Well it’s here – 2017 is in full-swing, with a fresh financial start, defined resolutions, and a new administration in D.C. There are many questions circling what the financial industry will look like come fourth quarter. WalletHub, a consumer finance website, has released their financial predictions as we begin to wade through 2017.
- U.S. GDP growth will remain anemic, at 2.1% – Closing 2016 at approximately 1.75% WalletHub is predicting low growth, but growth is still a positive.
- Existing home sales will rise to $6M, despite higher rates – WalletHub forecasts nearly $6M in home sales for 2017, and surprisingly they attribute this to higher interest rates. “If interest rates rise slowly, we may see a nice bump in home sales and mortgage availability as buyers see low interest rates slowly fading and banks have higher rates to buffer against risk,” said Dr. Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.
- The Fed will raise rates twice, bringing its target to 1.125% – With only one rate hike in 2016, it is expected that we will see two in 2017. What does this mean for consumers? According to WalletHub, “each rate hike costs people with credit card debt around $1.4 billion in additional interest charges. As a result, consumers interest charges will be at least $2.8 billion higher in 2017 relative to 2016.” Not that you ever want to build debt, this is one more reason to be careful as you spend.
- Credit card debt will break all-time records, topping $1 trillion owed – As the dust settles it seems that 2016 will end up totaling around $80 billion in credit card debt. Ending 2016 at $80 billion seems to only be a starting point as early estimates project 2017 leaving the $1 trillion mark in the dust. This prediction coupled with the predicted rate hike is even more reason to be strict in your spending and to have a defined financial plan for the year.
- Consumer credit scores will peak at 675 in 2017 – The current average person’s credit score of 668 is expected to peak and plateau in 2017 around 675. Use this expected average increase as an opportunity to evaluate your score and efforts.
For more predictions on what to expect in 2017 read the full article, here. To learn how these predictions can affect you, talk with your local banker by calling or stopping by one of our branches.
Cold Weather Travel & Safety Tips
The holiday season brings a host of emotions and experiences often involving friends and family. One caveat of creating these holiday memories with friends and family can be harsh traveling conditions. With parts of Connecticut already receiving substantial amounts of snow, it seems we will experience yet another New England winter. Whether you have winter travel plans to see friends, family or to go to work, here are some cold weather travel and safety tips:
- Start off with the basics by making sure your vehicle is safe before traveling – this means checking your tire pressure and tread as well as making sure all headlights, directional lights, and emergency lights are working before traveling in wintry conditions.
- When traveling do your best to stay on roads that are well plowed and flat – stick to main roads and highways and avoid hills and slopes. Give yourself extra time to travel on these roads even if they may be a little heavier with traffic.
- Keep an extra layer of clothing, a couple of blankets and bottled water in your car for worst case scenarios. If you become stranded you will benefit from the ability to stay warm and hydrated.
- Let friends or family know where you’re headed! This may seem simple but letting someone know when you’re traveling is a simple way to stay safe.
- In the scenario you become stranded in your car – remember to use your hazard lights; if you’re running your engine to stay warm, keep a window slightly open to avoid carbon monoxide build-up; remove snow build-up around the vehicles exhaust pipe; and if you end up spending a night in your car, keep an interior overhead light on so you can be visible to overnight rescue crews.
Enjoy your holiday season with friends and family, and be safe when traveling. To read the full article visit, The Weather Channel.
All over the news we’ve heard about the recent Kim Kardashian robbery at gun point while she was traveling in Paris. Kim used social media to let her fans know her every movement—even posting where she was staying, and when and where she was alone. She found out in a very dramatic way that this wasn’t the best practice! Kim’s robbery has caused many to re-evaluate their own social media habits and how they affect personal safety.
Often we don’t think twice about posting our upcoming travel plans, “checking in” at distant locations or sharing travel photos during our trip. By doing this, we are essentially broadcasting when our home is empty and ripe for burglary! If we’ve been posting this way in the past, we should change our behavior in regard to social media and realize how our posts can directly affect our safety and security.
We’d like to share a few tips on how to keep safe while still having fun on social media:
- Your Social Security Number or the last four digits
- Home address
- Home phone number (mobile or business numbers are fine)
- Birth date
- Birth city
- Passwords, PINs or any financial account numbers
- Dates you will be away traveling
- Photos while traveling
- Use your privacy settings- they are available for a reason and can block sensitive information from the public, while keeping the fun with your friends
- Friend people you actually know– it’s not a popularity contest
- Limit access to “Friends” you really don’t know – not every “Friend” is a true friend
- Share your amazing travel photos once you are back from your trip
- Verify then trust – not the other way around! Be certain you are on a real website by looking at the URL to see if it makes sense before sharing information.
- Share sensitive information only on secure sites. You can verify this by the “https” or sometimes a padlock icon in the URL.
- What you post on the internet is permanent
- If you don’t use privacy settings, your posts are all public and your information can be used for nefarious purposes
- Educate yourself on site privacy policies
- If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t
- Protect yourself – Don’t click on attachments from people you don’t know. This is a way malware and malicious viruses infect your computer
First County Bank wants you and our customers to have fun with social media and to use these communication channels in a safe manner.
Reprinted from American Bankers Association Online Tips
The month of September is College Savings Month and in anticipation, the American Bankers Association (ABA) published ABA’s Top 10 Tips for College Students. Many of the tips revolve around budgeting and spending and while this article is geared for college students, it can serve as a refresher for those of us who are struggling to find a proper balance.
The top three takeaway tips for college students are:
- Use Credit Wisely – Understand not only how credit works but it’s potential benefits or consequences
- Utilize Your Bank Account – Banks are more than money in a vault, banks provide a variety of services as well as invaluable financial literacy and education
- Lookout for Money – There is a lot of opportunity for students to save money. Examples are scholarships, awards and students discounts
When it comes down to it, a simple evaluation of the money you have and the money you owe, can set the stage for being successful when it comes to budgeting and spending while in college. To read the full article, visit: http://www.aba.com
Let’s face it; some things in life just need some updating from our cellphones to our home décor to our hairstyles. There’s another thing in your life to update that’s even more critical – your computer software. However, despite the fact that our computers often remind us to do so, many of us don’t take the time to download updates.
With the number of software programs computers run today and the growth and sophistication in computer hacking, failure to update your software programs could affect the performance of your computer and even more worrisome, put your identity at serious risk.
Here are some important tips to remember about updating software:
- Stay current. You should install software upgrades for your operating system, browsers, antivirus software, flash players, PDF readers, as well as software products such as Microsoft Office®. Keeping your software current will ensure maximum performance and protection.
- Be vigilant. Do not download updates from sites and emails that are not from the software developer. In general, software developers do not share their updates with third-party sites. If you aren’t sure if a particular update is legitimate, go directly to the developer’s site.
- Watch for pop-ups. Many times, your developer will notify you that you need to update software via a pop-up message. If you receive a pop-up, just verify that it is from the developer.
- Be careful of email software updates. As a rule, developers do not send you software updates by email, so if you receive an email telling you to download an update, do not click on the link. Often times, the links will download malware on your computer.
- Do manual checks. If you don’t receive automatic updates from developers, you can periodically check for software updates on your own by checking the version of the software you are running.
Take the time to check your software today! You’ll be glad you did.
Today is not just the last Tuesday of the month; it’s also National Insurance Awareness Day, an important day to ensure you have the insurance coverages you need to protect the life you’ve worked so hard to build. Here are some important questions to consider when evaluating your insurance:
- Do you know when your policy is up for renewal? When your homeowner’s policy is up for renewal, you have a golden opportunity to review and change your coverages and maybe even save some money.
- Have you made any additional purchases? For example, did you purchase an expensive piece of jewelry, such as a diamond ring or gold watch that may need additional coverage?
- Have you made major home improvements? For example, did you put on a new addition or build an outdoor gazebo? If so, you will need additional coverage.
- Could you save more? One of the best ways to determine that is to shop around and compare coverages and costs.
- Would you consider raising your deductible to lower your premiums?
- Have you experienced a major life change, such as the birth of a child, marriage, or divorce? If so, you may want to change or increase your life insurance coverage.
- Are you taking advantage of multi-policy discounts? For example, many insurance companies offer discounted rates if you have both an auto and homeowner’s insurance policy.
- Do you have enough coverage on your auto insurance? Take a look at your liability coverage to make sure it’s enough to protect you in the event that you cause an accident.
- Have you made any safety improvements to your home? For example, if you’ve installed a new burglar alarm, heating, or electrical system, you may qualify for a safety discount.
- Have you started a home-based business? If so, you’ll need additional coverage to protect you.
Celebrate Insurance Awareness Day; take some time to review your coverages today!
School’s out! While it may be tempting to take everything, including your child’s backpack, and throw it into the trash, taking a few minutes now may save you big next fall.
After a long year, the backpack might seem like it has reached the end of the road. But, if after closer inspection, you find that the bag doesn’t have any rips or tears, then consider giving it a good cleaning using these tips from Good Housekeeping and putting it away until next year.
While going through the backpack, make sure you grab any pencils, pens or other school supplies which can be used again next year. Other items worth salvaging include staplers, scissors, pencil cases, clipboards and binders.
With many students customizing their lockers with organizers, mirrors, and disco balls (yes, you read that right), these items are also worth recycling for next year.
The reality is, most of the items that come home from school at the end of the year aren’t going to make it past the trash can, so recycle what you can and then celebrate – Because school is out for summer!
10 smart tips for protecting your passwords
Your computer. Your online bank or investment account. Your health insurance. Your auto loan. Today, thanks to technology, you can now access more accounts and providers online than ever before. That’s the good news. The bad news is that online account access comes with a big responsibility – managing multiple passwords. In fact, if wealth were measured in passwords, the average American would be very wealthy.
Because of the importance of your passwords in protecting your personal and account information, it’s critical that you make the time to carefully choose and manage all your passwords. Here are 10 smart tips for greater password security:
- Don’t make your passwords easily decipherable. While they are easy to remember, simple passwords, such as a child’s name, your date of birth, street address, or dog’s name may be obvious to identity thieves.
- Mix up letters and numbers and capitalization. The best passwords are those that are long (8 characters or more) and feature a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Consider substituting symbols for letters. For example, instead of using the letter “S,” use the “$” symbol in your password.
- Assign a different password for every online account. While using one password for all accounts can make things easier for you; it can put you at far greater risk if that password is ever compromised.
- Don’t use consecutive computer keystrokes, such as “123456” or “qwerty.”
- Write down and store your passwords in a secure place.
- Change your passwords regularly.
- Always log off your online accounts.
- Assign passwords for all your devices, such as your cellphone, computer, or tablet.
- Never share your passwords with anyone.
Take a moment to review your passwords today. It’s a small step that can make a big difference in the security of your information.
With children counting down the days until the end of school, many parents find themselves looking for affordable ways to fill the coming days. Here are a few ideas that will connect your children with friends and fun without breaking the bank:
Look to the library
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) recently released new Summer reading lists for children from birth through 8th grade. Download the free lists and hit your local library for great stories which are sure to keep your children entertained all summer long.
Stay close to home
Many town recreation departments offer lower cost summer programs including swimming, sports and field trips to residents.
Free family fun
For the eighth consecutive year, First County Bank is sponsoring the 2016 Norwalk Summer Concert Series at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, which is free and open to the public. Throughout the summer many towns offer free family movie nights, concerts in the park and other evening “open air” entertainment – check with your local recreation department for details.
Share the summer
Taking some time off this summer for a “staycation?” Include the children of your neighbors and friends in your plans in exchange for their doing the same. Not only will you save money, but it will ensure your kids always have someone to play with (avoiding the inevitable cries of “I’m bored!”)
Summer is a great time to explore, relax and enjoy the warm weather – and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. How do you save on summer vacation?
Coffee shops. Malls. Libraries. Waiting rooms. It seems wherever you go today, more and more establishments are offering the benefit of free Internet access. And while public WiFi can certainly make updating your Facebook status or doing online shopping more convenient, it can bring forth added risk; those same networks that offer convenience to you also offer an easy and convenient way for hackers to view and obtain your personal information and account passwords.
As an Internet user, you do have one form of protection available to you – encryption. Today, an increasing number of websites offer this form of security, which scrambles or encodes information you send. What’s more, you can easily determine when encryption is used simply by looking at the URL in your browser address; sites that begin with “https” use encryption while sites that have “http” in the URL line do not.
It’s important to note, however, that sites that offer encryption may not offer full encryption, putting your passwords and personal information at risk when using public WiFi.
So how can you make using public WiFi a private and secure experience?
The answer lies in three letters – VPN or a Virtual Private Network. A VPN provides a virtual and secure tunnel that make your Internet behaviors virtually invisible to hackers and other entities, such as the government or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that want to track your patterns.
There are a number of paid VPN services from which you can choose. When searching for one, be sure to look at the security features offered as well as the bandwidth available for each session. You will also want to choose a VPN that offers a U.S.-based server.
If you travel frequently and use public WiFi, it’s a good idea to take the added measure of security and subscribe to a VPN service. Otherwise that daily trip to the coffee shop could end up costing you a whole lot more than the price of that Grande latte.