News for YOU!
News for YOU! is a free, monthly newsletter provided by KS StateBank that offers tips and other information to help you make wise financial choices. Please feel free to sign up now to receive new editions of our newsletters each month, as well as other updates. You can also subscribe to our business newsletter, News for YOU! Business Edition.
The tax season is winding down and millions of Americans will be receiving their tax refund soon, if they haven’t already. Using your tax refund wisely can bolster your financial security, and having a plan in place for your refund will reduce the temptation to spend that money on things you really don’t need. We’re highlighting some tips to help you make the best use of your tax refund.
- Create a safety net. Too many people do not have enough money in savings to cover a $400 emergency. Your tax refund can be used for a dedicated emergency fund that will cover you in a crunch. Ideally, it should hold about three-to-six months of living expenses in case of sudden financial hardships like losing your job or having to replace your car.
- Pay down debts. Dedicate some of your tax refund to lowering any existing debt, such as credit card debt. Pay down existing balances either by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or by eliminating smaller debt first. You can also make an extra payment on your mortgage or student loans each year to save money on interest while reducing the term of your loans.
- Save for your child’s education or future health expenses. Look into opening a tax-advantaged 529 education savings plan to ensure school expenses will be covered when your child reaches college age. Or save for future health expenses with tax-free dollars by investing in a Health Savings Account.
- Grow your money with bonds. Invest safely with U.S. savings bonds or municipal bonds. The U.S. Treasury allows for savings bonds to be purchased using your tax refund for as little as $50. Savings bonds earn interest for a maximum of 30 years.
- Make home improvements. Use your refund to invest in home improvements that will pay you back in the long run by increasing the value of your home. This can include small, cost-effective upgrades like energy-efficient appliances that will pay off in both the short and long term, especially if they qualify for tax credits. If you have more substantial renovations in mind, your bank can help with a home equity line of credit.
- Donate to Charity. The benefit is two-fold: Giving to charity will make a difference in your community, and you can also claim the tax deduction, if you itemize.
The American Bankers Association Foundation and the Federal Trade Commission have released information highlighting the problem of government imposter scams. In 2020, 498,000 imposter scams were reported to the FTC by consumers and nearly one in five reported losing money, with reported losses totaling nearly $1.2 billion. Almost one-third of the scams involved someone posing as a government representative.
In imposter scams, scammers will typically call, email, text or direct message consumers on social media, often claiming that back taxes are owed or that jury duty was missed and threatening victims with fines or arrest. Some scammers claim that Social Security or Medicare benefits are being withheld due to COVID-19, in an attempt to trick victims into clicking on a link or handing over personal information.
The information below provides tips on how to spot these potential scams and how to report them.
How to Spot the Scam
- Scammers will call, email, text, or direct message you on social media.
- Scammers say you did not appear for jury duty and must pay a fine or you will be arrested.
- Scammers say you will be fined, arrested, or deported if you do not pay taxes or some other debt right away.
- Scammers say your Social Security or Medicare benefits have been suspended because of COVID-19-related office closures.
- Scammers say you can get a free COVID-19 test kit from Medicare in exchange for giving personal or financial information.
- Scammers say you owe back taxes, there is a problem with your return, or please verify your information.
These are all scams!
How to Stop and Report the Scam
- Don’t give information or money to anyone who calls, texts, emails, or direct messages you on social media. Keep your Social Security, bank account, debit and credit card numbers to yourself.
- Never make a payment to someone you don’t know, especially by gift card, mobile payment apps, money transfer, or cryptocurrency. Only scammers will demand you pay that way. They know these payments are hard to reverse.
- When in doubt, check it out. If you’re concerned about the request, contact the agency directly. Look up the government agency’s real number on the agency’s site and call to get the story.
- Report the scam to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Tell your bank, and be sure to share these tips with your friends and family.
There's no doubt about it; online shopping offers an easy and convenient way to get the things you need. It does, however, need to offer you more like peace of mind and security. Here are some smart steps you can take to make your online shopping experience more secure and reduce the risk of fraud.
- Shop with brands you know and trust. The Internet has brought a world of shopping opportunities right to us. Unfortunately, it's also brought disreputable retailers that may be looking to defraud you. To protect yourself, shop with companies you know and trust, and carefully review online reviews before you purchase anything.
- Don't shop with public WiFi. Online shopping requires you to share sensitive information, such as your credit card number. That, can make you susceptible to hackers on public networks. If possible, use a virtual private network (VPN) when shopping.
- Make sure the retailer's website is secure. You only want to shop on websites that use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. To ensure you're on a site with SSL, verify that the URL begins with "https," not just "http." In addition, if a website is secure, you will see a little lock in the address bar on your browser.
- Set strong passwords. The passwords you use to log in to online retailers should be difficult to guess and should include a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, if possible. Try to avoid using birthdays, pet names, addresses, and sequences, such as "12345" or "abcde." Change your passwords regularly and never share them with anyone.
- Monitor your account activity. Services like online and mobile banking make it easy to review your account activity any time. You can also use them to set transaction alerts, so you can get notified when transactions have been made on your credit or debit cards.
- Run anti-virus software on your devices. Also, be sure to download software updates to ensure your devices have the latest security protection.
- Beware of phishing scams. Don't click on links from retailers. Instead, go directly to the sites you know and trust.
By taking these precautions, you'll help ensure a convenient and safe way to shop.
When buying a home, it is easy to get caught up in emotions. You fall in love with the new kitchen or giant yard, but the largest purchase for most people requires some objective consideration. The best way to determine if a house has the potential to be your dream home is to visually apply your daily life to it.
Just another day
Picture yourself living in the home on a typical day in your life.
Everyday living: Where do you prepare and eat meals? Is there space for everyone to gather together? How about apart? Do you need an area for a hobby or for large holiday gatherings? Where do you pay your bills and file important documents? If you have school age children, where will they do their homework?
Entertainment: If you entertain, do you typically invite a large group or prefer more intimate gatherings? Where will you set up your television, sound system and computer? Is special wiring required? Do you have a hobby that requires separate space? Do one or more family members take a daily run or use exercise equipment indoors? If so, where would these things take place?
Maintenance: What will require additional time or money for maintenance? Can you clean the house on your own or will you need to employ a cleaning service? Are there carpets that will need regular cleaning? What about the heating and/or cooling systems? Will you have to paint the exterior or does it have siding? Is there a pool? Does the yard require lawn maintenance?
Outside: If you like to spend time outdoors is there space for eating, entertaining or just relaxing? Is there a patio? What is the sun exposure? Are there trees to shade the house in the summer? Are they well maintained to allow light and air to circulate? What will autumn raking entail? How about winter shoveling? How much maintenance will be required?
Household tasks and local activities
Once you determine a house is ideal for your family's way of living, think about where you need to go when you pull out of the driveway.
Are there a grocery and hardware store, library, farmers' market, or other retailers and service providers you and your family use regularly near this home? If your children are currently enrolled in sports and activities, can they continue or will you have to find new ones? Are there families nearby to carpool with? Will children have to change schools?
Making your decision
Create a check list of things that matter to you and rate each home you're considering by these criteria. It will be easier to keep your emotions in check using this type of unbiased tool.
Finally, the object of your desire may look different after you step away. Take these tips into consideration and be sure to sleep on it before making a commitment.
Are you ready to purchase your next home? Our team of experienced Mortgage Loan Originators* can help you through the process. Visit our home loans website, homeloans.ksstate.bank, to get started.
*KS StateBank | NMLS ID 410602. Please note KS StateBank does not provide real estate brokerage services.
You can't control everything in life. We've all learned that lesson during the global pandemic. But even though we can't predict the challenges or even opportunities we might encounter on the road of life, we can take some steps to remain in the driver's seat, particularly with our finances.
One way to accomplish that is by getting financially organized. Organizing your finances can help you stay focused on your goals, increase productivity and success, save time, and of course, reduce stress. So how can you get started? Here are some tips:
- Bring together your finances. There are many aspects to your financial life; you have your credit accounts, bank accounts, insurance, and retirement accounts. Gather all your financial information and create files either on your computer or in a filing cabinet. You can also create a spreadsheet that documents all your assets and liabilities. If you receive paper statements, put them into binders organized by date and type of information.
- Create a budget. Budgeting is the key to saving. To create your budget, make a list of your monthly income and expenses. Be sure to include all expenses, such as your rent or mortgage, credit card payments, utilities, monthly subscriptions, and fun and entertainment costs. Also, include monthly savings in your budget.
- Track your spending. A budget is only effective if you follow it. Use a spreadsheet or budgeting app to track your actual spending each month. If you're over budget, you'll have to find ways to decrease your spending. For example, can you save money by eating at home versus dining out? Make adjustments in your app or spreadsheet as needed.
- Save automatically. They say you should always pay yourself first. Automating savings makes accomplishing that even easier. You can specify the amount you wish to save, the frequency, and the date you want funds deposited.
- Organize your bills. Bills are just a part of life. The most important thing is to stay on top of them since late or missed payments can result in costly fees and negatively impact your credit. Make a list of your monthly bills and due dates. To simplify bill payment, consider using online bill payment and setting up recurring payments.
- Check your accounts regularly. Thanks to technology, monitoring your accounts is easier than ever. With online and mobile banking, you can set and receive alerts to notify you about specific account transactions or balance levels. Monitoring your accounts can also help you avoid overdrafts, stay on track for your goals, and even spot fraudulent transactions.
- Set and document your financial goals. Think about what you'd like to accomplish in the short and long term and then write those goals down. Then, determine what you'll need to do to achieve them. For example, if you want to buy a home in five years, how much money will you need to save each month for the down payment? When you determine that, add it to your budget and track your progress.
Our free online financial management tool, My Money, makes it easier to stay on track, set goals, and maintain your finances. You can create a budget, organize your personal finances, and set savings goals. Look for the My Money tab in your KS StateBank Online Banking to get started.
By taking these steps, you'll be better prepared financially for the road of life – no matter where it leads you.
If you're a parent, you want to help your children make the right decisions. That includes one of the most important decisions they may make – choosing the right college. As part of that decision-making process, students and parents will often take advantage of a valuable opportunity – college visits. However, due to travel, financial, or safety concerns, an in-person visit may not be a viable option today.
Fortunately, there are some convenient ways you and your child can get the information you need to make a decision – without even leaving your home. These include:
- Visiting college websites. If you want to learn more about the programs and activities offered at a particular college, start by visiting the school's website. You can read about degree programs offered, admissions requirements, student population, as well as facilities and activities offered.
- Taking online tours. Thanks to technology, you can bring the campus right to you with a virtual tour offered by many colleges and universities. A virtual tour will allow you and your child to go inside campus facilities, including dorm rooms, dining areas, and classrooms. You can usually find the tour right on the college's website. Or you can visit sites such as CampusTours.com, which feature tours for colleges throughout the country.
- Getting social. If you want to get a sense for the culture or student population of a particular college, visit the school's social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. You can read about and see events on campus to get a sense for campus and academic life.
- Interview current students or alumni. What better way to find out about campus life or a particular academic program than to ask a student who's experienced it? Use your social networks, including LinkedIn to connect with others who have attended the college. For example, you may ask a current student if kids stay around on the weekends or go home. Or you could ask alumni about the career opportunities they had post-graduation.
- Setting up a virtual meeting with Admissions. To help students learn more about financial aid, housing, or admission deadlines, many colleges offer virtual interviews via programs like Zoom. Make sure your child dresses professionally and prepares questions in advance to make the most of the meeting.
By doing a little homework even before they get to school, your child can take an important step toward a brighter future.
All KS StateBank branches and offices will be closed on Monday, February 15 in observance of Presidents Day. We will reopen during regular hours on Tuesday, February 16.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued two emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. While this is encouraging news, it unfortunately means there is potential for fraud or other similar criminal activity related to the vaccines and their distribution.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has warned, “COVID-19 vaccine fraud may include the sale of unapproved and illegally marketed vaccines, the sale of counterfeit versions of the approved vaccines, and illegal diversion of legitimate vaccines. Already, fraudsters have offered, for a fee, to provide potential victims the vaccine sooner than permitted under the applicable vaccine distribution plan.”
Here’s what you need to know to avoid a vaccine-related scam:
- You likely will not need to pay anything out of pocket to get the vaccine during this public health emergency.
- You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine.
- You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine.
- No one from a vaccine distribution site or health care payer, like a private insurance company, will call you asking for your Social Security number or your credit card or bank account information to sign you up to get the vaccine.
- Beware of providers offering other products, treatments, or medicines to prevent the virus. Check with your health care provider before paying for or receiving any COVID-19-related treatment.
If you get a call, text, email — or even someone knocking on your door — claiming they can get you early access to the vaccine, STOP. That’s a scam. Don’t pay for a promise of vaccine access or share personal information. Instead, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or file a complaint with your state or territory attorney general through consumerresources.org, the consumer website of the National Association of Attorneys General.
Learn more about coronavirus related scams at ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams.
Information for this article was provided by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the Federal Trade Commission.
It's a holiday leftover many of us carry around for months. It's not Aunt Edna's fruitcake or even those few extra pounds amassed from all the holiday treats. It's the excess credit card debt that comes from spending more than you can afford during the holiday season. Unfortunately, for many Americans, a few festive days of the year can result in mounds of depressing debt that can take months to shed.
If you find yourself with leftover holiday debt, here are some steps you can take:
Stop the credit storm. If you can't purchase something with cash or your debit card, don't buy it. While it's important to have credit cards for emergencies, it's a good idea to put them on ice until you pay down your debt.
Start digging out. On your credit card statement is the minimum payment amount you must make each month to cover finance charges. Always pay more than that amount. The more you pay, the faster you will pay down your balance. If you have multiple credit card accounts, focus on paying off the ones with the highest interest rates first.
Consolidate higher-interest debt. Many credit card companies offer attractive balance transfer offers that come with low teaser rates, allowing you to transfer higher-interest balances to save on interest. Be sure to read the fine print so you know when the introductory rate expires and what the prevailing rate will be. It's also critical to close the accounts from which you transferred the debt. Many people make the mistake of keeping those cards and running up new balances, creating even more debt.
Minimize your other spending. Take a close look at your monthly budget and see if you can cut your spending in other areas in order to pay more on your credit card debt. If you have the opportunity to make more money, either by picking up more hours at work or getting a second job, consider putting excess funds on your credit card debt.
Stay the course. While it can be overwhelming to look at the debt you owe, the most important thing you can do is keep making payments. If you keep digging, you're sure to see a clear path toward credit card debt freedom.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
All KS StateBank branches and offices will be closed on Monday, January 18 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We will reopen during regular hours on Tuesday, January 19.
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