Safety Tips for Online Banking

By Dave Wall

As with most services today, banking has moved into the digital world. Online banking provides an easy way to manage personal finances quickly and conveniently, without the need to worry about mailing checks to pay bills or going to the bank for simple transactions. But, the rise of digital commerce gave rise to a cyber underworld of hackers that requires caution and diligence with online activities, especially those that include financial transactions.  To keep you accounts and personal information safe, there are several best practices to follow when using online banking services.

Strong Passwords
Always make sure you use strong passwords that are not easily guessable. They should be long and include both upper- and lowercase letter, numbers, and other characters.  Using names, birthdates, and other easily guessable personal details is not recommended.  Even with the number of high-profile hacks featured by media outlets, some of the top passwords in use include “123456” and “password.”  Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.  That way, even if one is compromised, your other accounts will be safe.  Change you passwords regularly.

Secure WiFi
Only use secure WiFi networks. Open, unsecure public WiFi networks are an easy target for hackers, who can intercept data transmitted between you and the bank.  The safest policy is to limit your banking activity to your secure home network, but if you need to make transactions while away from home, use secure networks, or even use your mobile device’s cellular connection instead of WiFi.

Secure Websites
Make sure any website you use for financial transactions is secure by checking the URL. If it begins with “https” the site is secured with an SSL certificate.  Chrome browsers are starting to identify non-secure sites with a “Not Secure” label starting this month to help identify them.

Mobile Devices
If you are using a mobile device for your financial transactions, using the bank’s official mobile app is a good option. It is often even more secure than websites and is much less susceptible to hacking.  Make sure you update the app when required, and while most users tend to avoid automatic app updates, setting your banking app to update automatically ensures you’ll be using the current version with the latest security measures.  Turn off your Bluetooth connection when using your mobile device.  Bluetooth signals can be hijacked, just like open WiFi, allowing hackers to intercept your data.  This is a good policy at all times when not using your Bluetooth capability for communication.

Account Security
Regardless of how you access your accounts, it’s advisable to request text or email alerts whenever transactions are made or if balances drop below a certain threshold. This immediately alerts you if any unauthorized transaction has taken place and allows you to react quickly.  If available, you should always enable two-factor authentication on your accounts.  That means you will have to use two means of authorizing yourself as the user, but it makes it much more difficult for hackers to gain access, even if they have gotten your password.  One example of two-factor authentication is entering a required passcode to be entered, which is sent to a specified mobile number when a login is attempted.  Similarly, disable any automatic logins on your devices.  While logging in each time takes additional time, the added security can make sure your accounts aren’t accessible to hackers gaining access to your device.

Separate PC for Banking
If you have access to a separate computer to use only for your banking activity, you can reduce risk of threats from gaming, web browsing, email, social media, and other activities. If you have an old laptop or PC that you’re not using anymore, consider cleaning it up, updating the operating system and browser, and using that as your dedicated banking device.  It may not be powerful enough for gaming, streaming videos, and other popular activities, but it can still be very useful for securing your online banking.  If you don’t have access to a separate computer, you can still use a dedicated browser – one you don’t use for any other online activities.  That will still reduce risk.  Regardless of the device, make sure you keep your antivirus, browser, and operating system up-to-date to ensure you have the latest security patches.

Be Aware of Scams
Every day, hackers and scammers send countless fake offers in an effort gain access to devices and personal information. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Delete suspicious emails and texts immediately, and never share account information online.  Similarly, we won’t ask you for account details or other personal information over the phone unless you have initiated the call.  If you aren’t sure if a call is legitimate, hang up and call back.

Check you Accounts Regularly
Even the most diligent customers can have their account information or identities stolen from other sources. It’s a good policy to monitor your accounts and credit report regularly to check for any unauthorized accounts or transactions.  The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three national credit agencies to provide a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months.  That will allow you to check your credit report every four months at no cost.

Regardless of what transactions you’re making online, following these guidelines will help protect your assets and credit standing.

Five Financial Challenges to Test Your Saving Skills

By Tina Mason

One of the best ways to invigorate your saving strategy is by issuing yourself a challenge. Not only does the competition make it a little more fun, but you’ll also learn valuable lessons about the long-term benefits of discipline, the way your daily spending habits impact your quality of life, and just how much you can accomplish when you set your mind to it.

If you’re looking to make improvements to your financial planning and add a little extra padding to your savings account, here are five financial challenges you can try.

Take a new look at a favorite vice: There’s nothing wrong with splurging every now and then. But if you’re spending $5.00 on a cup of coffee every day, you may want to take a fresh look at how you get your morning pick-me-up. Could you live with making coffee at home and saving yourself over $1,000 a year?

Dive into the gig economy: If you find yourself with lots of free time and aren’t sure what to do with it, challenge yourself to finding a part-time gig. If you love nothing more than driving around town listening to music, maybe Uber would be a good fit. Fancy yourself a writer? Try to get published as a freelancer. There are tons of opportunities that will fit where, and how, you need them to.

Live like you’re single: Remember when you were young and single? You could somehow survive in an apartment the size of your living room. You ate Ramen noodles for breakfast. And even if you had less money saved up, you may have felt more financially free. Granted, your spouse may not appreciate Ramen the way your 20-year old self did. However, we all behave differently when we engage with others. By focusing solely on your own finances for a brief stint, you may be able to indicate where you’re letting money fall through the cracks.

A dollar a day: This one’s simple. Get a jar, and add a dollar to it every day. If you’ve got something you’re saving for, simply wait until you’ve gotten there. If not, consider it a rainy day fund for an emergency. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget about a dollar every day.

Pile up your perks: Perks are everywhere these days. Debit and credit cards will often offer discounts, deals or cashback. Some people go coupon crazy at the grocery store. In this challenge, you are tasked with taking cash equal in value to the perks you’ve accumulated and putting it into a new savings account. It is a way of making your savings seem tangible, and will always help to remind you  to look for savings in your day to day life.

At The Milford Bank, we’re always looking for great ways to help you grow your wealth, protect your family and live your best life. To learn more ways to save, stop by any office location in Milford or Stratford or check out our Online Learning Center here.

 

With Winter Over, Now is the Time to Get Ready for… Yep, Winter

By Matt Kelly

Having been blasted with several Nor’easters in recent weeks, you may be ready to put down the snow blower and forget about the winter blues for a few months. But before you start compiling your Spring cleaning list, we implore you to think about Winter just a while longer.

As you’re well aware, the inclement wintery weather isn’t just an inconvenience. It’s an added expense. But with a little early planning, you can ensure that next Winter doesn’t break the bank. You never know, maybe you’ll even have a little extra holiday shopping money!

Here are some of the key considerations you should make now, before Winter escapes your mind like a receding tide on a tropical beachfront.

  • Lock in rates with your energy supplier. You’ll typically pay a much higher price for heating when demand is up and supply is down. This typically occurs in late Fall and throughout the Winter. You will likely be able to find optimal rates before the Summer heat hits. Fix your rate now and you’ll be assured of a consistent and affordable price all Winter.
  • Take advantage of seasonal sales. Besides fuel, there are plenty of other items you need throughout the Winter. If you’re a skier or snowboarder, you’ll likely find all your gear at reduced prices at this point in the season. Maybe you simply need new winter jackets. Whatever your need, businesses are eagerly letting go of their inventory while they can.
  • Not all firewood is created equal. Stoking a fire isn’t just for show in Winter time. It can be a necessity if the power goes out in a storm. It can also support your basic heating needs to reduce reliance on other fuels. However, it’s important to shop your prices and also the type of wood. Some types are not meant to burn indoors, and all wood should be properly seasoned. Otherwise, you may not get full efficiency from your wood.
  • Weatherize before the rush. The elements are constantly doing battle with your home. Weatherization can help you to keep up energy efficiency. There are plenty of businesses in the Milford and Stratford communities that offer energy audits that can help you find and fix inefficiencies.
  • Keep up with routine maintenance. By keeping up on routine maintenance now, you can save yourself tons down the road. After a particularly icy Winter, it’s important to make sure ice hasn’t dammed on your roof or in your gutters. Seal cracks in your driveway to prevent further damage to the concrete, and take good care of all the mechanical components in your home.

 

I’m sure the last thing you want right now is someone reminding you that you need to prepare for Winter. We’re ready for beaches and barbeques, too! But a little foresight can go a long way, especially when it comes to the Winter. To learn more about managing your finances, check out our Online Learning Center or stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford today.

ABA Announces Consumer Awareness Observance Days for 2018

By Rebecca Tudor

Every year, the American Bankers Association releases an annual calendar including specific dates for consumer awareness observance days. While “Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day” might not have the same ring as Halloween or Independence Day, such observance days can be incredibly useful for taking a moment to assess your own financial status and learn something new about managing your wealth.

This year, we’ll be following the ABA’s calendar closely, tying in articles to provide some extra information for you to celebrate observance days. Pay close attention—we may even be running special events to celebrate some of these festivities at our office locations!

Read on to see the ABA’s schedule for 2018. Each month will provide you different financial perspectives, so we challenge all Milford Bank customers in Milford and Stratford to get creative and show us how they plan to celebrate!

January

1/26: Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day

1/28: Data Privacy Day

1/29-2/2: Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

February

2/26-3/3: America Saves Week

March

3/4-3/10: National Consumer Protection Week

3/20: National Agriculture Day

April

National Financial Literacy Month—celebrated all month

Records and Information Management Month—celebrated all month

4/1: National 1 Cent Day

4/16-4/22: National Health Care Decisions Day

4/17: National Tax Day

4/20: National Teach Children to Save Day

4/29-5/5: National Small Business Week

May

Older Americans Month—celebrated all month

Military Appreciation Month—celebrated all month

June

American Housing Month—celebrated all month

National Internet Safety Month—celebrated all month

6/15—World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

6/28—National Insurance Awareness Day

July

National Make a Difference to Children Month—celebrated all month

August

Back to School

September

College Savings Month—celebrated all month

National Preparedness Month—celebrated all month

9/9—National Grandparents Day

October

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month—celebrated all month

National Crime Prevention Month—celebrated all month

Family Health Month—celebrated all month

10/1-10/5—Customer Service Week

10/1-10/5—Financial Planning Week

10/18—Get Smart About Credit Day

November

Military Family Month—celebrated all month

National Scholarship Month—celebrated all month

National Family Caregiver Month—celebrated all month

December

Identity Theft and Protection Awareness Month

At The Milford Bank, we’re committed to helping you stay focused on your bottom line all year round. So be sure to check out the ABA calendar and find some topics that pique your interest, as we’ll be putting together supplemental educational resources to correspond with the ABA’s observance days throughout 2018.

If you’re interested in learning even more about a particular subject from the calendar, be sure to check out our Online Learning Center too. It’s a wealth of resources designed to help all our customers achieve the best possible financial outcome for their family’s needs and wants. To learn more, click here.

Millennial Spending Habits Leave Little Room to Save

By Cortney Meng

It was only three years ago that Millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, surpassing the Baby Boomers with employment numbers of 53.5 million. This seemed to be a coming-of-age moment for Millennials, but new research indicates that in spite of three straight years as the top demographic in the labor force, Millennials have yet to turn their earnings into savings.

According to a new Bank of America survey, it was found that 46 percent of Millennials had no money in a savings account in 2017. Even more startling, this number actually increased from 31 percent over the span of just one year.

Given the fact that Millennials are working more but spending less, this financial epidemic may be rooted in poor spending habits. Let’s take a deeper dive into how Millennials are spending their money in 2018, and what they can do to break the cycle and bolster their savings.

Spending on comfort and convenience

A Charles Schwab report found that Millennials, more so than previous generations, are willing to spend frivolously on comforts and conveniences. 60 percent admitted to spending more than $4 on coffee, 79 percent would splurge to eat at the hot restaurant in town and 69 percent buy clothes they don’t necessarily need. Millennials also surpassed both Generation X and Baby Boomers when it came to shelling out cash for the latest tech gadgets and live events, as well.

Bills, bills, bills

Though Millennials do their share of frivolous spending, not all the bills in the mailbox are a choice. In fact, a recent Mother Jones study compared Millennials to young families from the 1980’s and 1990’s and found that young adults today pay about $1,000 more on healthcare, $1,500 on pensions and Social Security, $2,000 more on overall housing and $700 more on education.

Simply put, cost of living increases have put a damper on what earnings Millennials have generated. That said, the need to save for the future must remain a top priority. Millennials must reconcile the lifestyles they wish to lead with the realities of the world they want to live them in.

So what can Millennials do to start getting their savings accounts in the black?

Forbes recently outlined some of the ways in which Millennials can begin breaking the bad habits that have gotten them to this point. Here are a few key points:

  • Millennials, natives of the Social Media age, are often pressured to be at every event, party or Happy Hour. FOMO, or “fear of missing out”, is a very real phenomenon and can often lead individuals to spend money they don’t have, simply to ensure they’re in the picture—both literally and figuratively.
  • Setting clear goals is crucial, especially if you’re not where you should be or want to be financially. Even if it’s just saving $10 from each paycheck, it’s a start. By clearly defining your needs, and your limitations, you’ll soon be able to turn $10 into $100.
  • Checking and savings are two different things, yet many Millennials try to use a checking account for all their cash. Not only does this curb your growth potential, but it becomes all too easy to draw from that money in a particularly tight week. If it’s visible and easily obtained, you may have a hard time saving it.

To learn more about developing an approach to saving that will get you where you want to be, stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford, or check out our Online Learning Center here.

Investment Tips for an Uncertain Market

By Matt Kelly

At the end of January, the Dow Jones Industrial Average capped off another record-setting month of growth, settling in around 26,600 points. Just a week into February, and the market had shaved off nearly 2,000 points as analysts began to question whether the bull market had finally slowed to a halt and whether we were in for a correction, recession, or more.

Now, investors find themselves quickly fluctuating between rapid sell-offs and frenzied buying sprees, uncertain about the more long-term economic outlook.

Of course, it’s not advisable to simply liquidate your assets and keep it all as cash under your mattress just because the stock market is volatile. Instead, this is a good point to calmly evaluate your needs, your long-term goals, and consider tweaking your investment strategy to make sure you don’t waste any time growing your portfolio.

While you should never make an investment without first consulting your advisor, here are a few tips to help steer you in the right direction.

You don’t need to abandon the markets entirely: Even when the markets suffer huge losses, there are still plenty of successful companies that weather the storm. You don’t need to pull all your savings from the stock market, but you do need to address whether or not your portfolio is diverse and conservative enough to be protected from a bear market.

Check out indexed and whole life insurance policies: Not only is life insurance an important component of your family’s financial planning, it can also act as an investment vehicle depending on the type of life insurance you procure. A whole life insurance policy will provide you with extra cash every time you pay your premiums. Indexed policies use that cash value and invest it into accounts tied to an index like the S&P 500. They have a floor of zero, meaning that you won’t lose money in a bad year, but still retain upside potential.

Consult with your financial advisor: Watching the stock market go up and down can be more emotional than an Oscar-nominated drama. And if you’re emotional, you may not be making sound financial decisions. Consult with your financial advisor before making any sudden changes to your investment strategy. This will ensure that your goals, and your financial needs, are both working in conjunction to secure your future and maximize your wealth.

To learn more about the savings opportunities available to you, stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford, or check out our Online Learning Center here.

The Savings Spotlight Series, Part 3: Mid-Career Planning

By Chaz Gaines

In the Savings Spotlight Series, we’ve made the case that there are numerous stepping stones throughout our lives that lead us down the path to financial well being. At every point, you’ll need to take a different approach. A teenager, for instance, might be saving for their first car. An individual nearing retirement is going to have a drastically different goal, and method, for reaching their savings objective.

Already in this series, we’ve provided useful savings tips for both first-time banking customers and recent college graduates. In Part 3 we’re going to fast forward a decade or two along our path to retirement, focusing in on the savings needs of individuals in the middle of their careers.

Maximize employer benefits: Most of the businesses that offer retirement benefits will no longer contribute after you’ve left the company. Now, nearing the height of your earning power, you should be doing all you can with the remainder of your working years to take advantage—especially if your employer will match your contributions.

Balance retirement and college funds: Many individuals at this stage in their lives must reconcile the need to have a forward-thinking retirement-oriented saving strategy while simultaneously helping their children get started on their own path. It can be challenging, but your focus when crafting a budget and savings strategy should balance both.

Bolster your emergency account: Many individuals at this stage in their working life have been at their jobs for twenty years or more—making them feel quite secure. But sometimes, business decisions are out of our control, and many families get blindsided by that false sense of security. Even if you expect success, a failure to keep an emergency cash account funded could put your family at risk. Many experts believe you should have at least six to nine months salary readily available in case of emergency.

Expect the unexpected: Just like it’s important to plan for emergencies throughout your life, it’s important to plan for the end of your life too. If you were to pass away today, your grieving family would still have to keep paying the mortgage, fund college accounts and plan for retirement—all without your income. While this is a sensitive matter in which thinking about money should be secondary, it’s nonetheless a reality that your family will have to cope with. Securing life insurance will provide the coverage your family will need in the event that the worst comes to pass. Some policies, like whole life insurance, even have features to assist with your savings goals.

Shift investments to meet changing goals: Every investment vehicle offers a unique benefit. So if your financial goals are shifting, shouldn’t your savings strategy? When we’re young, we have more ability to rebound from a risky investment. We also have more time to let a certain, conservative investment grow. Now, in the middle of your working life, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on whether the vehicle that got you this far is going to be the vehicle that gets you all the way to the finish line, or if it’s time to trade in.

To learn more about crafting the best saving strategy for you and the needs of your family, check out our Online Learning Center or stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Stratford or Milford today.

The Savings Spotlight Series, Part 2: Recent College Graduates

By Chaz Gaines

There is no one-size-fits-all savings strategy that will work for every individual. The truth is, we’re all at different stages in life and must adjust our planning accordingly. What works for a teenager saving for their first car isn’t going to work for a couple in their early sixties looking to retire in the next few years.

As such, it’s important for every individual to craft a savings strategy that will best support their needs and wants for the circumstances surrounding their lifestyle. In this series, we’re looking at some of the major milestones throughout life to help our customers hone in on where their heads should be at when it comes to their savings strategy.

In Part 2, we’ll be taking a closer look at the financial needs of recent college graduates—an ever-increasing demographic that today must contend with record amounts of student loan debt as they enter the workforce. If you’re a recent grad, or know someone who is, take a look at the following tips to help get started on the right track.

Start paying off student loans: In addition to receiving a diploma, you’ll now need to start paying off your student loans now that you’ve graduated. While every individual has different degrees of financial flexibility, many experts believe that contributing 10 to 20 percent of your monthly income to paying down student loan debt will keep you on even footing in the long run.

Take advantage of employer benefits: Another benefit of leaving the classroom is that you’ll now be able to get a full time job, and the benefits that come along with it. By starting to contribute early to a 401(k) or IRA through work, you’ll have the opportunity to add significant value compared to employees who pass up the opportunity. This is especially true in cases where employers will match your contributions.

Build a personal portfolio: Relying solely on employee benefits will hinder your earning potential, so it’s equally important to start diversifying your savings and building a personal portfolio. But you’ll need to evolve beyond the simple savings account that got you through college. Given the fiscal highs and lows that can come along with being a recent graduate, certificates of deposit are sometimes a good place to start. Smartphone-savvy grads can even find great finance apps that can give an introduction to investing without the mandatory minimum contributions required for some investment vehicles.

Establish your credit: A good credit score supports long term saving because it will eventually help you to get lower interest rates on mortgages, auto loans and a variety of other important purchases you’ll make in the coming years. One option is to obtain a small balance credit card, but the easiest way to build your credit is to simply pay all your bills, in full and on time. You won’t notice the savings now, but you’ll be rewarded down the road.

Live within your means: There’s a great sense of freedom that comes when you get your first apartment or see your first paycheck deposited into your bank account as a new graduate. But just because you don’t need to eat ramen three nights a week anymore, that doesn’t mean you should be going out to eat every night either. One way to ensure that you don’t get carried away is by sticking to your budget. But it’s also important to put yourself in places, and surround yourself with people that won’t encourage you to spend exorbitantly.

College graduates have their entire lives ahead of them, and by taking a careful approach to saving now they’ll have many more chances to enjoy themselves down the road. Of course, they’ve got to balance that so they can enjoy the benefits of truly entering adulthood, too. At The Milford Bank, we’ve been helping college graduates in Milford and Stratford navigate this new point in their lives for generations. To learn more, stop by an office location near you or check out our Online Learning Center here.

 

The Savings Spotlight Series, Part 1: First-time Savers

By Chaz Gaines

Every individual has different goals and unique circumstances that help to guide the decisions they make when it comes to their savings strategy. Some people have decades of work ahead of them to steadily sock away money for retirement, while others are looking to gain ground quickly with retirement just a year or two away. Some individuals have large families with children to send off to college, while others are responsible for only themselves.

In the Savings Spotlight series, we’ll take a look at some of the big benchmark moments throughout life. We’ll look at how teens, recent graduates, young families, and those closer to retirement all have varying needs that require a different savings approach.

In Part 1, we’ll provide some savings advice for teenagers who are first-time savers. Just because they’re young, it doesn’t mean that their summer jobs or weekly allowances can’t help them to begin building a robust portfolio to maximize their savings now. If you’re a teen, or have a teen, who is just starting to learn about saving money, here are a few tips to get them started.

Distinguish between short, medium, and long term savings

It’s important for kids to be kids, while also learning fiscal responsibility. As such, there’s nothing wrong with a teen wanting to save up for a concert or snowboard at the same time they’re saving for college, or even retirement. It’s simply about making a clear distinction and sticking to your plan.

Putting savings strategies into context

When it comes to long term saving, it is easy for teens to be too reactionary. For instance, a minor stock market correction could seem like the next Great Depression if you don’t have the benefit and wisdom that comes with watching such fluctuations occur for decades. Teens must remember that, depending on the investment vehicle, the money they set aside today may not be used again for another half century. As such, it’s best to set a strategy and stick to it, rather than continually pull your money in and out of savings to try and time the markets.

Thinking about risk and reward

Risk and reward are inherent in any investment. Finding the most optimal vehicle for your needs is all about striking the right balance between risk and reward. Young investors don’t typically have the assets to make a lot of risky investments. But conversely, they’ve got lots more time to make up ground if a high risk-high reward investment doesn’t pan out. Young investors are in a unique opportunity to use their age to their advantage, but you must assess your risk tolerance carefully first.

Never too young for life insurance

While teenagers might think they’re immortal, certain types of life insurance can offer significant savings upside for teens. Whole or permanent life insurance contracts provide additional savings components, as they accrue cash value when you make premium payments. And because age and health are critical elements in determining the premium costs of a life insurance contract, the younger you are when you lock in your rates with a permanent plan, the cheaper it will be and the earlier you’ll start saving. Not only will you protect yourself and your future family later in life, but you’ll have a big leg up on your cash value investment too.

At The Milford Bank, we have helped countless members of the Milford and Stratford community develop successful savings strategies for their wants and needs. No matter where you might be with your own personal savings strategy, we can help. Stop by any Milford or Stratford location near you, or check out our Online Learning Center to learn more.

And be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, when we’ll be highlighting savings strategies for recent graduates.