3 Best Ways to Save for College

Save for CollegeWhat if you could save enough for your child to go to college debt-free? It might sound impossible, but with dedication, hard work, and careful planning, you can do just that. According to Dave Ramsey, American personal finance advisor, here are the top three tax-favored plans to get started.

The Education Savings Account (ESA)

Otherwise known as the Education IRA, this plan allows you to save $2,000 (after tax) per year, per child. Let’s do that math. If you begin saving when your child is born and put away $2,000 a year until they’re 18, you’ll be investing $36,000. Not too shabby. And the good news is that qualified distributions are tax-free, which means you won’t have to pay anything when you withdraw the funds to pay for college. The other upside is, depending on the rate of growth, you’ll earn more than you would in a regular savings account. However, there are some caveats. You can’t contribute if you make more than $110,000 (single) or $220,000 (married filing jointly); the contribution cap is $2,000 a year; and the money must be used by the time your child is 30.

The 529 Plan

If you want to save more for your child’s education or you don’t qualify for the income limits of the ESA, then this might be a better fit because you can contribute up to $300,000, depending on what state you live in. Ramsey recommends you look for a 529 Plan that allows you to choose your investment funds. Also, he says most of the time there aren’t any income restrictions based on your child’s age; however, there are some limits, so choose wisely. This plan also grows tax-free. One thing to note: restrictions may apply if you want to transfer your funds to another child.

The UTMA or UGMA (Uniform Transfer/Gift to Minors Act)

One of the best things about these plans is they’re not just designed to save for education. For example, if your kiddo wants to take a gap year, this can cover living expenses. The account is set up in your child’s name but it’s controlled by a custodian (usually a parent or grandparent). The custodian manages the account until the child is 21 (18 for the UGMA). One of the pluses of this plan is that since the account is owned by the child, the earnings are usually taxed at the child’s rate, which is generally lower than that of the parents. For some people, the savings can be significant. However, there are two important things to know: (1) once your child is of legal age, she can use the funds however she likes (a trip to Europe, a sports car…or college?) and, (2) the beneficiary can’t be changed after selected.

While setting up a college fund is a smart goal, it’s not the only one. Prior to starting down these paths, Ramsey recommends that you consider paying off your mortgage, credit cards, and your own student loans. He also suggests setting up an emergency fund of three to six months and allocating 15 percent of your salary to retirement through a 401(k) and/or a Roth IRA. For more help, he recommends both parents and children read “Debt-Free Degree.” This book walks you through how to go to college without student loans.

Saving for an education might feel completely overwhelming, but if you start early enough, do your homework and create a solid plan, it’s absolutely possible.

Sources

https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/saving-for-college-is-easier-than-you-think

https://www.troweprice.com/personal-investing/accounts/general-investing/ugma-utma.html#:~:text=Because%20money%20placed%20in%20an,this%20savings%20can%20be%20significant.&text=Up%20to%20%241%2C050%20in%20earnings%20tax%2Dfree.&text=Any%20earnings%20over%20%242%2C100%20are%20taxed%20at%20the%20parent’s%20rate

5 Cities Rank as Ideal Locations for Remote Workers

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, in late spring of 2020 about half of American workers were working from home. Not surprisingly, many researchers believe that this pattern will continue after the pandemic is over. With this in mind, SmartAsset has examined the best cities to work from home in 2021 and evaluated them across seven metrics: percentage of those who worked at home; estimated percentage of those who can work at home; five-year change of percentage of those who worked at home; October 2020 unemployment rate; poverty rate; housing costs as a percentage of earnings; and percentage of residences with two or more bedrooms. Here’s what they learned:

  1. Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2019, Census Bureau data shows that about 18 percent of people worked from home, a 6.7 percent increase from 2014. This sunny city also has the fourth-highest estimated percentage of workforce who can work from home and the third-lowest 2019 poverty rate, which is 6 percent. When you’re not inside at your computer, you can enjoy the desert tranquility of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, restaurants and shops of Old Town Scottsdale, and the largest model train display in North America at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
  2. Raleigh, North Carolina. Even before COVID-19, a large percentage of people worked from home here, much like Scottsdale. In 2019, 10.5 percent of the workforce did so remotely, which is the fourth-highest for this metric. Raleigh also ranks in the top quartile for two other metrics: it has the 18th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate (5.3 percent) and 21st-lowest poverty rate (10.9 percent). Raleigh is known as the “city of oaks,” which makes it a beautiful place to live. Even better, you can celebrate all four seasons and it’s only a few hours from the mountains. Plus, homes are some of the most affordable in the nation.
  3. Plano, Texas. Just north of Dallas, Plano ranks in the top 10 percent for three metrics: percentage of people who worked from home in 2019 (9.6 percent), estimated percentage of people who are able to work from home (35.44 percent) and 2019 poverty rate (7.5 percent). Also, Plano has the 14th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate, at 5.2 percent. Best thing about Plano: it has all the restaurants, shops and amenities of Dallas without the traffic. And, there are numerous parks for walking, hiking, biking and swimming.
  4. Gilbert, Arizona. This locale ranks as one of the best places to buy an affordable home. In fact, data from the Census Bureau shows that 96.3 percent of apartments and homes in Gilbert have two or more bedrooms, which is the highest percentage for this metric. Additionally, it has a relatively low poverty rate (4.6 percent). Main attractions include bird watching at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, holiday shows at the Hale Centre Theatre, and delicious produce at the Gilbert Farmer’s Market.
  5. St. Petersburg, Florida. As of October 2020, the greater Pinellas County unemployment rate was just 5.2 percent. That’s 1.5 percentage points below the national average. What’s more, the percentage of people working from home grew by 4.6 percent in St. Petersburg from 2014 to 2019, the third-highest increase in the study. If you love sugar-sand beaches, you’re in luck: there are many to fall in love with. But you can also enjoy cultural outings like a visit to the Dali Museum and the Chihuly Collection.

Some of the other best cities for working remotely include Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Fremont, California. These days, working from home is the rule, rather than the exception it was years ago. In these challenging, uncertain times, it’s nice to know there are places you can thrive.

Sources

https://smartasset.com/checking-account/best-cities-to-work-from-home-2021

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g31350-Activities-Scottsdale_Arizona.html

https://www.raleighrealtyhomes.com/blog/moving-to-raleigh.html

Deciding if a Roth IRA Conversion is For You

Roth IRAs can be a powerful tax tool, but they are often misunderstood and misused. Investment income in Roth IRAs compound tax-free and most distributions are tax-free as well. Another benefit is that there are no required minimum distributions (RMDs) throughout the original owner’s life. Long-term Roth distributions are tax-free to the beneficiaries who inherit the IRA as long as they fully distribute the Roth within 10 years of inheriting.

As the annual contribution limits are rather small, most Roth IRA contributions are made by converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The downside to conversion is that you’ll have to pay tax on the gross amount converted. Considering this can require a substantial cash outlay and that all the Roth IRA benefits are backloaded, deciding to make a conversion can be a difficult call.

Most people aren’t sure it will pay off in the long term and don’t like the idea of paying taxes now instead of in the future. Consequently, too often people try to make a conversion decision through intuition instead of objectively considering the important factors.

It’s best to use a spreadsheet to do an analysis or work with a tax advisor because you will need to consider many factors, including assumptions about tax rates, investment returns, how long you’ll own the accounts, how much you will convert, etc.

Generally, a conversion becomes more advantageous if tax rates increase and this impact is compounded by higher investment returns. Finally, remember that you can leave the Roth to your heirs who can take distributions tax-free.

Roth IRA conversions are not the right option for everyone, but where it’s appropriate the benefits can be substantial.

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout: Where We Are So Far

While the pandemic is not over, we do have some good news. There are vaccines and they will be available soon. Here’s where we are in terms of an overall plan and where states are with distributing the vaccines.

Operation Warp Speed

The current administration has already purchased hundreds of millions of doses of several vaccine candidates. Two of them are from Moderna and Pfizer and they’ve shown significant efficacy in Phase 3 clinical trials. The incoming Biden administration will take on distribution and has established a COVID-19 Task Force. A limited number of doses may become available as early as December.

The Interim Playbook

This document from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the roadmap for state, territorial, tribal, and local public health programs and their partners. It focuses on how to plan and operationalize a vaccine response to the pandemic within their jurisdictions. It’s quite comprehensive and is a good reference for the coming months.

Phased Approach

In the Interim Playbook, the CDC has given states a set of planning assumptions by which they can develop their distribution plans and explains how the vaccine will likely be administered in phases.

  • Phase 1 – there is an initial limited supply of vaccine doses that will be prioritized for certain groups. The distribution will be more tightly controlled and a limited number of providers will be administering the vaccine.
  • Phase 2 – supply would increase and access will be expanded to include a broader set of the population, with more providers involved.
  • Phase 3 – there would likely be sufficient supply to meet demand and distribution would be integrated into routine vaccination programs.

Common Themes and Concerns from State Plans

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a non-profit organization focusing on national health issues, sought to collect plans from all 50 states and DC. As of Nov. 13, they’ve reviewed 47 of these plans and have singled out key areas contained within each plan.

  • Identifying priority populations for vaccination. Each state will determine who will be first in line, initially; however, every plan highlights the following categories as being the priority during Phase 1: healthcare workers, essential workers, and those at high risk (older people and those with pre-disposing health risk factors). A majority of states (25 of 47, or 53 percent) have at least one mention of incorporating racial and/or ethnic minorities or health equity considerations in their targeting of priority populations. 
  • Identifying the network of providers in their state will be responsible for administering vaccines. Even though states are at different points in the process, providers will likely include hospitals and doctors’ offices, pharmacies, health departments, federally qualified health centers, and other clinics that play a role in administering vaccines today. Given the need to quickly vaccinate most residents, additional partners will be needed, such as long-term care facilities, and will (potentially) set up public locations like schools and community centers for mass vaccinations.
  • Developing the data collection and reporting systems needed to track the vaccine distribution progress. Many states are relying on (and often expanding) existing state-level immunization registries, while other states are developing new systems or using those provided by the federal government. To sum it up, each state is at a different stage in this process.
  • Laying out a communications strategy for the period before and during vaccination. The CDC has asked states to design plans that anticipate and respond to different populations and include the need to address misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. Not surprisingly, some of these states’ plans are detailed while some are not.

All of these things are high-level summations of what is planned so far. For a more detailed explanation, check out the Interim Playbook from the CDC. The COVID-19 situation is ever-changing, but the most important takeaway is that steps are being put in place to help protect us all. Stay safe.

Sources

States Are Getting Ready to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines. What Do Their Plans Tell Us So Far?

https://www.newsweek.com/fauci-optimistic-about-covid-19-vaccine-says-high-risk-could-get-it-december-1546384

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imz-managers/downloads/COVID-19-Vaccination-Program-Interim_Playbook.pdf

Why Gratitude is Important During a Pandemic

We’re living in unprecedented, challenging times. If you’re feeling stressed and scared, you’re not alone. However, there is a way to navigate through all of this uncertainty: gratitude. Studies have shown that keeping in mind the things you’re grateful for on a regular basis not only helps you mentally, but also physically, which is something we all need these days.

Gratitude Improves Your Immune System

According to Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, there’s data to back this up. In one study, researchers compared the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students who were under stress and characterized themselves as optimistic to their more pessimistic classmates. Result: The former maintained a higher number of blood cells, which protect the immune system. Specifically, white blood cells are key players in your immune system and move through blood and tissue looking for foreign invaders (microbes) such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. When they find them, they launch an immediate attack. Tip: The moment you notice that you’re appreciative of something – the sun is shining, the sky is blue, you have clean water to drink – stop and savor. Bask in the experience. 

Gratitude Affects Your Brain

When you’re feeling appreciative, it wires and fires new neural connections to the bliss center and enhances dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness. Gratitude also reduces fear and anxiety by regulating the stress hormones; and it fosters cognitive restructuring by evoking positive thinking. Tip: When you’re eating, give thanks for the bounty before you. Make mealtimes mindful.

Gratitude Reduces Pain

In the research report, Count Blessings Versus Burdens (2003), patients who kept a gratitude journal reported reduced pain symptoms and were more inclined to work out and cooperate with treatment procedure. A deeper dive revealed that by regulating the level of dopamine, gratitude fills us with more vitality, which reduced the subjective feelings of pain. Tip: Try keeping a journal. If you think you have nothing to be grateful for, think about all the little things you have. You might find that you’re taking for granted certain abilities or privileges you have that others don’t.

Gratitude Affects Sleep

Studies have shown that receiving and displaying simple acts of kindness activates the hypothalamus, and thereby regulates all bodily mechanisms controlled by the hypothalamus, one of which is sleep. The hypothalamic regulation by gratitude helps us get deeper and healthier sleep, naturally. Tip: Hold the door for a stranger. Let someone have that parking space you both came upon. Share that compliment that’s on the tip of your tongue. To give is to receive. You might just rest easier.

Gratitude Gets Rid of Toxic Emotions

The limbic system is the part of the brain that’s responsible for all emotional experiences. It consists of the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus and cingulate gyrus. Research has shown that the hippocampus and amygdala, the two main sites regulating emotions, memory, and bodily functioning, get activated with feelings of gratitude. Specifically, what we call emotions or feelings are neural activations in the neocortical regions of the brain (Moll et al. 2005). Further, a study conducted on people who were looking for mental health guidance revealed that those who wrote letters of gratitude, in addition to having regular counseling, felt better and recovered sooner. In the other group, people who journaled about their negative feelings felt anxious and depressed. Tip: In addition to journaling, maybe there’s a letter you need to write to someone expressing how you feel, releasing a past hurt. The simple act of writing can be powerful. You don’t even have to send it to feel better.

Right now, when we’re faced with so many unknowns, staying present and giving thanks can do a world of good. Give it a try and see.

Sources

https://www.adventhealth.com/blog/why-gratitude-important-during-coronavirus-pandemic

https://www.webmd.com/women/features/gratitute-health-boost#1

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/immune-system?viewAsPdf=true

https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1#:~:text=It’s%20simply%20writing%20down%20your,and%20improve%20your%20mental%20health.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201111/how-gratitude-helps-you-sleep-night

Affordable Lunches for Kids Learning at Home

Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, many schools across America have transitioned to at-home learning. This alone presents a whole new set of challenges for parents, not the least of which is figuring out what to feed your kids for lunch – every single day of the week. While peanut butter and jelly is a reliable standby, here are some cheap, easy alternatives you can whip up in no time.

English Muffin Pizza

Grab some English muffins and top them with pizza sauce or marinara. Either one will work. (Hint: use the store brand because it’s comparable and usually costs less.) If you like, you can even add shredded cheese. Put them in a toaster oven and bake. Now comes the fun part: create a face. Use olives for the nose and eyes. Cut up yellow, red, and green peppers into thin slices to form a mouth and eyebrows. For the extra peppers, use ranch dressing for dipping. This one is fun and healthy!

Lunchables Knockoff

Pre-packaged meals generally cost more. So why not create your own version of this lunch-time favorite and save some money? Buy round, butter crackers with ridges on the edge (like Ritz, but buy the store brand); round, sliced lunch meat; and small, sliced squares of cheese. Place each in the spaces in a plastic divided container. Cut up some fruit (apples, pears, anything you like) and serve. If natural sugar isn’t enough for your little ones, throw in a cookie.

Pita Pockets

You can stuff these full of anything you like. Making tuna salad for a filler is always delish but takes a bit of prep, so for time’s sake, add lunch meat. After that, add lettuce and anything else your child likes. Maybe some tomatoes or cucumbers, then add a condiment, mustard, or mayo. For a side, choose local, seasonal produce. It’s always cheaper than out-of-season choices.

Meat-Free Lunch

Purchasing meat can get expensive, so why not go veggie for a few days? Your DIY lunch kit might include cheese cubes, crackers, cherry (or grape) tomatoes, and green or purple grapes. If you get inspired, cut up apples and bananas into bite-sized portions. Throwing in some nuts for a little extra crunch is always a good idea, too. If you want to make these meals a regular thing, buy reusable, compartmentalized containers like EasyLunchBoxes, affordably priced at $14 for four. You can also buy them on Amazon. Carve out some time on a Saturday afternoon and make these in bulk to save time during your busy week. You might even ask the kids to help!

Ants on a Log

Cut up some celery (the logs). Fill with peanut butter, then sprinkle raisins on top (the ants). Serve with cheese cubes, graham crackers, yogurt, and/or fresh fruit. Kids love this one, especially because of the funny name.

Pancake Lunch

Everyone loves Saturday morning pancakes, so why not serve them for lunch, too? Here’s a thought: prepare a double batch of pancakes, plus bacon and fresh fruit on the weekend; then save half for Monday and pop them in the microwave. This way, you won’t have to prepare them twice. Don’t forget the syrup!

Cottage Cheese and Fruit

This lunch might well be the quickest of all to make. Place two scoops of cottage cheese in a leak-proof container, then add some canned fruit such as peaches, pineapple or mandarin oranges. Crackers (graham or saltines) with a little vat of peanut butter for dipping completes this easy, peasy meal.

We hope that these cost-saving lunches help save time and worry. With all that’s going on, you’ve got enough on your plate!

Sources

https://blog.cheapism.com/easy-school-lunches-14435/#slide=8

Five Ways to Manage Back-to-School Stress

Five Ways to Manage Back-to-School StressIf you’re anxious about sending your children back to school, you’re not alone. In fact, a recent poll from ABC News/Ipsos showed that 45 percent of parents don’t want their kids in the classroom at all. But whether your kids are in school or learning at home, there’s still plenty of worry to go around. How do you cope? Here are a few suggestions from a variety of counselors and mental health professionals that can help.

Express Your Feelings

Noticing the anxiety that’s going on inside is half the battle – then let it out. “I would encourage parents to share this feeling with their partners or other family and friends,” says Michael Consuelos, MD, a senior medical advisor with the mental health management platform NeuroFlow in Philadelphia. Simply releasing what you’re feeling can often take the power of it.

Teach Your Kids How to Navigate

This starts with talking to your kids about what social distancing is, what it looks like, and how to wash their hands thoroughly. Fran Walfish, PsyD, MFT, and a family and relationship psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, Calif., suggests making up real-life situations and getting your kids to “think in advance about what they would say or do to protect themselves while preserving a friendship.” For instance, a friend of your son stands too close to him and asks to borrow a ruler. How should he react? Or your daughter is eating lunch and a friend reaches in and takes a few chips from her Doritos bag. What should she do? You can probably come up with many other scenarios that help your kids figure out the best options for keeping safe.

Have Honest Conversations

Kathleen Rivera, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in children and adolescents at Nuvance Health in Danbury, Conn., strongly suggests talking with your kids about the situation, no matter how young they are, and asking them how they’re feeling about the changes in their school environment. What things about school do you miss the most? How is this new learning set-up working for you? What are things you don’t miss about school? Claudia Kohner, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and creator of IntroDUCKtion to Very, Very Big Feelings app, says that if you have very young children, give them some colored pencils and a coloring book. Sit down with them and help them create a homemade book that describes the changes in their school setting and reflects their feelings that go along with it. Encouraging imaginative play with dolls and stuffed animals is also a great way to help your kids express what they’re going through.

Practice Self-Care

In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to be kind to yourself – and not judge yourself for failing to cross everything off your to-do list. “You don’t have to do it all,” says Elizabeth Derickson, MSW, LCSW, RPT, a therapist with online therapy provider Talkspace. This is her No. 1 piece of advice for parents who are dealing with back-to-school anxiety. She suggests setting up realistic expectations and acknowledging that there will be both good days and bad days, and allowing yourself “to learn from the bad days, move on and rock those good days.”

Embrace Change

In a few months, the landscape of your life might look radically different than it does today. That’s why being able to adapt to whatever new circumstance presents itself is key. According to Dr. Rivera, “Flexibility is the most important thing in this whole process.” Knowing you have every right to reverse your decisions is OK – and empowering.

Despite the seemingly never-ending stream of worries that inevitably crop up in our new abnormal, remember: the most constant thing in life is change. Things will get better.

Sources

https://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/stress/manage-back-to-school-stress-coronavirus

https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2020-06/topline-abc-coronavirus-wave-12.pdf

6 Financial Tips for an Emergency

6 Financial Tips for an EmergencyThe effect of the coronavirus on our lives is unprecedented. While we’re all sheltering in place while trying to manage our daily tasks, it’s undoubtedly taking a toll on us mentally, physically and financially. Here are some tips to help you weather this storm of economic uncertainty.

Get Started on Being Liquid

Experts suggest having three to six months of savings on hand. However, this might not be realistic for some. Don’t despair: start saving now. If your employer pays you via direct deposit, ask if they’ll deposit a percentage into your savings. If that’s not an option, have your bank withdraw a portion and deposit into your savings on payday. This way, putting aside money for a crisis will be part of your routine. Further, a good rule of thumb is to budget 50 percent of your income to essentials like housing and utilities, 30 percent toward non-essentials and 20 percent toward financial goals like savings and paying down debt. You can do this!

Analyze Your Expenses

Perhaps setting aside a small amount of money just won’t work for you. Mariel Beasley, co-founder of the Common Cents Lab at Duke University, an organization that aims to improve the financial well-being of low- to moderate-income Americans, suggests taking a hard look at your expenses.

  1. See if you can downgrade. For instance, consider getting a cheaper phone, cable or internet plan.
  2. Set up a restrictive budget. When it comes to discretionary spending, think about using a pre-paid card. You can reload this weekly. If seeing the green stuff actually leave your wallet helps you cut back, then a cash-only system might be a good solution.
  3. Try to find extra work. While this situation is causing furloughs in some industries, it might create jobs in others. For instance, Amazon is said to have hired 100,000 new employees. Research other companies that specialize in deliveries. Since everyone is homebound, this could pan out well — if you like this kind of work. If you do, remember your hand sanitizer, gloves and mask. If you don’t, scour the job boards in your area. You might be surprised at what you find.

Solutions for People Over 59

There is an upside to aging: you can make withdrawals from your IRA or 401(k) if things get really rough. However, Beasley suggests that you withdraw funds in small amounts. If you’re under 59 and really have no other alternative, you can withdraw from your retirement. But know that there will be penalties and taxes. However, in times like this, sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Avoid High-Cost Credit Cards

While these modern conveniences can be lifesavers, the downside is high-interest rates. Apply for cards with lower rates; or even better, find those that offer balance transfers at zero percent for a limited time.

Disregard the Goal

Many financial experts say: keep your eyes on the prize – build your nest egg. But if you’re just getting started, it might feel overwhelming. Or, if you’re in the midst of a world crisis like we are now, it can feel doubly overwhelming. Instead, focus on saving a little at a time. Baby steps. Even having a small amount of money set aside can help in times of need, like buying groceries during a quarantine.

Ask for Help

If you’re really feeling the pinch, reach out to your landlord, mortgage lender, utility provider, credit card companies or anyone else you owe. In Seattle, the public utility companies are promising they won’t shut off services during this pandemic. The same might be true for your community. But the point here is this: make the call. Send the email. Propose a payment plan. It’s reasonable to assume that most people have a heart and don’t enjoy adding financial stress to the already difficult situation we’re in.

If you can’t apply any of these tips your present circumstances, don’t worry. Be well and stay safe. Perhaps when this passes, you might look back at these ideas and see which works best for you. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Sources

https://abc13.com/finance/financial-tips-to-help-you-through-a-pandemic-or-other-crisis/6021876/

6 Ways to Keep Safe When Using Mobile Banking

Mobile Banking, Security Mobile BankingFor the most part, smartphones are your lifeline to the world. You connect with friends and family, shop and update your status on social media. However, you also store all your personal information on them and, these days, use them to do your banking. That’s why you need to take precautions. Here are a few critical things to do to make sure your information isn’t compromised.

Protect Your Smartphone

Your desktop and laptop are secure with anti-virus software and firewalls; the same should go for your phone. Here are five basic things you need to do ASAP: 1) Use a 4-digit PIN to lock your screen. If your phone is stolen, it’s harder for a thief to unlock it. Also, check to see if your phone has a feature that allows you to locate and remotely lock or erase data, should you lose it. This is called a “kill switch.” 2) Back up your data. Kind of basic, but it’s always important to be reminded. 3) Use location-based software to find your lost phone. 4) Install an antivirus app and software to erase the contents of a lost phone. And finally, 5) Update your apps to the latest versions and when downloading them, only choose those from publishers you trust.

Create a Strong Password

This is a no-brainer, but it’s imperative. Don’t use any part of your name or numbers from your birthday, or anything remotely personal. Make your password as complex and obscure as you can. Thieves can be smart. Don’t give them any chance to wreak havoc in your life.

Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi to Access Your Bank

Public Wi-Fi doesn’t have heightened levels of security, so make sure you use your phone’s data network or a secured Wi-Fi network when accessing sensitive information. If you don’t do this, you become vulnerable to hackers. You can never be too careful.

Don’t Save Usernames and Passwords in Your Browser

Sometimes, browsers give you the option to save your username and password. As convenient as this is, don’t do this. It could be easy for someone to gain direct access to your bank account if your phone is lost or stolen.

Don’t Follow Links

If you get an email or text from your bank, don’t click. It could be a phishing scam and could lead you to a “spoofed” website, which is a fake site created to look just like your bank’s official site. Always go to your bank’s site directly. Enter your bank’s web address into your phone and bookmark it. This way, you’ll avoid bogus sites and keep your money safe.

Log Out After Use

Even if you haven’t saved your credentials, it’s always important to do this when you’re finished banking. While this is convenient for the next time you do your banking, it’s leaving thieves an easy way in to steal all your assets should you leave your phone unattended, or worse, if it’s lost or stolen.

In a world that’s getting more and more digitized every day, shoring up your personal banking information just makes good sense. No one wants to put all that they’ve worked so hard for in jeopardy.

Sources

https://www.discover.com/online-banking/banking-topics/how-to-stay-safe-with-mobile-banking/

https://money.howstuffworks.com/personal-finance/online-banking/5-mobile-banking-security-tips.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing

https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/tech-tips/story/tech-tips-wifi-can-be-used-to-hack-your-phone-here-s-how-to-prevent-it-1397211-2018-11-27

https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-wifi-why-hackers-love-public-wifi.html

Practicing Gratitude: A Look Back at 2019

It may be hard to believe, but the end of the year is upon us. During this time, many of us might reflect on the year and tally up the good and the bad, the pros and the cons of the past 12 months. In a society that focuses on success and getting ahead, probably the most common thing to do is zero in on what you didn’t accomplish, or what went wrong. But science tells us that if you’re smart, you’ll look back with gratitude. And the best news is: it’s good for our health.

Gratitude Changes Your Brain – For the Better

When you give thanks for positive things in your life and show appreciation, it literally changes the structure of your brain, according to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. It keeps the gray matter functioning and causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, lighting up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. It’s kind of like an anti-depressant: it boosts neurotransmitter serotonin and causes the brain stem to produce dopamine, a chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. In short, thinking about what you’re grateful for is kind of like free therapy.

Make a List of Your Successes

So now that you know how gratitude works, make a list of what you’ve accomplished this year. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic; for instance: you ate at home more often. You decided to recycle. You drank more water. However, if you got a promotion and raise, by all means write it down and feel good about it. Besides, there’s more that happens: when you’re feeling grateful, you generate higher levels of activity in your hypothalamus, the area which controls a large array of essential body functions, like eating, drinking and sleeping. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), this activity prompts you to exercise more, get better sleep and, best of all, decreases depression and bodily aches and pains. How’s that for some motivation to put pen to paper?

Keep a Journal for Next Year

As you can see, being grateful is beneficial, both mentally and physically. So why not keep a journal for the upcoming year? It doesn’t have to be fancy. Granted, a journal helps organize your thoughts and can be your go-to source should you start feeling down. But practicing gratitude can be as simple as jotting down your thoughts on a sticky note and posting it on your mirror. Another way to do this is to pick a gratitude buddy. When you think of something you’re thankful for, text or email a friend. Don’t worry about it sounding right, just do it! Chances are, it’ll not only make you feel better, it might brighten your friend’s day, too.

Just Look for Positive Things

According to Dr. Alex Korb in his book “Upward Spiral,” the simple act of seeking things to be grateful for has as much if not more benefit than the things you are actually grateful for. Korb says that the search “forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” This area of the brain not only regulates blood pressure and heart rate, it’s also responsible for decision making and evaluation processes. Serotonin is good stuff: it’s known as the happy chemical. See how good this gratitude thing is?

So, in the coming year, if you start feeling blue and negative, here are some quick remedies:

  1. Look in the mirror and name five things you like about yourself.
  2. Write someone a thank you note.
  3. When something bad happens, think of something good that’s happened.
  4. Give someone a compliment. The act of giving is soul-nourishing: to give is to receive.

Here’s to looking back and feeling good, then moving forward with positive vibes!

Sources

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/how-gratitude-actually-changes-your-brain-and-is-good-for-business/

https://www.news-medical.net/health/Dopamine-Functions.aspx

http://ebooksdownloadfreeed.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-upward-spiral-pdf-free-download.html

https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Anterior+Cingulate+Cortex

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/serotonin-facts-232248