Improving Financial Health

8-14 FinanceHealthAdvice is easy to find on the Internet; sometimes it’s so easy to find that it’s overwhelming and discouraging. Financial advice is especially abundant, making it hard to sift through when you want to find the best steps to take to improve your financial health. Fortunately, all you have to do is start with the following steps and you will be on the path toward better financial health today.

Personal finance refers to the way that you manage your money now, such as by budgeting, and how you plan for the future, such as through investing. How well you handle your personal finances is your financial health. To improve your financial health, you must take control of your current spending and make sure you have a realistic and profitable plan for the future.

Calculate Net Worth

Some people become overwhelmed by their finances and ignore them. Even if you don’t want to know exactly how much money you do or do not have, it’s important for your financial health that you always stay on top of some basic calculations.

First, take out your calculator and add up all of your assets (the things you own) and subtract your liabilities (the money you owe) from that total. This resulting figure is known as your net worth, a number that describes where you are financially at the current moment.

“Calculating your net worth one time can be helpful, but the real value comes from making this calculation on a regular basis (at least yearly),” according to Jean Folger from Forbes. “Tracking your net worth over time allows you to evaluate your progress, highlight your successes and identify areas requiring improvement.”

Create a Simple Budget

It’s impossible to analyze your current spending and accurately predict your future finances without a budget. Fortunately, budgeting doesn’t have to be complex or time consuming. With a free online tool, such as Mint.com, it’s easy to automatically track expenses and determine how much you spend in various categories per month or week. You can use this information to tighten up on areas where you’re overspending and to determine how much you need to cut back to meet financial goals, such as saving up for a vacation.

Watch out for Lifestyle Inflation

“Most people will spend more money if they have more money to spend,” according to Folger. “As people advance in their careers and earn higher salaries, there tends to be a corresponding increase in spending … a phenomenon known as lifestyle inflation.”

If you want to have a healthy financial future, it’s important to keep lifestyle inflation in check. If you let lifestyle inflation get out of control, it will be much more difficult to save for your financial goals and plan for retirement.

In order to manage lifestyle inflation, be sure to recognize which life upgrades are required and reasonable and which are just a matter of the proverbial keeping up with the Joneses. For example, if you are promoted, you may need to buy nicer clothes, but you certainly do not need a sports car to perform well in your new position.

“Especially if you suddenly got a big jump in your income, keep your former standard of living and funnel the rest into paying off debts or adding to your retirement nest egg,” states Martha C. White from Time. “Since you’re not lowering your existing budget or cutting expenses, you’ll be able to accomplish all this without feeling like you’ve had to cut back or make sacrifices.”

Set Aside an Emergency Fund

Even if you have a well thought out budget, sometimes expenses arise suddenly that can blow your budget out of the water. If you have a $500 monthly automotive budget and you suddenly need an extra $700 for a repair, you will need an emergency fund to tap into.

One-time emergency expenses are one reason for an emergency fund, but they are not all you need to plan for. Most experts recommend saving enough to cover a few months’ expenses, so that your family can stay afloat if you lose your job or need to take unpaid leave.

Creating a category in your budget for your emergency fund ensures that you will regularly add to it and not use all of your discretionary money before you remember your emergency fund.

“Keep in mind that building an emergency fund is an ongoing mission: Odds are, as soon as it is funded you will need it for something,” states Folger. “Instead of being dejected about this, be glad that you were financially prepared, and start the process of building the fund again.”

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers. Edited from original content supplied by IMN.

Merchants Bank Hires New Information Technology Leader

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, according to Sue Savat, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

“Rodney’s expertise in planning, implementing and managing technology services will be a benefit to our customers. With his leadership, Merchants will focus on technology that best fits the needs of our customers and company operations,” said Savat.

Nelsestuen has been in the financial services industry for his entire career, including most recently at Eastwood Bank as the Vice President of Information Technology. He also has experience as a consultant for global financial institutions and technology companies.

“Merchants’ top priority is customer service and satisfaction. I look forward to contributing to that culture of service by bringing a sharper focus to technology services and the Information Technology team,” said Nelsestuen.

Nelsestuen graduated first in his class from the Graduate School of Banking in Madison. He holds a graduate certificate in Information Systems Management from the Keller Graduate School of DeVry University in Milwaukee and Chicago and a Master of Fine Arts from Hamline University in St. Paul. He received his Master in Business Administration from the Keller Graduate School and his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Prevent Fraud on Your Merchants Bank Cards

fraud word abstractPreventing fraud on your bank accounts can feel like a daunting process, but at Merchants Bank, we make it easy. By collaborating with us, you’ll have 24/7 fraud detection monitoring on your debit and credit card accounts and gain access to education on latest fraud alerts and trends. The fight to prevent fraud involves not only our expertise and diligence, but a constant open line of communication with each of our customers.

How does fraud detection at Merchants Bank work?

  • We work with our trusted partners, FraudWatch at Elan Financial Services and VISA Falcon Fraud Prevention Services, to monitor fraud trends and detect fraudulent transactions on your debit or credit card accounts 24/7.
  • We will call you in the event of a suspicious transaction. You may receive a call from our partners, Elan or Falcon, who will make you aware that the call is being placed on behalf of Merchants Bank.
  • When our partners call you they will ask you for some identifying information – such as the last four digits of your Social Security Number. They will never ask you for your full number. If you are uncomfortable and don’t want to speak with our partners, please call your local Merchants Bank office and verify the transaction or let us know that you did not make the purchase in question.

What can you do to prevent fraud? Keep in touch!

  • Ensure the Bank has your most up-to-date contact information. Call your local branch if you need to make any changes.
  • Contact us before you go on vacation and don’t be shy about sharing the details, for example: dates, exact locations and how we can contact you while you’re gone. If you make purchases in a state or country where you don’t normally use your card, we may think these transactions are fraudulent unless we know otherwise.
  • If you forget to contact us before you left on vacation, call a Customer Service Representative at your local branch during your trip to provide the information listed above.
  • Contact us if you’ll be making a large purchase that would be uncharacteristic when compared to your purchase history.

Click here for more security information from Merchants Bank make sure to review the Alerts section of our website.

Five Common Online Banking Mistakes

7-14 OnlineMany will argue that banking online has been the best invention since sliced bread. And there’s no doubt about that: no more statements and papers — everything is on your computer or mobile device, right at your fingertips.

But while banking online is certainly a feat that will make your life easier, there are some things that people do without even realizing it can be hazardous to your account safety. For your own security and protection, avoid these top online banking mistakes:

1. Don’t use an easy-to-guess password – You may be surprised at how many people don’t use original passwords, and how dangerous it can be. In an analysis of 32 million passwords done by Imperva, an Internet and data security company, found the top 10 passwords are: 123456, 12345, 123456789, Password, iloveyou, princess, rockyou, 1234567, 12345678 and abc123. These give hackers an easy in to your account. If you’re using one of these or something similar, consider changing it. Note that the best passwords are ones that use both letters and numerals and involve both lowercase and uppercase characters. Also, avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.

2. Don’t use public Wi-Fi – When it comes to online banking, accessing community Wi-Fi is a no-no. Why?

“People generally don’t bother to check out the security characteristics of public networks before logging on, plus wireless transmissions can be intercepted by nearby Bluetooth-type devices,” says Richard Barrington, a spokesman for MoneyRates.com. That includes public libraries, too.

“The PCs [at libraries] are subject to viruses and spyware that you have no control over,” explains Robert Sicillano, a consultant for McAfee, an expert on identity theft.

3. Don’t dismiss anti-virus protection - This kind of software helps detect and protect you from malicious software (malware) and computer viruses. That’s important because “[Common viruses like] trojans and worms can infect your computer and use keystrokes and other tactics to get your bank credentials,” warns Sol Nasisi, chief economist at BestCashCow.com. It’s best if you set up your protection software to automatically update daily. Also, sometimes your financial institution may provide free software, so be sure to ask about it if you’re unsure.

4. Don’t ignore your account - Check your account regularly. That will help ensure nothing suspicious is going on in your checking and savings accounts. Try checking it once a day or week, but at minimum, you should be looking at it once a month. If you see any suspicious activity, report it to your bank immediately.

5. Don’t post password hints on social media – It sounds obvious, but don’t share any super personal information on any of your social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Doing so makes it easy for criminals to use this information and possibly open up an account in your name, or even use it to guess what your password is.

“It’s important to be careful sharing your pet’s name, your children’s names, or the name of the high school you attended, especially if you use this information as account passwords or answers to security questions,” says Lisa Robinson, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Internet Services Group. “Never share your mother’s maiden name, your Social Security number, your bank account numbers, or your user names or passwords for any account.”

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Protect Your Mobile Phones and Tablets

SecurityENWith the continuing evolution of technology, mobile phones and tablets are becoming prevalent in their use, taking the place of computers for many people. We want to remind you that it is equally as important to protect your mobile phones and tablets with antivirus and anti-malware apps as it has been to protect your computer.

This need for protection has been brought more into focus lately with a malware that locks devices attacking the users/customers of larger financial institutions. While we believe that community banks like Merchants are low on the priority list of these attacks, we still want you to be prepared.

The good news for iPad and iPhone users is that there isn’t any need for the use of antivirus and anti-malware apps. It has been taken care of in the design of the device.

For Android devices, like non-Apple phones and tablets, there are a number of different of apps that can be used to combat viruses and malware. We’ve listed a number of them in alphabetical order for you and encourage you to research these apps more in depth. You can download all these apps from the “Google play” store:

  • 360 Mobile Security – Free.
  • Antivirus and Mobile Security – Free.
  • Antivirus Mobile Security – There are paid versions available.
  • AntiVirus Security Free by AVG – Free.
  • BitDefender AntiVirus Free – Free.
  • Dr. Web Antivirus – There is a free version and paid version.
  • Hornet AntiVirus Free – Free.
  • Lookout Security & Antivirus – Free.
  • Mobile Security Antivirus FREE – Free.
  • Norton Security Antivirus – There is a free version and paid version.
  • NQ Mobile Security & Antivirus – There is a free version and paid version.
  • Mobile Security and AntiVirus by Avast – There is a free version and paid versions.
  • Mobile Security and Antivirus by ESET – There is a free version and paid version.
  • Zoner AntiVirus Free – There is a free version and paid version.

Mobile Banking is Easy: Here’s how to start

person on smartphoneWhat do you need to do to access Merchants Bank’s Mobile Banking? Simply, you need to make sure you are enrolled in Merchants Bank’s Online Banking and then log into your account.

If you are a first-time user, simply go to the Merchants Bank home page and click on “Enroll” in the upper left hand corner. You can also find an informative “Demo” there.

Once you’ve enrolled, go to “Other Services” and click “Mobile Banking” to complete the enrollment process. You can download the free app you need for your Android or Apple phone or tablet device at our website. You can also download Merchants Bank’s free mobile app through your mobile phone or tablet device. The free Android app is available at the Google Play store and the free iPhone or iPad app is available at the Apple App Store or on iTunes.

Once your app is in place, you will be able to enjoy these Mobile Banking benefits:

  • Check account balances.
  • View recent transactions.
  • Transfer funds.
  • Find Merchants Bank branch and ATM locations.
  • Contact Merchants Bank Electronic Banking customer support.

If you’d prefer to utilize text banking, you can do so without downloading an app. Our Electronic Banking Department will be able to help you.

If you have any questions, please give our Electronic Banking Department a call at 866-496-0522.

 

Cyber Security Tips for Business Owners

CyberSecurityTipsIf you own a business, your list of stressors is probably vast: Sales, employee turnover, competition — so the last thing you want to worry about is your cyber security. Nevertheless, it’s important to establish an official security plan. Why? Cyber fraud (any crime that involves a computer and/or network) is becoming more and more of a frequent issue. In fact, companies with 250 employees or less suffered more than 30 percent of all online attacks last year (up from about 18 percent in 2011), according to Symantec.com’s 2013 Internet Security Threat Report.

“Cyber criminals are business people, too,” said Arild Jensen, owner of Secos Security, a Granada Hills, CA firm that specializes in cyber security for small businesses. “They’re going to go for the easiest, most rewarding target.”

Fear not. Here are five easy ways to make sure your business’s Internet environment is as secure as it can be.

1. Choose strong passwords. Make sure passwords — for e-mail, Wi-Fi, websites and other platforms — are secure. The most important aspect of creating a password: How long it is.

“The length of the password matters more than its absolute complexity,” explains Steve Gibson, president of Gibson Research in CA. They should be eight or more characters. For even more protection, include letters, numbers, punctuation or special symbols, like an exclamation point.

2. Stay up to date — on everything. That means having the latest security software, web browser, operating system, etc., which can help guard against viruses, malware and other online threats. Most of these programs can be set to update automatically. Also important: Whenever you update your antivirus software, make sure to run a scan afterward. Installing or updating your antispyware technology is crucial as well. Spyware — as the title suggests — essentially spies on you, and is able to access personal information from your business without you knowing.

3. Pay attention to Wi-Fi. Rename your office network and change the password often, about every five or six months.

“Almost anyone can go online and find software that will automatically break into [the network],” explains Michael Hicks, director of the University of Maryland — College Park’s Cybersecurity Center. Tip: Avoid making the network title your company’s name.

4. Work with your financial institution. Ask your financial institution about protection programs. They may be able to offer a plan that allows you to monitor any suspicious activity that has occurred, like checking payments that you don’t recognize. This can help you prevent any unauthorized transactions before they occur.

5. Back up your data regularly. Sometimes, even when you do everything right, hacking can still occur. Having backup copies of important business data and information ensures that you’ll never have to start from square one. Store extra files (everything from Word documents and spreadsheets to human resource info and financial files) at a location other than your office. To make it easier, set up your files so they get backed up automatically.

6. Educate your employees.
Making sure workers are up to speed on the safest online tactics means less of a chance of a cyber mishap. Also instill the importance of not posting any confidential business-related information on social media platforms they may have, and that they don’t store business-related information on personal hard drives. Your employee’s passwords should also be different from what they use for personal passwords.

 

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