News for YOU! is a free, monthly newsletter provided by KS StateBank that offers tips and other information to help you make wise financial choices. Please feel free to sign up now to receive new editions of our newsletters each month, as well as other updates. You can also subscribe to our business newsletter, Business News for YOU!

 

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April 2015   The Smart Way to Use Your Tax Refund
   

Nearly eight out of 10 U.S. tax filers will receive a federal tax refund this year. As you await your reimbursement from Uncle Sam, consider these five tips for making the most of your tax refund.

  • Save for emergencies. Open or add to a high-yield savings account that serves as an “emergency fund.” Ideally, it should hold about three-to-six months of living expenses in case of sudden financial hardships like losing your job or having to replace your car.
  • Pay off debt. Pay down existing balances either by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
  • Save for retirement. Open or increase contributions to a tax-deferred savings plan like a 401(k) or an IRA. Where can you get one? KS StateBank can help you set up an IRA, while a 401(k) is employer-sponsored.
  • Put it toward a down payment. The biggest challenge that most first-time home buyers face is coming up with enough money for a down payment. If you intend to buy a new home in the near future, putting your tax refund toward the down payment is a smart move.
  • Invest in your current home. Use your refund to invest in home improvements that will pay you back in the long run by increasing the value of your home. This can include small, cost-effective upgrades like energy-efficient appliances that will pay off in both the short and long term. If you have more substantial renovations in mind, we can help with a home equity line of credit.

 

If you have questions regarding any type of account, don’t hesitate to give us a call or stop by a branch. Or, check out our website to learn more!

     
    Scams: When Telemarketer Calls Don't Ring True
   

Federal rules prohibit a variety of unfair or deceptive advertising practices, and they enable consumers to stop most telemarketer calls by placing their personal phone and cell numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov). We’re discussing telemarketing calls this month because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other agencies have reported increases in complaints involving telemarketers that may be perpetrating scams or otherwise violating federal and state laws.

According to the FTC, the vast majority of the violations of the do-not-call rules involve "robocalls," which are pre-recorded phone messages that companies send to thousands of phones at the same time. Some companies continue to make robocalls to people who have signed up for the Do Not Call Registry, using fake "caller IDs" that make them hard to identify or trace. These calls might be scams.

Michael Benardo, manager of the FDIC's Financial Crimes Section, explained one scam involving a pre-recorded message supposedly from a financial institution or a government agency, describing some "urgent" matter. "If you return the call, you might be asked a series of personal questions using the touch-tone keypad on your telephone. The information you are asked to provide, such as account numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs), birth dates, and passwords, can be used to access to your bank account or commit identity theft," said Benardo.

He added, "Your financial institution or a government agency would never contact you asking for such information. When in doubt, call your institution or the government agency that the call is supposedly from by using a phone number that you know or that you find, not the number in the message."

Because it may be difficult to get your money back, remember the following:

If you get a robocall, hang up. Don't press "1" to speak to a live operator and don't press any other number to (supposedly) get your phone number off a call list. Doing so will probably just lead to more robocalls.

Never give out personal identification information over the phone unless you initiate the call and know the other party is reputable. This includes bank account and credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, account passwords and PINs.

Thoroughly check out any offer before agreeing to it. Always ask for key details in writing. Carefully read all applications and contracts so that you understand your potential costs, risks and requirements. You also can research an offer with help from your state or local consumer protection agency (start at www.usa.gov/directory/stateconsumer) or your state Attorney General's office (http://www.naag.org/naag/attorneys-general/whos-my-ag.php).

Assume that any offer that "sounds too good to be true" — especially one from a stranger or an unfamiliar company — is probably a fraud. "Common examples of scams include fake lottery winnings, bogus job offers, and promises of an investment paying significantly above market rates," said Kathryn Weatherby, a fraud examination specialist for the FDIC.

Resist pressure to make a decision immediately. Here are a few red flags that can help you spot a scam:

  • You're told to send money or provide bank account information before you receive anything in return,
  • You sense a reluctance on the part of the caller to answer questions or provide written information,
  • You're told you already agreed to pay money, but you don't remember that.

 

If you think you're a victim, file a complaint with the FTC (at ftc.gov/complaint or toll-free at 877-382-4357) and with your police department. For more tips on topics like reducing robocalls, avoiding phone scams and stopping unwanted mail and calls, start at the FTC's website (www.ftc.gov).

     
    Easter Egg Safety
   

It's a spring ritual that brightens holiday Easter tables and the faces of children and adults alike. It's Easter egg coloring. And with all the creative coloring kits on the market, there's no shortage of ways for families to come together, have some fun, and show some creativity. But Easter egg coloring is about more than choosing the right color; it's also about safety and ensuring you protect yourself and your loved ones from illness. 

To help ensure your safety, we've put together these helpful tips:

  • Buy the freshest eggs available.
  • Inspect all eggs in the carton to ensure none are cracked or broken.
  • Make sure eggs are refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after handling the eggs. Make sure children do the same.
  • Hard boil eggs the safe way. To avoid salmonella poisoning, it's critical that eggs are thoroughly cooked. PAAS, a leading maker of Easter egg coloring kits, shares these steps for safe hard boiling:
  • Place eggs in single layers in a large saucepan. Add water to at least 1" above eggs.
  • Cover. Quickly bring water to boil and turn off heat.
  • Remove the pan from heat to prevent further boiling. Let eggs stand, covered for 15 minutes for large eggs, 12 minutes for medium eggs, and 18 minutes for extra-large eggs.
  • Immediately run cold water over eggs or place them in ice water completely submerged.
  • Use only food-grade dyes available with egg coloring kits.
  • While your eggs might make a colorful centerpiece for your table, don't make the mistake of leaving them out too long and eating them. For your safety, never eat eggs that have been unrefrigerated for more than two hours.
  • Do not boil eggs that are cracked.
  • Don't eat colored shelled eggs older than seven days. Additionally, eggs out of their shell should be eaten immediately.
  • To peel an egg for serving, gently crack it on a hard surface until the entire egg is cracked. Softly roll the egg in your hands and peel from the large end first. While peeling, run the egg under cold water so that the shell will continue to crack.
  • Never microwave shelled eggs. The pressure could cause them to explode.

 

Planning an egg hunt?

If you want to use real eggs for an Easter egg hunt, be extra careful. Never hide cracked eggs or place them in areas where chemicals are sprayed. Make sure the eggs are not left outside unrefrigerated for more than two hours. For more information on egg coloring safety and decorating tips, visit paaseastereggs.com

     
     
March 2015   Creating a Budget
   

Do you know how much you spend each month, as it compares to how much you’ve made? Creating an accurate budget will help you get a handle on your monthly spending and savings goals. The key to creating a good budget is to include as much information as you can so that you can adequately prepare and plan.

So, how do you get started?

First, write down your current income. This total should include all money coming in each month, starting with your take home pay (your salary minus taxes and deductions)… but don’t forget any tips, child support, investment income, etc. that you might get regularly.

Then, start a list of your monthly expenses. For monthly bills that vary month-to-month, create an average (for example, if your cell phone is $45 one month and $55 the next, estimate $50 per month). For annual bills, divide the yearly cost by 12 to get your monthly figure. Don’t forget about non-utility expenses, either… eating out, shopping trips, even your grocery bill needs to be included.

Once you have a comprehensive list, subtract your expenses from your income. How’d you do?

  • If your income and expenses are equal and you are living paycheck to paycheck, cut expenses and develop a savings plan in case of emergencies or unexpected costs. If you are using credit to survive and paying only minimums each month, consider talking to a debt counseling service to help you get back on the track to live within your means.
  • If you have money left over at the end of the month, great work! You're doing a good job of managing your expenses. Now’s the time to consider what you could do with the extra money. You could open a savings account to keep the funds safely set aside for the future. If you already have a savings account, consider setting up automatic transfers to that account or, if you have direct deposit, ask your employer to put a portion of your paycheck in that account automatically. You could also investigate whether your employer offers a 401(k) or other employee matching savings plan. The contribution you make to this type of account is taken out of your paycheck before taxes.
  • If your total was negative and you don’t have enough money, you need to make adjustments immediately. Keep in mind that it's usually easier to cut back on expenses than to increase your income. Analyze your budget to see where you can cut. Typically making cuts to your shopping and eating out categories are the easiest adjustments. You can also call your utility, phone, cable, and cell phone providers. There may be ways to cut those bills that just take a phone call. Or, if need be, you could consider increasing your income by getting a second part-time job or by working overtime.

 

Take charge of your finances today. Set some goals, establish a reasonable budget and then stick to it. You can do this!

     
    The Chore of Teaching Kids Responsibility
   

It's no secret that teaching children to become responsible and independent adults is one of the most important tasks for a parent. What many parents don't often realize, however, is the fact that those lessons should start when children are young. Here are some great ways to foster independence and responsibility in young children:

  • Give your kids chores. You can assign age-appropriate household responsibilities at every stage of your child's growth. You might for example, ask a toddler or younger child to pick up and put away their toys. A teenager can help with some of the household responsibilities, such as house cleaning or lawn mowing.
  • Give your children an allowance. Being independent requires your children to understand the importance of managing money. One of the easiest ways to foster financial education is to give your children an allowance for performing chores.
  • Open a bank account for your child. Another great way to teach children about money is to open a bank account in your child's name. Encourage your child to put a portion of their allowance in savings or to save their birthday and other gift money.
  • Let them do things themselves. Kids learn by doing. And while it may be easier for you to dress a young child in the morning for school, you'll be fostering independence and building your child's self-esteem by allowing them to do it independently. If you have a teenager, consider having them set their own alarm and waking up on their own.
  • Be a good role model. You may not realize it, but children learn the most not from listening to their parents, but from emulating them. If your children see you working hard with your job and managing money wisely, they may do the same.
  • Praise your child. One of the best ways to encourage responsible behavior is to reinforce it. If your children do a great job on their tasks, be sure to praise them. If you pay them an allowance, consider giving them a bonus or raise for going above and beyond.
  • Be realistic. Start out small with your child's tasks, particularly when they are younger. As they grow older and successfully complete tasks, assign them new tasks.

 

While it's hard to see our children grow up, teaching them independence and a strong work ethic is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Best of all, it doesn't come with an expensive price tag.

     
    World Water Day—March 22, 2015
   

Water is one of the most basic of all needs—we cannot live for more than a few days without it. And yet, most people take water for granted. We waste water needlessly and don't realize that clean water is a very limited resource. More than 1 billion people around the world have no access to safe, clean drinking water, and over 2.5 billion do not have adequate sanitation service. Over 2 million people die each year because of unsafe water—and most of them are children!

World Water Day, observed on March 22, is an important opportunity to educate ourselves and our communities about this most vital of all resources, explore ways to conserve it and protect the waters of our rivers, lakes, oceans and streams. It's a chance to address the issue of helping those without access to clean drinking water. World Water Day is also a time for ethical and moral discussion about water rights, particularly the growing trend of corporations taking over community access to water.

For more information on World Water Day visit the Official UN-Water website.

     
     
February 2015   Are You Using Text Banking Yet?
   

Text Banking is a free service offered by KS StateBank for all clients. You can register for the service directly through your Mobile Banking app, or if you don’t have the app, you can call Client Care and they’ll get you set up. It’s important to note that you don’t need a smartphone to use this service!

Text Banking allows you to check your balance or see a list of recent transactions by simply texting a short code to us. Again… even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can use this service!

That said, if you do use our Mobile Banking app, you can sign up for the additional benefits of Text Alerts. You can set up a number of alerts to let you know when a check clears, when a deposit has been made, or even just a weekly balance alert. All sent via text to your phone, without logging in.

If you’re not using this service yet… you should check it out. Learn more.

     
    Your Financial Records: What to Toss and When
   

Bank statements, credit card bills, canceled checks and other documents can be useful for tax purposes, as proof of a transaction or payment, or for other reasons. But how long should you keep them?

We can't tell you when it's safe to throw away financial documents, you should definitely check with your tax advisor for more specific timelines. However, it’s important to point out that federal tax rules require you to have receipts and other records that support items on a return for as long as the IRS can assess you additional tax.

With tax considerations in mind, here are suggestions that may be reasonable for many people.

Credit card and bank account statements: Save those with no tax significance for about a year, but those with tax significance should be saved for seven years.

Canceled checks: Those unrelated to anything you claimed on your income tax form and not needed to show you've paid a bill or debt probably can be destroyed after you've verified that your bank statement is correct. But canceled checks that support your tax returns, such as charitable contributions or tax payments, probably should be held for seven years.

And, you may want to keep indefinitely any canceled checks and related receipts or documents for a home purchase or sale, renovations or other improvements to a property you own. But once a home has been sold and another seven years have passed, checks related to renovations or improvements can be destroyed.

If you keep records electronically, be sure to back up your data. You can store it in various ways (on CDs, flash drives, etc.), but as old technology is no longer supported, you will need to transfer your old data to new media. Another option is to research different companies that provide backup storage online, either free or for a small charge.

Deposit, ATM, credit card and debit card receipts: Save them until the transaction appears on your statement and you've verified that the information is accurate. You may make an exception for receipts for expensive items. If they are under warranty or you have to file an insurance claim, the receipt may be helpful.

Finally, before tossing away any document that contains a Social Security Number, bank account number or other personal information (especially financial information), shred it to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

     
    9 Easy Ways to Improve Your Credit Score
   

Forty-three percent of consumers know their credit score, a key metric that helps determine whether they can get credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and insurance coverage, according to a recent survey by the American Bankers Association (ABA). Whether or not they know their score, consumers can take action now to understand and protect their credit.

“The more you know about your own credit history, the better you can position yourself for lower rates when applying for a loan or insurance coverage,” said Nessa Feddis, ABA’s senior vice president and deputy chief counsel for consumer protection and payments. 

Credit scores are reflective of a person’s creditworthiness and are based on their credit reports, which indicate whether a person pays their bills on time. Lenders use a consumer’s credit score to decide whether to lend them money and at what rate. Credit scores are also used by organizations for screening insurance and other applications. Consumers receive their credit score when they apply for a mortgage, if they are turned down for credit or if a bank used their credit score to determine their interest rate. Some banks will supply their customers with a complimentary credit score from one of the major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—or consumers can pay to obtain their score directly from a credit bureau.

“If you check your score and don’t like what you see, you can take action today to begin improving it,” said Feddis. "While there is no overnight fix for a low credit score, paying your debts on time and demonstrating that you can manage credit responsibly can help you gradually rebuild your score.”

Below are tips from ABA to help consumers improve and maintain their credit scores:

Credit Do's:

  • DO order a copy of your credit report annually. The three major credit bureaus are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report at your request each year. To get a free copy of your credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. You can also obtain your credit score from any of these credit bureaus for a reasonable fee.
  • DO know the power of credit. Banks look at your credit history as an indication of your future financial behavior. By using credit wisely, you can build a good credit history making it easier to get loans with low interest rates, rent an apartment, purchase a car or home, and may even help you get a job.
  • DO read the fine print on the credit application. The application is a contract, so read it carefully before signing. Credit card companies are very competitive so interest rates, credit limits, grace periods, annual fees, terms and conditions may vary.
  • DO pay at least the minimum due and contact your creditor if you have trouble making payments. This will help you to avoid late fees and a rising APR. To pay off your balance more quickly, pay more than the minimum due. If you are unable to make the minimum monthly payments, let your creditor know so they can work with you to create a more manageable payment plan.
  • DO be wary of anyone who claims they can "fix" your credit report. No one can legally remove negative information from your credit history if it is accurate. The only thing that can fix a credit report is time and a positive payment history.

 

Credit Don'ts:

  • DON'T pay your bills late. Late payments can affect your credit rating and increase your balance. If you are unable to pay the minimum monthly payment, let your creditor know and it may be able to lower your payments.
  • DON'T spend more than you can afford. Credit is a loan and has to be repaid. It is your responsibility to manage your debts and to keep your commitment with lenders. Avoid reaching your credit limit or "maxing out" your cards.
  • DON'T ignore the warning signs of credit trouble. If you pay only the minimum balance, pay late, use cash-advances to fund daily living expenses or transfer a lot of balances you might be in the credit “danger zone.” Talk to a non-profit financial counseling organization like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org) to regain control of your finances.
  • DON'T share your credit card number. Never give out credit card or personal information if you have not initiated the transaction. Be aware of identity theft and phishing scams that ask for credit card numbers. If you suspect that your identity has been compromised, call your bank and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338) or ftc.gov/idtheft.

 

For more tips and resources on this and other personal finance topics, visit aba.com/consumers.

     
     
January 2015   8 Things Cyber Criminals Don’t Want You to Know
   

For all the internet’s advantages, it can also make users vulnerable to fraud, identity theft and other scams.

“As online and mobile banking become increasingly popular, it’s critical that customers work in tandem with banks to keep their money and information secure,” said Frank Keating, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association. “Banks continue their fight against cybercriminals, but the more precautions we all take, the safer our accounts will be.”

ABA offers the following tips to help consumers stay safe and secure online:

  • Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
  • Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.
    • Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov–and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.
  • Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc.  Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
  • Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
  • Be careful in the cloud. While using the cloud makes it easier to store and share large amounts of files, understand that it also opens other avenues for attack.
  • Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
  • Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects.

 

For more information, and for tips to protect your mobile device, your identity or your small business account, visit aba.com/consumers.

     
    Tips for the New Year
   

It's that time of year—the time to ring out the old and ring in the new, to stop bad habits and replace them with good ones. We can't help you lose weight, eat right, or recycle more, but we can give you some suggestions to help you whip your finances into shape. Here are some tips for the New Year.

  1. Start saving. Even if you can only put away a small amount, open a savings account and consider having your employer automatically put some into a savings account each time you are paid. As your balance grows, consider moving your funds into a CD or IRA. Just remember, experts recommend keeping about six months or expenses in an account you can access, in case you have an unexpected emergency come up.
  2. Work to pay off high-interest debt. If you have high-interest debt on credit cards or other loans, you’ll be better off in the long-term by paying those off than investing your extra cash.
  3. Track your spending. If you don't know where your money goes each month, start keeping track. There are plenty of tools available to help you set a monthly budget and stick to it.
  4. Review your current investments and make sure that you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. You can reduce the risks associated with investing if you diversify your investment holdings.
  5. Do your homework. Asking questions about financial opportunities and checking out the answers with unbiased sources can help you make informed choices and avoid fraud. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

 

Good luck with all of your New Year’s resolutions. We hope you have a fantastic and financially secure 2015.

     
    Game Planning for a Super Football Party
   

America loves football. And there's no better time to celebrate football season than the month of January when professional playoffs and college bowl games are in full swing. And while you may not be able to join the crowds at the actual games, you can bring your own crowd into your home with a super football party. Here's an easy-to-follow game plan for wowing your friends and family:

Set your roster. The key to a successful party is determining whom you will bring together. Will your party be for serious, diehard football fans or for casual observers? You wouldn't want to put a football fanatic next to someone who has no interest in the game. It's important to know your guests' football interests, so you can make sure you can accommodate them all.

Ready the home field. Get out your "footballware." Football-themed plates and napkins are a great way to show your spirit. Hang streamers and banners of your favorite team. Maybe even throw on a football shirt of your own.

Prepare your concessions. You can score points with your guests by having the right snacks. Of course, you'll want the usual snacks, such as chips and dip, nachos, chili, and vegetable dip. For a list of super food ideas, including dips, sandwiches and other football-themed delicious treats, visit foodnetwork.com.

Make the best seats in the house. Arrange your furniture and chairs so that all guests can have a clear and comfortable view of the game. If your party spills into other rooms, make sure you have a TV or radio set up in each room, so football fanatics don't miss a play.

Get in the game. Prior to the game, ask your guests to submit a prediction for the score after each quarter and for the end of the game. Then award fun little prizes to the person who makes the right prediction.

By following these simple steps, you'll ensure a winning event no matter what the score.

     
     

     

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