Five Ways to Save on an Overseas Trip

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My neighbors and I talked for weeks about their upcoming European vacation with their teenaged kids. We discussed every single place they planned to visit. But when I asked if they knew how much their European train and ground transportation, smartphone data plans and meals out were going to cost, they shrugged and said, “We’re not worried. That’s the cheapest part of the trip!”

They might have been right ‐ if they had planned ahead. Sometimes it’s not the airfare and hotel bill that get you, it’s the failure to monitor small expenses that can turn into big ones in a hurry. No matter where you go, there are hidden money pits. That’s why smart money management before you travel is so important. Whether you meet or exceed your budget depends on how you plan and execute your spending.

Consider these five tips to help you conserve funds in all major areas of vacation spending:

1. Start by sweating the small stuff. Take some time to do a bit of research on basic expenses at the various locations where you’re planning to go. Talking to friends can help and so can travel magazines and sites.

2. Keep the costs of ground transportation in mind. The convenience of cabs or rental cars will likely cost more ‐ and depending where you go, some options might be safer than others ‐ so study options like reloadable city smart cards or continental rail passes. Paying individual ticket prices for short hops or long journeys can drain your budget. Also, consider traveling at off-peak times of the day to get cheaper rates on train travel.

3. Know what it costs to use your electronics. You’ve probably heard about people getting socked with huge cell phone bills. To avoid this, call your carrier before you leave to make sure your phone will work wherever you’re going. If so, check if they offer an affordable international talk and data plan. If not, consider options like an international SIM card ‐ a small chip card that fits inside your phone for specific use within that country ‐ or a prepaid phone. If you’re downloading any apps to supply maps, translation or reading material on your phone or computer, do it while you are home to avoid chewing up international data at your destination. Also, be careful with Wi-Fi. Many recognizable global restaurants and fast-food chains offer the service for free, so check before you pay for it. Once you’re home, be sure to cancel any international services you’ve ordered.

4. Eat like the locals. The Internet and the myriad travel sites it offers make it easy to find good places to eat at all price levels practically anywhere in the world. But eating food out can add up. Focus on the cheapest and safest ways the locals eat.

5. Travel insurance can be smart money management. Lost luggage, missed connections or a medical emergency won’t just ruin your trip ‐ they can potentially wreck your finances. Check your personal home and health insurance to see what they might cover on a trip and back your protection with a leading travel insurance policy. Visit websites that will allow you to compare coverage you need to select the best option for you. Make sure to check any travel insurance policy closely for any exclusions or pre-existing conditions that could void your coverage.

Bottom line: It’s surprisingly easy to overspend when traveling overseas if you don’t do your research. Take the time to analyze all possible expenses large and small before you leave. Your travel budget will thank you.

 

By Nathaniel Sillin

Monitoring Your Portfolio

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You probably already know you need to monitor your investment portfolio and update it periodically. Even if you’ve chosen an asset allocation, market forces may quickly begin to tweak it. For example, if stock prices go up, you may eventually find yourself with a greater percentage of stocks in your portfolio than you want. If stock prices go down, you might worry that you won’t be able to reach your financial goals. The same is true for bonds and other investments.

Do you have a strategy for dealing with those changes? You’ll probably want to take a look at your individual investments, but you’ll also want to think about your asset allocation. Just like your initial investing strategy, your game plan for fine-tuning your portfolio periodically should reflect your investing personality.

The simplest choice is to set it and forget it–to make no changes and let whatever happens happen. If you’ve allocated wisely and chosen good investments, you could simply sit back and do nothing. But even if you’re happy with your overall returns and tell yourself, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” remember that your circumstances will change over time. Those changes may affect how well your investments match your goals, especially if they’re unexpected. At a minimum, you should periodically review the reasons for your initial choices to make sure they’re still valid.

Even things out

To bring your asset allocation back to the original percentages you set for each type of investment, you’ll need to do something that may feel counterintuitive: sell some of what’s working well and use that money to buy investments in other sectors that now represent less of your portfolio. Typically, you’d buy enough to bring your percentages back into alignment. This keeps what’s called a “constant weighting” of the relative types of investments.

Let’s look at a hypothetical illustration. If stocks have risen, a portfolio that originally included only 50% in stocks might now have 70% in equities. Rebalancing would involve selling some of the stock and using the proceeds to buy enough of other asset classes to bring the percentage of stock in the portfolio back to 50. The same would be true if stocks have dropped and now represent less of your portfolio than they should; to rebalance, you would invest in stocks until they once again reach an appropriate percentage of your portfolio. This example doesn’t represent actual returns; it merely demonstrates how rebalancing works. Maintaining those relative percentages not only reminds you to take profits when a given asset class is doing well, but it also keeps your portfolio in line with your original risk tolerance.

When should you do this? One common rule of thumb is to rebalance your portfolio whenever one type of investment gets more than a certain percentage out of line–say, 5 to 10%. You could also set a regular date. For example, many people prefer tax time or the end of the year. To stick to this strategy, you’ll need to be comfortable with the fact that investing is cyclical and all investments generally go up and down in value from time to time.

Forecast the future

You could adjust your mix of investments to focus on what you think will do well in the future, or to cut back on what isn’t working. Unless you have an infallible crystal ball, it’s a trickier strategy than constant weighting. Even if you know when to cut back on or get out of one type of investment, are you sure you’ll know when to go back in?

Mix it up

You could also attempt some combination of strategies. For example, you could maintain your current asset allocation strategy with part of your portfolio. With another portion, you could try to take advantage of short-term opportunities, or test specific areas that you and your financial professional think might benefit from a more active investing approach. By monitoring your portfolio, you can always return to your original allocation.

Another possibility is to set a bottom line for your portfolio: a minimum dollar amount below which it cannot fall. If you want to explore actively managed or aggressive investments, you can do so–as long as your overall portfolio stays above your bottom line. If the portfolio’s value begins to drop toward that figure, you would switch to very conservative investments that protect that baseline amount. If you want to try unfamiliar asset classes and you’ve got a financial cushion, this strategy allows allocation shifts while helping to protect your core portfolio.

Points to consider

• Keep an eye on how different types of assets react to market conditions. Part of fine-tuning your game plan might involve putting part of your money into investments that behave very differently from the ones you have now. Diversification can have two benefits. Owning investments that go up when others go down might help to either lower the overall risk of your portfolio or improve your chances of achieving your target rate of return.

Asset allocation and diversification don’t guarantee a profit or insure against a possible loss, of course. But you owe it to your portfolio to see whether there are specialized investments that might help balance out the ones you have.

• Be disciplined about sticking to whatever strategy you choose for monitoring your portfolio. If your game plan is to rebalance whenever your investments have been so successful that they alter your asset allocation, make sure you aren’t tempted to simply coast and skip your review altogether. At a minimum, you should double-check with your financial professional if you’re thinking about deviating from your strategy for maintaining your portfolio. After all, you probably had good reasons for your original decision.

• Some investments don’t fit neatly into a stocks-bonds-cash asset allocation. You’ll probably need help to figure out how hedge funds, real estate, private equity, and commodities might balance the risk and returns of the rest of your portfolio. And new investment products are being introduced all the time; you may need to see if any of them meet your needs better than what you
have now.

Balance the costs against the benefits of rebalancing

Don’t forget that too-frequent rebalancing can have adverse tax consequences for taxable accounts. Since you’ll be paying capital gains taxes if you sell a stock that has appreciated, you’ll want to check on whether you’ve held it for at least one year. If not, you may want to consider whether the benefits of selling immediately will outweigh the higher tax rate you’ll pay on short-term gains. This doesn’t affect accounts such as 401(k)s or IRAs, of course. In taxable accounts, you can avoid or minimize taxes in another way. Instead of selling your portfolio winners, simply invest additional money in asset classes that have been outpaced by others. Doing so can return your portfolio to its original mix.

You’ll also want to think about transaction costs; make sure any changes are cost-effective. No matter what your strategy, work with your financial professional to keep your portfolio on track.

 

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES
Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances.

To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.

These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

Watch out for Two New Facebook Scams

Ostersund, Sweden - August 1, 2015: Facebook website under a magnifying glass. Facebook is the most visited social network in the world

Nearly everyone who has used a computer is on some kind of social media. It could be for keeping in touch with friends and family, to keep up with the latest celebrity vacation photos, or for business networking. Unfortunately, this creates many opportunities for those who like to do so to take advantage of us.

Two Facebook scams are going phishing and hoping to hook a few. One makes a threat to shut down your page and the other targets e-commerce Facebook users. This one will deliver some nasty malware that will interfere with network connections and block access to certain pages. In addition, it installs malware on the hard drive of the computer which will do various things; one is to install ransomware.

In the first instance of this story, a message is posted on the Facebook wall that appears at first glance that it is from Facebook itself. However, there are typos, the grammar is incorrect, and threatens users by saying their pages have been flagged as inappropriate by others and will be removed. It also asks to “reconfirm” your page. Then, if the link that is associated is clicked, it will ask for PayPal information, payment card numbers and details, and other monetary-related details.

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The second case is a “.zip” file that is inserted into an email message. The subject line varies and is something such as “you missed a voice message,” or “there is a voice memo waiting” followed by a series of random characters; presumably to avoid getting flagged by anti-spam filtering products. Therefore, make sure to pay attention to any messages that come in and go directly to the account to check them, rather than clicking links. This is good practice for any online accounts.

Phishing comes in many forms. It can be advertisements on the side of any browser window or inserted into email messages. It can be from text messages and even through the telephone line (vishing). It’s important to know how to identify it and both of these scams have some obvious giveaways.

Remember to never click on links received in email, SMS, text messages, or posted on any social media unless you are 100% certain they are safe. Many times they are phishing for information they can use against you or sell to someone else who will. If you can’t resist, spend a little bit of time finding out through other means (separate phone call, new email message, etc.) before clicking it.

Attachments often include malware and just by opening them, you could unleash something nasty. So, avoid doing so. Again, verify they are legitimate before taking action.

Make sure anti-malware software is installed on all devices that attach to the Internet. Be sure to keep it updated. There usually is an option in settings that will do an automatic update. It’s recommended that this is active.

Keep all operating system software updated with the latest critical and security patches. If the version you are using is not currently supported, upgrade to one that is. This is important because patches are not released for unsupported software. If a vulnerability is found later, it won’t be fixed so that version will always remain vulnerable to attacks.

If you have become a victim of any scam found on Facebook, let them know by going to their help center. The company also has stated that if it plans to shut down your page, it will contact you in a more personalized manner and not by posting something to your wall or commenting on a post.

© Copyright 2016 Stickley on Security

2 Helpful Financial Tips for Newlyweds

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Getting married is one of the most exciting times in your life; one that comes with an endless amount of newfound adventures and responsibilities that will now be shared between two loving people. While planning for the big day may have seemed like an everlasting ordeal, it certainly pales in comparison to the amount of planning needed for maintaining a fun, carefree life together for hopefully many, many years to come.

Experts agree that you shouldn’t wait very long at all into the “Honeymoon Period,” to have the necessary, and sometimes challenging, discussions that are required to fully map out a financial future together. There is much to do, from getting your documentation squared away to setting aside money for that dream retirement vacation.

Here are two helpful financial tips that are sure to help any set of newlyweds better prepare for the happily ever after ending they deserve.

  1. Come Together Legally and Financially– A big part of taking that first step towards a successful life together is getting organized with your legal paperwork and financial responsibilities. After the big day is finally over, make sure you update all of your necessary social security cards, licenses, credit cards, passports, policies, and permits to reflect any name changes you or your spouse may have undergone. Do this sooner rather than later to avoid gaps in service or coverage. Next, lay your debt on the table and see what makes the most sense in terms of utilizing some of your (hopefully large) wedding gift funds; pay off the debts with the most interest first and be sure to look into using a portion to pay against the principle of your house too! You’ll also want to discuss your mutual assets to get a realistic look into the financial landscape of your relationship as well. There are going to be plenty of expenses coming your way, and it is important to come together in an organized fashion as quickly as possible to not only know where you truly stand, but also what you can actually afford in the coming years. Remember, something as easy as over-extending yourself while buying the furniture for your first home can have serious repercussions; the only way to be smart with your money is to be honest with yourselves about what’s possible in the now and what may be a future luxury if all goes to plan.
  2. Plan Ahead…For Anything and Everything– The time is now to start saving for everything from college educations and Disney vacations to retirement, so you and your partner will want to start setting aside certain financial plans together. You should figure out which type of bank account configuration works best for you, as well as agree on what percentage of each of your paychecks goes where when payday comes around. Additionally, make sure you are fully taking advantage of company benefit packages, 401k, and retirement plans; remember, most employers these days match a certain portion of your contributions, so make sure you don’t leave any money on the table at all. On a more serious note, part of being in a responsible, loving union is making sure that your spouse will be taken care of in the event that something happens to you. While no one ever wants to think about an unexpected accident or death, experts agree that some of the first things you need to do after your wedding is make sure you create a will and look into the many different insurance options that are available to you as a couple. You may already have existing life or disability insurances through your employers, but now you can take advantage of each other’s coverage; therefore, make sure you absolutely research the many different ways you can cut costs by avoiding duplicate coverage or even fully joining your spouse’s policy while dropping the cost of yours completely. Having a will is a way to ensure that certain measures will go into place in the event of your passing; something that will be increasingly necessary as your family grows and you have the custody of your children to consider. Be smart, use a real lawyer, and get this done immediately.

2 Ways to Better Use Your Tax Return Money

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If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that no one (and we mean no one!) likes tax season. For most of us, the formulas and deductions are too complex, and tax prep is literally the last thing we want to worry about after a long day of work.

There is, however, one benefit to filing all those W-2’s and saving all of those receipts to write off against your 1099’s, and that’s your tax return money. Depending on what seems to be dozens of different things from withholdings to bracketing, you could be expecting quite a nice chunk of change back come springtime; therefore it is important to put that money to good use for you and your family.

Since your return can change from year to year, and at times by a wide margin, it’s best to view this income as an unexpected bonus rather than a reliable means of funding. That is why you should do something “special” with it when it comes in, rather than just blow it all on the normal groceries you’ve already budgeted for.

Here are two ways that your family can greatly benefit from wise planning and the careful allotment of your tax return money.

  1. Put it Back into Your Home – Considering the fact that your home is not just your largest asset, but the main setting for your family’s life together, it makes perfect sense to invest some of your tax return money into repairs, additions, and other projects. While putting up a new white vinyl fence or updating your kid’s room for the first time since he was in diapers may seem like the most pressing needs, don’t forget to also allocate some of your return money towards paying off a portion of your principle as well.If you get a nice unexpected amount of money come tax season, leveraging it to effectively lower your monthly mortgage payments can significantly increase your ability to further branch out your budgets for other family needs. Find the proper balance between home improvements and lightening the ongoing cost of your home.
  1. Refresh or Add to All of Your Savings Funds– The smartest families are the ones that plan the best, and a great way to set aside proper savings for the future is to establish separate funds for the many goals your family may have. For many of us that means setting up a college savings account for the kids or refilling the “vacation jar” for a special trip you’ve been dreaming of with your spouse. Not all of these funds need to be allocated for planned events, however, and experts suggest that families should absolutely begin putting together a special side account for emergency situations as soon as possible. Let’s face it, things happen, and whether it’s a broken arm during a training wheels experience or a flood from the hot water heater in your basement, you’ll be able to handle life’s many twists and turns much more easily if you plan ahead with a little money set aside for “disaster relief.” Your tax return provides the perfect opportunity for either kickstarting or refilling these essential funds and accounts; you won’t be pulling in money that was previously budgeted for other parts of your life so it’s a win-win that won’t be felt by your wallet at all.

Scammers phish for mortgage closing costs

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Buying a home is exciting. You saved for the down payment, scheduled the move, and are dreaming of planting new roots. Closing is right around the corner…unless a scammer gets your settlement fees first.

The Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Realtors® are warning home buyers about an email and money wiring scam. Hackers have been breaking into some consumers’ and real estate professionals’ email accounts to get information about upcoming real estate transactions. After figuring out the closing dates, the hacker sends an email to the buyer, posing as the real estate professional or title company. The bogus email says there has been a last minute change to the wiring instructions, and tells the buyer to wire closing costs to a different account. But it’s the scammer’s account. If the buyer takes the bait, their bank account could be cleared out in a matter of minutes. Often, that’s money the buyer will never see again.

If you’re buying a home and get an email with money-wiring instructions, STOP. Email is not a secure way to send financial information, and your real estate professional or title company should know that. If it’s a phishing email, report it to the FTC.

Here are some ideas to help you avoid phishing scams:

•Don’t email financial information. It’s not secure.

•If you’re giving your financial information on the web, make sure the site is secure. Look for a URL that begins with https (the “s” stands for secure). And, instead of clicking a link in an email to go to an organization’s site, look up the real URL and type in the web address yourself.

•Be cautious about opening attachments and downloading files from emails, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain malware that can weaken your computer’s security.

•Keep your operating system, browser, and security software up to date.

Learn more about protecting yourself from phishing and what to do if your email is hacked. If you gave your information to a scammer, visit IdentityTheft.gov.

by Colleen Tressler
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC