Not surprisingly, online shopping has increased significantly over the past four months, with restaurants and retail stores being closed and even those that were open using curbside pickup or delivery. That trend continues, and even when the pandemic subsides, almost half of consumers say they will continue to use online shopping for home delivery or curbside pickup.
Many have found that online shopping is simply a more convenient option. In many cases, it offered an opportunity to get items that were otherwise unavailable because stores were closed or items were out of stock due to high demand. That’s all true, as long as the items arrive as scheduled.
But, many people have also reported not receiving their purchases. In fact, the FTC says it has received more reports of problems with online shopping, with more than half saying they never received their items.
In some cases, there have been delays, or items have simply gotten lost in transit. Companies like Amazon typically do a good job letting customers know when their items are delayed. In many cases, if the item is lost somewhere in transit, Amazon will offer customers the opportunity to request a refund, even though the item may eventually still arrive. It’s good customer service.
Over the past several months, thousands of unverified, fraudulent sites have popped up claiming to have many high-demand products available. Once they receive payment, they simply don’t ship the items and, when customers call to inquire, they claim delays due to the pandemic to avoid being detected as fake for as long as possible. It was a concern even before the pandemic, which only created another opportunity for fake sites. Some of these sites even mimic legitimate retailers, making it even harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.
The good news is there are ways to limit your exposure to these scams. Here are a few tips for smart online shopping to help you steer clear of any issues and make sure you get the products you order.
- Try recognized brands first. They may not always have what you’re looking for, but it’s a good place to start.
- Be wary of sites selling products that are in short supply, or name brand products at much lower prices than you would normally pay.
- Make sure the website is and HTTPS site (not just HTTP), indicating a higher level of security. This is important any time you make online purchases. Also click on the padlock next to the web address, which will give you even more information about the site’s security.
- Also check the URL itself. Some fake sites use addresses very similar to legitimate sites to fool people. If you typed in the address manually, double check it to make sure you didn’t make a mistake.
- Keep your browser updated. Most browsers will warn you if you’re about to go to an unsafe site.
- Also keep you security software updated. This is another tool to help avoid malware from suspicious sites.
- Examine the reviews. Many sites pay for fake 5-star reviews that all sound about the same. Look for a variety or reviews and ratings. You can also use sites like Fakespot, which analyzes and rates the validity of reviews on sites.
- Other resources are available to help check website reputation, like URLVoid or Google Transparency Report. You can also check the Better Business Bureau for its ratings.
- Pay with a credit card. This may be the best way to protect your money when buying online, regardless of the site. If something happens and you don’t receive your purchases, or if they aren’t as advertised, you can contact your credit card issuer to dispute the charges if.
Online shopping is often very convenient, and it can be a way to get items that aren’t readily available locally. But, there’s no question scam sites are a growing issue. But, scammers are successful because they rely on unsuspecting victims. Arming yourself with the information and tools to avoid scams or low-quality product knock-offs will help keep you from being disappointed or losing money.
By Cortney Meng
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a financial mess for many people. Some were laid off, others were furloughed or had shifts reduced, and college students had a hard time finding sources of summer income. Nearly 70% of American household incomes have been impacted.
The disruption has caused millions of people to dip into their savings accounts, emergency funds, and even retirement savings to manage during the pandemic. Others have built up credit card debt or have taken out personal loans. The situation has caused people to rethink their finances, with three-quarters of Americans saying they plan to either save more money in general or put more towards their emergency funds.
That’s not always easy, but personal savings apps like Plinqit – by HTMA Mobile Apps – can help. With Plinqit, you simply set up your account, define your savings goals and a schedule for making deposits to the account. Because the Plinqit account is linked to your checking account, there’s not additional effort needed, and Plinqit accounts are FDIC insured, so there is no risk.
The idea is that Plinqit will help eliminate the challenges with saving, including simply remembering to add to your emergency or other savings accounts. Depending on your goals and means, you can select to add to your Plinqit savings on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, and you can define the amount that is deposited.
You can check on you progress through the app at any time to see how you’re progressing towards your goals. You can even set up to five separate saving goals at once.
Plinqit is free to use, though you may want to add a “break the safe” penalty for withdrawing funds before you reach your goals to help discourage dipping into the account. But, maybe best of all, when you achieve your goals, you will be rewarded with an additional amount. You may also earn additional savings by referring others to Plinqit, or by using the Plinqit tool-builder that will help you learn even more about saving money.
There’s never a bad time to start saving, but now may be just a little better. The Milford Bank is currently offering a $25 savings bonus for singing up an achieving a savings goal through Plinqit. The thing with saving is that every little bit helps, and small amounts add up to significant savings quickly. And it works – Plinqit users have saved more than $1 million since the service was launched last year.
Whether you’re replenishing your emergency fund or just starting one, trying to pay back a loan, or have a wedding or other expense in the future,start saving now so you won’t have to worry when you need the extra money.
Sign up at milfordbank.plinqit.com by August 15th and get a $25 bonus upon completion of your primary goal!
By Paul Mulligan, Senior Vice President, Consumer Lending
Buying a home can be a stressful experience. Even if you’ve done it before and are looking to move, upgrade, or downside, it takes some work. If you’re a first-time buyer, it’s likely to be an even more nerve-wracking experience because you don’t know what to expect. Whether you’re ready to start shopping for a home now, or if it’s part of your future plans, here are a few things to consider that can help make the process a little smoother for you. Especially in the current environment, with fewer houses on the market, being prepared can make it easier to act quickly on the house you want.
Down payment – Look at how much you have saved for a down payment. If you haven’t started, that may be the first place to start. Putting more down on your home initially will reduce your monthly mortgage payments, but you want to make sure you don’t drain your bank account completely, because there are always things that seem to come up when buying a home, whether it’s repairs, additional furniture, or other things. Also look into how different down payment amounts might change your interest rates, mortgage insurance, and other variables.
Know your costs – There are any number of additional expenses that can come up during the home buying process. In addition to your regular monthly expenses, make sure you know what to expect in terms of insurance, inspections, legal fees, and other costs you might incur during the process. Some are small, but others can be larger expenses that could impact your down payment or savings. Don’t forget moving expenses.
Assistance programs – The local bank in the area you’re looking to buy a home may have first-time home buyer programs that might provide a number of benefits. The Milford Bank, for instance, offers an application fee refund, discounted interest rates, prequalification certificates, and low down payment options. Milford, Stratford, West Haven, and Orange and eligible for the first time homebuyer program.
Check your credit report – One of the first things your lender is going to do is check your credit report. Make sure your report isn’t showing any inaccurate or fraudulent activity. If there is something suspicious, you will want to give yourself enough time to address it. You may also want to avoid opening new lines of credit before applying for a home loan, since that could impact your credit score. The truth is, you should check your credit report regularly. Since each of the three major credit agencies is required to give you one free credit report each year, you can easily do it three times a year without incurring any cost.
Compare lenders – There are plenty of lenders out there. Do your homework, don’t overlook your local bank, and consider more than rates. Local institutions, such as The Milford Bank, often offer more personalized service and are certainly much more easily accessible if you have questions or if problems come up. They can also provide easy access to additional financial services, including future home equity loans when you’re looking to make larger improvements or renovations.
Plan ahead – As you start thinking about and looking for homes, think about your future plans. For instance, if you’re also thinking about starting a family, you may want to make sure you have enough space without having to immediately move again. That could mean giving up a few nice-to-have features in exchange for a little more space, in order to stick to your budget. On the other hand, if you’re serious about relocating when you start a family, or for any other reasons, you may want to consider a slightly smaller home that will allow you to save a little more
The fact is, if you’re currently renting, you may find you can get into a home of your own for something very close to what you’re paying in rent – or less – especially if you’ve prepared well and planned ahead. You’ll also have the added benefit of being able to deduct mortgage interest from your federal income tax. But, don’t go into it without having all the information you need. Talk to your bank’s mortgage specialists professionals and your tax planner. They can help answer any questions you have, including how much you can reasonably afford to spend on a home.
By Celeste Lohrenz
Now that the weather is finally getting nicer, there are countless projects around the house you may want to tackle. Maybe you’ve already gotten your lawn into better shape, or planted your garden, or even done some annual spring cleaning. Have you given the same attention to your finances? Just as you go through spring maintenance in and around your home, your finances may be in need of some polishing to make sure you’re getting the most out of your money.
Here are some tips to help get you started on getting your finances in shape.
Reduce clutter – If you’ve changed jobs several times during your career, you may have old retirement accounts that you aren’t managing anymore. Looking into closing or moving them into your more active accounts will help you track you overall financial health, and will reduce your security risk by eliminating those accounts you don’t monitor.
Organize your documents – Take some time to make sure all your financial documents are organized in one place. That way, you always know where they are when you need them, and it gives you a chance to do an inventory and locate items you may have misplaced or lost over the years. You can do the same with your digital records – create folders in your computer storage and email specifically for financial records. Be sure to password protecting those files and emails for added security. Physically or digitally shred any old documents you no longer need.
Clean your home – In addition to your financial clutter, you may have acquired a host of items over the years you no longer use. Go through your home and collect those items and sort them into three groups: sell, donate, throw out. You may be able to claim your donations as a tax deduction if you itemize your returns, or you can sell them using local social media sites.
Retirement planning – If you don’t regularly re-assess your retirement finances, take a look at your IRAs and 401k accounts to make sure your contributions and savings are on track for a comfortable retirement.
Look over your budget – Take a close look at your monthly budget. See where you may be overspending or paying for things you don’t need of use, like redundant digital services. It may take several modifications to get to a budget you’re comfortable with. If you haven’t created a budget, this could be a great time to do it. Tracking you spending is the easiest way to start saving more. In addition to a monthly budget, you can set an annual goal for savings.
Create a bill schedule – Most of your bills can probably be set to pay automatically. This will help keep your payments on time and reduce the risk of late fees and credit damage. You can also create a spreadsheet with every monthly bill (mortgage/rent, loans, credit cards, utilities, phone, etc.), so you can more easily track your payments and keep them on time. If you’re living with roommates, this can be a great way to manage combined bills.
Emergency fund – If you’ve had to dip into your emergency fund during the coronavirus pandemic, you should consider making a plan for replenishing it as things start to return to normal. If you don’t have an emergency fund, the current situation is a great example of why you should.
Automate saving – There are many tools that can help you automate saving, like Plinqit, a free tool that lets you set your personal savings targets and schedules based on your budgeting needs. You can even earn additional money in several ways, like reaching your goals, referring others, and using financial education resources.
Cyber security – Make sure all your digital devices have good security software installed, including your smartphones, to reduce the risk of your accounts and finances being compromised. Be sure to use very secure passwords and multiple layers of authentication.
It’s a good idea to regularly monitor all your financial accounts and credit reports to make sure everything is in order and you haven’t been compromised. Going through this financial spring cleaning list can make it easier to manage your financial health. If you need advice or information on any of your accounts, services, or tools, your we are ready to help.
For the past two months, most of us have been working from home as our businesses have closed physical workspaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a challenge for many, and we are hopeful that we can all start to get back to our offices and ease back into more normal environments soon.
Throughout this crisis, even though our lobbies have been closed, The Milford Bank has continued to provide the banking services you need through our drive-thru tellers, ATMs, and phones. We also hope you’ve discovered the many digital banking services we offer. They are not only helpful now, but offer a convenient way to manage your finances going forward – so you can spend more time doing the things you enjoy.
Through mobile apps for phones and tablets, as well as online banking via your browser, digital banking gives you access to most of the services you need on a regular basis. One very important thing to always keep in mind is to only use your digital banking tools on secure networks – and never use public WiFi to access your accounts.
Online and mobile banking apps – With our online tools and mobile app, you have a powerful set of tools to make managing your finances easier than ever. With them, most of your banking needs can be handled from anywhere and from most digital devices, including:
- Access your accounts
- Check balances and transactions
- Get copies of checks
- Review loan/mortgage information
- Transfer funds between accounts
- Make deposits
- Pay bills, set up/stop automatic payments
- Make P2P payments
- Find the closest ATMs or offices
Plinqit– Saving money is never easy, and today, it may be even harder for many. Savings apps like Plinqit can help you set aside even small amounts of money regularly for emergencies, college tuitions, weddings, mortgages, new cars, or anything else you may need extra money for. All you have to do is set up your account, connect it to your savings account, and set your savings goals and a savings schedule. Automating your saving – even if it’s only a small amount each week or month – will help you work towards those larger purchases.
Zelle – Zelle is a convenient way to send money to or receive money from friends and family, without having to make trips to the ATM or branch offices for withdrawals, and then mailing checks. The funds are exchanged directly between bank accounts, so transfers typically happen within minutes. You can access the Zelle service directly from our mobile app or online portal.
Notifi – One of the keys to effectively managing your finances is keeping track of transactions, not only to make sure they are legitimate, but to monitor your weekly or monthly spending. Notifi allows you to set up text or email alerts for transactions across your accounts. You can get alerts for all transactions, or certain types, or even those that exceed specified amounts. Notifi is available through our mobile banking app.
Card Valet – Similar to Notifi, Card Valet keeps you updated on transactions made with your cards. In addition to simply notifying you of transactions, which can immediately alert you to fraudulent activity – you can set geofencing parameters to help protect your cards, and even set limits on why kinds of transactions they may be used for. These are also great features if you’re giving your kids access to cards for gas, meals, or other specific needs. Card Valet is also available through our mobile banking app.
While we’re looking forward to welcoming you back inside our lobbies, we know many of you will prefer these digital tools for a while – and maybe permanently when you see how useful they are. Of course, if you have questions, need help, or have other banking needs, our staff is always ready to help you, either by phone, or by emailing us at email@example.com.
By Pam Reiss
As the world continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, life as we know it has come to a grinding halt. Millions of us are working from home, our children are getting their schooling through videoconferencing, and our normal social and sports activities are in limbo.
Unfortunately, the situation can create some uncertainty around how to manage financially. Whether you’re currently working or not, it’s very likely you’ve been thinking about how to manage your finances during this time. The good news is at least some typical spending has naturally been cut because we’re all staying at home. But, there are many ways you may be able to keep your financial situation as stable as possible and stretch your budgets a bit.
Takeout vs. cooking – Ordering takeout or delivery is a great way to support local businesses during the crisis, but if you need to cut your spending, since you’re at home anyway, try limiting how often you order out. Instead, enjoy more home-cooked meals. There are many resources online for inexpensive, healthy meals. You can plan your entire week’s meals, make a complete shopping list, and make just one trip to the grocery store. You can even have one night of the week reserved for leftovers. If you want to continue to support a few local restaurants, set aside one or two days of the week for that.
Buy what you need – We’re still able to go to the grocery store, despite having to follow public safety guidelines. If you initially stocked up on non-perishables or frozen items, start using those instead of constantly buying more. Also, when you’re at the grocery store, there are still many items on sale each week. You can check out your grocery store’s flyer online to see what’s on sale, and plan your meals for the week accordingly.
Other ways to save – Take a look at some of the other things you’re spending on each week and see where you can cut a little out of your budget. Things to look at include video services. If you’re a cable subscriber, you might think about switching to a lower service tier, at least temporarily, or if you have multiple streaming services, consider cutting one of more of them. The monthly savings can add up quickly, and you can certainly find other ways to entertain your family.
Low interest rates – With interest rates dropping, this may be a good time to look into refinancing your mortgage or student loan, or even consolidating multiple loans. While there will be paperwork involved, lower interest rates can provide significant savings each month.
Emergency fund – If you’ve been following good financial habits and have built up an emergency fund, don’t automatically fall back on it. First take a look at ways you can reasonably adjust your spending. Then, if you find you need to dip into it, you can hopefully use just a little of it. If you’re fortunate enough to be working, this is a good time to add to or start your emergency fund. Since at least some of your normal extracurricular spending has been put on hold, consider putting that toward your emergency fund. You never know when you’ll need it.
Investment funds – It can be difficult watching retirement accounts and other investments lose money with the current market instability. The good news is they have historically bounced back reasonably quickly. Before you move or sell your investments, talk to your financial advisor, who can give you advice on whether it’s a smart move or not. Making a rash decision could actually end up hurting your investment funds.
Protect your credit – If at all possible, continue to pay your bills on time. If you’ve been using your credit cards, at the very least, pay the minimum on those to avoid hurting your credit score. If you are in a situation where you can’t pay some of your bills, contact your lenders. some lenders are allowing extra flexibility with payment terms or interest rates to help during the pandemic. You should also check your credit reports regularly. Fraudulent activity often increases during crises, and consumers and businesses are under a constant barrage from cyber criminals. Be extra cautious with emails, websites, and phone calls. There are thousands of malicious COVID-19 websites out there, and many phishing emails and phone calls looking to exploit uncertainty and fear.
The good news is most of the financial resources you normally have at your disposal are still available, though not in an in-person capacity. But, you can still contact us if you need advice. Even though we’re all dealing with this pandemic, you can do things to help keep your finances in order and limit any long-term impact.
by Paul Mulligan, SVP, Retail Lending
When you apply for a loan, lenders have access to a variety of information they use to decide whether to give you a loan and at what terms. The most popular of those resources is your FICO score, a three-digit rating based on information in your credit reports, which helps lenders decide how likely to repay a loan, how much you can borrow, the length of you loan repayment period, and your interest rate.
While FICO scores give lenders a quick and consistent way to determine borrower worthiness, they also make sure you, the borrower, get a fair credit assessment and access to the funds you need. FICO has become the de facto industry standard for lenders.
This month, FICO has updated its scoring system for the first time since 2014, which could impact your scores. The new scoring places more emphasis on trend data in your credit report, looking at your credit utilization and payments over the past two years, as opposed to only current balances. For instance, new data might include whether you tend to pay off balances quickly, carry extended debt, or consolidate loans, as well as your credit management predictability.
The other major change reflects changes in credit reports. Tax liens, insurance-paid medical collections, and judgments are no longer part of credit reports, and healthcare defaults won’t appear on credit reports for at least six months.
At the end of the day, though, the real question is, how will the new scoring impact you?
The new scores will be less forgiving of risky credit behavior. That means, if you regularly run up your credit, don’t pay off balances consistently, carry too many credit cards, or consolidate debt into personal loans in order to free up your credit cards, you may see your score go down.
On the other hand, some spending habits that may have previously been viewed negatively may no longer hurt you. For instance, if you run up seasonal balances – such as during the holidays or summer vacations – and then pay them off, your score may not be negatively impacted because those are predictable one-time spikes, not regular habits.
Ultimately, what you need to keep in mind is the basics of good credit haven’t changed. Payment history (35%) and credit usage (30%) are still the two biggest components of your FICO score. If you follow good credit practices – pay your bills on time, keep balances below your credit limits, and don’t apply for too many new lines of credit (or too often) – you should have nothing to worry about. In fact, if you manage your credit well, the new scoring could actually improve your score.
If you’re concerned about your credit rating and want to work to improve your score, the sooner you start following good financial habits and budgeting, the faster you can see positive change. Of course, it’s not always easy, so if you need help or want advice on how to become more responsible with your spending, talk to our specialists. They can provide information on financial best practices, budgeting and saving tips, and improving your credit. On the other hand, if you have managed your credit responsibly, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Just continue to follow smart banking habits.
By Lynn Viesti Berube
One of the unique features about today’s app-centric society is there’s an app or just about everything, it seems. It’s great to be able to download apps and take care of so many things on your mobile devices. On the other hand, because these apps tend to be fairly targeted – most try to solve a single problem – they don’t always offer quite the level of flexibility or functionality users might want.
Take mobile payment apps, for instance, like Zelle or Venmo, which are becoming increasingly popular. They are designed to make exchanging funds between individuals easier using digital technology. But, they are not necessarily intended for all transactions. Both companies have been clear that their intended use is for payments between friends or other people who know and trust one another. For things like paying a share of a dinner bill, sending an entry fee for a fantasy sports league, or getting in on a group birthday gift, apps like these make transactions fast and simple. These are cases where one individual outlays funds for an activity, and others need to pay their share.
But, as with any digital transactions, there are risks that users should be aware of. Here are a few simple tips to keep your apps, accounts, and money safe while letting you enjoy the convenience of P2P payment apps.
Intended uses – Use the apps as they are intended. If an online retailer asks you to pay using a p2P app, you should be suspicious. Reputable online retailers should offer payment methods that don’t require immediate P2P transfers, such as credit cards, PayPal, and other means. If you’re paying for services, such as a snowplow service in the winter, using a P2P app, you may be using local residents not set up to receive credit card payments, and sending a check each time it snows can be a nuisance, so a P2P app might be the best option. At the very least, make sure you know who you’re paying, use only reputable providers, and make sure you’ve received the service before paying. Consider sending a check the first few times to make sure the relationship works out.
Identity – It’s easy to make a mistake when typing an email, phone, number or username. Double check whatever identifier you’re using to send money to someone. Once the money has been sent, it’s hard – often impossible – to get it back, so taking the extra time to get it right can reduce potential headaches.
Send a test – If you’re not certain you are sending to the right person, send a small amount as a test and confirm they received it before sending the full amount.
Security – Follow the same security principles as you would for any other application or website. Use the highest level of security they offer, including using a PIN or fingerprint ID for transactions. If the application offers two-factor authentication, be sure to use it. While this adds an additional step when using the app, it also adds an additional layer of protection that help keep you account secure, even if your credentials are compromised.
Deposits – Some apps place funds you’ve received into a mobile wallet until you manually transfer them into your bank account. This can sometimes take several days to process, so once you have approved the transfer, check to verify that it actually went through.
Fees – Some P2P payment platforms charge fees for certain kinds of transactions. Make sure you know what your app’s policies and fees are so you won’t be surprised and can account for fees when sending or receiving money.
Settings – Always check your app’s privacy and sharing settings. They may have default settings that make information available to others that want kept private.
Kids – Many parents want to give their children access to P2P payment apps to make it easier for them to participate in various activities. You probably don’t want to give them full access to your credit card or bank accounts, so take the trip to your local bank to see what options they might be able to offer, such as a prepaid debit card to link to your child’s app. If they are part of one of the payment platform networks, they likely are well versed on the best ways to let your kids use them. Of course, before anything, make sure your child’s device has security protocols enabled, and talk to them about potential security risks and how to avoid them.
By Celeste Lohrenz
As it has been with nearly every industry, digital technology is changing the way people bank. Online tools and mobile apps are making it easier for people to manage their finances, giving them modern options to replace traditional options. P2P (Peer To Peer) payment apps, for instance, have become highly popular as a means of exchanging funds between individuals.
While check payments are still very popular – even with Millennials, new P2P payment users are nearly evenly split between those younger than and older than 45.
It’s really about having options. If there one thing a digital economy has proven it is that people want convenience. They want to be able to transact using whatever methods are most convenient for them at the time. That may mean going to a local bank office to understand the differences between home equity loans and HELOCs. It may mean putting a check in the mail for a monthly car payment. It may mean going to an ATM to take out cash for dinner. It may mean putting a new TV on a store credit account because of a no-interest offer. Increasingly, though, it also means using P2P apps to settle with friends, relatives, colleagues, or others.
For instance, Zelle – a mobile payment platform whose parent company is actually owned by seven major banks – delivered $49 billion through 196 million transactions in Q3 2019 alone, a year-over-year increase of 58% in transaction value and 73% in transaction volume. The Milford Bank is happy to now offer Zelle to our customers as a further option to your banking experience.
There are many reasons P2P payment apps such as Zelle are growing, but convenience is at the top of the list. Zelle offers a simple alternative to get money to other users quickly – if both parties are signed up with Zelle for instance, funds may be available within minutes. Zelle is available on both Android and iOS platforms, making it easy to transfer money to split a dinner tab or utility bill, regardless of what mobile devices your friends use.
But, perhaps the biggest benefit Zelle offers is trust. The biggest reason consumers avoid mobile payment apps is lack of trust. In addition to being operated by a consortium of the biggest banks in the country, Zelle partners with other financial institutions so those banks can make Zelle transactions available through their own mobile apps and online resources – as opposed to having to use a third-party app. Sending or requesting money is as simple as logging into The Milford Bank’s mobile app or online account and choosing the person to send funds to using your mobile contact list or entering their phone number or email address.
Along with The Milford Bank, more than 600 financial institutions have signed up to be part of the Zelle Network, with more than 250 already online and processing transactions. In all, more users representing more than 5,500 banks have successfully completed Zelle transactions.