Simple Steps to Save Energy & Money in October

Monday, October 16 at 03:00 PM
Category: Personal Finance

When we think of the month of October, we think of vibrant fall foliage, football games, and, of course, Halloween. But there's another event that happens in October that many of us don't know about, despite the fact that it involves one of our most important and valuable resources — energy.

To promote conservation of this critical resource, October has been dubbed “National Energy Awareness Month.”

Instituted in 1991 by then President George Bush, the annual event is designed to prompt government organizations, businesses, individuals and families to take proactive steps to preserve energy.

Join the Celebration

It doesn't take a lot of effort to do your part to help conserve energy. Here are some simple steps you can take in your home that will not only make a difference in your energy costs, but also make a difference in the future of our planet.

Energy costs:

  • Start by reviewing your utility bills. This will give you a baseline of how much you are spending on energy. After you implement energy conservation steps, compare your bills to see how much you saved.

Electrical costs:

  • Turn off lights in empty rooms or consider putting some lights on timers (such as outside lights).
  • If you're not using your computer monitor for more than 20 minutes, turn it off. And shut down your CPU if you won't be using it for two hours or more.
  • Replace light bulbs with energy-efficient ones.
  • Unplug unused appliances. For example, if you're not charging your cellphone, unplug the charger from the outlet.

Heating and cooling:

  • Schedule regular, routine maintenance on your furnace to ensure it is operating efficiently.
  • Clean or replace filters in your furnaces and air conditioners to keep heating and cooling systems running smoothly.
  • Caulk or replace leaky windows.
Tags: Financial Education
 

12 Ways to Lower Your Health Care Expenses

Monday, October 16 at 02:00 PM
Category: Personal Finance
You may have heard the phrase: "You can't put a price on good health." But anyone who has received a bill from a hospital or gotten sticker shock at the pharmacy, knows that health care in America today is very costly. In fact, managing rising health expenses can be one of the biggest challenges for families.
 
Here are some smart steps you can take to help lower your family's costs:
 
  1. Take care of yourself. If you eat well and regularly exercise, you can lower your risk of illness or injury.
  2. See your doctor. Preventative care is key to maintaining good health, so be sure to visit your doctor and dentist for regular check-ups.
  3. Choose a higher-deductible health insurance plan. If you're healthy and don't go to the doctor more than a few times a year, you may consider choosing a health plan with a higher deductible, which will help keep your premiums lower.
  4. Leave the emergency room for emergencies. Trips to the emergency room can be quite expensive, so try to go only when you need urgent care. For example, if you have a cold, visit your doctor before visiting an emergency room.
  5. Get a flexible spending account. If your employer offers flexible spending accounts, be sure to sign up for one. This will allow you to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses while taking advantage of tax benefits.
  6. Ask for generic drugs. Ask your doctor if there is a generic alternative for medicine prescribed, which could result in significant savings. Also, consider getting your medications at large retailers, which offer set, low prices on generic drugs.
  7. Get mail-order prescriptions. Depending on your health plan, you may also be able to lower your prescription costs by getting your prescriptions through the mail.
  8. Protect yourself. If you lead an active lifestyle, be sure to take precautions, including wearing protective equipment, such as a helmet, padding and a mouthpiece.
  9. Stay in network. If you have to see a specialist, make sure you stay within your health plan's network.
  10. Follow doctor's orders. One way to avoid illness is to follow your doctor's advice. For example, if your doctor tells you to stay in bed and rest, do it.
  11. Review your medical bills. If you receive a bill, be sure to go through all the line items to ensure accuracy. Medical bill errors are very common.
  12. Stop smoking. Smoking not only presents health risks, but also will cost you more for insurance.
Follow these steps and you just may notice a healthy difference in your bank account!
 
 
Tags: Financial Education
 

Don’t Let Scammers Scrooge Your Holiday

Tuesday, October 10 at 01:00 PM
Category: Personal Finance
Shoppers looking for a good deal this holiday season should also be aware of increasingly aggressive and creative scams designed by criminals to steal money and personal information. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) 2016 Internet Crime Report, the IC3 received a total of 298,728 complaints with reported losses in excess of $1.3 billion in 2016.  This past year, the top three crime types reported by victims were non-payment and non-delivery, personal data breaches, and payment scams. The FBI wants shoppers to be extra vigilant of the following schemes and red flags.
 
Online Shopping Scams: If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Steer clear of unfamiliar sites offering unrealistic discounts on brand name merchandise or gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product, as you may end up paying for an item, giving away personal information, and receive nothing in return except a compromised identity. In addition, do not open any unsolicited e-mails or click on the links provided. Before shopping online, secure all bank and credit accounts with strong and different passwords. The same should be done for airline and rewards accounts, because the emergence of these offerings has led to an increase in the demand for and resale value of stolen information.
 
Social Media Scams: Beware of posts on social media sites that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards, even if it appears the offer was shared by an online friend. Some may pose as holiday promotions or contests that lead to participation in an online survey designed to steal personal information. In addition, do not post photos of event tickets on social media sites as fraudsters can use the barcode to recreate tickets for resale.
 
Craigslist Scams: Websites like Craigslist or eBay are especially popular during the holiday season, as people look for bargains or sell unneeded items for cash. Take steps to protect yourself by recognizing scams. Most scams attempts involve one or more of the following (source: https://www.craigslist.org/about/scams*):
  • Email or text from someone that is not local to your area.
  • Vague initial inquiry, e.g. asking about "the item." Poor grammar/spelling.
  • Western Union, Money Gram, cashier check, money order, Paypal, shipping, escrow service, or a "guarantee."
  • Inability or refusal to meet face-to-face to complete the transaction.
  • Requests for personal financial info (bank account, social security, Paypal account, etc.).
Smartphone App Scams: Some apps, often disguised as games and offered for free, may be designed to steal personal information from your device. Before downloading an app from an unknown source, look for third-party reviews and be mindful that alternative app marketplaces can potentially include stolen content and compromised versions of otherwise trustworthy applications.

Work-From-Home Scams: Beware of postings offering work that can be done from the comfort of home, as these opportunities may have unscrupulous motivations behind them. Take caution when money is required up front for instructions or products, or when a job post claims “no experience necessary.” Carefully research individuals or companies before providing them with personal information and never provide personal information when first interacting with a potential employer.
 
Additional steps to avoid becoming a victim of fraud:
  • Check bank and credit card statements routinely, including immediately after making an online purchase and weeks following the holiday season.
  • Only purchase merchandise from a reputable source.
  • Don’t trust a website to be secure just because it claims to be.
  • Do not respond to spam e-mails or click on links contained within them.
  • Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mails that ask for personal information.
  • Be cautious of all e-mail attachments and scan them for viruses before opening.
  • Verify requests for personal information from businesses or financial institutions by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.
  • Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of your own country.
How to report fraud: Consumers who suspect they’ve been victimized should immediately contact their financial institution and then law enforcement. Arvest customers with concerns about their accounts can report fraud by emailing reportfraud@arvest.com.
 
They are also encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov*) regardless of dollar amount lost, and provide all relevant information regarding the complaint.
 
Links marked with * go to a third-party site not operated or endorsed by Arvest Bank, an FDIC-insured institution.
 
 

 

Tags: Consumer Protection, Financial Education, Privacy and Security, Technology
 

5 Tips to Kick Those Bad Spending Habits This Fall

Tuesday, September 19 at 03:00 PM
Category: Personal Finance

As we head into the season of autumn-themed parties, tailgating, Halloween costumes, pumpkin-spiced drinks, and numerous other spending opportunities, it’s a good time to take a close look at your daily spending habits.

Do you have a handle on your spending or are there areas where you could improve? Do your spending habits prevent you from reaching your goals? Use the following five tips to help you rein in overspending so that you can get the most out of your hard-earned money.

1.       Set and Prioritize Your Goals

Think about what you and your family want to accomplish in the short and long term. Do you want to buy a new house or save for your child’s college education? Clearly identify your goals, prioritize them and come up with a plan of action. It’s important to understand that achieving your goals and your spending habits may not be aligned, so be prepared to make some small and big changes for your financial future! You can use these resources* to create a budget and start on your path forward.

2.       Don’t Shop Without a List

It’s best to be prepared before you hit the stores or shop online. Shopping for your tailgate or fall get-together can be disastrous to your budget if a list is not involved. It’s also good practice to take an inventory of the items that you already have on hand before your shopping trip. Lists will also keep you focused while you are walking the aisles.

3.       Avoid Your Spending Triggers

Are you more vulnerable to spend at certain stores or during specific times of the year? Keep track so that you can assess your spending triggers and make adjustments where needed. Consider avoiding your trigger retail stores and circumstances. If you find yourself in one of your trigger situations and you find an item you really want to buy, but it would blow your budget, give yourself 24 hours to think about it. That time may help you resist the urge to spend what you don’t have.

4.       Examine Your Wallet

Take a close look at how you make your purchases; it may help you discover where you could make adjustments to save money. When used correctly, credit cards are useful tools in helping you make large purchases and build a strong credit history, but all credit cards are not the same. Compare the costs and benefits of each of the credit cards in your wallet. Many credit cards have special offers or help you earn rewards points on flights, dining or cash back. For instance, Arvest offers Arvest Flex Rewards™ Credit Cards in Classic, Gold, and Platinum versions with varying features and rewards points potential to fit your lifestyle. From now until Dec. 31, new credit card customers can receive a $100 bonus. You can apply online.

5.       Don’t Lose the Small Pleasures

Understand that mastering your finances does not happen overnight. It can be difficult to stay on track with your finances if you have completely deprived yourself of all the small pleasures. It’s entirely possible that the $4 pumpkin-spiced latte purchase might keep you from making a bigger purchase that you would regret. It’s best to budget in some “fun spending” for your sanity and focus.

We hope these tips will help you turn over a new leaf in your path to financial success this fall!

The views of this article are for general information use only. Please contact and speak with a subject expert or your banker when specific advice is needed.

Links marked with * go to a third-party site not operated or endorsed by Arvest Bank, an FDIC-insured institution.

Tags: Financial Education
 

What is Financial Malware and How to Protect Yourself

Tuesday, July 18 at 11:00 AM
Category: Personal Finance

What is Financial Malware?

Everywhere you turn today you seem to be bombarded with news coverage concerning the urgency of combating cybercrime, bad actors and hackers. There are many variations of malicious software, or “malware,” but financial malware, as its name implies is written specifically to commit financial fraud.

Cybercriminals use a variety of methods to infect their victims with malware including sending them email messages containing infected attachments or links to infected websites.

Once the victim is infected, the malware monitors the victim’s activity and may steal online banking credentials and other personal information using keystroke logging or screen shots images. 

In some cases, hackers may use the victim’s own web browser to collect sensitive information (e.g., the victim's PIN) by adding extra fields to legitimate online forms or by changing website wording and messaging, or by triggering legitimate-looking pop-up forms in real-time.

Financial malware may redirect the victim to a fake website designed to mimic a legitimate bank website. As the victim enters their credentials, the malware then redirects them into the legitimate site, potentially triggering a SMS or other second-factor authentication code that the Trojan can then capture via the fake website.

How to Protect Yourself
 
Most threats still need user interaction to infect a potential victim’s system. For this reason, becoming aware of these threats and diligently taking extra precautions can significantly reduce the risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime.  
 
  • Keep your operating system, web browser and other software up to date.
     
  • Make sure your computer has both an anti-spyware protection program that detects and removes spyware and an anti-virus program. Keep both programs updated. Scan your computer for viruses and spyware on a regular basis.
     
  • Be very protective of your personal account information. There are criminals who try to trick you by creating sites that look similar to real sites. The best way to know who you are dealing with is to type the address in your browser address bar; don’t click on a link that’s provided to you via email.
     
  • Do not open attachments in email messages if you do not know the sender or weren’t expecting the message. Attachments can contain viruses and spyware.
     
  • Avoid logging into password protected websites, such as online banking or email services from public computers. Instead, use trusted or secured networks.
     
  • Avoid downloading apps to your mobile phone from unofficial stores and pay attention to the permissions requested by apps before their installation.
     
  • Always sign off from sessions and close your browser after using password protected websites. 
     
  • Avoid using unencrypted email to conduct financial transactions or send sensitive information.
     
  • If you suspect your computer may be infected or that your online banking credentials may have been compromised, contact your bank and change your password from a different trusted computer. Contact a computer security professional for assistance in removing malicious software.
     
  • Regularly review your bank account activity and immediately notify your bank if you notice suspicious transactions in your account.
Tags: Consumer Protection, Financial Education, Privacy and Security, Technology

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