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Monthly Archives: November 2022
What is the safest way to pay: Writing a check vs. swiping a debit card
If you’ve signed up for a checking account in the last five years, chances are you were offered a checkbook and a debit card. For some people, writing checks is the best way for them to pay their bills—nearly $26 trillion in checks were written in 2018, according to the Federal Reserve’s most recent payments study. In some cases, a check is the only method of payment accepted. Yet many others rely almost entirely on their debit card for transactions.
In an age where hacking is increasingly common, we are always looking for ways to secure our information, especially as it relates to finances. So, when it comes to payment methods, what’s the safest way to pay?
Is paying with a debit card safe?
Overall, paying with a debit card is safe and there are measures in place to prevent fraud. When swiping your debit card to purchase things like groceries and gas, you are often required to enter your unique personal identification number, or PIN. Additionally, financial institutions are constantly watching for signs of potentially fraudulent transactions. Some even offer mobile alerts as soon as they notice suspicious charges or unusual activity on your account. If your debit card is backed by Visa® or MasterCard, you’re also protected by a Zero Liability policy.
Of course, there are risks of using your debit card. Scammers can steal your information through public wireless internet access as well as through “skimming” devices attached to machines.
Even with potential risks, debit cards can be extremely useful. When picking up your weekly groceries, it is much easier and more efficient to swipe your debit card than to write a check. And, because of their direct connection to your checking account, you are effectively making your purchases in cash but with a record of your purchase on your monthly statement. Debit cards are also great for those who are looking to avoid debt.
How to keep debit card transactions safe
Debit cards are linked directly with your checking account and if stolen or hacked, a thief can gain access to all of the funds in your account. Whether you’re making payments online or in-person, there are several ways to combat fraud.
You should always check your bank statements often and review transactions. If you notice anything amiss, report any unauthorized transactions immediately to your financial institution. You may also consider filing a police report, which can provide extra support against fraudulent charges.
Your PIN is your primary method of accessing your debit card, so be sure to keep this to yourself. Do not use this number for other things, like your phone passcode, and don’t write it down anywhere. If you need cash, be sure to use ATMs at financial institutions instead of public spaces, like a convenience store. These machines are less likely to be tampered with or have “skimming” devices attached.
When shopping online, check your browser for a security symbol, such as an unbroken key or a padlock, on each website to ensure encryption. Lastly, make sure you are using a password-protected wireless signal to check your bank account balance, pay bills, and shop, so hackers have less chance to capture your password and account information.
Is paying with a check safe?
Generally speaking, paying with checks is still fairly safe thanks to security measures like watermarking and specialized gradient backgrounds. But, a check is still a piece of paper with all of your personal and financial information openly displayed. In cases like mail theft or a home invasion, there is nothing stopping someone from accessing your money—or worse.
Your risk is amplified if you don’t specify a recipient on the check—writing a check to “cash” is able to be cashed by essentially anyone. Moreover, older generations are more likely to still write paper checks. As they are often the targets of financial fraud, check writing can compound their risk.
That said, there are definitely times when a check is preferable. If you’re making an important payment, like a down payment on a house or school tuition, a paper check might be a good option, as they offer a paper trail for your record-keeping. Additionally, you can see copies of checks you’ve written on your monthly statement while some institutions allow you to track the journey of your check via your bank. You may also prefer a check when you want to send a gift, like for a wedding or graduation.
How to prevent check fraud
There are many ways to reduce your risk of fraud and safeguard your information. Always fill out the payee line and full, current date on every check you write using ink. Be sure to keep your checks in a safe place—not in your purse or wallet, which could be lost or stolen.
When ordering your checks, limit the amount of information pre-printed on your check. You should only include your name and address. Any additional information required by a merchant, such as driver’s license number or date of birth, can be written onto the check in ink. And of course, you should monitor your bank account activity regularly.
One last way to reduce the chance of check fraud is reduce your use of checks. Enrolling in your credit union or bank’s online payment service, like Georgia’s Own Bill Pay, can help you manage your expenses easily and without the clutter of paper bills.
Wildcard opponent: mobile payments & digital wallets
Nowadays, it’s almost as easy to pay using your phone instead of a check or a debit card. Many smartphones offer a digital wallet, apps like Google Pay™ or Apple Pay®, that can be used on phones and smartwatches. But can you trust your phone with your financial information? The answer is yes! There are multiple layers of security for digital wallet transactions. Each transaction is protected by the app, retail outlet, credit card company, and the bank or credit union that issued the card. Digital wallets rely on tokenization, which encodes your information to the point that is unidentifiable.
Of course, you should always take precautions with your personal information, even on your phone. Using a separate lock codes for your phone and digital wallet app is one way to keep your information safe. And just like entering your PIN code for your debit card, be sure to watch for prying eyes when unlocking your devices.
- Both checks and debit cards are safe to use thanks to different methods of fraud protection.
- Checks may be better for larger purchases that require a paper trail or for gifts.
- Debit cards are better for everyday purchases, like groceries and gas.
Unfortunately, no payment method is 100% fraud-proof.
There are always going to be times where one payment method is preferable to another, and sometimes paying with a check is inevitable. That doesn’t mean you’re automatically at risk of fraud. Stay ahead of hackers or fraudulent charges by being cautious about how and where you share your information and monitoring your transactions through your monthly statements or online banking platform.
What is a Money Market account and is it right for you?
As we head into the end of the year, many people are looking for ways to build up their savings. Whether it’s for holiday vacations or a down payment on a house or car, one way to achieve savings goals is through investments like a Money Market account.
Investing can be intimidating though, and with so many options, it may be hard to know what is best for you. Moreover, the complexities of the financial markets can make investing seem scary enough to leave you pilfering your piggy bank instead.
Don’t smash that piggy just yet, though. If you’ve been looking for new ways to save for short-term goals, you may want to consider a Money Market account. But what exactly are they and are they right for your goals? Let’s dive in.
What is a Money Market account?
A Money Market account (MMA) is a savings account that often includes check-writing and debit card privileges. This may be helpful in an emergency, as you may access funds more easily than with traditional savings accounts. Additionally, most MMAs pay a higher interest rate than regular savings accounts, earning you more money the longer it collects interest.
A minimum initial deposit is required to open an MMA and balances must be maintained over a certain threshold while they are active. A service charge is incurred if the balance falls below that minimum amount. You earn dividends by maintaining your daily balance, and dividends are compounded monthly. If needed, you can withdraw from this account up to six times in a month.
In terms of risk, MMAs are a secure way to save money, with deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC) at banks and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) at credit unions. That means your money is protected even if the issuing institution collapses.
When should I open a Money Market account?
MMAs are best suited for those who want to earn more interest than they would with a savings account with short-term goals in mind. If you’re looking to save money for a specific purchase, like a vacation or a down payment, an MMA may be a good option. They are not intended for long-term purposes like retirement.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a Money Market account?
Now that you understand what an MMA is and how it works, let’s cover the pros and cons of MMAs. One of the biggest advantages of MMAs are the higher interest rates, which allows your money to work harder. Additionally, you can access your funds more easily than with a traditional savings account when needed, either through check-writing privileges or a debit card. Lastly, MMAs are a safe place for you to store cash while working towards a short-term savings goal because they have federal insurance protection.
Potential disadvantages include limited transactions, fees, withdrawal restrictions, and minimum balance requirements. Some institutions require a high minimum balance to open an MMA and may impose fees if that balance is not maintained.
What are the alternatives to a Money Market account?
If a Money Market account doesn’t seem like your perfect match, there are other options. Alternatives to an MMA include a savings account or certificate of deposit (CD). Like an MMA, a savings account or CD allows you to save towards a goal. CDs, however, require only one deposit that stays in the account until its maturity date. Because you give up access to your funds, they generally offer a higher rate of return versus traditional savings accounts or MMAs.
Is a Money Market account the same as a money market fund?
It is important to note that a Money Market account is not the same thing as a money market fund. Money market funds are investments that could lose value if the market falls, while an MMA is independent of the market. Moreover, unlike MMAs, money market funds are not federally insured by the FDIC or NCUA.
If you’re considering an investment, speak with your financial advisor to determine which options will meet your individual needs—in the short and long term. You can schedule a meeting at no cost and no obligation with a financial advisor at Georgia’s Own to discuss your investment plans.
- MMAs are high-interest accounts that give account holders the benefits and features of both savings and checking accounts, including check-writing and debit card privileges.
- MMAs are best for achieving short-term financial goals as opposed to long-term financial planning.
- Alternatives to MMAs include savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs).
8 ways to save money during the holidays
The holiday season is a time for giving—but it’s also a time for spending. Due to the effects of inflation, the cost of everything has skyrocketed. Higher rates across the board don’t help, either. Despite the obstacles being hurled our way, it’s possible to still make the holiday season merry and bright while saving some cash, too. Here are eight ways you can save money during the holidays.
1. Stick to a budget
Before you begin shopping, create a budget. If you’re one of the savvy shoppers who opened a Holiday Savings account or a short-term certificate of deposit (CD), now’s the time to put those funds to use—but don’t go overboard. Plan how much you’ll spend on gifts, entertaining, travel, and other small expenses, like holiday cards and stamps. You should also add room for extra spending in case you want to treat yourself—or if you unexpectedly receive a gift from a co-worker and need to return the favor.
2. Create a holiday shopping list
It may be the season of giving, but that doesn’t mean you need to give to everyone. Create a holiday shopping list after establishing your budget, and stick to it. Shopping for only those who need gifts is a huge way to save money during the holidays. List the people you need to shop for and how much you plan to spend on their gift. If you’re over budget, the easiest way to trim your budget is by trimming the number of people.
3. Cut spending elsewhere
If you need wiggle room in your budget, cut spending elsewhere, like dining out or streaming services. Let’s face it—you don’t regularly use every streaming platform you subscribe to. Save an extra $10-$20 a month by pausing a couple of streaming services through the holidays, and resume your subscription in January. Or, if you find yourself dining out more often than necessary, save by shopping at the grocery store and planning meals at home.
4. Spend responsibly
When used responsibly, shopping with a credit card can be beneficial during the holidays. If you find a credit card with a great introductory bonus, you may meet the requirements just by checking off your holiday shopping list (depending on your budget, of course). If you’ve already racked up rewards points, you can cash in those points for gifts, airline tickets, or hotels. If you don’t trust yourself to stick within your budget while using a credit card, you can opt for cash. Whatever your budget is, withdraw that from your checking account and use that cash to shop—once it’s gone, it’s gone.
5. Shop strategically
When you shop is just as important as where you shop. Also, think about what you need to purchase. If you’re looking to score deals on TVs and other electronics, pre-Black Friday and Black Friday deals are your best bet. Cyber Monday is great for shopping for clothes and travel deals, and it’s often a repeat of Black Friday offers. As Christmas approaches, many retailers also discount toys and games to avoid getting stuck with them after the holidays. Super Saturday is the Saturday before Christmas and is filled with last-minute deals for those who haven’t finished their holiday shopping yet. These deals can be huge ways to save money during the holidays.
6. Consider non-monetary gifts
Experiences and favors for family and friends can sometimes be more meaningful than material gifts. If your budget is lower this year, opt for non-monetary gifts. Volunteer to watch your sister’s kids so she can have a night out. Or, help an elderly relative with housework and running errands. Even handmade gifts, like scrapbooks or a framed photo of a special memory, can be more meaningful than something expensive.
7. Give the gift of your time
Volunteering can be the greatest gift of all. If you and your family or friends have everything you need, why not volunteer during the holidays instead of exchanging gifts? Help out a local soup kitchen, host a coat drive, volunteer at a nursing home, or help wherever else you’re needed. Just a few hours of volunteering your time can brighten the holidays for dozens of people. If you’re stuck on ideas, volunteermatch.org posts various volunteer opportunities, and you can filter by category to find something that piques your interest.
8. Celebrate after the holidays
Traveling during the holidays can add up quickly between flights, transportation, and hotels. It can also be stressful and overwhelming due to the sheer volume of people. If you’re visiting family or want to travel during the holidays, celebrate after to help save big on travel costs. You’ll even save on gifts if you wait for post-holiday sales to shop. If you can’t wait until after the holidays to celebrate, try to book in advance and avoid high fares.
10 common cybersecurity misconceptions
Running a business takes dedication—from day-to-day tasks and managing your employees to managing finances, a business owner wears many hats. When considering all the responsibilities at hand, cybersecurity may not be at the forefront of your mind. However, it’s a critical component that needs to be considered. You need to protect your employees’ and customers’ personal and financial information—and protect your business’s hard-earned cash. Below are ten common cybersecurity misconceptions that you need to be aware of, as well as the actions you can take to safeguard your business.
1. My data isn’t valuable
Organizations of all sizes maintain (or have access to) valuable data worth protecting. Such data may include, but is not limited to, employment records, tax information, confidential correspondence, point-of-sale systems, and business contracts. All data is valuable. Assess the data you create, collect, store, access, and transmit. Then, classify that data by its level of sensitivity so you can take appropriate steps to protect it.
2. Cybersecurity is a technology issue
Organizations cannot rely on technology to secure their data. Cybersecurity is best approached with a mix of employee training, clear and accepted policies and procedures, and implementation of up-to-date technologies such as antivirus and anti-malware software. Securing an organization is the responsibility of the entire workforce, not just the IT staff. Educate every employee (in every function and at all levels of the organization) on their responsibility to help protect information. The National Institute for Standards and Technology offers a guide with more information on creating, developing, and implementing an employee awareness training program.
3. Cybersecurity requires a large financial investment
A robust cybersecurity strategy does require a financial commitment if you are serious about protecting your organization. However, there are many steps you can take that require little or no financial investment.
Create and institute cybersecurity policies and procedures, restrict administrative and access privileges, enable multi-factor or two-factor authentication, train employees to spot malicious emails, and create backup manual procedures to keep critical business processes in operation during a cyber incident. Such procedures may include processing payments in case a third-party vendor or website is not operational. The “Quick Wins” sheet created by the National Cybersecurity Alliance is an excellent starting point for steps you can begin implementing.
4. Outsourcing work to a vendor will wash your hands of security liability in the case of a cyber incident
It makes complete sense to outsource some of your work to others, but it does not mean you relinquish responsibility for protecting the data a vendor can access. The data is yours, and you have a legal (and ethical) responsibility to keep it safe and secure.
Ensure you have thorough agreements in place with all vendors, including how company data is handled, who owns the data and has access to it, how long the data is retained, and what happens to data once a contract is terminated. You should also have a lawyer review any vendor agreements.
5. Cyber breaches are covered by general liability insurance
Many standard business liability insurance policies do not cover cyber incidents or data breaches. Speak with your insurance representative to understand if you have any existing cybersecurity insurance and what type of policy would best ﬁt your company’s needs. The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Small Business Center has more information on how to handle this.
6. Cyberattacks always come from external actors
Simply put, cyberattacks do not always come from external actors. Some cybersecurity incidents are caused accidentally by an employee—such as when they copy and paste sensitive information into an email and send it to the wrong recipient. Other times, a disgruntled (or former) employee might take revenge by launching an attack on the organization.
When considering your threat landscape, it is crucial not to overlook potential cybersecurity incidents that can come from within the organization and develop strategies to minimize those threats. The Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Agency offers free resources to help you mitigate the risk of a cyberattack.
7. Young people are better at cybersecurity than others
The youngest person in the organization often becomes the default IT person. However, age doesn’t correlate to better cybersecurity practices. Before giving someone the responsibility to manage your social media, website, network, etc., educate them on your expectations of use and cybersecurity best practices.
8. Compliance with industry standards is enough for a security program
Complying with the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) or Payment Card Industry (PCI), for example, is a critical component to securing sensitive information, but simply complying with these standards does not equate to a strong cybersecurity strategy for an organization. Use a robust framework, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, to manage cybersecurity-related risk.
9. Digital and physical security are separate
Many people narrowly associate cybersecurity with only software and code. However, do not discount physical security when protecting your sensitive assets.
Assess your office’s layout and how easy it is to gain unauthorized, physical access to sensitive information and assets (e.g., servers, computers, paper records). Once your assessment is complete, implement strategies and policies to prevent unauthorized physical access. Policies may include controlling who can access certain areas of the office and appropriately securing laptops and phones while traveling. Here are some steps you can take to protect the information in paper files and hard drives, laptops, point-of-sale devices, and more.
10. New software and devices are automatically secure when I buy them
Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s secure. The moment you purchase new technology, secure the device and ensure it is operating with the most current software. Immediately change the manufacturer’s default password to a secure passphrase. When creating a new passphrase, use a lengthy, unique phrase for the account or device. Did you sign up for a new online account? Be sure to immediately configure your privacy settings before using the service.
Dispelling the above cybersecurity misconceptions is essential to securing your business’s personal and financial information. Over the next few months, we’ll share greater insight and tips on other ways to safeguard your business. In the meantime, we offer additional resources to brush up on your financial education with ACHIEVE for consumers and small businesses. Click here to start learning today.