Tag Archives: Financial protection

Do You Know About These Tax Changes for Your 2018 Filings?

30 Oct

Late last year, federal tax laws underwent sweeping changes. Nearly a year later, you can be forgiven for not keeping up with them all. Here is a look at some important (yet underrecognized) adjustments that may affect the numbers on your 2018 federal return.1

First, most miscellaneous itemized deductions are gone. The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated dozens of them through the year 2025. Tax preparation expenses? You can no longer deduct those. Expenses linked to a hobby that made you some income? In 2018, no deduction available. Legal fees you paid that were related to your work as an employee? No, you cannot deduct them. Chat with a tax professional; if your tax situation is complex, chances are some deduction, which you may have relied on, is history.1

Can you still claim a deduction for continuing education expenses? No. Some taxpayers used to present the cost of classes or training designed to expand or maintain their job skills as an unreimbursed employee business expense. Some would even claim a deduction for tuition paid toward their MBA. This is now disallowed.1

Employee vehicle use deductions are gone. You can no longer deduct unreimbursed travel expenses related to the performance of your job, and that includes mileage expenses stemming from the use of your car or truck. In response, some employees have asked their employers to set up “accountable” plans allowing them to receive tax-free reimbursements. (You will still find the deduction for certain types of business mileage on Schedule C, and you may still deduct miles you drive for medical purposes and in the service of qualified charitable organizations.)1,3

Speaking of mileage, the moving expense deduction has all but disappeared. Only active duty members of the military may take this deduction now, and only if the move is made in response to a military order.3

You can no longer claim personal casualty losses as itemized deductions. There is an exception to this. You can still deduct these losses in tax years 2018-25 if they occur due to an event that becomes a federally declared disaster (FDD). Unfortunately, most fires, floods, and storms are not defined as FDDs, and most theft has nothing to do with natural or manmade disasters.3

Fortunately, the standard deduction has almost doubled. It was slated to be $6,500 for single filers, $9,550 for heads of household, and $13,000 for joint filers; thanks to tax reform, those respective standard deduction amounts are now $12,000, $18,000, and $24,000. (The personal exemption no longer exists.)

How have things changed regarding charitable donations? There is less of a tax incentive to make them, because many taxpayers may just take the higher standard deduction, rather than bothering to itemize. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates total U.S. charitable gifting will fall to $20 billion this year, a 38% drop, due to the 2017 federal tax reforms. That said, there are still paths toward significant tax breaks for the charitably inclined.5

A traditional IRA owner aged 70½ or older can arrange a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from that IRA to a qualified charity or non-profit. The QCD can be as large as $100,000. From a tax standpoint, this move may be very useful. The donated amount counts toward the IRA owner’s annual mandatory withdrawal requirement and is not included in the IRA owner’s adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year of the donation.5

Some wealthy retirees are now practicing charitable lumping. Instead of giving a college or charity say, $75,000 in increments of $15,000 over five years, they donate the entire $75,000 in one year. A single-year charitable contribution that large calls for itemizing.5

Turn to a tax professional for insight about these changes and others. The revisions to the Internal Revenue Code noted here represent just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Additionally, you may find that the changes brought about by the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act have given you new opportunities for substantial tax savings.

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.www

Sources:

1 – marketwatch.com/story/the-little-noticed-tax-change-that-could-affect-your-return-2018-03-19 [9/19/18]

2 – cpajournal.com/2018/08/01/narrowing-the-casualty-loss-deduction/ [8/1/18]

3 – forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2018/03/26/taxes-from-a-to-z-2018-m-is-for-mileage/ [3/26/18]

4 – cnbc.com/2018/02/16/10-tax-changes-you-need-to-know-for-2018.html [2/16/18]

5 – kiplinger.com/article/taxes/T055-C032-S000-strategies-for-giving-to-charity-under-new-tax-law.html [10/1/18]

Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

31 Jul

We all know the value of a good credit score. We all try to maintain one, but do you know what factors the credit bureau considers when calculating your score? A few strategic tweaks can make a difference and help you improve your credit score over time.

  1. Reduce your credit utilization ratio (CUR). CUR is credit industry jargon, an arcane way of referring to how much of a credit card’s debt limit a borrower has used up. Simply stated, if you have a credit card with a limit of $1,500 and you have $1,300 borrowed on it right now, the CUR for that card is 13:2, you have used up 87% of the available credit. Carrying lower balances on your credit cards tilts the CUR in your favor and promotes a better credit score.1
  2. Review your credit reports for errors. You probably know that you are entitled to receive one free credit report per year from each of the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You might as well request a report from all three at once. You can do this at annualcreditreport.com (the only official website for requesting these reports). About 25% of credit reports contain mistakes. Upon review, some borrowers spot credit card fraud committed against them; some notice botched account details or identity errors. Mistakes are best noted via a letter sent certified mail with a request for a return receipt (send the agency the report, the evidence, and a letter briefly explaining the error).2
  3. Behavior makes a difference. Credit card issuers, lenders, and credit agencies believe that payment history paints a reliable picture of future borrower behavior. Whether or not you pay off your balance in full, whether or not you routinely max out your account each month, the age of your account – these are also factors affecting that portrait. If you unfailingly pay your bills on time for a year, that is a plus for your credit score. Inconsistent payments and rejected purchases count as negatives.3
  4. Think about getting another credit card or two. Your CUR is calculated across all your credit card accounts, in respect to your total monthly borrowing limit. So, if you have a $1,200 balance on a card with a $1,500 monthly limit and you open two more credit card accounts with $1,500 monthly limits, you will markedly lower your CUR in the process. There are potential downsides to this move – your credit card accounts will have lower average longevity, and the issuer of the new card will of course look at your credit history.1
  5. Think twice about closing out credit cards you rarely use. When you realize that your CUR takes all the credit cards you have into account, you see why this may end up being a bad move. If you have $5,500 in consumer debt among five credit cards that all have the same debt limit, and you close out three of them accounting for $1,300 of that revolving debt, you now have $4,200 among three credit cards. In terms of CUR, you are now using a third of your available credit card balance whereas you once used a fifth.Beyond that, 15% of your credit score is based on the length of your credit history – how long your accounts have been open, and the pattern of use and payments per account. This represents another downside to closing out older, little used credit cards.4

If your credit history is spotty or short, you should know about the FICO XD score. A few years ago, the Fair Isaac Co. (FICO) introduced new scoring criteria for borrowers that may be creditworthy, but lack sufficient credit history to build a traditional credit score. The FICO XD score tracks cell phone payments, cable TV payments, property records, and other types of data to set a credit score, and if your XD score is 620 or better, you may be able to qualify for credit cards. Credit bureau TransUnion created CreditVision Link, a similar scoring model, in 2015.5

At BrioWealth, we believe that financial planning should be done for the purpose of giving your life greater confidence, security and joy. That’s why we work closely with our clients to understand their personal goals and passions and build a plan around that. As retirement income specialists, BrioWealth helps our clients build wealth and create smart strategies for secure, sustainable retirement income. Call us at 877-606-1484 or visit http://www.briowealth.com to start creating your life enhancing financial plan!

Sources:

1 – investopedia.com/terms/c/credit-utilization-rate.asp [6/28/18]

2 – creditcards.usnews.com/articles/everything-you-need-to-know-about-finding-and-fixing-credit-report-errors [9/15/17]

3 – creditcards.com/credit-card-news/behavior-scores-impact-credit.php [11/9/17]

4 – creditcards.com/credit-card-news/help/5-parts-components-fico-credit-score-6000.php [11/9/17]

5 – nytimes.com/2017/02/24/your-money/26money-adviser-credit-scores.html [2/24/17]

 

5 Questions Couples Need to Answer to Achieve Financial Success

24 Feb

shutterstock_193636496When you marry or simply share a household with someone, your financial life changes – and your approach to managing your money may change as well. To succeed as a couple, you may also have to succeed financially. The good news is that is usually not so difficult.

At some point, you will have to ask yourselves some money questions – questions that pertain not only to your shared finances, but also to your individual finances. Waiting too long to ask (or answer) those questions might carry an emotional price. In the 2016 TD Bank Love & Money survey of 1,902 consumers who said they were in relationships, 42% of the respondents who described themselves as “unhappy” cited their number one financial error as “waiting too long” to discuss money matters with their significant other.1

#1: How will you make your money grow?

Investing is essential. Simply saving money will help you build an emergency fund, but unless you save an extraordinary amount of cash, your uninvested savings will not fund your retirement.

So, what should you invest in? Should you hold any joint investment accounts or some jointly titled assets? One of you may like to assume more risk than the other; spouses often have different individual investment preferences.

How you invest, together or separately, is less important than your commitment to investing. Some couples focus only on avoiding financial risk – to them, maintaining the status quo and not losing any money equals financial success. They could be setting themselves up for financial failure decades from now by rejecting investing and retirement planning.

An ongoing relationship with a financial professional may enhance your knowledge of the ways in which you could build your wealth and arrange to retire confidently.

#2: How much will you spend & save?

Budgeting can help you arrive at your answer. A simple budget, an elaborate budget, any attempt at a budget can prove more informative than none at all. A thorough, line-item budget may seem a little over the top, but what you learn from it may be truly eye-opening.

#3: How often will you check up on your financial progress?

When finances affect two people rather than one, credit card statements and bank balances become more important. So do IRA balances, insurance premiums, and investment account yields. Looking in on these details once a month (or at least once a quarter) can keep you both informed, so that neither one of you have misconceptions about household finances or assets. Arguments can start when money misconceptions are upended by reality.

#4: What degree of independence do you want to maintain?

Do you want to have separate bank accounts? Separate “fun money” accounts? To what extent do you want to comingle your money? Some spouses need individual financial “space” of their own. There is nothing wrong with this, unless a spouse uses such “space” to hide secrets that will eventually shock the other.

#5: Can you be businesslike about your finances?

Spouses who are inattentive or nonchalant about financial matters may encounter more financial trouble than they anticipate. So, watch where your money goes, and think about ways to repeatedly pay yourselves first, rather than your creditors. Set shared short-term, medium-term, and long-term objectives, and strive to attain them.

Communication is key to all this. In the TD Bank survey, nearly 80% of the respondents who indicated they talked about money once per week said that they were happy with their relationship. Follow their lead and plan for your progress together.1

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.    

Sources:

1 – gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/surprising-ways-money-affects-love-life/ [9/26/16]

 

Protecting Your Parents From Elder Financial Abuse  

30 Aug

 

shutterstock_204442552We are becoming more familiar with the notion of financial abuse targeting elders – scams and other exploitation targeting the savings of people aged 60 and older – but many may think, “it won’t happen to my family” or “my relative is too smart to be taken in by this.”

These assumptions are only wishful thinking; this sort of fraud is on the rise, so it’s important to talk to your loved ones about what to look for, and how they can protect their finances.

More common than you think. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative offers a sobering statistic: in the United States alone, multiple studies have found that, every year, 3-5% of seniors endures financial abuse by family members. This form of exploitation is, typically, one of the top two most frequently reported means of elder abuse.1

Talk about money. It can be uncomfortable to talk with family about financial issues, but this is often the best first step toward guarding against financial abuse. Find out the information you would already need to know in the event of a sudden calamity.

Questions to ask include:

  • Where is the important paperwork kept – i.e. bills, deeds, and wills?
  • Who are the professionals they work with – accountants, lawyers, and those who assist with financial matters?2

It’s also important for you to have a clear idea in what sorts of accounts and investments your parents or loved ones keep their money. You will also want to have a conversation about when and under what circumstances they would like for you to step in and handle their finances for them.2

 Trouble takes many forms. Not all financial trouble that elders experience is necessarily a sign of abuse, but having open and clear communication can be a great help. Look for unpaid bills piling up, creditor notices, and suspicious activity on their bank accounts.2

There are a number of scams out there that target the elderly, in particular, and many of them come via telephone calls. There are scammers who pose as officials from a sweepstakes, lottery, or some other contest claiming that your parent or loved one is in line to receive a prize. Others will pretend to be from the Internal Revenue Service and threaten legal action over some long-forgotten overdue balance. The real IRS only sends notices via regular mail, of course, but that can be easily forgotten when dealing with a wily and confrontational con artist.2

Talk about these scams with your parents or loved ones. Make sure that they understand that they shouldn’t give out Medicare or Social Security numbers, and always be absolutely certain before signing anything, particularly legal documents, contracts, and anything to do with making an investment. For the latter, if you don’t already know the people who handle your financial matters for your parents or loved ones, suggest that a meeting be arranged and, if necessary, that they be instructed to work with you under certain circumstances.2

 Stay informed. There are a number of resources to keep you and your parents or loved ones aware of fraud, both in terms of new scams and even instances of elder financial abuse in your area. StopFraud.gov offers a number of resources and tips for identifying and reporting the financial exploitation of elders. The AARP website features a Fraud Watch program and offers and interactive national fraud map that can look at specific reports and alerts from law enforcement.2,3,4

With careful planning and communication, you can make a real effort to protect your parents and other elders in your family from an embarrassing and costly set of circumstances.

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.

Sources:

1 – justice.gov/elderjustice/research/prevalence-and-diversity.html [7/14/16]

2 – nbcnews.com/business/retirement/worried-about-elder-financial-abuse-how-protect-your-parents-n559151 [4/20/16]

3 – stopfraud.gov/protect.html [7/14/16]
4 – action.aarp.org/site/SPageNavigator/FraudMap.html [7/14/16]

Are You Prepared for Long Term Care Costs?

30 Oct

Long-term CareAs the average life span increases, so do your odds that you’ll need to utilize long term care in the future. But, how can you plan for it? How do you pay for it?  

 Strategic insurance choices should always play a role when you’re planning for retirement. Having the right insurance to cover unforeseen, and often large, expenses can really take the stress off. However, as medical costs skyrocket the price of long term care insurance is really going up as well. If you are a baby boomer and you have kept your eye on it for a few years, chances are you have noticed much costlier premiums for LTC coverage today compared to several years ago. For example, in 2015 the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance found that married 60-year-olds would pay $2,170 annually to get a total of $328,000 of coverage.1

As CNBC notes, about three-quarters of the insurers that sold LTC policies ten years ago have stopped doing so. Demand for LTC coverage will only grow as more baby boomers retire – and in light of that, insurance providers have introduced new options for those who want to LTC coverage.1

Hybrid LTC products have emerged. Some insurers are structuring “cash rich” whole life insurance policies so you can tap part of the death benefit while living to pay for long term care. You can use up to $330 a day of the death benefit under such policies, with no reduction to the cash value. Other insurance products are being marketed featuring similar potential benefits.2

This option often costs a few hundred dollars more per year – not bad given that level annual premiums on a whole life policy with a half-million or million-dollar payout often come to several thousand dollars. The policyholder becomes eligible for the LTC coverage when he or she is judged to require assistance with two or more of six daily living activities (dressing, bathing, eating, etc.) or is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some other kind of cognitive deficiency.2

This way, you can get what you want from one insurance policy rather than having to pay for two. Contrast that with a situation in which you buy a discrete LTC policy but die without requiring any long term care, with the premiums on that policy paid for nothing.

The basics of securing LTC coverage applies to these policies. As with a standard LTC policy, the earlier you start paying premiums for one of these hybrid insurance products, the lower the premiums will likely be. You must pass medical underwriting to qualify for coverage. The encouraging news here is that some people who are not healthy enough to qualify for a standalone LTC insurance policy may qualify for a hybrid policy.3

These hybrid LTC products usually require lump sum funding. An initial premium payment of $50,000 is common. Sometimes installment payments can be arranged in smaller lump sums over the course of a few years or a decade. For a high net worth individual or couple, this is no major hurdle, especially since appreciated assets from other life insurance products can be transferred into a hybrid product through a 1035 exchange.1,3

Are these hybrid policies just mediocre compromises? They have detractors as well as fans, and the detractors cite the fact that a stand alone LTC policy generally offers greater LTC coverage per premium dollar paid than a hybrid policy. They also cite their two sets of fees, per their two forms of insurance coverage. While it is possible to deduct the cost of premiums paid on a conventional LTC policy, hybrid policies allow no such opportunity.3

Paying a lump sum premium at the inauguration of the policy has both an upside and a downside. You will not contend with potential premium increases over time, as owners of stock LTC policies often do; on the other hand, the return on the insurance product may be locked into today’s (minimal) interest rates.

Another reality is that many middle-class seniors have little or no need to go out and buy a life insurance policy. Their heirs will not face inheritance taxes, because their estates aren’t large enough to exceed the federal estate tax exemption. Moreover, their children may be adults and financially stable themselves; a large death benefit for these heirs is nice, but the opportunity cost of paying the life insurance premiums may be significant.4

Cash value life insurance can be a crucial element in estate planning for those with large or complex estates, however – and if some of its death benefit can be directed toward long term care for the policyholder, it may prove even more useful than commonly assumed.

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.

Sources:

1 – cnbc.com/2015/08/07/fer-more-products-that-cover-long-term-care-costs.html [8/7/15]

2 – consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/04/get-long-term-care-from-whole-life-insurance/index.htm [4/16/15]

3 – tinyurl.com/o3ty2j3 [5/4/14]

4 – marketwatch.com/story/hedging-your-bets-on-long-term-care-2013-11-06 [11/6/13]

 

6 Classic Investing Mistakes And How to Avoid Them

30 Jul

Financial MistakesYear after year, in bull and bear markets, investors make some all-too-common blunders. They have been written about, talked about, and critiqued at some length – and yet they are still made. You can chalk them up to psychology, human nature, perhaps even a degree of peer pressure. You just don’t want to find yourself making them more than once.

#1: Caving into emotion. The deVere Group, which consults high net worth investors around the world, recently surveyed 880 of its clients and found that even with their experience, some had made the equivalent of a rookie mistake – 20% had let fear or greed prompt them into emotional investment decisions.1

Investors use past performance to justify their greed – it did well recently, I better buy more of it – but past performance is merely history and represents a micro factor versus macroeconomic factors influencing sectors and markets. Fear prompts panic selling. How many investors draw on technical analysis or even stop-loss limits when shares suddenly decline? A stop-loss limit is handy for those who don’t want to watch the market every day – it instructs a brokerage to sell a stock if it drops below a specific value, often in the range of 8-10% of the purchase price.2

#2: Investing without a strategy. Some people invest with one idea in mind – making money. An outstanding goal to be sure, but it shouldn’t blind them to other priorities such as tax efficiency, managing risk and reviewing asset allocation. Even 22% of the investors in the deVere poll confessed to this.1

#3: Not diversifying enough. Have you ever heard the phrase “familiarity bias”? This is when investors develop a “home team” attachment to an investment. Just as sports fans stick by the Cubs through thick and thin, some investors stick with a few core investments for years. Maybe they work for XYZ Company or their mom did, or maybe they like what XYZ Company represents. If XYZ Company goes under, they won’t feel so good. You can hold too much of one investment, especially if a company rewards you with its stock.2

Conversely, some portfolios are over diversified and hold too many investments. This is seldom the fault of investors; over time, they may end up with some shares of all the major companies in an industry group with a little help from Wall Street money managers. The core problem here is that not all of these companies can be winners.

#4: Slipshod tax management of investments. Sometimes certain investments within a taxable account will lose money, yet because of past gains they have made, the investor is stuck with capital gains tax. Some investments are better held in taxable accounts and others in tax-deferred accounts, as various types of investments are taxed at varying rates. When you retire and tap into your savings, you can potentially improve tax efficiency by drawing down your taxable accounts first, so that you’ll face the capital gains tax rate (which may be 15% or even 0%) instead of the ordinary income tax rate.3

Also, when you pull money from your taxable accounts first, your tax-advantaged accounts get a little more time to grow and compound. If they are large, another year or two of growth and compounding could prove beneficial.

#5: Seldom reviewing portfolio allocations. A long-term asset allocation strategy starts with defined percentages. Over time – and it may not take much time – the percentage allocations go out of whack. A bull market may result in a greater percentage of your portfolio assets being held in stock, and while this overweighting may seem reasonable in the near term, it may not be what you want in the long term.

#6: Investing (or reinvesting) near a market peak. Many investors play the market in one direction, which is up – they buy with expectations that a sector or the broad market will keep climbing. Short selling stocks (i.e., seek to exploit falling stock prices) takes more skill than many investors have. A buy-and-hold philosophy may prove very rewarding, as long as you don’t hold too rigidly or too long in the event of a sustained, systemic shock to the markets.

An even keel promotes a steady course. Fear, greed, bias, randomness, inattention – these are the root causes of the classic investing blunders. We have all made them; patience and experience may help us avoid them in the future.

Sources:

1 – thestreet.com/story/12733263/1/5-investing-mistakes-millionaires-make–but-theyre-still-rich.html [6/4/14]

2 – abcnews.go.com/Business/avoiding-sins-investing/story?id=18969850#.UXBFuco7bAJ [4/16/13]

3 – tinyurl.com/l6lkrfu [2/12/14]

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.

6 Things to Know About Identity Theft

29 Apr

shutterstock_186333620

America is enduring a data breach epidemic. As 2013 ended, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics released its 2012 Victims of Identity Theft report. Its statistics were sobering. About one in 14 Americans aged 16 or older had been defrauded or preyed upon in the past 12 months, more than 16.6 million people.1

Just 8% of those taken advantage of had detected identity theft through their own vigilance. More commonly, victims were notified by financial institutions (45%), alerts from non-financial companies or agencies (21%), or notices of unpaid bills (13%). While 86% of victims cleared up the resulting credit and financial problems in a day or less, 10% of victims had to struggle with them for a month or more. 1

1. Tax time is prime time for identity thieves. They would love to get their hands on your return, and they would also love to claim a phony refund using your personal information. In 2013, the IRS investigated 1,492 identity theft-linked crimes – a 66% increase from 2012 and a 441% increase from 2011.2

E-filing of tax returns is becoming increasingly popular (just make sure you use a secure Internet connection). When you e-file, you aren’t putting your Social Security number, address and income information through the mail. You aren’t leaving Form 1040 on your desk at home (or work) while you get up and get some coffee or go out for a walk. If you just can’t bring yourself to e-file, then think about sending your returns via Certified Mail. Those rough drafts of your returns where you ran the numbers and checked your work? Shred them. Use a cross-cut shredder, not just a simple straight-line shredder (if you saw Argo, you know why).

The IRS doesn’t use unsolicited emails to request information from taxpayers. If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS asking for your personal or financial information, report it to your email provider as spam.2

2. Use secure Wi-Fi. Avoid “coffee housing” your personal information away – never risk disclosing financial information over a public Wi-Fi network. (Broadband is susceptible, too.) It takes little sophistication to do this – just a little freeware.

Sure, a public Wi-Fi network at an airport or coffee house is password-protected – but if the password is posted on a wall or readily disclosed, how protected is it? A favorite hacker trick is to sit idly at a coffee house, library or airport and set up a Wi-Fi hotspot with a name similar to the legitimate one. Inevitably, people will fall for the ruse and log on and get hacked.

3. Look for the “https” & the padlock icon when you visit a website. Not just http, https. When you see that added “s” at the start of the website address, you are looking at a website with active SSL encryption, and you want that. A padlock icon in the address bar confirms an active SSL connection. For really solid security when you browse, you could opt for a VPN (virtual private network) service which encrypts 100% of your browsing traffic; it may cost you $10 a month or even less.3

4. Make those passwords obscure. Choose passwords that are really esoteric, preferably with numbers as well as letters. Passwords that have a person, place and time (PatrickRussia1956) can be tougher to hack.4

5. Check your credit report. Remember, you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the big three agencies (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax). You could also monitor your credit score – Credit.com has a feature called Credit Report Card, which updates you on your credit score and the factors influencing it, such as payments and other behaviors.1

6. Don’t talk to strangers. Broadly speaking, that is very good advice in this era of identity theft. If you get a call or email from someone you don’t recognize – it could tell you that you’ve won a prize, it could claim to be someone from the county clerk’s office, a pension fund or a public utility – be skeptical. Financially, you could be doing yourself a great favor.

Sources:

1 – dailyfinance.com/2013/12/31/scariest-identity-theft-statistics/ [12/31/13]

2 – csmonitor.com/Business/Saving-Money/2014/0317/Tax-filing-online-Seven-tips-to-avoid-identity-theft.-video [3/17/14]

3 – forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/03/04/hackers-love-public-wi-fi-but-you-can-make-it-safe/ [3/4/14]

4 – articles.philly.com/2014-03-18/business/48301317_1_id-theft-coverage-identity-theft-adam-levin [3/18/14]

 

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.