9 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

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.

Tired of Annoying Sales Calls? Here’s How to Stop Them

By Celeste Lohrenz

If you were stuck at home for the past several months, like many of us, you may have noticed a lot of calls between 8am and 9pm.  Those are the hours when legitimate telemarketers are allowed to place their marketing and sales calls.  Normally, you would have just deleted them from your answering machine, but if you’ve been at home, you probably became much more aware of them.

The calls might come from any number of businesses looking to sell you their products and services.  They might be companies you have done business with in the past, or others that have acquired phone lists from another organization.  Regardless, they can become annoying quickly, and you’re not alone in feeling that way.  Unwanted calls are the top consumer complaint the FCC receives.

The good news is you can significantly reduce those solicitations by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry.  Basically, the Registry is a listing of phone numbers that legitimate marketers may not call, so adding your phone numbers should help get rid of at least some of those calls.  With mobile numbers also starting to get into the marketing cycle a lot more, you can also add your cell phone to the list.

You probably can’t eliminate them all, though.  Companies you’ve done business with in the past 18 months, or have requested information from, are still allowed to call you.  But, you can always ask to be put on their internal Do Not Call list, which should do the trick.  There are, however, other exceptions, too.

  • Emergency notifications (like the COVID-19 updates you have gotten)
  • Political calls (which are likely to increase in the months leading up to the presidential election)
  • Charities
  • Debt collections
  • Surveys
  • Purely informational calls

The difference is that these organizations are not selling products or services, and are exempt from the Registry because they rely on phone calls to make sure information gets to people or to collect data or research.  As with other businesses, though, you can always request most of these organizations put you on their own Do Not Call lists.

You can sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry online or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number you want to register.  Your phone number will usually be added to the Registry the next day, but it might take up to a month for sales and marketing calls to stop, because companies are only required to check the Registry and update their records every 31 days.  But, once you are on the Registry, your number won’t be removed unless you request it.

The bottom line is that, while you can’t eliminate all inbound calls from unknown sources,  you can significantly reduce them.

Saving Money Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

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!

As Digital Banking Grows, Local Banks Still Have the Edge

It’s not surprising to see the use of digital financial tools have increased over the past three months, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online shopping saw a sharp increase with most stores limited to curbside pickup, but digital banking also saw growth. In fact, the U.S. saw a 60% increase in people installing digital banking apps as their local branches were closed.

The surge in usage includes new digital users who had previously never enrolled in online or mobile banking, as well as existing digital customers – almost half of whom say they are now using digital services more frequently. But, despite living in a connected world, customer satisfaction with digital banking isn’t as high as it should be, particularly with larger regional and national banks.

The reason is simple. Despite having a broader geographic reach, larger banks have a hard time competing with local banks on service quality and personalization. The same advantages local banks have in their offices extend into the digital world, creating better experiences and service continuity.

Lower fees and rates – Local banks tend to offer lower rates and fewer fees than larger banks, whether banking is done in-person or online.

Service availability – While large banks often promote having more services, most local banks offer the same services today, including digital and online banking, and are able to more easily adapt their services to their local customers. Local banks are also more likely to offer innovative solutions to help customers achieve their financial goals, such as personal savings apps like Plinqit. One of the biggest drivers of digital customer satisfaction is the availability of P2P payment apps, with Zelle having the greatest positive impact.

Customer service – Local banks have intimate knowledge of their communities and pride themselves on building relationships with customers. As a result, they typically offer more personalized service, including when customers need help with digital banking services. As with any digital services, customers are bound to have questions about setting up services and learning how to use them effectively. Local bank representatives are well positioned to provide the answers.

Local knowledge – Because of their understanding of local demographics, trends, and needs, local banks are more easily able to customize their services to meet customers’ needs. They also work closely with other local organizations to support economic and social growth in the community. Larger banks typically offer exactly the same menu of services to their customers, regardless of location or individual needs.

Now that bank offices are starting to re-open, many customers may go back their traditional in-person banking patterns and enjoy the relationships they have built over the years. But, when they have a need, the digital services and customer support local banks are able to offer will make it easy to move back and forth between digital and in-person banking, as circumstances dictate. To learn more about all the digital services The Milford Bank offers, contact a us to speak with a banking specialist.

Buying a Home Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

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.

 

Don’t Forget Bulk Pickup to Help Get Rid of Clutter around Your Home

By Pam Reiss

Every year, we all collect all kinds of junk in our homes, including broken items, things we no longer need or use, older items that have been replaced, and more.  They are all taking up space, creating clutter, and keeping our homes from being as neat as we might like them to be.  You probably have things you have forgotten about and haven’t even seen in years.

Whether it’s your living space, basement, attic, garage, shed – or all of them – you’ll be surprised at how much space junk takes up.  This is a great time of year to work on getting rid of some of the clutter around your home to make it all more manageable.

That’s particularly true if your city does bulk waste pickup, as many do this time of year – Milford is starting its bulk pickup on June 1 (see start dates below).  It makes it much easier to get rid of some of your larger junk, instead of having to lug it to the dump or letting it continue to take up space around your home.

The first step is to create a plan.  Take a look at where you want to clean up and take inventory of any larger items you want to get rid of.  Once you remove larger things, you have a lot more space to work with as you clean.  Then, it’s a good idea to work on one space at a time, but if you’re up against a bulk pickup deadline, though, you may want to start by going through each space to take out those items and then go back for the smaller items and organization.

It’s a good idea to create four staging areas for the rest:

  • Garbage/recycling – Anything you are getting rid of goes in this pile. Keep a pile for bulk pickup, and put regular garbage directly into a large garbage bag.
  • Donate/sell – You may have clothes, books, toys, household items that you’ve outgrown or simply don’t use anymore. If they’re in good condition, consider donating them – there are plenty of people in need, and you may be able to take a tax deduction on your donations (consult your tax advisor for specifics).  You can also sell them online through local social media tag sale pages or, if you have a lot, and have the motivation, you can hold a yard sale.  Check with your neighbors to see if they want to have a combined sale.  You may be able to de-clutter your home and make a few dollars in the process to add to your emergency fund.
  • Keepers – Inevitably, you’re not going to want to get rid of everything you haven’t used in a while. There may be things with sentimental value, things you’re saving for your grandkids, and some items with specific uses that you want to keep.  Put those in s separate area and make a logical plan for storing them, including labeling storage bins and boxes to make them easy to find when you need them.
  • Out of place – One of the biggest signs of clutter is things being out of place. Sometimes, it’s out of pure laziness, but often, it’s because putting things back where they belong is difficult, because of the clutter.  Put these things into their own pile, so you can put them in their proper places – or even better, put them away immediately.  In the future, make a point of putting things back where they belong when you’re done using them.

You should check your local bulk waste guidelines for any additional requirements and prohibited items.  Things like old paint, propane tanks, grass clippings and many other items have other disposal specifications.  If you have larger items, you may need to cut them into smaller pieces, or take them to the dump yourself.

Milford’s bulk waste pickup start dates are based on your normal garbage pickup day:

  • Monday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 1
  • Tuesday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 8
  • Thursday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 15
  • Friday garbage – Bulk pickup starts on Monday, June 22

Once you’ve gotten rid of some of the clutter around your home, you’ll be in a better place to make use of the things you own.  It’s also very easy to re-clutter areas you have cleaned.  Keep in mind how much nicer things look when they aren’t cluttered – and how much effort it took to clean and re-organize.  Hopefully, that will help you keep things neater.   Keeping things tidy and in good order is also helpful for managing your budgets.  Now that you know what you have and where you’ve stored them, you will be less likely to buy duplicate items.

10 Low-budget Ways to Give Your Home a New Look

By Tina Mason

It’s been a crazy few months, with most of us stuck at home and most businesses closed.  Even now, as some places start to re-open, many of the restrictions, especially on group gatherings, remain in place, and it could be some time before things get back to normal.

In the mean time, what can you do to pass the time?  You’ve already streamed the entire Netflix library, read several books, and could really use something new to break up the monotony.  You may have some larger projects you want to get done around the house, and this is a good time to work on those.  If you’re ready for a major home improvement project, and need a home improvement loan or home equity line of credit, one of our specialists can help you with great rates.  There are probably many contractors looking for work right now, so it could be a good time to get those projects started.

But, given we’re still in the middle of so much uncertainty, maybe you’re not ready for such a large investment.  There are still plenty of ways to give your home an upgrade without spending a lot.  Here are just a few projects you can do on your own that will give your home a new look.

Paint the front door – Your door is the first thing most people notice, even if they’re just passing by.  It’s certainly how most people enter your home.  So, if it’s looking a little faded or run down, try giving your door a fresh coat of paint.  You can even go with a completely different look with a color change.  Don’t forget your shutters.

Patio/deck accent lighting – There are many styles of outdoor string lights available that can give your outdoor area a new look and add character for your summer nights.  Even if you’re not entertaining right now, you’ll enjoy being outside with just your family more than ever.

Build a fire pit – Sure, you can buy a fire pit, but why not enjoy the satisfaction of making one yourself?  You may also save a little money doing it yourself using inexpensive wall blocks or pavers from your   hardware store.  When you’re done, you can set up your outdoor furniture around your fire pit and enjoy the ambience year-round.  But, make sure you follow common safety procedures when lighting and putting out your fires.

Plant a garden – Have a little extra space in your yard or an old garden area you haven’t maintained in years?  This is a great time to get a new garden going, and you don’t need much to do it.  With some wood or plastic edging and maybe some decent soil, you’ll be ready to plant your own vegetables and herbs in no time.  For a little extra visual appeal, you can build a raised bed garden.  You might also want to consider building a fence around it using 2×2 posts and some garden fencing.

Window or deck boxes – If you don’t have room for a garden, you could always start with deck or window boxes.  You can plant herbs or certain vegetables, depending on the size of you boxes, or you can put in flowers to add some color around your patio or deck areas.  You can find fairly inexpensive boxes, or if you have a few simple tools, make one.

Solar lights – You can create a totally new look for your gardens or walkways by adding some inexpensive solar landscape lighting.  They will not only look great, but can make it easier to navigate in the dark – especially if you need to get to the fire pit you just built.

Organize your basement – Over the years, your basement, shed, garage, or closets have probably become cluttered with various items.  This is a great time to turn those into projects by cleaning them out, organizing them, and probably finding you can get rid of some unused or old items that are just taking up space.  When you’re done, you’ll be able to find things more easily, and probably have created more space for storage.  You can add new shelves if you need even more space.

Accent walls – Are you tired of the same old look in your living room or bedroom?  Think about painting one of the walls a different color to create contract and give the room a new look.  If your ceilings are looking a little old and grey, try giving them a new coat of paint, too – especially if you have an older home with popcorn ceilings you just can’t stand.

Update your kitchen cabinets – A simple way to give your kitchen a brand new look is by refinishing your cabinet doors.  It can be as simple as a new coat of paint to give them a totally new look, or you can replace them with a different style at much less cost than replacing the entire cabinet.  Want an even bolder new look?  You can make inexpensive glass front doors using plexiglass.  Adding new knobs completes the touch, or you can just start with that if you want to keep it simple.  While you’re at it, replacing your doorknobs is another way to give your entire home a bit of a new look.

Rearrange your furniture – Sometimes, all it takes is a little creativity with the furniture you already have to completely refresh your home.  Try different arrangements, keep an open mind, and you may be surprised at how easy it is to create a totally redesigned living space with no investment at all.

There are countless other ways you can improve your home inexpensively.  Get creative, get advice from friends, take a look at what you have around the house that you can repurpose, and you may be surprised at how easy it is to turn any room into a brand new experience.

Tips for Financial Spring Cleaning

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.

Are You Getting the Most From Your Digital Banking Tools?

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

You can access online services from any browser, and the mobile app is available for iPhones, Android phones, iPads, Android tablets, and Amazon tablets.

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.

ZelleZelle 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 customerservice@milfordbank.com.

Staying Financially Healthy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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.