Business Customers – Learn about Clover on October 22nd

Come meet us on Oct. 22

Get up to $750 back when you open a new merchant services account*
Power your business possibilities. Explore our wide range of solutions designed to meet the needs of your business so you may finish the year strong. We’re bringing Clover merchant services solutions and expertise to you!
Hands-on demos and other fun activities await your arrival. You’ll even learn how Clover technology may be tailored to your business’ needs so you may finish the year strong. Come join us and reserve your spot.
Call or email to book an appointment and qualify for this one-day only offer!

Contact Keith Brooks at 989-395-1511 or keith.brooks@fiserv.com

Clover Main Street Momentum Event

Friday, October 22, 2021

9:00 am – 3:30 pm

The Milford Bank
Post Road East Office
1455 Boston Post Road
Milford, CT 06460
We look forward to connecting with you.
*Promotional offer expires November 15, 2021. New accounts are subject to standard credit approval and underwriting requirements. Rebate will be in the form of an ACH payment to the merchant’s deposit account that will be initiated no sooner than 60 days after the date the merchant’s account is activated. Merchant account must be activated within 30 days of approval. Up to $750 rebate based on annual processing volume: annual processing volume of $100,000 to $249,999 = $100 rebate; annual processing volume of $250,000 to $499,999 = $250 rebate­; annual processing volume of $500,000 to $749,999 = $500 rebate; annual processing volume equal to or greater than $750,000 = $750 rebate. Only one offer per eligible business. Offer subject to change without notice. Terms and Conditions apply.
© 2021 Clover Network Inc. The Clover name, logo and related trademarks are owned by Clover Network, Inc., and are registered or used in the U.S. and many foreign countries. Merchant services are provided by First Data Merchant Services LLC dba Clover Business Solutions. All trademarks, service marks and trade names referenced in this material are the property of their respective owners.
2900 Westside Pkwy, Alpharetta, GA 30004

What the Federal Student Loan Payment Freeze Extension Means For You

By Jorge Santiago

If you have federal student loans, you probably already know that emergency payment suspension has been extended to January 31, 2022.

Between recent student loan servicer shakeups, the Covid-19 surge, and 90 percent of affected borrowers saying they’re not prepared to resume payments, the decision to extend the payment freeze beyond September (as previously scheduled) comes as a relief for many borrowers.

But do you know how to use this additional extension to your advantage? Don’t just think of the extension as extra time without federal student loan payments — think of it as extra time to plan, to save, and to get ahead.

Here are some things you can do help put your best financial foot forward until federal student loan payments resume:

Get in touch with your student loan servicer

Contact your student loan servicer to confirm your payment due date, reconnect a payment method to auto-pay your bill, and learn about any new policy changes. If you’ve moved since March 2020, be sure to update your mailing address, too.

If your loans are serviced by FedLoan, Granite State, or Navient, be advised that these servicers have announced that they will transfer their student loans to other servicers before the end of the year. With that in mind, you may want to keep an extra watchful eye out for updates about the transfer in the event that you need to take any action with the new servicer.

Make sure you’re on the best path forward

Now is a great time to explore your eligibility for new federal repayment plans and forgiveness programs.

Switching to an income-driven repayment plan, for example, could lower your monthly payment and get you on track to have outstanding debt forgiven after a certain number of years. If you work for a non-profit, government, or public service organization, you may also qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which forgives remaining loans after ten years of qualifying payments.

Tip: FutureFuel.io’s Reassess tool can help you find, compare, and enroll in alternative repayment plans and forgiveness programs in minutes.

Consider making payments

It may sound counterintuitive, but for some borrowers, the suspension period is the perfect time to make student loan payments.

That’s because the interest rate for federal student loans is still 0%, so any payments you make during the freeze will apply directly to your principal — which can ultimately lead to paying off your student debt sooner.

Tip: FutureFuel.io makes it easy to set up monthly recurring or one-time student loan payments — of any amount — with Auto-Crush. If you want to make extra payments but want to keep your budget on track, use Giveback and Round Up to convert cash back rewards from online shopping and spare change from everyday purchases into student loan contributions.

Get ahead on other financial goals

The average monthly student loan payment is $393 — a major expense that often forces borrowers to delay other financial goals until their student debt is paid off. For example, did you know that more than half of non-homeowner borrowers say their student debt has delayed their ability to buy a home?

Without the expense of monthly student loan bills, now could be the perfect time to get ahead on other priorities like saving up for a down payment, making extra retirement fund contributions, opening an emergency savings account, or setting aside cash for a major purchase.

Learn how The Milford Bank can help

When it comes to student debt, you don’t have to go it alone. The Milford Bank has partnered with FutureFuel.io, the leading student debt repayment platform, to give customers the tools they need to help make managing their student loans easier than ever before. Visit milfordbank.com/other-services/future-fuel/ to learn more and activate your free account today.

Do You Plinqit?

By Celeste Lohrenz

We all know we should be saving money.  From the time we got our first summer jobs during high school, our parent’s almost certainly tried to convince us to put most of it in the bank.  Even though we know we should be saving, most of us probably didn’t do it as well then, and probably aren’t doing it as well as we should or would like to now.

Almost 60% of Americans have less than $6,000 saved (42% have less than $1,000).  Only 14% of people under 54 see retirement savings as a priority, even though we should be saving 10-17% of our income in order to retire at our current standard of living – that’s if we start saving at the age of 25.

Without a plan for saving consistently, it’s hard to cover any larger expenses, including emergencies, college tuition, weddings, a new home, vacation, and many other things.  It’s important to start saving early for all of these things so that when they happen, you’re prepared.

One of the best things you can do is automate your savings.  For your retirement account, you can have contributions deducted from your paycheck and deposited into your account.  For other saving needs, have you considered Plinqit?

Plinqit is a digital savings tool offered by The Milford Bank and HT Mobile Apps to make saving easier and more fun.  You simply set up your Plinqit account and define specific savings goals.  You can even set up five different goals, so you can track progress towards each individual target separately.  Your Plinqit account is connected to your checking account, so once the saving goal is set up, you don’t have to do anything other than watch it grow.

In addition, you can earn small bonuses by watching videos or reading articles designed to help increase your financial education, so you you’ll learn more about money while earning, too.  You can also earn bonuses by reaching your savings goals and referring others to use Plinqit.

Plinqit is free to use, and you can download a mobile app to your Apple or Android device to manage your account easily.

Most importantly, though, using an automated tool can help you save more effectively without having to remember to add to a separate account manually.  Once you set it up, it just happens and your vacation, emergency, or other savings will grow.

If you have questions about Plinqit, savings accounts, or any other financial needs, our banking experts are here to help.

Student Loans 101

by Jorge Santiago

College is expensive. In the 2020-2021 academic year, the average private college’s tuition and fees was $35,087; public colleges averaged $21,184 for out-of-state students and $9,687 for in-state students. Multiply that by at least four years, and the total cost of a degree is one very few students — or their families — can afford out-of-pocket.

That’s where student loans come in. Student loans create opportunities for students who might not otherwise be able to afford their education, which can in turn lead to more stable, gainful, and fulfilling employment.

But student loans are just that — loans that must eventually be paid back. If you’re one of the 47.9 million Americans carrying a combined $1.71 trillion in student debt, you probably already know that repayment can be a strain. And if you’re considering applying for college loans, you should understand your options before taking on student debt.

So let’s get back to the basics. Here are four questions everyone with student debt — or considering taking out student loans in the future — should know how to answer:

What types of student loans are available?

Types of federal student loans

As their name suggests, federal student loans are offered through the federal government via the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA). Three different types of federal student loans are available: Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, and Direct PLUS.

  • Direct Subsidized Loans are available for undergraduate students with financial need (the difference between your school’s cost of attendance and your household’s expected contribution). Interest rates are fixed for life when the loan is first disbursed and are generally lower.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available for both undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of financial need. Interest rates are fixed for life when the loan is first disbursed and are generally higher.
  • Direct PLUS Loans are available to parents financing their child’s education, and to graduate or professional students funding their own education. The application process requires a credit check, but borrowers with low credit scores can still qualify if they have an endorser or can document extenuating circumstances. Interest rates are fixed for life when the loan is first disbursed and are generally the highest rate compared to other federal student loans.

Types of private student loans

Private student loans are offered through financial institutions like banks and credit unions. The terms of private student loans are controlled by the lender, so there are lots of different options available. Private loans often entail higher interest rates and stricter eligibility criteria, but they can be a helpful tool for borrowers who have already maxed out their federal aid.

 

How does student loan repayment work?

Federal student loan repayment

If you have federal Direct Unsubsidized or Direct Subsidized Loans, your loans will be in deferment while you’re still in school and for six months after you graduate or withdraw. After this grace period ends, you’ll be responsible for making monthly payments through your loan servicer (FSA will assign your servicer — a third-party company that manages student loan billing — after your first loan is disbursed).

Direct PLUS Loan borrowers can expect a very similar process, with the exception that you must request deferment through FSA or your student loan servicer. Otherwise, you’ll have to start making payments while you are or your child is still in school.

All federal student loan borrowers will have the opportunity to select a repayment plan when they first start making payments and adjust their repayment plan later on. There are eight different federal student loan repayment plans available, including income-driven repayment plans, which cap monthly payments to a manageable percentage of your discretionary income.

Private student loan repayment

Private student loan repayment varies based on your lender’s terms. Some require payments while you’re still in school or immediately after graduating, some manage repayment through a servicer or in-house, and repayment plans vary. If you’re considering private student loans, be sure you understand the lender’s repayment policies.

Can I get my student debt cancelled, paused, or forgiven?

If you have private student loans, your options for getting your loans cancelled, paused, or forgiven are limited.

But if you have federal student loans, it’s possible — provided you meet certain eligibility requirements.

You may be eligible to have your federal student loans partially or totally cancelled if:

  • Your school closed while you were a student or shortly after you withdrew or graduated
  • You develop a total and permanent disability
  • You were defrauded by your school
  • You declare bankruptcy

You may be eligible to have your student loans paused if you apply for and are granted temporary deferment. You might qualify for deferment if:

  • You’re enrolled in a graduate fellowship
  • You’re undergoing cancer treatment
  • You’re serving in the Peace Corps
  • You’re on active military duty
  • You’re receiving welfare assistance
  • You work full-time but earn 150% below the poverty line

You may be eligible to have your student loans forgiven through special forgiveness programs if:

  • You’re a teacher
  • You work at a nonprofit organization
  • You work for a federal, state, local, or tribal government agency
  • You’ve been on an income-driven repayment plan for at least 20-25 years

How can The Milford Bank help me manage my student loans?

When it comes to student debt, you don’t have to go it alone. The Milford Bank is excited to launch a new partnership to give our customers tools that make managing their student loans easier than ever before. Stay tuned for an announcement soon!

Why Small Businesses and Community Banks are a Perfect Match

By John Darin

May is Small Business Month, celebrating the importance of small businesses to our national and local economies.  Small business owners and their entrepreneurial spirit are a cornerstone of our economy and our local communities.  In Connecticut, they comprise 97% of business and employ half of the state’s workforce.

Small Business Month also recognizes that small businesses have unique needs.  Every business needs a bank and there are certainly several national brands to choose from.  But, just as there are many options for your personal banking, there are local alternatives that may be beneficial for small businesses.

Community banks were instrumental in helping small businesses make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.  Early during the pandemic, when the first round of Paycheck Protection Funding was exhausted, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved more than 1.6 million loans to support small businesses, totaling more than $300 billion.  About 60% of those loans were handled by community banks.

Like small business, community banks are important to the success of local communities and can offer benefits that large national brands can’t.

Personalized service –  When you go into or call a local bank, you’re getting attention from the same people every time – not a call center agent located across the country.  You’ll save time because your bankers know you and your business, creating deeper bonds because they see your business as a personal relationship, not an account number.  As a result, they will go the extra mile to give you personalized attention.

Faster action – Time is money.  As a business owner, getting answers from your bank quickly is important.  Because community banks aren’t spread across the country, their decision-making process is often simpler and faster because it happens locally.

Lower fees – Many community banks offer lower fees or better terms and interest rates than their national counterparts.  For small businesses, every dollar saved or earned makes a difference.

Local for local – Local banks are proud of their local communities and tend to be very active in local activities.  They know the local business and support various organizations and events that support the local economy and benefit both businesses and residents.  This helps build their communities and create a better place to live and work, which help attract new residents and businesses.  As a small business, the local community is important to your success, and community banks play a big role.

Know your customer – Every business is unique.  Personal attention combined with local intimacy also gives community banks a chance to really know their customers and their business banking needs.  As a result, they are able to provide a higher level of care and service that caters to each individual business.  That knowledge can also play into your bank’s decision-making because they are able to factor in what they know about your business, you as the business owner, and the local community.  It becomes about more than just entering data into a formula.

Small Business knowledge – Community banks understand small businesses.  Remember that they are, in fact, small businesses just like you, so they have an inherent first-hand knowledge of what it takes to succeed as a small business.  That knowledge translates into a service mentality designed to help small businesses succeed, rather than trying to force them into cookie-cutter approach designed for large enterprises.

Business services – Community banks have built service portfolios to meet your business needs. They aren’t a one-trick pony and offer a variety of business banking services.  From commercial loans and business lines of credit to retirement and employee benefits management to online banking and much more, don’t think that just because they are smaller, your community bank isn’t well-equipped to serve your business needs.

As a small business, you know you have specific banking needs.  You also know the large national brands aren’t as agile or flexible when it comes to meeting your needs – they can’t be.  So, when you think about your financial needs, remember there are local alternatives to those big brands that can be a much better fit for you.  Find out exactly how The Milford Bank can help your business by getting to know one of our local professionals today to learn how they can help make running your business a lot easier.

Setting Your High School Senior Up for Financial Success

By Tina Mason

Now that we’re in the second semester of the school year, the college applications have been submitted and high school seniors are waiting anxiously to receive a response.  Soon, they’ll take another step on the the path to their future and before you know it, parents will be be packing up cars to take them to college.

During the past four years, seniors have focused on school work and probably some extracurricular activities – sports, music, drama, or others – to prepare for the next stage of their life journeys.  Most likely, worrying about money hasn’t been a huge priority, which means you probably need to make it one now.  You don’t want to send your soon-to-be college freshman off to school without a solid financial understanding because, much like the college decision itself, understanding financial basics will have a long-term impact.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that you may want to talk about or do with your senior. (If you don’t have a senior, starting when they’re younger certainly doesn’t hurt.  If they’re old enough to have money, they’re old enough to understand banking.)

Savings and Checking Accounts

If you haven’t already opened savings or checking accounts in your child’s name, this is a good time to do it.  Your child will want access to funds and you want them to build financial awareness.  You can always add yourself to the account so you can stay involved with finances to whatever degree makes you comfortable.  Check with your local bank about rates, fees, and other benefits to determine which accounts are best for you.  That includes finding out about ATM fees.  Some banks charge high fees for using other ATMs, while others don’t.

Credit Cards

If you haven’t already, it’s also not a bad idea to open a credit card for your child to start building a credit history.  Make sure you explain how and when credit cards are to be used – and set very specific guidelines if you are paying the bills for now.  Regardless of who is managing payments, be sure to talk about how late and missed payments, balances, and other variables impact credit scores.  You may also want to warn them that college students tend to be heavily targeted with credit card offers claiming to offer unique or exclusive benefits.  Make sure they understand that, while credit cards can be valuable financial tools, they also carry risk if not managed properly, leading to debt.

Emergency Funds

While your child may not be financially independent, going off to college and living away from home does mean unexpected situations can arise.  This is a great time to help young adults understand the value of an emergency fund and you might even want to start one for them.  If they are working during school, adding just a few dollars from each paycheck, or they could dedicate a portion of birthday or holiday gifts to their funds.  It will help them learn at an early age that saving doesn’t have to be difficult, and they’ll have an emergency fund to fall back on if needed.

Budgeting

Budgeting and saving go hand in hand, so this is also a great time to make sure your children – even if they’re not yet heading off to college – about budgeting.  Most students have very limited sources of income.  The good thing is they also don’t have the same level of expenses they will have when they graduate and head off into the working world.  Teaching them to budget appropriately today will build a foundation for their financial stability in the future.

Privacy and Security

Your children have grown up in a digital world and cyber security is probably not a new topic for them.  As they enter the world of banking, it’s a good idea to highlight the need to keep all financial information secure and private.  They should never share their PINs or credit card numbers with anyone, for instance, even if they are doing it with the best of intentions, such as trying to help a friend in need.  There are many digital banking tools that make managing money convenient, but make sure you talk about appropriate password usage, two-factor authentication, which P2P apps are safe to use.

It’s never too early to start teaching children about banking and finances.  But, as you get ready to send yours off to college for the first time, they will be exposed to a new level of freedom.  Making sure they have a solid financial understanding is important and can help keep them from getting into risky financial situations and high debt.

If you have questions about which accounts are best suited for your children, contact your local bank’s staff for advice and information.

10 Tips for Safe Online Banking

It’s not surprising to see digital banking continue to grow, considering nearly everything else we do is accessible online.  Over the past several years, online and mobile banking has grown as the primary banking method by almost 25%, according to the FDIC.  It’s not hard to imagine that growth continuing this year, especially as the pandemic closed many branches temporarily and people generally trying to avoid risk.  That’s not to say people aren’t visiting branches – they are.  In fact, 80% of households that used digital banking as their primary banking resource still visit branches.  But, the growth is a clear indicator that the convenience of online banking is real, and with banks providing many of their services online and through mobile apps, customers are taking advantage.

Of course, as with other online activities, online banking comes with risks if you’re not careful.  Banks take security seriously and ensure they have the best security measures in place to protect your accounts.  But, there are two sides to every transaction and, if you’re not practicing safe online banking habits, you could be exposing your information to hackers.

Here are a few tips to help you keep you digital banking information secure.

No sharing – Your personal and banking information is yours; keep it that way.  If you get a call or email from someone asking for sensitive information, it’s very likely a scam.  Even if you think there’s a chance it’s a legitimate request, hang up (or don’t respond to the email).  Look up the company’s phone number and call them to confirm.  Remember that your bank will never call asking you for your card numbers, security codes, PIN numbers, or other sensitive information.

WiFi security – Make sure you have followed best practices for home WiFi, including using a strong, unique password.  It’s a good idea to leave that network for you immediate family’s use.  Most modern WiFi routers allow you to easily set up a separate guest network for others to use (make sure to use a different password for the guest network).

Public WiFi – Quite simply, don’t do it.  There’s too much risk and limited security on most public networks.  They are meant to enable access to the internet, but they are typically not safe for financial transactions.  If you have access to a VPN, use that or your mobile network if you have to make banking transactions before your get home.

Passwords – Just as you do for your WiFi, use strong, unique passwords for your online and mobile banking apps.  Not all sites use the same high levels of security as banks.  Using unique passwords means that, even if one password is stolen from a site with weaker security, your banking information will not be exposed.  Check our post on creating strong passwords to help.

Sign out – Remember to sign out of your online banking accounts when done to avoid exposing your accounts in the event your devices are compromised.

P2P payments – There are many great tools for easily sending and receiving money from friends or family members.  It’s a smart habit to limit your P2P activity to people you know and trust explicitly.  If someone asks you to pay for a purchase using a P2P product, you should think twice about it.  These options are great for quickly sending money to someone, such as when splitting a bill, but they don’t offer you recourse for recovering lost funds.  On the other hand, other payment options, like credit cards and digital payment platforms like PayPal, Google Pay, and others, offer fraud protection (check before you use them to make sure you understand what is covered and what isn’t).

Mobile security – Even if you’ve secured your home devices, don’t forget your smartphones.  Treat your mobile devices just as you would a laptop or desktop with good security software.  Many security solutions available for consumer use package mobile security apps in their solutions.  If you subscribe to security software, check to see if it comes with a mobile solution.  As with your home devices, always make sure your security software is current.  Consider allowing your security software to update automatically to make sure you always have the latest protection.

Firewalls – Make sure you have an active firewall for your broadband connection to reduce risk.  Your operating system or security software should include a firewall option that you can enable.

Contact info – Make sure you update your bank and your mobile accounts if you get new contact information.  It will help your bank communicate with you and will make sure you continue receiving important information, including your account activity alerts.

Monitor your accounts – Banks have good fraud detection in place to protect your accounts, but cyber criminals are also good at what they do.  Checking your accounts regularly can double down on your bank’s efforts and spot any questionable transactions.  It’s easy to do with your online portal or mobile app and won’t take you much more time than checking email.  You can also set up automated alerts via text or email to let you know each time a transaction is made.  Alerts It will help not only help you manage your spending, but will alert you immediately of any suspicious account activity so you can contact your bank and take appropriate steps.

Online banking has become extremely convenient.  With all the digital tools available for many of your banking needs, you will rarely have to physically visit a branch if you don’t want to or are just not able to.   But, you need to make sure you’re taking precautions and following best practices for online activity to avoid putting your financial information at risk.

7 Things You Think You Know About Credit Scores, But Don’t

By William LoCasto

When was the last time you checked you credit report?  If you’re like many people, it’s probably not frequently enough.  The good news is you can do it at least three times a year at no cost, because the three major credit reporting agencies are required to provide one free credit report a year.  In addition, your bank may offer additional services for checking you credit.

You credit scores and report will be a factor for so many decisions you make in life.  With many major financial commitments, you credit report is likely to be checked.  When you’re buying a home, your mortgage lender will look closely at your credit report.  The same goes for car loans.  Credit card companies check to determine not only whether they are willing to offer you credit, but also your card limit and interest rate.  Utility and phone companies may also want to check to determine how likely you are to pay your bills, or whether they should require a prepaid plan.  Even prospective employers often check credit reports.

The bottom line is that your credit report will play a role in most major events in your life.  This means it’s in your best interest to check you scores regularly for any anomalies, and so you know if you need to take steps to improve your score.  Checking your score is a great start, but only if you know how they actually work, which isn’t always easy.  For one thing, about a year ago, FICO (the most widely used credit scoring resource used by lenders), updated its scoring system, which could impact your score.

Aside from that, there are a number of common misconceptions about credit scores that could prevent you from improving your credit ratings.

Checking your credit report impacts your score

This is not true.  You can check your own credit score as often as you want without any impact.  However, if you are applying for credit from multiple sources, such as a car dealer, a mortgage lender, and a retail store, those credit checks could slightly dip you score.

Accessing lines of credit doesn’t impact your score

Again, this is not true.  The amount of credit you have used, compared to your available credit, is one of the biggest factors in your credit score.  A lower utilization rate is better for your overall credit.

Income changes your credit score

Yet again, this isn’t true.  Your job and income history has no impact on your credit score.  It is, however, used by lenders to determine how much they are willing to lend you.

Closing credit cards can improve your score

This is also not true.  In fact, if you close a credit card at the wrong time, you might actually lower your score because you’re reducing your available credit, which will increase the percentage of credit you’ve used.  That’s not to say you should never close credit accounts – there are often very good reasons to do so, but be aware it could impact your score.

Marriage changes your credit score

You guessed it, not true.  Credit scores aren’t like taxes; they aren’t combined into households.  Your credit score is yours alone.  Lenders, though, may ask for information about your spouse to determine your loan amount and interest rate.

You need to have a perfect score

Also false.  While it’s possible to have a perfect credit score, there’s isn’t a benefit.  Once you have reached high credit worthiness, making it perfect won’t create any noticeable benefits, other than knowing you have a perfect score.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive for perfection, but you also shouldn’t worry about not reaching it with your credit score – it won’t hurt you.

Poor credit is forever

This may be the best misconception of all.  Unless you have perfect credit, you can always improve your score over time.  The key is to not only understand what goes into your credit score, but to start following smart financial habits, including creating and sticking to budgets, paying off existing debt, and cutting out unnecessary spending.

There are many other questions that don’t have simple yes or no answers when it comes to credit scores.  For up-to-date information on what impacts your credit score and what doesn’t, or for advice on how you can start rebuilding your credit, talk to your bank’s experts.  Remember, you credit score will impact you for your entire life, but just because you don’t have a high score today doesn’t mean you can’t improve it.

Making New Year’s Resolutions That Will Actually Be Helpful

By Celeste Lohrenz

As we reach the end of what has been nothing short of a challenging year – and hope 2021 will bring good news – it’s time for the age-old tradition of making New Year’s resolutions.  Most people, though, don’t follow through on them.  But, the key to making them stick is to make resolutions that are specific enough and achievable and, importantly, beneficial.  If you have a vested interest in keeping your resolutions, you’ll be more likely to do so.

Taking stock of your financial situation is a great place to start.  Then, you can look at where you may need or want to make changes in your spending or saving habits to improve one or more areas of your personal finances.  You can certainly do these things at any time, but if you need a little additional motivation, try making a financial New Year’s resolution and see how it changes your financial outlook by this time next year.  It’s something you have control over, and improving your finances will have short and long term benefits.  Here are a few suggestions.

Stick to your budget

One of the most important tools for financial responsibility is your budget.  Without one, it can be difficult to manage your spending and increase savings.  If you haven’t created a budget, start with understanding your monthly spending, then you can start to build a budget and see how that relates to how much you want to save.  If you already have a budget, review it to see if you can cut any spending to help save more.  But, make sure you create a reasonable budget.  If you set one that’s not realistic, you will not only fail to stick to it, but once you go over budget once, your spending can snowball quickly.

Check your credit report

Your credit score is a key factor in how banks decide whether to lend you money or not, and also what interest rates borrowers will get, which can all impact your ability to finance major investments, like homes or cars, or to get credit cards.  You can see your credit score every time to log into your online account here at The Milford Bank.  If there’s nothing suspicious and your credit score is strong, you won’t spend much time on it.  But, if you need to improve your score or notice something wrong, make it a priority to fix it.

It’s easy to say you’ll eliminate all your debt, but it’s a lot harder to do it if you have significant credit card balances, auto loans, student loans, or other debt.  Reducing it is much easier.  Try setting incremental, more achievable goals, like paying off one loan at a time, or paying an extra $50 or $100 a month on your credit card.  Even if you don’t pay it all off by the end of the year, you’ll have made significant progress that you can carry over into the following year.

Automate saving

Saving isn’t always easy, but using automated tools, like Plinqit, can help you reach your small and large saving goals by automating your savings deposits.  Regardless of what you’re saving for – college tuition, a wedding, the down payment on a new home, or anything else – you no longer have to remember to put money away.  Instead, set your goals and watch your savings grow each month.

Build an emergency fund

The thing about emergencies is you never know when they may happen.  Your roof may start leaking, dishwasher may stop working, your car may need a new engine, or any number of other things may come up that require access to funds.  That’s where having an emergency fund is can be a major benefit.  Instead of dipping into your savings or accumulating debt, an emergency fund provides security for any unexpected situations that come up, including loss of income.

Save for retirement

It’s never too early to start building your retirement nest egg.  It’s simple logic – the earlier you start, the more you are likely to have when you retire.  Whether you have a 401k plan or IRA, try maximizing how much you put into it each month, while still maintaining a reasonable budget (especially if your company matches your contribution).  You may also want to pay more attention to how your contributions are being invested.  Talk to your financial advisor if you’re not sure how to effectively manage your investments.

Start banking digitally

Just about everything we do these days can be done online.  If you haven’t yet tried online or mobile banking, you haven’t experienced the freedom and flexibility it provides.  Most of your everyday baking transactions can be done through your bank’s website or mobile app, reducing the number of trips you have to make to the branch and giving you more time to enjoy doing other things.  If you need help setting up your online account or mobile app, our bank’s specialists are ready to help.

Review your will

Nobody wants to think about it, but creating a will and making sure it’s updated as your financial circumstances change can be a huge help to your loved ones when the time comes.  Take the time to meet with a professional to document how you want your assets allocated, and enjoy the peace of mind that you’ve made things a little easier for your family in the future.

These are just a few ideas for kicking off the new year with a positive financial outlook.  Once you have assessed your current situation, you may find other ways you can improve your financial wellness.  The key is finding something that makes sense while setting a goal that is achievable yet meaningful enough to make you want to follow through.  Whether you’re looking at short-term benefit or long-term opportunities, you can’t achieve them if you don’t set objectives and create a path to financial success.

Safe Shopping Tips for the Holidays

The holiday shopping season is upon us.  Starting with Black Friday and running through Christmas, the next month will be the busiest shopping period of the year – as it always is.  Each year, online shopping has increased, due to convenience, availability, free shipping from many retailers.  This year, the trend will be even more significant, considering the unprecedented circumstances that continue to surround us with the global pandemic, driving more people to do much of their shopping online.  It also means cyber criminals will be even more dangerous than ever, trying to take advantage of people looking for great deals.

Be aware though, that not all deals are good ones – some are likely to be scams targeting unsuspecting shoppers during peak periods where many people lower their guard in an effort to save or get popular items.  As you do your online shopping, keep a few simple rules in mind to help protect you and your personal information.

Check out sellers – It’s worth doing some research on online retailers, especially ones you don’t know and haven’t used previously, to make sure they are legitimate.  Online and social media reviews can be a good source of information, since customers are typically very quick to post about poor experiences and fraudulent site.   You can also look up companies at the Better Business Bureau.  The BBB also has a scam tracker site where you can look up (or report) scams.  It’s currently showing more than 200,000 scams.  If you’re buying through P2P services, like eBay, make sure you look at the seller’s history, ratings, and feedback.

Hard to find items – Be aware of offers promoting hard to find items.  Scammers often target buyers by offering deals on hard to find items.  Be aware of this and be sure to do your research on retailers.  Though it’s not always the case, if items are sold out at popular retailers – including the brands own e-commerce site – it’s not very likely they are available from other sources.  Your best bet is to shop early to avoid missing out on these items and setting yourself up to fall for a scam.

Be cautious with links – You’re likely to get countless emails from retailers promoting sales and gift ideas.  Many will be legitimate retailers you’ve purchased from in the past but, it’s almost a certainty there will also be fake ones looking to steal your personal information and money.  Some of the emails or texts you receive about amazing offers may contain links to fake websites.  Follow safe practices by carefully inspecting or searching any URLs before clicking on them, looking for typos or poorly written emails, and keeping an eye out for fake sites with URLs that are close to legitimate brands.  Instead of clicking on email links, you may want to search for brands and get to their sites that way.  Sales and specials are usually available directly from the websites as well.  If not, it may be a scam.

Use credit cards – Whenever possible, pay with a credit card.  Most major credit card issuers provide online purchase protection, so your liability will be limited, if any.  Some banks are also extending the same protections to their debit cards, so you should check with your bank to understand your liability.  Using a credit card instead of a debit care also means your primary bank account won’t be compromised if your card information is stolen.

Online payment platforms – Online payment platforms, like PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and others are another alternative available at many retailers.  The benefit is you are still using your credit card, but because you’re authorizing payment through the third-party platforms, your payment information is never seen by sellers.

Use only secure sites – Always make sure you are shopping on secure sites, indicated by the small closed padlock icon next to the URL in your browser.  While the icon doesn’t guarantee the legitimacy of the seller or the security of their payment system or website, it does mean you have a secure connection to the site, reducing risk of your data being intercepted.

Protect your accounts – Most retailers will allows you to make purchases as guests.  If you don’t have to, don’t sign up for an account with every seller, especially those you aren’t likely to use repeatedly.  For those you do have accounts with, follow your normal best practices, including strong passwords and two-factor authentication to protect accounts.  2FA typically works by sending a confirmation code to your mobile device to confirm your identity.

Security software – Hopefully, you already have a good security solution installed on your home and mobile devices.  They can help protect you against cyber criminals by alerting you when you are trying to access an unsecure or potentially fraudulent site, in addition to all the other security features that help keep your information safe.  As a regular course of action, you should make sure your software is always up to date.

Following these guidelines can certainly help protect you as you do your holiday shopping, but they are good steps to follow all year long.  But, even if you are careful, there’s always a chance your information may be exposed or you may make a mistake.  If you think something has gone wrong and you may have been a victim or fraud or exposed your information, contact your bank immediately to alert them and block your accounts.