October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

Learning how to identify online fraud and understanding how fraudulent activity happens helps with prevention. Here are some past blog posts with information on identity theft and prevention:cybersecurity lock icons on a computer screen

Protecting Yourself Online

12 Ways to Protect Your Mobile Device

Stay Safe and Secure While Banking Online

Shield Yourself from Debit Card Fraud

Check out the Security section of our website for more resources and tips to protect yourself and your business from cybersecurity threats.

Streaming TV Can Be a Money Saver Compared to Cable

First there was broadcast TV, which consists of basic channels like CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS. It’s considered “free TV” because all you need is an antenna to watch programming, since advertisers fund your viewing pleasure.
Male hand holding TV remote control.

Then along came cable TV, which delivers television programming through a coaxial cable system to paying subscribers. Cable providers include Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and COX.

While cable TV provides a broader spectrum of programming than broadcast television, that extra programming comes at a cost. And that cost seems to be climbing higher and higher. According to a report by Leichtman Research Group, the average American household with cable pays $103 a month for the service. Imagine if you could turn that $103 monthly bill into a $12 or $20 monthly charge? Your savings account would thank you!

The good news is that cutting out the cost of cable is easier than ever before, thanks to a wide variety of video streaming services that allow you to watch your favorite programming at a fraction of the cost. From Netflix to Hulu, the variety of video streaming services is mind-boggling. And the competition seems to grow every day.

So what is a video streaming service? It’s basically an on-demand online entertainment source for TV shows, movies and other media. If you have a computer, smart phone, or tablet, or a smart TV or a streaming device like Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire, you can take advantage of video streaming. The services you decide to use will depend on what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to spend. But the bottom line is that video streaming services are starting to replace cable TV for a lot of Americans.

Netflix is a popular choice, with countless movies, television series, children’s programming, and documentaries to choose from. Netflix offers three different pricing tiers to suit your needs. Their “Basic” plan is $8.99 per month and allows you to stream video content on one device at a time in Standard Definition. If HD is more of your thing, you can try their $12.99 per month “Standard” plan, which allows High-Definition viewing, and streaming on up to 2 devices at the same time. And they also offer a “Premium” plan for $15.99 per month that allows you to stream on up to 4 devices at a time in HD and Ultra High-Definition (UHD) when available.

If you’re looking to get a lot of bang for your buck, you may want to look into Amazon Prime Video, which comes included with an Amazon Prime membership. Amazon Prime Video gives you access to a wide array of television series and movies, and your $119 per year Amazon Prime membership also grants you access to free two-day shipping on eligible purchases on Amazon.com (and in many cases, free one-day shipping), the ability to borrow free e-books via Prime Reading, commercial-free access to Amazon Music, and unlimited photo storage with Amazon Photos.

Hulu is another option, which allows you to watch episodes from both current and past seasons of your favorite TV shows. They also offer access to movies, and Hulu-original programming. Access to the service costs only $5.99 month, and if you’d like to eliminate commercials you can do so by paying $6 more a month. And if you’ve been hanging onto cable because you just can’t part with HBO or Showtime, you can add those to your Hulu subscription as well! It costs $14.99 per month to add HBO to a Hulu plan and you can add Showtime for an additional $10.00 per month. Hulu even has a new live-TV package for $44.99 per month. “Hulu with Live TV” includes Hulu’s regular on-demand video streaming, but also allows you to stream live television channels to supported devices such as Apple TV, Xbox, PlayStation, Fire TV, and Roku.

Slightly newer services that also offer live TV streaming include Sling TV, owned by Dish Network, and YouTube TV, a paid-subscription version of the popular website.

The traditional networks like CBS and ABC have jumped onto the streaming bandwagon, too. By visiting their websites, or downloading their apps, you can tap into shows that recently aired. And premium cable channels like HBO, Starz and Showtime are in on the game too. All of them offer stand-alone paid viewing packages that give you access to a broad selection of original programs, special shows, and movies.

So if you’ve been debating whether to stash away some significant money each month by ditching your high-cost cable provider, there’s not much to debate anymore. Streaming is the new way to save!

Ways To Improve Your Credit Score

Is your below-average credit score keeping you up at night? No one wants to be denied a mortgage or loan, or face higher interest rates because of a poor credit score. But if you do have a low credit score, the good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way. Fortunately there are changes you can begin making to your financial lifestyle that can have a significant positive impact on your score.AdobeStock_93575617

To start, it’s good to know exactly which credit score tier you fall into. Generally speaking, “Excellent” credit is defined as any score at or above 750. A “Good” credit score is one that falls between 700 and 749. If your credit score falls between 650 and 699, you have a “Fair” credit rating. “Poor” credit would be a score that lies between 600 and 649. And “Bad” credit is any score below 600.

If you don’t know your credit score, there are a few different ways you can find out. One potential way is to check your credit card or loan statement. Many major credit card and loan companies have started to provide credit scores to their customers on a monthly basis. If your credit card or loan provider offers this service, your score is typically listed on your monthly statement, or can be accessed by logging into your account online.

Your credit score can also be purchased directly from the three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, or Transunion – or you can obtain your FICO credit score through http://www.myfico.com.

Another way is to utilize a free credit score service like Credit Karma. Before signing up for these types of services however, be sure to read any fine print associated with the offer. And be aware of “free” sites that require you to enter your credit card information. Many times, you’ll need to cancel the service within a specified period of time in order to avoid charges on your credit card.

Once you’ve determined your credit score, and your credit tier, it’s time to check your credit reports. The law allows you can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three agencies every year. You can order these free reports from a central website – http://www.annualcreditreport.com. Or you can call 1-877-322-8228 for your report. There is also a request form that you can download from https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/sites/www.consumer.ftc.gov/files/articles/pdf/pdf-0093-annual-report-request-form.pdf. Just fill it out and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Once you have your reports, look for any errors such as incorrect records of what you owe on your accounts, or late payments that never occurred. When verifying information in your credit reports, keep in mind that each of the three major credit reporting agencies operate separately from one another. So, if you find an error on one agency’s report, you’ll need to check to see if that error also exists on the other reports. Any errors you find should be disputed directly with the credit reporting bureau that produced the report. If the same error appears on multiple reports, you’ll need to dispute each one individually with the different credit bureaus.

Once you have a handle on your credit reports, consider these tips for improving your credit score:

  • Pay down balances on your accounts. Eliminating or reducing your balances has the greatest impact on your credit score, according to financial experts. That’s because credit utilization – which is the amount you can borrow versus the amount of debt you’re carrying – accounts for 30% of your score. Paying down balances is also one of the fastest ways to improve your credit score. And if you have nuisance balances – small balances carried across several credit cards – get them out of the way as fast as you can, since one of the factors used in determining your credit score is the number of cards that have balances.
  • Pay your bills on time. Paying your bills on time shows that you can handle credit responsibly. If you repeatedly make late payments, you’ll be considered a greater risk by creditors. To ensure you’re making timely bill payments, take advantage of payment alerts, or bill pay services through your financial institution.
  • Have a good mix of accounts, such as loans and credit cards. It shows that you’re capable of handling different types of accounts.
  • Consider opening a new account. While it may seem strange to open a new credit card account while you’re paying off balances on existing ones, in some cases doing so can actually help your credit score. This is because a new credit card will increase your total outstanding credit line and thereby improve your credit utilization ratio. But don’t overdo it and try to open several accounts at one time. This will trigger multiple inquiries that will show up on your credit reports, which could drag down your score.
  • Don’t close out existing credit cards once you pay them off. Once you pay off the entire balance on your credit card, you may be tempted to close the account for good to avoid racking up additional balances. But doing so could have a negative impact on your credit score, since closing an account will decrease the amount of credit available to you. If you keep your card open instead, and either use it sparingly, or not at all, that available credit will help to reduce your credit utilization, and improve your credit score.

Starting the process of improving your credit score may seem daunting, but every little thing you do to help clean up your credit reports will go a long way toward brightening your financial future.

Protecting Yourself Online

Though the internet has many advantages, it can also make users vulnerable to fraud, identity theft and other scams. Here are some tips to keep you safe online:AdobeStock_144724542

  • Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
  • Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with. Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.
  • Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer the security questions in password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, your mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
  • Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
  • Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
  • Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

CD Investing Strategies: Things to Consider

Anyone interested in investing has heard of a certificate of deposit, or CD. It’s a financial product similar to a savings account. Where a CD differs, however, is that it has a specific, fixed term, and a fixed interest rate. It is intended for a CD to be held until maturity, at which time the money may be withdrawn together with the accrued interest, or rolled over into a new CD term.cd-investing-strategies

Most banks offer a variety of CD terms. Term lengths can range anywhere from six months to 5 years or more, depending on the financial institution.

At Bank5 Connect, we offer CDs with terms of 6, 12, 18, 21, 24, and 36 months. And the minimum deposit to open a Bank5 Connect CD is only $500.

While CDs provide a safe, guaranteed return on your investment, getting the most out of them requires you to think strategically. Here are some tips to help make your CD work for you:

  • Give thought to the length of your CD term. When your money is tied up in a long-term, multi-year CD, you run the risk of missing out on higher-yielding opportunities. A lot can change over the course of several years, and rates are no exception. The Federal Reserve meets every six to seven weeks about whether or not to change interest rates. Think of how disappointing it would be to see rates rapidly increasing around you, and all of your investing dollars are locked up in an underperforming CD for 4 more years.
  • Don’t withdraw your money from a CD before it matures. It’s important to understand all of the penalties associated with taking your money out of a CD before it reaches maturity. Doing so can take a huge bite out of your earnings. For a CD with a term of a year or more, the average penalty for withdrawing your funds early is six months’ worth of interest. In some cases, early withdrawal penalties can even dip into your principal if the CD hasn’t been opened long enough to cover the penalty fees through interest.
  • Do your homework regarding rates. If you don’t shop around for the best CD rates, you could end up missing out on some real bargains. With the internet at your disposal, it’s easier than ever to compare the CD products offered by various financial institutions. Using the comparison tools available on sites like DepositAccounts.com, it’s easy to find the most competitive CD offerings before choosing which to invest in.
  • Know when your CD is nearing maturity. Most financial institutions will automatically roll the funds in your CD over to a new CD with similar terms once it matures, unless you instruct them otherwise. However, allowing a CD to automatically roll over to a new term could be a costly mistake if you haven’t evaluated all of your other options. It pays to assess other investment opportunities to ensure you’re putting your money in a place that makes sense for you given your current situation and financial goals.
  • Use CD laddering to help generate a stream of interest income. A CD ladder could be a great was to prevent your funds from being unnecessarily tied up. This type of investment strategy involves setting up a collection of CDs that will mature at different intervals so you regularly have funds becoming available. For example, if instead of putting all of your investment dollars into an 18-month CD, you split those dollars three ways and open a 6-month CD, a 12-month CD, and an 18-month CD, you will have funds becoming available every 6 months, and a third of your money will still be earning interest at an 18-month rate!

With a little strategic thought, investing in CDs could be a great opportunity to earn some extra cash. But remember that it’s always best to consult with a tax advisor before making any major financial decisions. To learn more about the CDs offered by Bank5 Connect, visit http://www.bank5connect.com/home/cds.

12 Ways to Protect Your Mobile Device

Your mobile device provides convenient access to your email, bank and social media accounts. Unfortunately, it can potentially provide the same convenient access for criminals. Follow these tips to keep your information – and your money – safe.AdobeStock_94918198

  1. Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.
  2. Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.
  3. Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  4. Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”
  5. Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  6. Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a Social Security number on your mobile device.
  7. Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  8. Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.
  9. Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.
  10. Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.
  11. Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren’t very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network.
  12. Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.