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All You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Stimulus Plan

Middle aged man and woman sitting at a table looking over paperwork
After days of negotiations and last-minute changes, the Senate and the White House have signed a historic $2 trillion stimulus plan to help mitigate the economic fallout of COVID-19. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) will put cash directly into people’s pockets, provide desperately needed funding for hospitals and help struggling businesses remain afloat in these financially fragile times.

Here’s all you need to know about the CARES Act.

Stimulus checks

One of the most crucial elements of the bill is the plan to distribute stimulus checks to Americans in the middle class and lower income levels. Officials hoped to deposit the one-time payments as soon as early April, though Americans likely won’t see the funds until a few weeks later.

Aid amounts will be based on household income reported in 2018 taxes (or 2019 taxes if they’ve already been filed), and will average $1,200 for each adult earning up to $75K a year and married couples earning up to $150K a year. Check amounts will begin to phase out for individuals whose income exceeds the $75K threshold, and for couples who earn more than $150K. Individuals earning more than $99K, and couples with no dependents earning more than $198K, won’t receive stimulus checks. Each household will also receive an additional $500 for every child under the age of 17 living at home. You can look up your anticipated check amount on this calculator.

The feds are hoping the stimulus checks will help the floundering economy and be a welcome relief to the millions of Americans struggling with a job loss or decreased hours due to COVID-19. The checks will provide benefits quicker than a tax credit and offer more spending freedom for recipients.

Increased unemployment benefits 

The enhanced unemployment insurance includes four months of unemployment pay for laid-off workers; expanded coverage for employees who were furloughed; the inclusion of workers who generally do not qualify for unemployment, like gig workers and freelancers; and increased unemployment benefits for all eligible workers by $600 a week for four months in addition to each state’s predetermined unemployment compensation.

Funding for the health care system

The stimulus plan will pump $150 billion in the country’s overtaxed health care system to help it

meet the overwhelming demands of the pandemic. Of this funding, $130 billion will go directly to hospitals struggling to deal with a shortage of masks, ventilators, beds and protective gear; and $1 billion will go to the Indian Health Service. The rest of the money will be used to fund research and treatment and to help the Strategic National Stockpile raise supplies of ventilators, masks and other equipment for hospitals across the country.

Small business bailouts

Small businesses are among the hardest hit by the pandemic and national shutdown to help “flatten the curve.” The stimulus plan will offer $350 billion worth of funds to these corporations to help them remain solvent during these economically lean times. These funds take the form of loans, some of which may ultimately be forgiven.

Funding for state and local governments

State governments are especially active and vocal at this time, as they are the sole elected officials authorized to enact and enforce lockdowns on their jurisdictions. State treasuries are also straining to meet the surge in requests for funding from hospitals and individuals seeking unemployment benefits. Local governments are similarly mobilized during the pandemic, with law enforcement authorities in heavily infected areas putting in long, hard hours daily ensuring the safety and health of citizens.

The CARES Act will distribute $150 billion directly to state and local governments to enable them to address their spending shortages and to fund their increased labor at this time.

Retirement Plans

The act calls for waiving the 10% early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 for purposes relating to COVID-19, retroactive to Jan. 1. Withdrawals still will be taxed; however, taxes are spread over three years, or taxpayers have the three years to roll it back over.

In addition, the loan limit for 401(k) loans has increased from $50,000 to $100,000 and required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs and 401(k) plans (at age 72) are suspended.

Student Loans 

Federal student loan borrowers will be allowed to pause payments on their loans. Loans will be put into forbearance for at least 60 days starting March 13, 2020. No payments should be due until after Sept. 30, 2020.

Federal student loan interest rates will automatically be set to 0% for a minimum period of 60 days until Sept. 30, 2020. If borrowers continue making payments, the full amount will be applied to the principal.

Borrowers do not need to take action to suspend loan payments. In addition, collection efforts, including the garnishment of wages and the seizure of tax refunds, will be suspended on federal student loans that are in default.

Mortgages

Some homeowners could be able to pause payments for at least six months with the possibility of an additional six months of forbearance, according to the act. Homeowners become eligible if they have one of the following types of mortgage loans:

  • An FHA Loan
  • A VA Loan
  • A USDA Loan
  • An 184/184A Mortgage
  • Any mortgage backed by Fannie Mae
  • Any mortgage backed by Freddie Mac
  • Missed payments would be required to be paid back; however, homeowners can work with their lenders at the end of the forbearance period to come up with a manageable payment plan. A moratorium on foreclosures for borrowers with any of the above types of government-backed loans began March 18.

Additional provisions and addenda

There are several other components of the CARES Act, including the following:

  • Establishment of a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to oversee loans to businesses
  • Prohibition for all businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from participating in the loan or investment programs. Their children, spouses and other relatives are also banned from receiving benefits.
  • Provisions to ban stock buybacks during the period of government assistance. There is an additional ban of a year for all companies receiving a federal loan from the CARES Act
  • Establishment of worker protections for businesses receiving the federal loans
  • Prohibition for airlines from using the federal loans for CEO bonuses

The country is going through historically challenging times, but with the combined effort of the federal government, the cooperation and compliance of the public and generosity of each individual, we can all get through this together. Wishing all of our members and their families continued health and safety at this time.

Beware of Coronavirus Scams

Male wearing surgical mask

Scammers are notorious for capitalizing on fear, and the coronavirus outbreak is no exception. Showing an appalling lack of the most basic morals, scammers have set up fake websites, bogus funding collections and more in an effort to trick the fearful and unsuspecting out of their money.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published on its website a warning against email scams connected to the coronavirus. The agency claims it has received reports from around the world about phishing attempts mentioning coronavirus on an almost daily basis.

Closer to home, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning against a surge in coronavirus scams, which are being executed with surprising sophistication, so they may be difficult for even the keenest of eyes to spot.

The best weapons against these scams are awareness and education. When people know about circulating scams and how to identify them, they’re already several steps ahead of the scammers. Here’s all you need to know about coronavirus-related scams.

How the scams play out

There are several scams exploiting the fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus. Here are some of the most prevalent:

The fake funding scam

In this scam, victims receive bogus emails, text messages or social media posts asking them to donate money to a research team that is supposedly on the verge of developing a drug to treat COVID-19. Others claim they are nearing a vaccine for immunizing the population against the virus. There have also been ads circulating on the internet with similar requests. Unfortunately, nearly all of these are fakes, and any money donated to these “funds” will help line the scammers’ pockets.

The bogus health agency

There is so much conflicting information on the coronavirus that it’s really a no-brainer that scammers are exploiting the confusion. Scammers are sending out alerts appearing to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the WHO; however, they’re actually created by the scammers. These emails sport the logo of the agencies that allegedly sent them, and the URL is similar to those of the agencies as well. Some scammers will even invent their own “health agency,” such as “The Health Department,” taking care to evoke authenticity with bogus contact information and logos.

Victims who don’t know better will believe these missives are sent by legitimate agencies. While some of these emails and posts may actually provide useful information, they often also spread misinformation to promote fear-mongering, such as nonexistent local diagnoses of the virus. Even worse, they infect the victims’ computers with malware which is then used to scrape personal information off the infected devices.

The phony purchase order

Scammers are hacking the computer systems at medical treatment centers and obtaining information about outstanding orders for face masks and other supplies. The scammers then send the buyer a phony purchase order listing the requested supplies and asking for payment. The employee at the treatment center wires payment directly into the scammer’s account. Unfortunately, they’ll have to pay the bill again when contacted by the legitimate supplier.

Preventing scams

Basic preventative measures can keep scammers from making you their next target.

As always, it’s important to keep the anti-malware and antivirus software on your computer up to date, and to strengthen the security settings on all of your devices.

Practice responsible browsing when online. Never download an attachment from an unknown source or click on links embedded in an email or social media post from an unknown individual. Don’t share sensitive information online, either. If you’re unsure about a website’s authenticity, check the URL and look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” indicating the site is secure.

Finally, it’s a good idea to stay updated on the latest news about the coronavirus to avoid falling prey to misinformation. Check the actual CDC and WHO websites for the latest updates. You can donate funds toward research on these sites as well.

Spotting the scams

Scammers give themselves away when they ask for payment via specific means, including a wire transfer or prepaid gift card. Scams are also easily spotted by claims of urgency, such as “Act now!” Another giveaway is poor writing skills, including grammatical errors, awkward syntax and misspelled words. In the coronavirus scams, “Breaking information” alerts appearing to be from health agencies are another sign of a scam.

You can keep yourself safe from the coronavirus by practicing good hygiene habits and avoid coronavirus scams by practicing healthy internet usage. Keep yourself in the know about the latest developments.

5 Ways to Trim Your Fixed Expenses

Paper with monthly expense list along with glasses and calculator

When trying to trim a monthly budget, most people don’t consider their fixed expenses. These recurring costs, which include mortgage payments, insurance premiums and subscription payments, are easy to budget and plan for since they generally remain constant throughout the year. While people tend to think there’s no way to lower fixed expenses, with a bit of effort and research, most of these costs can be reduced.

Here are five ways to trim your fixed expenses.

1. Consider a refinance

Mortgage payments take the biggest bite out of most monthly budgets. Fortunately, you can lower those payments by refinancing your mortgage to a lower interest rate. The refinance will cost you, but you can roll the closing costs and other fees into your refinance loan. Plus, the money you save each month should more than offset these costs. A refinance is an especially smart move to make in a falling-rates environment or if your credit has improved a lot since you originally opened your mortgage.

2. Lower your property taxes

Taxes may be inevitable, but they aren’t set in stone. You may be able to lower your property taxes by challenging your town’s assessment of your home. Each town will have its own guidelines to follow for this process, but ultimately you will agree to have your home reappraised in hopes of proving its value is less than the town’s assessment. This move can drastically lower your property tax bill; however, if you have made improvements to your home, it may be appraised at a higher value, which could raise your taxes.

3. Change your auto insurance policy

The Geico gecko and Progressive’s Flo, who love disrupting your favorite TV shows, actually have a point: You may be overpaying for your auto insurance policy.

If you’ve had the same policy for several years, speak to a company representative about lowering your monthly premiums. By highlighting your loyalty and having an excellent driving record, you may be able to get a lower quote. You can also consider increasing your deductible to net a lower monthly premium.

If your insurance company is not willing to work with you, it might be time to shop around for a provider that will. A few minutes on the phone can provide you with a significant monthly savings for a similar level of coverage. Once you have a lower quote in hand, you can choose to go back to your original provider and tell them you’re seriously considering a switch; they may change their mind about their previous lowest offer.

4. Consolidate your debts 

If you’re carrying a number of outstanding debts, your minimum monthly payments can be a serious drain on your budget. Plus, thanks to the high interest rates you’re likely saddled with, you might be feeling like that debt is going nowhere.

Lucky for you, there is a way out. If you have multiple credit cards open, each with an outstanding balance, you might want to consider a balance transfer. This entails opening a new, no-interest credit card, and transferring all of your debts to this account. The no-interest period generally lasts up to 18 months. Going forward, you will only have one debt payment to make each month. Plus, the no-interest feature means you can make a serious dent in paying down that debt without half of your payment going toward interest.

Another way to consolidate debt is to take out a personal loan at Artesia Credit Union. Our personal loans will allow you to pay off all of your credit card debt at once. With interest rates starting at just 9.00% APR*, you’ll only need to make a single, affordable monthly payment until your loan is paid off.

5. Cut out subscriptions you don’t need

Another fixed expense most people mindlessly pay each month are subscriptions. Take some time to review your monthly subscriptions and weed out those you don’t really need. Below, we’ve listed some of the most commonly underused monthly payments:

  • Gym membership. Are you really getting your money’s worth out of your gym membership? It may be cheaper to just pay for the classes you attend instead of a full membership. Or, if you have a favorite workout machine at the gym, consider purchasing it to use at home for a one-time cost that lets you to drop your gym membership.
  • Cable. Why are you still paying for cable when you can stream your shows for less through services like Netflix and Hulu? If you don’t want to cut out cable entirely, consider downgrading to a cheaper plan that drops some of the premium channels you don’t watch much.
  • Apps. How many apps are you signed up for? You may not even remember signing up for an upgraded version of an app you rarely use. A quick perusal of your monthly checking account statement or credit card bill can help you determine how much these subscriptions are costing you. Drop the apps you’re not using for more wiggle room in your monthly budget.

Your fixed monthly expenses are actually not as “fixed” as you may have thought. By taking a careful look at some of these costs, you can free up more of your monthly income for the things that really matter.

*APR refers to Annual Percentage Rate

4 Incredible Facts in Honor of Black History Month

It’s Black History Month; so let’s celebrate! In honor of Black History Month, Artesia Credit Union is proud to share four little-known facts about African American history, along with a list of fun ways to commemorate black history and culture.

1. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. improvised the most historic part of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 250,000 Americans stood spellbound at the Lincoln Memorial, as King delivered his iconic address.

While much of his speech went down in the annals of history, perhaps the most famous lines are those in which King describes his dream of a tolerant, respectful society. Incredibly, those words were likely ad-libbed on the spot.

Dr. King and a group of advisors spent hours polishing the planned speech, and the original version was a lot more political than inspirational. In fact, it did not make any reference to dreams.

Onstage, singer Mahalia Jackson allegedly whispered to King, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.”

After intoning, “We are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” Dr. King’s talk became more of a sermon.

He continued with the now-famous lines:

“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream …”

Dr. King’s talk is now considered one of the most successful speeches ever in American history.

2. Rosa Parks was not the first black woman to stage a sit-in

Before Rosa Parks was on the scene, there was Claudette Colvin.

In March of 1955, the 15-year-old schoolgirl remained rooted to her spot, refusing to move to the back of the bus. This was nine whole months before Rosa Parks’ famous stand. The young girl had been studying the history of black leaders, like Harriet Tubman, in school. Those lessons had triggered many heated discussions about the present-day Jim Crow laws. When the bus driver demanded that Claudette move to the rear of the bus, she refused.

The teenager said, “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn’t get up.”

3. The Quakers were the first to protest against slavery

The Quakers were famously known as “The Society of Friends.” Four of these men from Germantown, Pa. wrote the first protest against slavery in 1688.

Drawing inspiration from the Golden Rule, the peace-loving men wrote, “Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, then if men should rob or steal us away, and sell us for slaves to strange countries, separating husband from their wife and children …”

This rare document was rediscovered in 2005 and is now part of the Haverford College Special Collections.

4. One in four cowboys was black

It might not be the picture you’ll get from watching western movies or TV shows, but at least 25% of cowboys were black.

After the Civil War ended, the old Wild West attracted lots of newly freed slaves seeking freedom and paid work. While they did find a demand for their skills and lots of freedom to live as they pleased, the blacks – and all cowboys – had to contend with many physical dangers while sleeping under the stars and “riding them horses,” such as inclement weather, reckless outlaws and rattlesnakes.

Celebrate!

There are so many ways to celebrate Black History Month! Here are just a few ideas to help get you started:

  • Read the poem, I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes.
  • Bake sweet potato biscuits, a traditional African American-inspired soul food.
  • Jazz up a dull day by tuning into some blues music.
  • Play the ancient African game of Mancala. You can make a board at home using an empty egg carton with the lid cut off, and some beans for game pieces.
  • Look up James Karales’s photos of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches.
  • Read On Beauty by contemporary author Zadie Smith.
  • View Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series.
  • Read the poem, A Pledge to Rescue Our Youth by Maya Angelou.

Step 2 of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Don’t Dig Yourself Deeper

When you’ve dug yourself deep into a pit, the only way to get out is to stop digging. This month, focus on not racking up more debt. Stop using your credit cards. Skip your weekly trips that usually have you buying too many non-essentials.

Instead, start brown-bagging your work lunch and brewing your own coffee. Get into the habit of spending only on essentials so you can make real progress toward paying down that debt.

Don’t forget to make the minimum payments on every line of credit and loan you have open. Neglecting your debt will only pull you deeper into the pit.

Step 1 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Take Stock Of Your Debt

You’re determined that this will be the year you finally pay down (or pay off) that debt. Get ready, because every month, our Do It Today plan will have you taking another step on your journey toward living a debt-free life.

First, sit down and take stock of all your debts. Don’t let the numbers scare you; you need to do this to move forward. Get out every single credit card bill, personal loan, student loan, and any other debt you’re carrying (except your car and mortgage payments). Tally up the numbers to give yourself an idea of what you’re dealing with.

Next, organize your debt into different categories, such as credit card debt, student debt, personal loans etc. Use a spreadsheet to list your debt, the remaining term of each loan (if applicable), the minimum payment and the interest rate.

Finally, designate one hour each week for working on your finances.

Taking Steps Toward Financial Improvement For The New Year

Q: I’d like to focus on improving my finances in 2020, but there are so many areas that need attention. Where do I start?

A: The start of a new year is a wonderful time to make important changes in your financial life. Lucky for you, you don’t have to go it alone. Artesia Credit Union will walk you through some financial improvements you can make this year and continue to guide you every step of the way.

We’ve broken down some of the most popular financial resolutions into concrete steps and outlined the ways Artesia Credit Union can help you implement each change into your life.

Build a budget

Why it’s crucial: Creating and sticking to a monthly budget will force you to be accountable for your spending while giving you a clear idea of your financial reality.

In 3 steps:

  • Track your spending over three months.
  • Using a spreadsheet, a pen and paper or a personal finance app like Mint, divide your expenses into categories, such as mortgage, groceries, etc. Use an average of the last three months to set a reasonable spending limit for each category.
  • Going forward, track your spending and be sure to stick to your preset limits for each category.

If your budget reveals your monthly income doesn’t cover your expenses, or you find you’re overspending in any area, look for ways to cut back.

Get out of debt

Why it’s crucial: Carrying long-term debt can mean paying exorbitant amounts of interest for years on end. It can also devastate your credit score.

In 3 steps:

  • Make a complete list of all your outstanding debts in order from smallest balance to largest.
  • Review your monthly budget and look for ways to cut back. Alternatively, you can look for ways to increase your monthly income.
  • Work on paying off your smallest debt with the money you trimmed from your budget, or with the extra income you’re pulling in. Once you’ve paid off that debt, move on to the second-smallest. Repeat until you’re completely debt-free.

How Artesia Credit Union can help: If you’re carrying multiple high-interest rate debts, consider taking out a consolidation loan to simply things. This way, you’ll only have one low-interest loan payment each month. It may even reduce the total amount you’ll pay each month. Speak to a loan officer at Artesia Credit Union today to discuss this option.

Start saving

Why it’s crucial: According to the Federal Reserve, 40 percent of Americans can’t cover a $400 expense. Living without a safety net means a relatively small, unexpected expense can throw off your finances and force you into debt. Aside for paying for emergencies, savings can help fund your long-term plans, goals and dreams.

In 3 steps:

  • Review your monthly budget to identify your biggest spending traps. Then, find ways to cut back, such as shopping with cash only, cancelling subscriptions you never use or initiating a “financial fast” one weekend each month, in which you spend no money.
  • Use all money saved to open an emergency fund and a long-term savings fund at Artesia Credit Union. It’s best to focus primarily on your emergency fund until you have 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses stashed away.
  • Set up an automatic monthly transfer from your Artesia Credit Union checking account to your Artesia Credit Union savings accounts so you never forget to feed your savings.

How Artesia Credit Union can help: We offer many different types accounts including Savings, Checking, Money Market, Share Certificates and IRA’s so your money has an excellent opportunity for growth to suite your individual needs.

Maximize your retirement contributions

Why it’s crucial: Many workplaces offer to match 401(k) contributions. These contributions aren’t taxed and they come off your paycheck, which is taxed, making participation an excellent decision. Your 401(k) withdrawals will be taxed in the future, but the compound interest your fund will accumulate until then will more than offset this cost.

In 3 steps:

  • Speak to an HR representative at your workplace to find out about your current 401(k) contributions.
  • Identify how to best maximize your 401(k) contributions going forward.
  • If you have any other retirement funds, such as an IRA or a Roth IRA, also review your contributions to determine if you are making the maximum funding allowed.

Let Artesia Credit Union help you meet your money goals this year. Together, we can make this the year you take control of your finances and start working towards a financially comfortable future.

8 Naughty Scams to Watch Out For This Holiday Season

Hacker sitting in front of computer Screen

‘Tis the season to be jolly! And unfortunately, ‘tis also the season for scammers to go after your hard-earned dollars. Keep your money safe by reading up on the most common scams taking place this time of year and practicing caution.

1. Phishing emails 

Always popular, phishing scams get even more prevalent before the holidays. They can take the form of bogus delivery confirmation requests seeking your information or even a personalized letter to your child from “Santa.”

Be extra careful this holiday season when it comes to sharing personal information online or with an unverified requester.

2. Other “Ishing” Scams

Vishing is the telephone equivalent of phishing. It is described as the act of using the telephone to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for fraudulent purchases or identity theft.

Skimming is perpetrated by using electronic devices to surreptitiously scan and store credit and debit card numbers and PINs. ATMs and some unattended terminals, such as gas stations, are targets for this practice. This information can then be sold to fraudsters or used to commit theft directly. Fraudsters can use the numbers to make online purchases or to create fake cards for in-store transactions.

Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

SMiShing (SMS phishing) is the act of attempting to acquire personal information such as passwords and details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity through SMS text messages on cell phones. SMiShing messages may come from telephone numbers that are in a strange or unexpected format with links directing to fake websites.

A typical SMiShing occurrence can begin with a cardholder receiving a text message inquiring about a suspicious transaction on an account. In reality, the fraudster is looking to obtain other information from cardholders such as debit/credit card numbers, CV2 codes, expiration dates, PINs and other web login credentials.

3.  Fake charities  

Sadly, many scammers will capitalize on the goodwill that flourishes this time of year by asking you to make a donation to a charity that does not actually exist. Verify the authenticity of any charity you’d like to make a contribution to by checking it out on a website like CharityNavigator.org. Also, it’s best to contact a charity on your own instead of following a website or email link.

4. Package theft 

It’s holiday time, and those UPS and FedEx trucks are everywhere, dropping off boxes of goodies all over the neighborhood.

Usually, these drop-offs go as planned. Unfortunately, though, some 23 million customers will have their packages stolen from their doorsteps this year.

Don’t be one of them! If possible, and especially when ordering something expensive, arrange for a delivery that requires your signature upon receipt. Otherwise, track your order and know when to look out for it so you can bring it inside as quickly as possible after it’s dropped off.

When sending a gift to someone else via Amazon, consider sending it to an Amazon Locker location instead of to the recipient’s household. There’s no fee for using this service, and this way, your gift is safe.

4. Bogus sites 

You might get lucky and find that perfect gift at a super-low price, but don’t believe any ads or websites that are practically giving away the good stuff for free. These are, quite likely, scams. Once you click an ad link and place an order, you’ll never hear from the site again. Worse yet, they may use the information you shared to empty your accounts.

Only shop on reputable sites. Remember to check the website address/URL before placing an order. It may look strikingly similar to a popular site, but if one letter is off or missing completely, the site is bogus and you need to get out. Also, always look for that important “s” after the “http” in the web address to verify a site’s security.

5. Fake freebies 

Did you really just see a Facebook post offering you a new iPhone, completely free of charge? If you have, run the other way and don’t look back! You’re looking at a scam, designed to lure you into sharing your information with criminals or unwittingly installing malware on your device.

Fake freebies run the gamut from new phones, complementary cruises and various luxury gift items to free holiday-themed downloads, like music, wallpaper and games.

If you’re offered any outrageous free gifts by text message, email or social media posts, ignore them. Downloads, though, may be safe, but need to be carefully vetted for authenticity before you accept them.

6. Defunct gift cards 

Many scammers sell expired or empty gift cards this time of year, hoping to make a profit on a card that isn’t worth more than the plastic used to make it.

Ask to inspect any gift card you purchase before you finalize the sale. Check to see if the activation code is exposed.  If it is, the scammer has probably already used the card or has copied the information and will use it soon.

7. Temporary holiday jobs 

Lots of businesses are hiring extra hands to get them through the busy holiday season. Don’t get stuck working for criminals!

Many scammers will pose as employees of recognized businesses and post help-wanted ads on social media platforms and popular websites. When a job seeker follows the links in these ads, they are directed to a bogus site that looks just like the site of the company the scammer claims to represent. They’ll be asked to share personal information to submit an application. The scammer will then make off with this information and the promised job will never materialize.

If you’re looking for a seasonal job, apply in-person or directly on a business’s website. Do not follow any links.

As always, be aware and be cautious when enjoying the holiday season. Don’t get grinched! Stay alert and use caution to keep your money — and your information — safe.

6 Misleading Advertising Ploys To Beware Of This Black Friday

Here at Artesia Credit Union, we hate to see your money go to waste, so we’ve put together a list of misleading advertising schemes you may come across when hunting for deals this Black Friday.
 
Be an informed consumer and shop smartly!

1. Very limited quantities
 
That $200-off supersized TV screen on the front page of the big-box circular that just landed in your mailbox looks like an incredible deal-until you show up at the store on Black Friday, only to find it’s sold out. Of course, no deal lasts forever, but when a store that has only been open for the day a few hours claims it’s already run out of an item, you can assume it only stocked a very limited quantity. The heavily marked-down and heavily advertised item was a ploy to get you into the store to shop.
 
When checking out the ads for Black Friday, look for an “In-Stock Guarantee” or a “1-hour In-Stock Guarantee.” This will allow you to take a rain check for a sold-out item as long as you show up sometime on Black Friday, or in the case of the 1-hour guarantee, as long as you show up within the first hour of opening.
 
2. No discount
 
This one is a bit harder to spot, but it’s no fun when it happens to you.
 
In this ploy, retailers take advantage of the Black Friday craze to deceive shoppers into thinking a product is on sale. They’ll list an item in a Black Friday circular so you’ll assume it’s being offered at a discount when the it’s actually being sold at its regular retail price.
 
You can easily outsmart the stores here by doing a quick check of an item’s standard selling price online or pricing app like Shopular or ShopSavvy before running out to buy it on Black Friday.

3. Full price with a store gift card
 
A favorite Black Friday deal that may not be worth its hype is the item that sells at its regular price and comes along with a store gift card. For example, you might find a $699 laptop being sold at its full price at Best Buy, and rewarding buyers with a $100 store gift card. At first glance, this seems like a fantastic deal. However, some research might reveal that this same laptop is being sold elsewhere on Black Friday for just $550. Also, if you’re not a regular customer at Best Buy, you may end up blowing that $100 on stuff you don’t need just because the gift card is burning a hole in your wallet.
 
While gift card deals may be a great way to save on your purchases, think twice before rushing to grab a “with gift card” item on Black Friday.

4. Sales based on a dishonest manufacturer’s price
 
It’s easy for an item to appear to be significantly marked down when the manufacturer’s price is grossly inflated, but it’s also awfully unfair to the less-wise consumer.
 
When retailers advertise their sales, they’ll often post the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, for customers to compare. However, this number can be theoretical at best and simply dishonest at worst. If the item was never actually sold at the listed MSRP, the number is essentially meaningless.
 
Kohl’s was actually sued for claiming items were being sold at discounted prices when they were never offered at a higher price to begin with. The retailer has since discontinued this practice, but many other stores continue to advertise inflated or irrelevant MSRPs along with their sale prices.
 
Avoid getting pulled in by this deceptive advertising ploy by checking out an item’s retail price online.
 
5. Stripped-down or downgraded versions
 
When shopping for new technological devices, especially computers and TVs, make sure to read up on every feature offered with the product. A common Black Friday ruse is to advertise a discounted item that offers the very minimum in features and accessories. While it’s great to walk away with a brand-new computer at $200 less than its usual selling price, it’s not exactly the deal you thought it was if you end up having to pay through the nose to buy all those features and accessories that weren’t included. These “add-ons” are often essential features whose lack can make the device almost useless until you buy them.
 
Read through the listed features of every advertised computer and TV before running out to buy it this Black Friday.
 
You deserve to find fantastic deals this Black Friday. Look out for these deceptive advertising techniques so that you only walk away with actual bargains

6 Ways To Keep Your Finances Intact This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season to shop until you drop-or until you go broke. But you don’t have to overspend.

There’s no need to rack up a huge credit card bill or go into debt just to cover your holiday expenses. Enjoy a stress-free season by keeping your spending in check with these six tips:

  1. Create a detailed list of all your expenses

Don’t leap into your holiday shopping armed with nothing but a credit card. Before you hit the mall or start browsing, sit down and draw up a complete list of every holiday expense you can anticipate. Include all gifts, holiday décor, travel expenses, charitable donations and food costs. Try to keep this list as trim as possible by cutting out any non-essentials and using stuff you may already have in storage from previous years. Bonus points for any homemade gifts!

  1. Determine how much money you can spend

Once you have all of your expenses written out, work on finding a magic number that will cover everything on your list and that you can realistically afford. Ideally, this money should come from funds you’ve set aside just for this purpose.

  1. Divide and conquer

Next, assign specific amounts of money in your budget for each expense category and for every person on your gift list. For example, you can decide to spend $300 on your preteen daughter’s gifts and to donate $100 to charity this season. Again, make sure your numbers will work from both a financial and practical perspective.

  1. Track as you shop

You’re ready to hit the mall! As you shop, keep a careful account of exactly how much money you’ve spent for each person and in each expense category. It’s best to use cash or a debit card when shopping, and to review your budget often to make sure you’re staying on track. This way, you’ll know how much you’re spending and you won’t be hit by awful “Santa shock” come January when you need to pay those credit card bills.

To make this job easier, use an app designed for this purpose. A common favorite is one called Santa’s Bag. The app allows you to set a budget for each person on your list and then makes tracking the amount you spend super simple. It will even warn you when you’re nearing your preset spending limit or when you’ve gone over budget.

  1. Shop smartly and spend less

Keep your spending to a minimum by following these hacks:

  • Use shopping apps, like the Coupons Appand Shopular, to get your favorite retailers’ best deals and coupons delivered right to your phone.
  • Follow the 24-hour rule.Before purchasing anything on the expensive side, wait 24 hours. Sometimes, after sleeping on it, you’ll find that you don’t need to buy that pricey gift after all. Or, you might find the same item somewhere else at a lower price.
  • Shop online on Tuesday morning.Research shows this time of week is when you’ll find the hottest online deals.
  • Shop with a friend.Take advantage of BOGO sales by splitting the cost of a single item with a friend and each of you taking one item home.
  • Shop late.Everyone likes to get an early start on holiday shopping, but prices actually drop in the weeks leading up to Christmas as retailers seek to clear out their holiday inventory.
  1. Let Artesia Credit Union help

If you’re having trouble covering your holiday expenses, or you want to get a head start on next year’s costs, let Artesia Credit Union help! Here are three ways we can take the financial stress out of the holiday season:

  • Skip-a-Payment.We get it. The holidays are crazy expensive. That’s why we allow qualifying members to skip one payment on a loan [or credit card] this time of year without hurting their credit or defaulting on their loan. It’s extra breathing room, just when you need it most!
  • Holiday Loan.If you can’t come up with the funds you need for the holidays, consider taking out a Artesia Credit Union Holiday Loan. Our fantastic terms and affordable rates make it a no-brainer!

Don’t let financial stress ruin your holiday cheer this year. Follow our tips to keep your spending down, and stop by Artesia Credit Union to see how we can help!