Saving Big on Summer Travel, Part 1: Planning Your Trip

By Susan Wolfe

As the last of the winter snow melts and temperatures start to creep up, you may catch yourself at your desk staring out your window on warm, sunny spring days. If you’ve got children, they’re likely doing the same thing, simply counting down the days until the end of the school year.

Don’t worry, though. You’re not alone. It’s been a long, cold winter for all Milford and Stratford residents. And after months of hibernation, your family is long overdue for a summertime getaway.

But if you’re hesitant to break out a map and plan your next trip because you’re worried about finances, consider the following tips that may be able to help you plan a cost-effective summer vacation. In Part 1 of this series, we will cover steps you can take to save money as you plan your trip.

Selecting a destination: When it comes to planning a cost-effective vacation, it’s all about location. Did you know that the cost of living in Tennessee, for instance, is half of what it costs to live in Connecticut? By looking around the country, you’ll see great disparities in cost of living that will allow you to either save some extra cash, or include other events on your trip that might otherwise be out of your price range.

Look for group rates: If you have friends or family members that you like to travel with, try to coordinate with them while you’re planning your trip. Many hotels, airlines and entertainment groups will offer discounted group rates that will enable you to try new experiences without having to pay top dollar.

Be spontaneous: While you’ll generally pay more for airfare if you wait to book your flight, you can often get discounted prices if you wait until the last minute and are willing to be flexible about where you travel. If you have the flexibility, pack your suitcase and head to the airport to see what standby flights they’re offering. You can get a great last minute deal and possibly end up somewhere you might otherwise not have thought about.

Combine business with pleasure: If you travel for business, you can often get reimbursements or tax deductions for your expenses. If you can combine your leisure trip with a little bit of business, you may be eligible to recover some of your costs come next tax season (contact your tax advisor for details).

Consider avoiding hotel chains: While popular hotel chains are convenient and deliver a consistent and reliable experience, you’ll certainly pay a premium for it. Even a modest hotel room may cost you over $100 a day. There are numerous other options out there that may be more affordable and unique. Homesharing is one option. You may also want to research hostels or campsites too. Depending on your lifestyle and the type of trip you’re looking for, some of these alternative lodging options may help you have a truly unique and cost-effective trip.

Be sure to check out our Online Learning Center for more great ways to get more bang for your buck when making financial decisions. Also check back next week for the next installment of this series.

For Milford and Stratford residents looking for more consultation on their finances, stop by any office of The Milford Bank.

Beware of These Common Types of Fraud, Part 3

By Lynn Viesti Berube

In many ways, the technology we use in our daily lives makes us smarter, more adaptable and gives us the ability to accomplish more, from anywhere. But without taking proper security precautions, these tools can be used against us. In fact, hackers and con artists were able to steal over $15 billion from consumers in 2016.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we reviewed some of the most common types of fraud being perpetrated today. Part 3 will wrap up the series, providing several more types of fraud that all consumers should know.

Pay close attention, because we don’t want to see you become another statistic!

Spear-phishing: Spear-phishing is a type of attack in which a con artist sends you an email that appears to be from someone you know. These emails can come with attachments that will download malware on your device if you click on it, or the con artist might simply facilitate a conversation in the hopes of collecting personal information for another attack later.

Spoofing: Spoofing typically refers to the manipulation of your caller ID so it displays a fake name and number. However, this can also be done with websites and email addresses. Con artists will do this to gain your trust in the hopes that you will provide them with privileged information.

Spyware: Spyware is a blanket term that refers to any type of malware that has been installed on your computer, cell phone or other connected devices, with the aim of tracking your actions and collecting information without your knowledge.

Vishing: This term is a combination of two words: voice and phishing. Vishing attacks are perpetrated when a recorded phone message prompts you to reveal sensitive information that can be used for identity theft.

Whaling: Whaling is essentially the same as phishing—but on a much larger scale. In these cases, it is common that corporate executives or payroll departments will be targeted, with con artists posing as a CEO, lawyer or other management-level employee in order to gain trust and access.

With so many types of attacks being launched on a daily basis, it is vital for consumers and businesses alike to remain vigilant. A failure to adopt better security practices can leave your life savings, your assets and your future to chance. At The Milford Bank, we believe that technology has the ability to help you make smarter financial decisions. But you’ve got to recognize the responsibility that comes along with it.

To learn more about how to protect the financial future of yourself, your family or your business, stop by any office of The Milford Bank. You can also learn more by checking out our Online Learning Center by clicking here.

Beware of These Common Types of Fraud, Part 2

By Lynn Viesti Berube

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, the stakes for maintaining your privacy and financial security have never been higher. With the influx of connected devices that we now use in our daily lives, a failure to adhere to strict security practices can leave you vulnerable to a number of types of fraud. According to one study from Javelin Strategy, over 13 million people were the victims of fraud last year, with combined losses reaching $15 billion.

In Part 2 of this series, we will cover even more types of fraud that you should be watching out for. If you know what types of fraud are out there, it will greatly increase your chances of becoming a victim yourself.

Man-in-the-middle attack: These are attacks in which a hacker intercepts communications between two parties, altering them to serve their purposes.

Pharming: Hackers can use malware to route you to their own websites, which are often built to look exactly like another organization’s page. These dummy websites are particularly dangerous if you are tricked into entering personal information in order to sign in.

Phishing: Hackers can spoof the email addresses of people from your contact list. When they send you an email, it will look like it is coming from a friend, family member or coworker. But instead, it has been embedded with a virus or software that will give them access into your computer or device.

Ransomware: Ransomware is software that gives a hacker access to your computer and lets them target proprietary data. The hacker will then encrypt the data so that you can’t gain access to it, and will demand a ransom before restoring your access.

Scareware: Scareware is a program that displays an on-screen alert that you may be exposed to a virus or spyware. The user is then prompted to purchase antivirus protection that is actually malware itself.

Skimming: The magnetic strip on the back of your debit or credit card can be used by fraudsters to steal your information and access your financial records. Skimming devices can be secretly installed on card-reading devices, such as ATM machines, gas pumps and checkout counters.

Smishing: Smishing is like phishing. The difference is that instead of receiving a questionable email, the malware comes to you via text message. By responding to the text, you may inadvertently download malware onto your device without ever knowing its there.

Your data and your financial security are inextricably linked. As such, it is critical that you educate yourself about all the ways that criminals are looking to take advantage of people that don’t adhere to tight cybersecurity principles. To learn more about how to protect your assets, check out our Online Learning Center here or stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford.

Beware These Common Types of Fraud, Part 1

By Lynn Viesti Berube

All of the technological tools we have at our disposal today can offer numerous benefits in our day to day lives. We can make financial transactions on the go, connect with long-lost friends and learn just about anything that piques your curiosity. But with all the rewards of our modern technology, there are plenty of risks too. Our smartphones, computers and tablets have also had the unfortunate consequence of empowering con-artists like never before.

Just how bad is the epidemic? According to a Javelin Strategy & Research report, identity theft and fraud cost consumers more than $16 billion in 2016—a 16 percent increase from the previous year. In order to protect yourself, it is important that you know what kinds of scams are being perpetrated today.

Here are some of the most common types of fraud that you should be aware of:

Brute-force attack: This is a hacking method to find passwords. Using this method, a hacker will test every possible combination of characters until the correct one is found. Unfortunately, there are now tools which can automate this process, making it vital for you to develop a complex password and change it regularly.

Catfish: When someone creates a fake online profile with the intention of misleading you it is called catfishing. In order to prevent being catfished, don’t accept requests on social media sites from people you don’t recognize.

Drive-by download: If you visit a website that has already been compromised with a virus or malware, your device may download it simply by visiting the site too. This can occur without you downloading anything or opening up strange links.

Ghosting: Ghosting occurs when the identity of a deceased individual is used to fraudulently conduct financial transactions such as opening credit cards, applying for loans or procuring medical treatment.

Hash busters: Typically, spam is filtered out of your email inbox. But hash busters are spam emails that are loaded up with random words or sentences in order to trick your email service into letting it into your inbox. They may include viruses or malware, and if they’re sitting in your inbox they might appear more credible and lead you to open something you might otherwise not.

Keylogger: Keylogger programs are discretely downloaded onto victims’ computers so they can track the sequence of keys you type. This provides hackers with easier odds of figuring out your passwords and other credentials.

Malvertising: Malware can come disguised as an advertisement that you see on the side of a web page. To avoid getting tricked by malvertising schemes, be sure to go directly to the official website for any business with which you wish to do business.

With the great power of the technology we have at our disposal today comes great responsibility. If you don’t take the time to protect yourself, you may end up paying for it years down the road. To learn more ways to protect your assets, stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford, or check out our Online Learning Center here. And be sure to check our blog for the conclusion to this series!

Five Higher Ed Facts All Milford, Stratford Parents Should Know

By Patty Gallagher

If you’re a Milford or Stratford resident with a child in high school, it is likely that your family has already started to have conversations about higher education. Deciding whether or not your child should go to college is a difficult one, with many factors that inform the choice. And if your child is going to college, you’ve got even more challenging decisions to make. How will you pay tuition? What kind of school is right for your child? What kind of courses will your child take?

As you discuss the topic of higher education with your family and your children, keep the following five facts in mind.

  1. The average 2016 graduate leaves school with an average student loan debt of $37,172.
    If you’re planning on using student loans to pay for your child’s tuition, it is important to understand the amount of debt that you, or your child, will need to start paying off once they graduate 
  2. Students with a bachelor’s degree earn 66 percent more over their lifetime than high school graduates.
    Though student loan debt can be discouraging in the short-term, studies show that the expense of a degree is a worthwhile investment in the long term.
  3. Only one-third of students attending a public college graduate on-time.
    Developing a strategy to keep your child on track to graduate on-time is essential. Whether they’re earning a two or four year degree, finishing within those terms will keep you from incurring expenses just to cover a few remaining course credits. In addition, it means your child will enter the job market, and eventually have more experience, than others their age who needed more time to graduate.
  4. The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for one semester at a four year public college in 2016 was $15,280.
    Attending college in another state can be an incredibly enriching experience. But you’ll certainly pay a premium. If your child has their heart set on an out-of-state school but you can’t figure out how to make ends meet financially, consider sending your child to a cost-effective community college in the same state for a year or two first. Your child will be able to take care of basic course requirements at less cost, while gaining the in-state eligibility they need to make their dream school a reality.
  5. Roughly $100 million in scholarship funding goes unused on a yearly basis.
    Many families think that college is too expensive. In some cases, they’re right. But in many others, they simply haven’t exhausted all their resources yet. There are millions of dollars awarded to students through scholarships and grants every year, and another $100 million goes unclaimed every year. 

 

If your family is starting to have the higher education conversation, be sure to gather all the facts to make the most informed decision. If you live in the Milford or Stratford area, stop by any office of The Milford Bank and we can help you move forward in a way that sets your family, and your loved ones, up for success. You can also learn more at our Online Learning Center here.

Five Helpful Hints for Managing Credit Card Debt

By Karuna Kasbawala

For most people, discussing their financial challenges is about as popular as receiving a root canal. As a result, individuals faced with difficult financial decisions often feel like they’re all alone. But the reality is that millions of Americans are facing similar difficulties.

In fact, researchers recently found that the median debt per American household is $2,300—with the average debt per individual reaching $5,700. Getting out of debt can be a long, difficult and stressful process.

But if you develop a clear strategy and stick to it, you won’t have to let your credit card debt rule your life for long. If you’re having a difficult time managing the balance on your credit card, consider applying some of the following hints to your strategy for getting caught up.

Set a budget: In many cases, financial problems aren’t caused by poor saving practices, but by poor spending decisions. By setting a budget, you will get an accurate guideline of what you need to do in order to get out of debt. This will help you put every purchase in its proper context and dissuade poor spending decisions.

Take interest in interest rates: Once you fall behind on credit card payments, it will be the interest rates that make it harder to catch up. If you have multiple credit cards with an outstanding balance, prioritize paying off the card with the highest interest rate. Otherwise, you may want to consider consolidating your debt to get a lower interest rate altogether.

Make multiple monthly payments: Chipping away at your debt may require making minimum payments for a little while. But when you can, make multiple minimum payments within a month. This can reduce your average daily balance, which can lower your interest charges. In addition, making multiple payments will look good for your credit history.

Stop using your credit card: The easiest way to stop racking up credit card debt is to stop using your credit card. This will help you learn how to purchase only the most essential items. But for consumers relying on that line of credit, this might mean having to find an alternative method for making ends meet. Fortunately, many banks are now offering debit cards with the same types of rewards traditionally granted only through credit cards—without any interest rates attached.

Speak with a debt management expert: As previously stated, talking about finances is one of the most difficult conversations you can have. But it is still one of the most important, too. Consulting with a debt management expert will help you learn how to avoid financial pitfalls and strategize your escape from debt in a comfortable and judgment-free setting.

If you’re suffering from credit card debt, you don’t have to go it alone. Stop by any office of The Milford Bank to speak with one of our financial experts, or learn more about managing debt at our Online Learning Center.

Beware of These Hidden Costs When Buying a Home

by JoAnn Sabas

Over the past few years, you’ve saved up enough money to make a down payment on a piece of real estate. You’ve prequalified for a mortgage and you’re confident that you can make your monthly payments without any problem—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to buy.

When purchasing a home, it is important to understand that your mortgage payment is only the first in a long list of new expenses. A failure to account for hidden costs may leave you in a difficult financial position down the road. So before you take the next step, take some time to assess the additional expenses for which you may soon become accountable.

Here are a few examples to help get you started.

Inspections: Before you purchase a piece of property, be sure to solicit the services of a home inspector. A qualified, experienced inspector will be able to diagnose a range of problematic conditions that will help you in several ways. You can use these findings to back out of a sale and renegotiate your offer. Inspections will generally cost around $500 or more, however, so while you might save in the long run, you must be prepared to absorb the immediate expense.

Appliances: Just because the sellers have a beautiful washer/dryer set, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll inherit it when you purchase the home. Be sure to have a checklist for all the household items you expect to have, and figure out which items the sellers intend to leave behind. Oftentimes, sellers are willing to negotiate and may include items with the purchase, helping you to avoid having to buy all new appliances in the process.

Association Fees: If you’re buying a condominium, townhouse or apartment, it is likely that the real estate will be less expensive than a single family house. As such, your monthly mortgage payments will probably be lower too. However, many of these properties are part of an association which will require additional monthly payments to cover maintenance and improvements for common items like paving, plowing or additional benefits. In some cases, association fees can be even higher than mortgage payments themselves.

Closing costs: Once you’ve received the title for your new piece of property, you’ll need to pay fees to your realtor and the lawyer responsible for handling your closing. Closing costs can be incurred by the buyer or seller, though, so they can be used during your negotiations. But you’d be well advised to play it safe and make sure you have the funds necessary to cover closing costs.

It is easy to let emotions get the best of you during the house hunting process. If you find a home you love and it’s within your price range, you may be tempted to act quickly. But some homes are hiding their true expense, so it is vital that you account for all possible costs before making a decision. To learn more about finding the right home for your lifestyle, call or stop by to speak with one of our Mortgage Specialists today!

Milford, Stratford Residents: Be Wary of Identity Theft this Tax Season

By Pam Reiss

There’s nothing easy about doing your taxes. Filling out all those forms and hunting for old receipts is enough to drive anybody crazy. As if you didn’t have enough to concern yourself with during this important time of the year, you can now add another potential peril to the list: tax return fraud.

Tax return fraud is a new form of identity theft that has skyrocketed in recent years. Essentially, the con is pulled off by individuals using your information to file a false return, hoping that the IRS will send them your hard-earned refund. While you’d think that the IRS would be savvy enough to catch these criminals in the act, the agency has been overwhelmed by the frequency of fraudulent returns in recent years.

As of March 5, 2016, the IRS had identified over 42,000 tax returns with roughly $227 million claimed in fraudulent refunds. The IRS has prevented the issuance of an additional $180 million as well. While the agency does have advanced fraud detection capabilities, the evidence clearly demonstrates that they can’t catch everyone. And while the IRS will work with victims to rectify cases of identity theft, it may not be quick enough for someone who was relying on a speedy refund.

So what can you do to reduce your risk? The IRS has provided four simple measures you can take to avoid being victimized:

  • For digital interactions use strong passwords and security software with firewalls and anti-virus protection
  • Learn how to recognize phishing emails and fraudulent messages from thieves posing as representatives from banks, credit card companies and the IRS
  • Do not click links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails
  • Keep your personal data and records, including your Social Security card, in a secure location

Many individuals don’t realize they’ve been victimized until it is too late. But there are some warning signs that you should keep watch for to catch cases of fraud more quickly.

  • More than one tax return filed using your Social Security number
  • You owe additional taxes, have refunds offset or have collection actions taken against you for a year you didn’t file a tax return
  • IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer for whom you did not work
  • The IRS sends you a letter saying it has identified a suspicious return using your social security number

Unfortunately, consumers today cannot sit back idly and enjoy the convenient features of modern banking. They must also be vigilant and fiscally responsible. It may not be fair, but falling victim to identity theft can be incredibly detrimental for the victims themselves. Learn more ways to protect yourself by checking out our Online Learning Center or stopping by The Milford Bank location near you.

Savings Strategies for Milford, Stratford Residents Nearing 30

by Cortney Meng

Milford and Stratford residents: do you have a 30th birthday coming up? If so, take a moment to reflect on where you were and what you were doing just 10 years ago. A lot has changed, no? In fact, your twenties can be one of the most transformative decades of your life. By the time you reach 30, you may be entrenched in a career, thinking about getting married, buying a home or even having children. Maybe you’ve already done all of the above!

As such, it is important that you reevaluate your savings strategy to reflect your changing lifestyle as you approach your 30th birthday.

If you’re looking to overhaul your savings strategy, here are a few good places to start.

Start a retirement account: If you haven’t started saving for retirement, you’re not alone. In fact, 57 percent of millennials have yet to start saving for retirement. But the fact remains that the sooner you start, the easier time you’ll have reaching your goals. If your company offers a 401(k), start taking advantage of the benefit if you are financially able to do so. You might also want to diversify by establishing an IRA or investing in a mutual fund too.

Buy life insurance: At 20, you might not have had anyone depending on you. But the game often changes at 30. You might be responsible for your business, your partner, a child, a mortgage or other loans. A big part of that responsibility is making sure your loved ones are taken care of if the worst should happen to you. At 30, you’re still likely young and healthy enough to qualify for an inexpensive life insurance policy. Some forms of insurance, like permanent life and annuities, double as investment vehicles, making them an important part of your savings strategy as you enter your 30’s.

Improve your credit score: A great credit score will open up many doors to you in your 30’s. You’ll be able to secure a larger line of credit with lower interest rates if you can demonstrate that you’ve been historically responsible with your spending. Speak with a credit agency or financial expert to see how you might be able to boost your score, so that you’ll be in a position of strength when you’re ready for the big financial decisions that many of us make in our 30’s.

Take a calculated risk: It is generally considered a best practice to be conservative with your savings when you’re young. Many years of safe, steady earnings can leave you poised to have a great retirement in a few decades. But another benefit of youth is that you have more time to bounce back if an investment doesn’t pan out. Consider taking a small, discretionary sum of money and check out a company or product that you’re passionate about. It might not pan out, but you never know—you might invest in the next Amazon or Apple, too.

If you’re ready to take a serious look at your savings strategy as you approach your 30’s, stop by any office of The Milford Bank branch near you to speak with an experienced financial advisor today. You can also learn more by checking out our Online Learning Center.

Survey Shows Millennials Prioritizing Coffee Over Retirement

By Matt Kelly

Hey Millennials, how do you take your coffee? Do you pick up a simple $1.00 cup from the gas station during your morning commute? Or are you all about splurging on a $5.00 specialty drink at Starbucks to give you an afternoon pick-me-up? Whether you’re adding cream, sugar or a shot of espresso, there is one trait that is shared by Millennial coffee drinkers: they’re more focused on what’s in their mugs than what’s in their retirement accounts.

According to a recent poll conducted by SurveyMonkey and investing app Acorns, 41 percent of Millennials currently spend more on their morning cup of coffee over the course of the year than they put into retirement savings.

The survey, which polled more than 1,900 18-35 year olds, also found that 41 percent of Millennials believe they will not be financially secure enough to retire until they’re older than 65. While you can’t lay the blame squarely on coffee consumption, these statistics do reveal a frightening pattern of financial neglect.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a cup of coffee to start your day. But if Millennials want to enjoy comfortable retirements, at some point they will have to look a little deeper about their spending and saving decisions.

Consider, for instance, that brewing your coffee at home can save you tons of money every day. If you buy a large container of inexpensive grounds, your home brew might run you less than 10 cents per cup. Even if you prefer K-cups, many brands offer deals that won’t add up to more than 50 cents per cup.

If Millennials were to get serious about cutting into their coffee budgets, they’d be able to start seeing a positive effect on their savings pretty quickly.

An individual switching from $5 per cup of coffee to 10 cents per cup will save $1,788.50 over the course of a year. Even after one month, you’d have an extra $150 in your pocket—enough to cover utilities and grocery bills!

But retirement accounts are long-term investments. So what would your coffee savings look like by the time you reach retirement age? Using the previous example, over the course of 30 years, would amount to $53,655—a figure that sounds like a competitive yearly salary for many. By changing how they think about their coffee drinking habits, Millennials could potentially save enough to retire a full year earlier than they believed possible!

When it comes to retirement planning, it is ideal to begin saving as early as you can. But circumstances aren’t always ideal. Fortunately, it is never too late to get on a path towards financial freedom. By making minor adjustments to your day-to-day spending, you can begin funding your retirement with the money you’ve already got in your pocket.

To maximize the value of your savings, stop by The Milford Bank and speak to one of our experienced financial advisors, or check out our Online Learning Center. We offer a variety of financial services and investment vehicles, ranging from traditional savings accounts, to certificates of deposit, IRAs, money markets and more. Start planning today so you’ll be able to enjoy your daily cup of coffee long into retirement.