Guarding Against Identity Theft

Guarding Against Identity Theft

 

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

Consumers took significant financial hits from all this. The median direct loss from cyberthieves exploiting personal information in 2012 was $1,900, and the median direct loss from a case of credit card fraud was $200. While much of the monetary damage is wiped away for the typical victim, that isn’t always the case.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

   

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.

 

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

 

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

 

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

    

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.

 

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

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]

 

 

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice.  All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.


The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron,Northrop Grumman, Hughes,  Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Merck,Glaxosmithkline, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Getting It All Together for Retirement. Where is everything? Time to organize and centralize your documents.

Getting It All Together for Retirement

Where is everything? Time to organize and centralize your documents.

 

  

Before retirement begins, gather what you need. Put as much documentation as you can in one place, for you and those you love. It could be a password-protected online vault; it could be a file cabinet; it could be a file folder. Regardless of what it is, by centralizing the location of important papers you are saving yourself from disorganization and headaches in the future.

 

What should go in the vault, cabinet or folder(s)? Crucial financial information and more. You will want to include…

 

Those quarterly/annual statements. Recentperformance paperwork forIRAs, 401(k)s, funds, brokerage accounts and so forth. Include the statements from the latest quarter and the statements from the end of the previous calendar year (that is, the last Q4 statement you received). You don’t get paper statements anymore? Print out the equivalent, or if you really want to minimize clutter, just print out the links to the online statements. (Someone is going to need your passwords, of course.) These documents can also become handy in figuring out a retirement income distribution strategy.

 

Healthcare benefit info. Are you enrolled in Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan? Are you in a group health plan? Do you pay for your own health coverage? Own a long term care policy? Gather the policies together in your new retirement command center and include related literature so you can study their benefit summaries, coverage options, and rules and regulations. Contact info for insurers, HMOs, your doctor(s) and the insurance agent who sold you a particular policy should also go in here.

 

Life insurance info. Do you have a straight term insurance policy, no potential for cash value whatsoever? Keep a record of when the level premiums end. If you have a whole life policy, you want to keep paperwork communicating the death benefit, the present cash value in the policy and the required monthly premiums in your file.

 

Beneficiary designation forms. Few pre-retirees realize that beneficiary designations often take priority over requests made in a will when it comes to 401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs. Hopefully, you have retained copies of these forms. If not, you can request them from the account custodians and review the choices you have made. Are they choices you would still make today? By reviewing them in the company of a retirement planner or an attorney, you can gauge the tax efficiency of the eventual transfer of assets.1

 

Social Security basics. If you haven’t claimed benefits yet, put your Social Security card, last year’s W-2 form, certified copies of your birth certificate, marriage license or divorce papers in one place, and military discharge paperwork or and a copy of your W-2 form for last year (or Schedule SE and Schedule C plus 1040 form, if you work for yourself), and military discharge papers or proof of citizenship if applicable. Social Security no longer mails people paper statements tracking their accrued benefits, but e-statements are available via its website. Take a look at yours and print it out.2

 

Pension matters. Will you receive a bona fide pension in retirement? If so, you want to collect any special letters or bulletins from your employer. You want your Individual Benefit Statement telling you about the benefits you have earned and for which you may become eligible; you also want the Summary Plan Description and contact info for someone at the employee benefits department where you worked.

 

Real estate documents. Gather up your deed, mortgage docs, property tax statements and homeowner insurance policy. Also, make a list of the contents of your home and their estimated value – you may be away from your home more in retirement, so those items may be more vulnerable as a consequence.

 

Estate planning paperwork. Put copies of your estate plan and any trust paperwork within the collection, and of course a will. In case of a crisis of mind or body, your loved ones may need to find a durable power of attorney or health care directive, so include those documents if you have them and let them know where to find them.

 

Tax returns. Should you only keep last year’s 1040 and state return? How about those for the past 7 years? At the very least, you should have a copy of last year’s returns in this collection.

 

A list of your digital assets. We all have them now, and they are far from trivial – the contents of a cloud, a photo library, or a Facebook page may be vital to your image or your business. Passwords must be compiled too, of course.

  

This will take a little work, but you will be glad you did it someday. Consider this a Saturday morning or weekend project. It may lead to some discoveries and possibly prompt some alterations to your financial picture as you prepare for retirement.

 

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

1 – fpanet.org/ToolsResources/ArticlesBooksChecklists/Articles/Retirement/10EssentialDocumentsforRetirement/ [9/12/11]

2 – cbsnews.com/8301-505146_162-57573910/planning-for-retirement-take-inventory/ [3/18/13]

 

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp.Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. This information should not be construed as investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.


The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Merck, Glaxosmithkline, Pfizer, Bank of America, Verizon, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Coping With College Loans

Paying them down, managing their financial impact.

 

 

Are student loans holding our economy back? Certainly America has recovered from the last recession, but this is an interesting question nonetheless.

 

In a November 2013 address before the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Assistant Director Rohit Chopra expressed that college loan debt “may prove to be one of the more painful aftershocks of the Great Recession.” In fact, outstanding education debt in America doubled from 2007 to 2013, topping $1 trillion.1

 

More than 60% of this debt is held by people over the age of 30 and about 15% is carried by people older than 50. The housing sector feels the strain: in a November National Association of Realtors survey, 54% of the first-time homebuyers who had difficulty saving up a down payment cited their college loan expenses as the main obstacle. The ProgressNow think tank believes that education debt siphons $6 billion of new car purchasing power out of the economy per year.2,3

 

As the Detroit Free Press notes, the average 2012 college graduate is burdened with $29,400 in education loans. If you carry five-figure (or greater) education debt, what do you do to pay it down faster?4

How can you overcome student loans to move forward financially? If you are young (or not so young), budgeting is key. Even if you get a second job, a promotion, or an inheritance, you won’t be able to erase any debt if your expenses consistently exceed your income. Smartphone apps and other online budget tools can help you live within your budget day to day, or even at the point of purchase for goods and services.

After that first step, you can use a few different strategies to whittle away at college loans.

 

*The local economy permitting, a couple can live on one salary and use the wages of the other earner to pay off the loan balance(s).

*You could use your tax refund to attack the debt.

*You can hold off on a major purchase or two. (Yes, this is a sad effect of college debt, but backhandedly it could also help you reduce it by freeing up more cash to apply to the loan.)

*You can sell something of significant value – a car or truck, a motorbike, jewelry, collectibles – and turn the cash on the debt.

 

Now in the big picture of your budget, you could try the “snowball method” where you focus on paying off your smallest debt first, then the next smallest, etc. on to the largest. Or, you could try the “debt ladder” tactic, where you attack the debt(s) with the highest interest rate(s) to start. That will permit you to gradually devote more and more money toward the goal of wiping out that existing student loan balance.

 

Even just paying more than the minimum each month on your loan will help. Making payments every two weeks rather than every month can also have a big impact.

 

If the lender presents you with a choice of repayment plans, weigh the one you currently use against the others; the others might be better. Signing up for automatic payments can help, too. You avoid the risk of penalty for late payment, and student loan issuers commonly reward the move: many will lower the interest rate on a loan by a quarter-point or so in thanks.5

 

What if you have multiple outstanding college loans? Should one of those loans have a variable interest rate (about 15% of education loans do), try addressing that debt first. Why? Think about what could happen with interest rates as this decade progresses. They are already rising.5

 

Also, how about combining multiple federal student loan balances into one? If you graduated college before July 1, 2006, the interest rate you’ll lock in on the single balance will be lower than that paid on each separate federal education loan.5

Maybe your boss could pay down the loan. Don’t laugh: there are college grads who manage to negotiate just such agreements. In fact, there are small and mid-sized businesses that offer them simply to be competitive today. They can’t offer a young hire what the Fortune 500 can when it comes to salary, so they pitch another perk: a lump sum that the new employee can use to reduce a college loan.5

To reduce your student debt, live within your means and use your financial creativity. It may disappear faster than you think.

 

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

1 – consumerfinance.gov/newsroom/student-loan-ombudsman-rohit-chopra-before-the-federal-reserve-bank-of-st-louis/ [11/18/13]

2 – forbes.com/sites/halahtouryalai/2013/06/26/backlash-student-loans-keep-borrowers-from-buying-homes-cars/ [6/26/13]

3 – realtor.org/news-releases/2013/11/home-buyers-and-sellers-survey-shows-lingering-impact-of-tight-credit [11/13]

4 – tinyurl.com/nouty3k [4/19/14]

5 – tinyurl.com/k29m48y [5/1/14]

 

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. This information should not be construed as investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.


The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Chevron, Qwest, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Pfizer, Verizon, Merck, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Bearish Thoughts Persist in a Bull Market

Are memories of the downturn hurting the financial potential of boomers?

 

 

At the end of October, the S&P 500 was up 24.39% in the past 12 months. What investor wouldn’t want gains like that? As uplifting as that market advance was for many, some baby boomers missed out on it. They were simply too afraid to get back into stocks – they couldn’t dispense with their memories of 2008.1

 

Would most boomers take a 4% return instead? Earlier this year, the multinational investment firm Allianz surveyed Americans with more than $200,000 in investable assets. Allianz found that for most of these people, protecting retirement savings was financial priority number one. Aversion to risk ran high: 76% of the respondents said that they would prefer an investment vehicle that offered a 4% return with no chance of loss of principal over an investment that offered an 8% return without principal protection.2

 

In the equity markets, risk and reward are not easily divorced. They come together in an imperfect marriage, a problematic one – but it is one you may need to put up with these days if you are seeking decent yields. With interest rates so minimal, fixed-rate, risk-averse investing can put you at a disadvantage even against mild inflation. If you turn your back on equity investing right now, you could find yourself thwarting your retirement savings potential.

 

Psychology froze some boomers out of the Wall Street rebound. The awful stock market slide of 2008-09 left many midlife investors skittish about stocks. As Wall Street history goes, that was an extraordinary, aberrational stretch of market behavior. These events, and the fears that followed, may have scared certain investors away from stocks for years to come.

 

What price risk aversion? At the end of the third quarter, more than $8 trillion was sitting in U.S. money market accounts, doing basically nothing. It wasn’t being lost, but it sure wasn’t returning much. In the Allianz survey, 80% of baby boomers polled viewed the stock market as volatile; 38% said that volatility was prompting them to keep some or all of their cash on the sidelines.2,3

 

While all that money isn’t being exposed to risk, it is also bringing investors meager rewards.

 

Consider the psychology of our society for a moment. Generation after generation is told to save and invest for future objectives, most prominently a comfortable retirement. That need, that purpose, is not going away. As long as that societal need is in place, people are likely predisposed to believe in the potential of equity investing. So there is a collective American psychology – as yet unshaken – that the stock market is a strong option for investing, making money, and building wealth. (The same unshaken assumption remains in the housing market, even after everything homeowners have been through.)

 

That powerful collective psychology has contributed to the longevity of bull markets – and it isn’t going away. We had the bulk of the federal government shut down for 16 days last month, and yet the S&P 500 gained 4.46% in October. After 10 months of 2013, the index was up 23.16% YTD – and this is a year that has brought fears of a conflagration in the Middle East, the threat of a U.S. credit rating downgrade and a “fiscal cliff,” sequester cuts, a banking crisis in Cyprus that scared the international financial community, and continued high unemployment. Stocks have vaulted past all of it.1

 

Consider the view from this wide historical window: in the last 10 years, the S&P 500 has averaged better than a 7% annual return, even with its appalling 47% drop from October 2007 to March 2009. Since 1926, the S&P has a) had 23 years where it returned 10% or better, b) never gone negative over a 20-year period, and c) advanced 8 to 10% a year on average.3

 

If you bought and held, congratulations. If you opted for tactical asset allocation during the downturn, facing that risk paid off. The point is: you stayed in the market. You didn’t cash out in late 2008 or early 2009 and decide to buy back at the top (as some bearish investors have recently done).

 

It isn’t time to throw caution to the wind.The Federal Reserve is not going to keep easing forever; QE3 will eventually end, perhaps early in 2014. When it does, Wall Street will react. The market may price it in, or we may see something worse happen.When you look at all the hurdles this bull market has overcome in the past few years, however, you have to think there is at least a bit more upside to come. Wall Street is optimistic and the performance of stocks certainly demonstrates that optimism, even as bearish thoughts persist.

 

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

1 – money.cnn.com/data/markets/sandp/ [10/31/13]

2 – foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/10/24/wall-streets-rallying-so-why-are-boomers-so-scared/ [10/24/13]

3 – business.time.com/2013/09/27/seeking-shelter-from-stock-swings-savers-take-on-a-different-kind-of-risk/ [9/27/13]

 

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.


The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Qwest, Chevron, AT&T, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Verizon, Pfizer, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.