5 Tips to Keep Your Payment Info Safe Online

Confession: I am terrible at online security. A few months ago our IT person sent out an e-mail with a suspicious link to test our staff and I was the only person who clicked on it. Unless I’m forced to change it, I use the same password for everything. I can’t remember passwords with numbers so the ones I think up are usually based on my fangirling habits. A few years ago my supervisor needed my password to my computer at work and I replied, “It will be easier if I spell it out for you. T-A-Y-L-O-R-L-A-U-T-N-E-R.” She paused for a moment, then laughed and asked, “Is your password ‘Taylor Lautner?’ Like the kid from Twilight?” Yes. Yes, it was.


I definitely had a poster of this photo in college. So classic.

BUT, I recently attended a training on fraud prevention and I am proud to say that I am stepping up my online security game. No longer will you be able to access my online information just because you know my favorite member of 5 Seconds of Summer! Online security is becoming more and more important because, as physical debit card fraud prevention improves, online payment fraud is increasing. EMV chip cards are making it harder for fraudsters to make a physical replica of your debit card. So instead they are finding ways to access your card or account number online. I learned some really great tips to help keep your payment information safe from internet fraud. Here they are:

  1. Don’t save payment information online. It can be super convenient to save your debit card or account number on websites you use frequently. But unfortunately doing so also makes it super convenient for anyone who hacks your account to go on an Amazon.com shopping spree with your money. It only takes a few extra minutes to enter your debit card number each time you pay online, but it significantly decreases the chances that a fraudster can get your info.
  1. Always use a strong password. Note: “taylorlautner” does not qualify as a strong password, no matter how muscular he was in that movie. A password is considered strong if it includes the following: at least 6 letters (1 uppercase), at least 1 number, and at least 1 special character (@, $, %, etc.). Your password should never include your DOB, phone #, SSN, name or the same info for anyone close to you (significant other, children, etc.). It’s too easy for hackers to figure out.
  1. Do NOT use the same password for multiple websites. Because if I’m a hacker who has one of your passwords, now I have them all. I can log into your online banking account, your Amazon.com account, your student loan account . . . this list goes on and on. Think of how many online accounts you have. Worried that you won’t be able to remember passwords because they’re too complicated and you have too many? Try a password management tool like lastpass.com. You just have to remember one master password and it will remember the other ones for you.
  1. Do NOT log in to websites with payment information while on free public Wi-Fi. You never know who might be lurking in wait on the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks. And if you log into a site with payment information while on that public Wi-Fi, you’re opening the door for hackers to steal it. Free Wi-Fi is great for YouTube videos or games, just don’t use it to log into your Sallie Mae payment center. If you’re in a public space and have to access a site with payment info, use data instead of Wi-Fi. Yes, it’s more expensive. But it’s also secure.
  1. Always use a passcode, fingerprint ID, or swipe pattern for smart phones and/or tablets. Change your passcode or swipe pattern every 3 months. Let’s be honest, my whole life is on my smart phone. And yours probably is, too. From my phone I can access all of my money, I can pay for gas, or I can get an Uber. There’s a ton of ways I can pay for things right from my mobile device, not to mention an endless amount of personal information stored on it. If I don’t have a passcode I am giving anyone who can get their hands on my phone an invitation to use that information. Just take the swimmer-selfies on my phone as evidence (because you can still use the camera on an iPhone even if it’s locked) that people will pick up any phone they find lying around and use it. So keep it safe.

See what I mean?

Is online fraud 100% preventable? No way. But taking the 5 steps makes you way less vulnerable to potential attacks. Stay safe internet friends!

Free Tax Prep at CA$H Maine

Taxes . . . dun dun dun . . .

If just hearing the word made you cringe, fear not! I’m here to help. Income tax preparation is an intimidating thing for most people. Unless you’re an account or some sort of math wizard, you probably have to make the choice between trying to do your own taxes (and possibly drowning in paperwork in the attempt) or paying a professional to do them for you. Neither option really seems that appealing to me.

CA$H Maine

That’s where CA$H Maine comes in to save the day! CA$H is a non-profit organization that works to improve financial stability in our state. One of the many services they provide is free federal and state income tax preparation. There are 42 CA$H Maine tax sites statewide. If you, or your household, made $54,000 or less in 2015, you should consider getting your taxes done at CA$H this season. Here’s 5 reason why:

  1. It’s FREE! Paid preparers give you peace of mind that your taxes will be done correctly. But they can also be expensive. The average American spends around $261 each year on tax prep. CA$H Maine is providing the same service 100% free of charge. No fees. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but thanks to CA$H Maine there is free tax preparation.
  2. You get professional help from an IRS-certified volunteer. All CA$H Maine volunteer tax preparers are IRS-certified. They go through extensive in person and online training prior to working at a tax site. By the time they meet with you, they know all the ins and outs of this year’s tax forms. It’s professional grade assistance without the price tag.
  3. It’s safe and secure. Tax filing involves a lot of personal information, including social security numbers, salaries, and insurance data. You don’t want to share that info with just anybody. But CA$H Maine tax sites have procedures in place to make sure that your info stays safe. No security concerns here!
  4. There’s friendly faces with great asset-building advice. The volunteers at CA$H Maine are the best. They’re helpful and friendly. Plus they’re trained not only in tax preparation, but in how to connect you with other financial resources in your community. So if have you have a question about how to improve your credit score or how you can get help heating your home this winter, CA$H volunteers can help.
  5. Did I mention it’s FREE?! That’s amazing. When was the last time you got something for free? Since 2004 CA$H Greater Portland has helped 6,552 individuals and families file their taxes for free. That’s saved our community roughly $1.2 million in preparation fees. And that’s just in Greater Portland! Why wouldn’t you take advantage of a service that saves you that much money?

One final tip – check out CA$H Maine’s “Do-It-Yourself” option. If your individual or combined household income for 2015 is $62,000 or less you can file your federal and state income taxes for free online! Visit myfreetaxes.com to learn how. I used myfreetaxes.com last year to file my taxes and it was great. If I can figure it out, anyone can.

Happy Tax Season!


3 Money Resolutions You Can Keep in 2016


Happy 2016! It’s January 6th which means you may have already set a New Year’s Resolution. It’s also possible that you have already broken it (no judgement if you did). New Year’s Resolutions can be tough to keep, especially if they take us out of comfort zone or force us to break a bad habit. Often the only resolutions that stick are ones that are small steps to long term change. So if your plans for 2016 include being smarter with your money, I came up with a few resolutions you might like. They’re easily to do and might help you change how you use your money. Here they are:

  1. Spend Money on an Experience – It sounds cheesy but it’s actually science – spending money on an experience makes you happier than buying material things. In 2016 plan a vacation, get tickets to a concert for your favorite band, or take a class to learn something new. A study done at San Francisco State University showed that while people tend to know that a life experience will make them happier than a physical purchase, it can be much more difficult to place an economic value on our memories. That’s probably why we keep buying stuff rather than investing in experiences. I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely regretted dropping $100 on random stuff at Target. However, I have never for one second regretted spending $100 on One Direction tickets. Same amount of money, but while I cannot remember what I bought on that Target run, I will probably tell my grand-kids about Harry Styles’s weird dance moves and glorious hair. So do yourself a favor this year; skip the upgrade to the latest gadget or expensive clothing binge and use the money on creating a memory instead.

    1D OTRA

    If you can’t tell from our excited faces, it was worth the price of the tickets to have floor seats at 1D.

  2. Make Your Checking Account Work for You – Do you pay a fee if you don’t keep a minimum balance in your checking account? Do you pay a monthly service fee just to keep it open? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you need to switch financial institutions ASAP! It’s just plain silly to pay for something you can get for free.  According to BankRate.com, the average consumer who is charged for failing to maintain a minimum balance in their checking account pays their financial institution around $14.76 a month in fees. That means switching to a free checking account could save you over $175 a year. Sure it can be a pain to switch your direct deposit and automatic withdrawals, but your wallet will thank you for the effort. Plus why would you pay for a checking account when some financial institutions are paying YOU to bank there? My credit union offers free Kasasa® checking accounts that allow you to earn rewards for banking with us. What that means is if you use your debit card 12 times a month and check mobile banking, you could earn up to $6 cashback a month*. I use my debit card like 66 times a month and check my mobile app everyday so they’re basically giving me $6 for stuff I would do anyways. You can search for a financial institution near you that offers Kasasa here so you can start earning money on your checking account too. You won’t regret it!
  3. Donate to a Cause That’s Important to You – It could be $5, $50, or $500. The amount doesn’t matter, just the fact that you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. We often think that just because we don’t have a lot to give we can’t make a difference. But nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to making positive change, a little goes a long way. So this year donate what you can to a cause you care about. Help out your local food pantry or contribute to a fundraiser for your high school’s athletic department. You could even go online to crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to search around for a cause you feel passionate about. Whoever you chose to help out, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your support. And you’ll feel good about how you spent your money.

Hope your 2016 is happy, healthy, and financially fit!


*Terms and Conditions

5 Ways to Save this Holiday Without Being a Scrooge

It’s December 1st. Which means my decorations are up, my advent calendar is out, and I will be playing Hanson’s Snowed In on repeat for the rest of the month. In other words, I am ready for Christmas.


Don’t lie. If you were alive in 1998 you own this on cassette tape.

One thing that might not be so ready, however, is my wallet. No matter what holiday you celebrate or how long your “nice list” is, budgeting for the holiday season can be tricky for even the savviest of shoppers. Between gifts to buy, parties to attend, and meals to make it’s easy for your credit card balance to soar higher than your good holiday cheer.

So to prevent any post-holiday horror at how much you spent being merry, I’ve come up with a few tips on how you can be both festive and budget-friendly this year.

  • Give DIY gifts Are you crafty? Can you knit? Or draw? Or take great photographs? Then maybe you can make a gift for less than you could buy one. Pinterest has no shortage of easy DIY gift projects with step-by-step instructions for how to make them. What’s more, your gift will have more sentimental value than a store-bought item because you personalized it. Or if you’re not that confident in your crafting abilities, check out gifts on Etsy. They’re often creative, fun, and handmade but often less expensive than what you’d find at the mall.
  • Or give a helping hand Sometimes the things we do for others are more valuable than the things we buy them. If you’re handy, offer your services fixing small problems around your grandparents’ house. If you’re good with makeup, volunteer to beautify your sister before a big night out (Note to my sister – don’t worry. I will not go near your face. This idea is meant for people who can be trusted not to make you look like 1985 David Bowie from the movie Labyrinth). Your time and help can make a much better gift than a last minute purchase from the bargain bin, and it will save you money.
  • Track your spending ‘Tis the season for giving, but that doesn’t have to mean giving more than you have. Keep track of your holiday spending closely with a notebook or online tool. Determine ahead of time how much you plan to spend on each person on your list, on holiday parties, and on other holiday activities. Then make sure stick to the plan. Writing down what you spend will hold you accountable to yourself and your budget.
  • Create a new traditionIf your gift-giving budget is tight this year, chances are the same might be true for your friends and family. Get together and create new holiday traditions that save everyone a few dollars. Consider doing a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa instead of a traditional gift exchange. Or pool the money you would have spent as a group on gifts for each other to do something good for your community, like sending care packages to local troops overseas or hosting a holiday dinner at a nursing home. It’ll get you in the holiday spirit without hurting your wallet.
gifts 2

At our credit union we have an awesome Adopt-A-Family tradition we do every year where we collect gifts for a local family in need. It’s a great way to get in the spirit and do something good for others! 

  • Consider a Holiday LoanUnless you’re a total Scrooge, holiday expenses happen. If you haven’t saved up money throughout the year it can be tough to find the money to pay for your holiday needs. Your financial institution might be able to help! My credit union offers a Holiday Loan that lets members who qualify borrow up to $2,500 for 12 months at a low interest rate. It’s a way smarter option than putting all your purchases on your credit card because the interest rate is typically much lower. Plus with an installment loan making the minimum payments will guarantee that you pay back the debt in one year. With revolving debt like a credit card it could take much longer. Holiday Loans can be a great way to get some extra jingle without hurting your credit.

Hope these tips help you get in the spirit while still staying on budget. Happy Holidays!

Should You Get Pet Insurance?

Let’s be real – this post is just an excuse for me to share adorable pics of my parents’ new puppy, Rudy.

Rudy 3

Tired out from 10 minutes of hardcore wrestling that stuffed animal.

Just kidding. Pet insurance is a real thing. And with the vet costs on the rise, it’s something a lot of pet owners consider purchasing. My mom requested that I write this blog because she was wondering if she should get pet insurance for her new puppy. FYI – he’s an eight week old yellow lab in case you’re wondering. He just went home with my parents yesterday! I might have to move back in with them just so he has a sibling . . .

As cuddly and cute as Rudy is, he’s expensive. Your wallet gets hit the first time when you purchase your new pal. Then you have to spend more money on every day expenses like food, training, and accessories (leashes, crates, toys). By the time you get to vet fees for stuff like shots, neutering, and check ups Rudy and his fury friends are running up a pretty high tab.

According to a survey done by the American Pet Products Association, cat owners spend an average of $219 a year on routine vet visits. That’s a per cat cost, too, so if you’re a crazy cat lady then you can multiply it by 12. For dog owners the cost is even higher at an average of $248 per year. And that’s only if your four-legged friend is healthy. Costs go up dramatically if your pet has a health scare. Foreign body ingestion, aka your dog ate something he wasn’t supposed to, costs an average of $1,629 to handle. Our old dog Bode suffered from Inter-vertebral Disc Disease. The average cost to treat that? $3,282. Not cheap! Plus the only repayment you’ll get from your dog for a lot of these medical expenses are the laughs that ensue while watching them live with one of those embarrassing cones on their head.

Our old puppy Bode and his Cone of Shame.

Bode and his Cone of Shame.

All joking aside, most of us want to do whatever we can to keep our pets healthy. They’re members of the family after all. But with the cost of care so high, footing the bill for veterinary visits is no easy feat. A recent survey by the Associated Press showed that 41% of pet owners are somewhat worried that they could not afford medical care for a sick cat or dog. So is pet insurance a good solution?

The answer is yes and no. You see, experts still don’t agree on whether or not the cost of pet insurance premiums is worth the coverage you get. Because even though it’s for pets, it’s still insurance so it has to be complicated.

Consumer Reports did an experiment in 2011 where they compared the cost vs. payout of nine pet policies for Roxy, a healthy beagle. In her ten years of life Roxy’s owners had spent about $7,000 on veterinary costs. For the same period of time, the total price of pet insurance premiums exceeded $7,000 for each of the nine insurance companies they researched. Based on this study, Consumer Reports concluded that the benefits of pet insurance are very rarely worth the cost.

Here's another pic of Rudy in case the insurance talk is boring you.

Here’s another pic of Rudy in case the insurance talk is boring you.

That Consumer Reports study was done four years ago, however, and medical costs for pets have only gone up since then. New treatments for pets are being created all the time. Bode even went to a doggy chiropractor a few times. With more and more options for treatments available, pets are living longer. Which means owners are encountering more medical costs. So the chances that vet costs might exceed those insurance premiums are increasing.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Kelsey, this doesn’t help me at all! Should I get pet insurance or not?!”

My answer to that questions is yes, you should consider pet insurance IF:

  • You can afford the monthly premium, which is typically anywhere from $20 to $60.
  • Piece of mind is important to you. If you don’t ever want to have to choose between your pet’s health and your wallet’s, then pet insurance might be right for you.
  • You understand the terms of the insurance coverage you pay for. Pet insurance, like other types of insurance, comes with deductibles and co-pays. Make sure you understand what is covered for your pet so there are no surprises.
  • You’re fine with the possibility that you could pay for insurance each month and never use the coverage for a healthy dog or cat.

If you don’t think pet insurance is right for you, then here’s an easy alternative – make a pet savings account! Put $10 or $20 a month into a savings account specifically designated for potential pet-related expenses. At our credit union you could set up a club savings account in minutes, in person or on the phone, to start saving for your pet ASAP. You can even set up an automatic transfer each month into that account so the money gets saved without you having to think about it. The money in that pet savings account will help you pay for vet costs. And unlike with traditional insurance, you won’t be restricted to using the funds for medical expenses, so you could use it to pay for other stuff like going to the groomers or extra treats! Bonus – if your pet lives a long, happy life you might never use the money and this way it would be in your bank account instead of the insurance company’s pocket.

Bottom line: whether you chose to use insurance or not, pets are expensive. Make sure you factor in all potential pet costs when creating your budget, including those pesky unexpected trips to the vet.

8 Halloween Costumes for $5 or Less

I LOVE HALLOWEEN. LOVE IT. I love to dress up. One thing I don’t love, however, is spending a lot of money on a costume. Here’s a scary fact – according to International Business Times the average American spends $80 a year on their Halloween costume. AHH! Why spend that much on a store-bought costume when you could make your own for a lot less?

Here are 10 Halloween costume ideas that all cost less than $5. I even tested them out to be sure I could make them myself and that they would stay on budget.

  1. 3-Hole Punch – “Cause you can have me either way. Plain White Jim, or Three-Hole Punch.” All fans of the Office have considered this costume at least once, I think. And it was super easy. I just cut out three circles from black construction paper, got a little scotch tape, and viola. 3hole Punch Costume
  2. Muggle – FYI for you non-wizards, a muggle is a non-magical person in Harry Potter terms. This is the easiest costume of all time. You just wear you normal clothes. It’s also 100% free, which makes it even better. The only downside is that you have to be “that person” at the party who makes Harry Potter jokes the whole time. I’m always that person though so . . .Muggle Costume
  3. Identity Thief- The only difficult part of this costume was coming up with all the names. Other than that it was super easy. I already had the “Hello, my name is” stickers, but if you didn’t you could pick up a package at Staples or anywhere that sells office supplies for $4.99. You could even print them on regular paper and attach them with tape if you didn’t want to spring for the labels. Then stick ’em all over yourself and you’re ready to go! Identity Thief
  4. Sunny-side Up Egg – I actually hate eggs in real life, but I love this costume. All I did was cut out a big yellow circle of construction paper, tape it to my shirt, and carry around the knife and fork. I’m realizing now that quite a few of these costumes involved construction paper which I already have a lot of because I’m super into arts and crafts. But if you didn’t you could pick some up at the grocery store for about $4.Sunnyside Up Costume
  5. Damien from Mean Girls – Bonus points for shouting out as many quotes from the movie as possible while wearing the costume. Anyone with a sweatshirt and sunglasses can do this one. And everyone loves Means Girls so you’ll probably be super popular. So fetch.Damien Costume
  6. Error 404 – Costume Not Found. Not to get all mathematical on you, but one piece of paper = $0.017 and the ink for one page = $0.035. So total this costume cost me $0.052. Talk about a bargain.Error Costume
  7. Smartie Pants – Something I learned during this whole process is that usually the worst puns make the best costumes. You can buy a bag of Smarties for just $1.99. Plus you get to eat them when you’re done. If other people don’t steal them off your pants and eat them first, that is. Smartie Pants Costume
  8. God’s Gift to Men/Women – I think you need to bring a little more confidence to this costume than I did to really pull it off, but you get the idea. If you don’t have a few ribbons or bows laying around for wrapping gifts you can buy them for $2.99 and then reuse them at Christmas! Gods Gift Costume

Hope your Halloween is both fun and thrifty. Happy Haunting!

What You Actually Need to Know about EMV Chip Cards

You might have seen them in the news. Or maybe you know someone who has one. Or maybe you even heard about the impending “liability shift” . . . dun dun dun . . . Or maybe you haven’t ever heard of EMV Chip Cards until now. Whatever you have or haven’t heard, chip cards are the next big thing in financial technology. And in the next year or so, everyone will have one, including you! So here are the basics you need to know about what they are and how they work.

  • What is an EMV chip card? 

EMV stands for Europay Mastercard Visa. That acronym is pretty unhelpful, though, in terms of figuring out what the card does. What you really need to know is that EMV is a type of chip that will soon be embedded in all debit and credit cards. The chip encrypts your card information, like your card number, cardholder name, CVV2 (that 3 digit number on the back), and expiration date. When you insert a chip card a merchant’s terminal, instead of getting all that info off your card like they do with an old fashioned magstripe card, all the terminal gets is an encrypted code. The terminal never captures your personal info. Plus those encrypted codes are good for one-time use only, so they can’t be stolen and used again. So basically an EMV card is just like the card you have now, except smarter and more secure.

  • What’s the benefit of having a chip card?

It’s safer than your old card! Fraud is greatly decreased by the chip because of how it encrypts your information. So when you have a chip card you are less vulnerable to fraudulent charges on your account. Plus, a lot of other countries have already been using EMV chip technology for years, so chip cards are handy for those who travel abroad frequently.
EMV Better

  • How do I use a chip card? Will I still be able to use my old card if I don’t have a chip card yet?

Using a chip card is super simple. When you’re at a chip terminal, you’ll stick your card into the bottom of it. The card will stay there while you process the transaction as usual. Then you remove your card and you’re on your way. Every chip card will still have a magstripe on it, so if you’re ever at a terminal that’s not chip-friendly, you’ll still be able to swipe your card the old fashioned way. Conversely, if you don’t have a chip card yet you can still swipe your magstripe card at a chip terminal. And best of all, if you have a shiny new chip card but you accidentally swipe it at a chip-enabled terminal, the terminal will remind you that you have a chip card and you need to insert it instead.

  • What’s this “liability shift” on October 1st all about?

This sounds a lot more ominous than it is, I promise. When it comes to debit and credit cards, liability is all about who is responsible for fraudulent transactions. The good news for consumers is that with or without a chip card, you’re never liable for transactions you didn’t do. So really, you can ignore the whole liability shift thing, and continue to use your card knowing you won’t be responsible for any fraudulent charges.

  • What about online transactions?

Chip cards only affect card-present transactions, or transactions where you are there in person to insert your chip card. Online transactions aren’t affected by chip cards, because you’re manually inputting your card info into the computer, not inserting a chip or swiping a magstripe. So you’ll process online transactions the same way you always do.

  • When will I get a chip card?

Probably soon! Again, there’s no rule stating that you have to have a chip card by a certain date. This means that financial institutions and credit card companies are issuing chip cards to their customers at their own pace. Chip cards and chip-enabled terminals are becoming more and more common around the US. You’ll see chip terminals at big chain stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Hannaford. In response a lot of financial institutions are starting to issue chip cards to their customers. So be on the lookout for your new chip card soon, but in the meantime you can keep on swiping your old card with no worries.