ads geared specifically to your online habits.
Online retailers track what you have purchased in the past, offer up what are perceived to be limited time deals, and can even track you to offer up ads based upon what you have searched for in the past. Instead of jumping on every offer as they come to you ignore them and only look for coupons or deals when it is time to make a purchase. Remember, if you did not look for it you probably don’t need it.
 
Use your online shopping cart as a waiting area.
Ignore the temptation to impulse shop by placing items in your online shopping cart and coming back in a day or two. You may change your mind and it is even possible that the price could be lower.  
 
Be wary of prices that are too good to be true.
Comparison shopping is always importance before you make a purchase. Check to see if there is an unusually high shipping price before you complete your order. You don’t want to pay $20 worth of shipping on a $20 item that you can buy in a store.
 
Know the return, refund and shipping policy.
Before making a purchase, familiarize yourself with the terms of the purchase. Check to see when you can expect to receive your purchase and know the return policy. If you can’t find the terms on the website, call the business and ask. You don’t want to be stuck with a purchase that you can’t use.
 
Get to know auction-based sites.
These sites are very popular but they are often not connected to a store front. Familiarize yourself with the seller and check out reviews and ratings from other buyers before bidding.
 
For more tips on how to stay safe online, visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse website.

Is Your Home Losing Energy and Money?

home energy, home money, energy savings, becu

Are you looking for ways to save more money on your utility bills each month? Take a few steps to ensure that you are not wasting money on your utility bills.
 
Consider hiring a professional to conduct an energy audit on your home to identify areas where you may be wasting energy. Even if you don’t hire a professional, there are things that you can do yourself that can have a big impact:
 
1.     A programmable thermostat is a great please to start—you can program it to lower the temperature at nights or during the day when you are not at home.
 
2.     A dirty air filter in your furnace restricts the airflow and makes your furnace have to work harder which in the long run, can reduce its useful life—it is recommended that you replace your filter every three months
 
3.     Sealing your heating ducts, adding insulation to your top floor and opening your drapes when you have direct sunlight can also make a big difference
 
What are some characteristics of a green home?
The U.S. Green Building Council offers a Green Home Checklist that can help you identify whether the home your home is a green home. The Council says that this checklist can help you ensure that you have a healthier, high-performance home that costs less to operate and has fewer environmental impacts than a traditional home that doesn't have these "green" elements.
 
Some of the key items on the Green Home Checklist include:
·       Energy-efficient lighting, heating, cooling and water-heating systems
·       ENERGY STAR® ratings on appliances, windows and exterior doors
·       Sunshades on the southern and western facades to block hot Summer sun
·       Windows, clerestories, skylights and other strategies that bring daylight to the home's interior
·       Water-conserving irrigation systems and water-efficient kitchen and bathroom fixtures
 
To learn more about home energy audits and ways to make your home more efficient, visit Energy.gov.

Saving tips for teens

Saving tips for teens
Money of the world

For many parents, talking about money with their teenagers begins and ends with "How much do you need?" Kids want to learn, and they would like to learn from their parents and have them as role models. We realize that oftentimes parents are at a loss knowing what to teach their kids or how to go about it, so we've developed some helpful tips that will assist you along the way:

 
1. Communicate with your teen your values concerning money – how and why you save, choices you've made to make your money grow, and how you spend it wisely. A good example of this is when you’re in the grocery store and you choose items on sale versus regular priced items. Or choosing generic brands instead of the more expensive brands.
 
2. Help them learn the difference between wants and needs – this is really key for teaching teens good decision making. Needs are the practical things that will help your teen in school and social activities like a good backpack, or school supplies or athletic shoes for sports.  Wants are things that they desire, but can get by without until they can afford them, like the latest iPhone or whatever the newest fad is.
 
3. Set Goals with Your Teen– Help your teen set goals for things they want or might need, like a car or computer. Instill the idea that they always want to leave money in their savings account for other things that come up that they haven't thought of. When your teen asks you to buy something for them, use it as an opportunity to teach them how they can buy it by setting a goal and saving their money.
 
Consider encouraging your teen to save by matching the amount they save, or telling them if they save for the whole amount, you will pay for half so the other half can stay in their savings account. This helps them stay on track and also creates excitement.
 
4. Teach Your Teen to Save, Share and Spend – One of the joys of money is that you can share it by donating to charity or causes. By teaching your teen to share they will have a balanced view of money and its ability to help others, plus they’ll feel good about themselves.
 
5. Paychecks, Allowance and Decision Making – If your teen has a job or receives an allowance, make sure they set aside some for savings and some to share and spend. A good rule of thumb for adults is to save at least 10%. Teens should save more since they typically don't have bills like adults to.
 
6. Spending Decisions – Let your teen learn from their spending choices, good or poor. Before spending takes place you can initiate an open discussion of spending pros and cons. One way to do this is to provide your teen with alternative choices when they want to buy something. For example, if your teen wants to buy designer jeans for $150, you could also point out to them that the same $150 could buy 10 movie tickets or a heck of a lot of music downloads. This teaches your child to think about choices and how to make decisions.
 
7. Keep Good Money Records – Another important skill for teens to learn is to keep track of their money! Teach your teen to keep receipts so they can see what they have been able to purchase with their money. Review their savings account statements with them, show them how they are earning interest. Once they understand the basics, your teen can sign up for Online Banking and review their account on their own.
 
 
BECU is committed to helping kids develop healthy savings habits too. Our Early Saver Savings Account makes it easy and rewarding for young people under age 18 to save:
earns 6.17% APY on the first $500 in the account
no fees to maintain account
 
We hope these tips are helpful to you. Look for future tips on how to teach your teen to manage a checking account and debit card.
Teaching your teens to be good savers is a gift that lasts a lifetime. Don't be afraid to start the conversation.
 
Rates stated as Annual Percentage Yield (APY) on the first $500, effective 7/1/13 and subject to change.
 

Tips to help protect against identity fraud

Summer vacation is almost over. While many of us are preparing last-minute getaways with family and friends—booking flights, reserving hotel rooms and renting cars—it is important to make sure that your personal information is protected from fraudsters. We take the security of your account information and personal information very seriously at BECU. That's why we use industry-standard encryption to protect your account and personal information.

Summer vacation is almost over. While many of us are preparing last-minute getaways with family and friends—booking flights, reserving hotel rooms and renting cars—it is important to make sure that your personal information is protected from fraudsters. We take the security of your account information and personal information very seriously at BECU. That's why we use industry-standard encryption to protect your account and personal information.
 
Below are four helpful tips to aid against identity theft. Always remember, if you believe your BECU account information has been compromised in any way, call us immediately at 800-233-2328 or visit any BECU location.
 
1. Be cautious when providing personal information such as your Social Security number and account or credit card information over the telephone, in person or on the Internet. Do not give out personal information over the phone, on the Internet, or through the mail unless you have initiated the contact or know exactly who you are dealing with.
2. Shred all financial information before throwing it away: this includes charge receipts, credit applications and other statements. Store cancelled checks, new checks and account statements in a safe place. Tear up or shred any pre-approved credit offers to which you do not respond. Thieves can use these offers to assume your identity.
3. Do not use obvious passwords or PINs. These include your birth date, mother's maiden name or consecutive numbers. Try using phrases that mix letters and numbers, like "WeLove2BdebtFree" rather than words you would find in the dictionary. And store your passwords under lock and key so a thief won't find them if searching your house. Never store your passwords on your computer unless the file is encrypted or password protected.
4. Report lost or stolen checks, credit or debit cards immediately. By requesting a stop payment, BECU will block payment on the check numbers or account numbers involved. Notify BECU of suspicious phone inquiries such as those asking for account information to "verify a statement" or "award a prize". If you believe someone is trying to commit fraud on your accounts, contact us immediately at 800-233-2328.
 
Prevent, Detect and Restore
In addition to the above tips, you can help protect yourself from ID theft with the Deluxe ProventSM Identity Theft Protection Program. This tiered program will provide you with expert personal assistance should identity theft occur and proactive online services to help monitor your identity. Once enrolled, you will have your own personal online dashboard to monitor and track your identity.
 
With the Deluxe ProventSM Identity Theft Protection Program, you’ll have the option of being protected by combinations of the following services:
 
Identity restoration
EZ Wallet
Internet monitoring
Credit monitoring
Public records monitoring
Name and address monitoring
EZShield vault safety deposit
 
The tiered program starts at only $4.95 per month and can be debited from your BECU account. To sign up for Deluxe ProventSM Identity Theft Protection Program, visit www.deluxeprovent.ezshield.com.
 

Saving tips and tricks

Saving tips and tricks

  As a not-for-profit, member-owned credit union your financial well-being is important to us. Each month we have some money saving tips and tricks to help you along the way.

1. Start An Emergency Savings Fund

Even if you’re putting away just $25 a month, it’s better than nothing. Everyone should have an emergency savings. However, emergencies do not include those clothes or tech gadgets that are on sale now and may not be later. The fund should be reserved for real emergencies, like a medical accident or losing your job. Open a new account for your emergency fund and then set up an automatic transfer each month from your checking account – it’s easy!
 
2. Stop Getting Charged at the ATM
If you’re being charged ATM fees on a regular basis, you need to take a few minutes and figure out what you can do to avoid those fees. There are other options:
  • Go online or call your financial institution and find out where free ATMs are near your work and home.
  • Use a debit card when making purchases and you can get cash back. Just swipe your card and select how much cash you want. Usually there’s a maximum of $100.
  • If you find yourself having to continually use an ATM that is not free, could you withdraw more funds at a time so that you go to the ATM less often? For example, instead of going to the ATM three times a week and withdrawing $20 each time, could you go to the ATM once a week and withdraw $60?
 
3. Discover Your Local Public Library
Go to your local library and borrow books, CDs, and DVDs – for free!  And of course you can read the latest magazines and newspapers.
 
4. Paying for College With Free Money
When you are weighing your options on how to pay for college, it is always best to first consider free money—this includes scholarships and grants. College Scholarships is a good website that gathers available scholarship and grant opportunities for you to view all in one place, along with helpful application tips.
 
5. Every year the BECU Foundation awards scholarships to high school seniors and college undergrads who demonstrate excellence in the classroom and community. Since 1995 the Foundation has awarded over $1.4 million to over 660 students. To learn more about applying for this scholarship, visit www.becu.org/scholarships.
 

To buy or to lease?

To buy or to lease?

 Most experts would advise that in the long run buying is more economical than leasing. When you lease a car you are essentially paying for depreciation and financing the difference between what the car cost now, and what it is expected to be worth at the end of the lease—you won’t build equity.

 And, when you turn the car in at the end of the lease you may be responsible for wear and tear or excessive mileage charges. You might want to take this in to consideration if you are chauffeuring kids to and from muddy soccer practices. 

 
Weigh the Difference
 
Leasing Advantages
No or low down payment
Lower monthly payments
Manufacturer's warranty usually covers lease term
Buying Advantages
Pride of ownership
No mileage limitations
Monthly payments have an end
Flexibility to change cars when you want
You build equity over time
 
Leasing Disadvantages
No end to monthly payments
Wear-and-tear charges
Mileage limitations
You do not build equity Buying Disadvantages
Higher down payment and monthly payment
Repair costs once warranty expires
 
If getting a new car every few years is important to you, leasing may be something to consider, however, be careful and pay attention to the realities of leasing. You don’t want to be surprised when your lease expires.      
 

Have you done a wallet audit?

What fraud-friendly information are you carrying in your wallet? One of the most important things that you can do to protect your finances and your identity is to audit your wallet. Here are some key tips to help you keep your personal information safe an

 We all hear the distressing stories of identity theft. Fraudsters are getting cleverer but there are some simple things that you can do to help protect yourself.

What fraud-friendly information are you carrying in your wallet?

One of the most important things that you can do to protect your finances and your identity is to audit your wallet. Here are some key tips to help you keep your personal information safe and out of the hands of fraudsters:

If you have your social security card or number in your wallet, remove it immediately. It is just the ticket for identity thieves.

Make a list of all the items in your wallet. For debit and credit cards don’t include card numbers, rather just the name and phone number of the financial institution. If you have automatic payments associated with a card make a note of that as well. 

Keep the list in a safe place at home. If your wallet or purse gets lost or stolen you now have a list of everything that you need to cancel and replace what was lost.

Don’t wait to cancel your lost or stolen card—most financial institutions have a 24-hour phone number just for reporting a lost or stolen card. You definitely want to do this before the fraudsters wipe out your accounts.

 

Prevent, Detect and Restore

BECU members have access to reliable identity theft services and resources. To learn more, visit www.becu.org/learn-and-plan/articles.aspx and select Security and Fraud.