Cheryl

Seasons of Change

For all intents and purposes another Florida summer is gone. The kids have all gone back to school, the lifeguard stands have been neatly tucked away for another beach going season, our vacations are but fond memories and most of us are counting the days until autumn rears its temperate head.

We typically welcome this period of change, eagerly anticipating a temporary break from the hot, humid weather for which Florida is so famous. Although our seasonal transition lags a tad behind our more northern neighbors, we can still begin to set the stage, our life for all the wonderfully renewing experiences that another season brings.

Add a Few Accents

A new season is a great time to spruce up our surroundings. Adding a few inexpensive touches to our home can make a cheerful impact on our lives – colorful pillows for sofas, new drapes, area rugs or possibly painting an accent wall a bolder, richer color will add warmth to our home.

Bring the Outside In

As the temperature cools and the days shorten, we will be spending more time inside. But we can bring a little nature inside with fresh cut flowers, branches, berries, pinecones and leaves, or even a few dried gourds, adding a lovely autumn touch to our home.

Clean Out and Stow Away

Rather than pack up all our summer gear and warm weather apparel, let’s determine what we want to retain for next year and what we don’t. We can cut down on clutter and storage by making this decision now. Let’s recycle, donate, or have a yard sale to eliminate unwanted stuff, and pack the rest away.

Freshen Up the Kitchen

It’s a perfect time to clean out our pantry, cabinets and refrigerator. Throw out all old and expired items and assess what we will need for the cooler, more comfort food cooking months ahead. In addition to weeding out and stocking up, we shouldn’t forget to give our kitchen appliances a thorough checkup to make sure they are running efficiently. This is a perfect time to vacuum the condenser coils of the refrigerator, clean the oven and eliminate the grease buildup in the oven’s vent system.

Revisit the Bucket List

As another calendar year wanes, let’s review our life list or set out to make one. Let’s jot down our goals, dreams and ambitions, and begin plotting the steps to get there.

Start Cooking Again

Nothing gives our house a homier feel, especially when it’s cooler outside, than the aroma of a delicious home-cooked meal. Let’s break out our cookbooks. Let’s be adventurous and experiment with some new recipes. Let’s start sizzling, sautéing and baking again!

Maintain a Healthy Heart

Now that the lazy days of summer are over, it’s time to light the fire within us. Let’s move our activity level up a notch. Let’s run farther or walk more briskly or add more reps to our workout. Let’s keep in good physical shape over the coming winter months and save ourselves the disappointment of wishing we had when the beach and pool going weather returns once again.

Stay In Touch

As the days grow shorter and cooler, let’s reduce the tendency to shut ourselves in by actively engaging our network of family and friends in our everyday life to maintain a healthy support system. Let’s pull out our calendar and make some dates! Let’s meet for a latte, lunch or gather for a Sunday potluck dinner, and celebrate the beauty of a new season with those we care about most!

From my house to yours, “Happy Autumn!”

Getting Ready for “Back to School”

It’s that time again. New friends, new teachers and new routines – how do you make the transition from the lazy days of summer to the school year without making life chaotic and stressful for you and your kids?

That’s the question on every parent’s mind right about now. As we move into the second week of August, we begin to realize that “back to school” is just about back!

Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence your child’s attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically, according to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). The transition from summer to the classroom can be difficult for both you and your children.

But we as parents can help our children (and the rest of our family) manage the increased pace of life that the new school year brings by planning ahead, being realistic, and maintaining a positive attitude. Here are a few suggestions from the NASP to help ease the transition and promote a successful and rewarding school experience.

Before School Starts

Good physical and mental health. Be sure your child is in good physical and mental health. Schedule doctor and dental checkups early. Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional or psychological development with your pediatrician. Your doctor can help determine if your concerns are normal, age-appropriate issues or require further assessment.

Review all of the information. Review the material sent by the school as soon as it arrives. These packets include important information about your child’s teacher, room number, school supply requirements, sign ups for after-school sports and activities, school calendar dates, bus transportation, health and emergency forms, and volunteer opportunities.

Mark your calendar. Make a note of important dates, especially back-to-school nights. This is especially important if you have children in more than one school and need to juggle obligations.

Buy school supplies early. Try to get the supplies as early as possible and fill the backpacks a week or two before school starts.

Re-establish the bedtime and mealtime routines. Plan to re-establish the bedtime and mealtime routines (especially breakfast) at least one week before school starts.

Turn off the TV. Encourage your child to play quiet games, do puzzles, flash cards, color, or read as early morning activities instead of watching television. This will help ease your child into the learning process and school routine. If possible, maintain this practice throughout the school year.

Minimize clothes shopping woes. Buy only the essentials. Summer clothes are usually fine during the early fall, especially in Florida. Check with your school to confirm dress code guidelines.

Designate and clear a place to do homework. Older children should have the option of studying in their room or a quiet area of the house. Younger children usually need an area set aside in the family room or kitchen to facilitate adult monitoring, supervision, and encouragement.

Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes. Designate a spot for your children to place their school belongings as well as a place to put important notices and information sent home for you to see. Explain that emptying their backpack each evening is part of their responsibility, even for young children.

Freeze a few easy dinners. It will be much easier on you if you have dinner prepared so that meal preparation will not add to household tensions during the first week of school.

The First Week

Clear your own schedule. To the extent possible, postpone business trips, volunteer meetings, and extra projects. You want to be free to help your child acclimate to the school routine and overcome the confusion or anxiety that many children experience at the start of a new school year.

Make lunches the night before school. Older children should help or make their own. Give them the option to buy lunch in school if they prefer and finances permit.

Set alarm clocks. Have school-age children set their own alarm clocks to get up in the morning. Praise them for prompt response to morning schedules and bus pickups.

Leave plenty of extra time. Make sure your child has plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast, and get to school.

For younger children – send a brief note to your child’s teacher. . Let the teachers know that you are interested in getting regular feedback on how and what your child is doing in school. Be sure to attend back-to-school night and introduce yourself to the teachers.

Extracurricular Activities

Go for quality, not quantity. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Too much scheduled time can be stressful, especially for young children, and may make it harder to concentrate on schoolwork. When evaluating extracurricular activities, consider your family schedule and personal energy level. Multiple activities per child may be too much to manage, particularly if the activities have overlapping times, disparate locations, require your attendance, or disrupt the dinner hour.

These are some great tips for helping parents and kids get back into the swing of “back to school.”  So with this said, here’s to a great 2013-14 school year!

We All Scream for Ice Cream!

There is nothing that sings summer’s praises like ice cream – the “Great American Dessert.” Although many of us delight in this sweet icy treat all year long (for some of us, and I’m not mentioning any names, it’s one of our favorite guilty pleasures), summer seems to set the perfect stage for this longstanding frozen delicacy.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Saturday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. So with this in mind, I thought I’d begin the month by talking about one of America’s most popular summer desserts so we can spend the remainder of the month…summer just enjoying it.

I thought I’d start with a brief history lesson so to speak… the origin of ice cream. Then I thought I’d wrap it up with one of my favorite peach cobbler recipes – the perfect complement to your favorite ice cream. This is a summer combination sure to beat the notorious Florida heat!

Okay, let’s get started!

Ice cream’s origins date as far back as the second century B.C. Alexander the Great was known to enjoy snow and ice flavored honey with nectar. There are also Biblical references showing that King Solomon enjoyed flavored ice drinks during harvesting. During the Roman Empire, Nero Claudius Caesar frequently sent runners into the mountains for snow, which was then flavored with fruits and juices. Actually, this may have been the birth of the smoothie.

Over a thousand years later, Marco Polo returned from the Far East with a recipe that closely resembled what is now called sherbet. It is thought that this recipe evolved into ice cream sometime in the 16th century. It seems that England may have discovered ice cream at the same time or earlier than the Italians. Historians report that “Cream Ice,” as it was called, was served regularly to Charles I during the 17th century. France was introduced to this frozen dessert in 1553 by the Italian Catherine de Medici when she became the wife of Henry II of France. In 1660 ice cream was made available to the public at Café Procope, the first café in Paris. It was made from a recipe of blending milk, cream, butter and eggs.
Shortly after, the dessert was imported to the United States. During this time, many famous Americans were known to have served ice cream to their guests including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Dolley Madison. Records kept by a Chatham Street, New York merchant show that President George Washington spent approximately $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790. President Thomas Jefferson was said to have had a favorite ice cream recipe that resembled today’s Baked Alaska. In 1813, Dolley Madison served a scrumptious strawberry ice cream creation at President Madison’s second inaugural banquet at the White House.
The first ice cream parlor in the U.S. opened in New York City in 1776. American colonists were the first to use the term “ice cream.” The name came from the phrase “iced cream” that was similar to “iced tea.” The name was later abbreviated to the name we know today.

Until 1800, ice cream remained a rare and exotic dessert enjoyed mostly by the affluent. However, by 1851 manufacturing ice cream became an industry in America due to the pioneering of a Baltimore milk dealer named Jacob Fessell.

Like other American industries, the production of ice cream and the accessibility to the general public grew due to several technological innovations such as steam power, refrigeration, the homogenizer, electric power and motors, packing machines, and new freezing processes and equipment. Today the annual production of ice cream in the U.S. is over 1.6 billion gallons.

Now that you have enough ice cream history to cause a “brain freeze,” let’s get to the cobbler recipe so you can perform your American duty – consuming your portion of the 1.6 billion gallons that is.

Happy National Ice Cream Month to all of you!

Easy Peach Cobbler

Ingredients:
Two 15 oz. cans sliced peaches in syrup
½ cup (1 stick) of butter
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of milk

Directions:
Drain 1 can of peaches; reserve the syrup from the other. Place the butter in a 9”x 12” ovenproof baking dish. Heat the butter on the stove or in the oven until melted. In a medium bowl, mix flour and sugar. Stir in milk and the reserved peach syrup. Pour the batter over the melted butter in the baking dish. Arrange the peaches over the batter. Bake for 1 hour. Note: the cobbler is done when the batter rises around the peaches and the crust is thick and golden brown.

Serve warm with your favorite ice cream and enjoy!

It’s Time to Celebrate!

Time really does fly by when you’re having fun. I can’t believe we are about to celebrate the bank’s five-year anniversary. I feel like this celebration is more of a birthday than an anniversary because it’s really about the birth and tremendous growth of Flagler County’s first truly hometown bank – Intracoastal Bank.

When we opened our doors on June 16, 2008, we were myopically focused on one goal – to become Flagler County’s best (not biggest) bank.

As I am writing this today, I’m extremely excited and proud to say that we’ve achieved that goal and more. Due to the selfless dedication of our staff, the unwavering guidance of our board and the overwhelming loyalty and encouragement of our customers, Intracoastal Bank has (home) grown into the best banking institution in Flagler County!

A celebration would not complete however, without looking at what we – our staff, our board and our customers – have accomplished over the last five years. Incredibly, the list is long, so I thought I’d hit on a few of the highlights.

- We have grown from 10 employees to 24 employees currently on staff.

-We started the bank with no deposits or loans. Today we have approximately $187.3 million in assets, $168.4 million in deposits and $97 million in loans.

-We’ve been rated a five-star bank by Bauer Financial consistently over the past five years.

-We’ve remained committed to the betterment and economic welfare of our community. Our staff is involved in many charitable and professional organizations to include:
Flagler County Education Foundation
Take Stock in Children
United Way of Volusia/Flagler Counties
United Way of Flagler County Women’s Initiative
Flagler Habitat for Humanity
Flagler County Chamber of Commerce
Flagler County Homebuilders Association
Rotary International
Volusia Manufacturing Association
Center for Business Excellence

-We’ve been honored with the News-Tribune’s Readers’ Choice Award – voted the area’s best bank in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

-We offer leading-edge technology and banking programs. In an environment marked by incessant change, we continue to bring our customers state-of-the-art services and innovative banking solutions to make banking convenient.

We have made monumental strides in our first five years. But you can be sure; we have no intention of resting on our laurels. Over the next several months we will be unveiling several new programs/services. Some of these include payroll services for our business customers as well as a new program dedicated to our medical and executive/professional customers. In addition, we will be evaluating the addition of a mobile capture program – enabling our customers to utilize their cell phones to make deposits.

Yes, we have much to celebrate. However, we couldn’t have done it without you, our loyal customers. As we move into the next five years and beyond much will change. But the one thing you can count on to remain the same is the overriding banking philosophy that brought us to where we are today – our dedication to our customers and to community where we live and work.

So please join me in celebrating how far we’ve come and more importantly, where we’re headed. I look forward to our very bright future with all of you.

Thank you for the fun. Here’s to our first five years together and the exciting ones yet to come!

Understanding FDIC Insurance

In our day-to-day business, we find that a banking concept that is oftentimes confusing and misunderstood by many of our customers is FDIC insurance. So today I thought I’d take a moment and shed some light on both the history of FDIC insurance and how your deposits are protected today.

FDIC insurance was created back in 1933 in the wake of the Great Depression. It was instituted as a result of thousands of bank failures in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s. During that precarious financial time, many bank customers lost staggering sums of money. Gaining access to money in banking institutions during this crisis was on a first come, first serve basis – if customers didn’t get their money out of the bank before it went under, they were out of luck. On the coattails of this financial disaster, individual states attempted to insure deposits. However, they were all unsuccessful.

Amid fear and chaos, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Banking Act of 1933 into law. This act created the FDIC as a temporary measure to restore order to the U.S. banking system. Consequently, bank failures and bank runs (the concerted action of depositors who withdraw their money because they believe the bank is about to fail) quickly declined, suggesting that the FDIC was a successful measure in bolstering consumer confidence and the banking system in general. The U.S. Treasury funded the initial FDIC insurance with $289 million. These funds were repaid to the Treasury in 1948.

FDIC was made a permanent agency under the Banking Act of 1935. This new act refined how the organization would work (e.g. under this act the insurance was now funded by banks instead of the U.S. Treasury). Today, the FDIC proudly notes that since the Banking Act of 1935 was enacted “no depositor has lost a single cent of insured funds as a result of a failure.”

The goal of this permanent agency was and still is to promote trust in our banking system. Simply put, if your deposits are FDIC insured, the U.S. government stands behind the promise to make them whole if the bank fails.

The FDIC runs an insurance fund – a giant pool of money that can be utilized in the event of a bank failure. The money in this fund doesn’t come from taxpayer dollars as some depositors assume. The money is funded through premiums paid by FDIC insured banks and the earnings on the assets in this fund. These banking institutions pay into this fund to pay their depositors if they should someday fail as well as to help pay for other banks that fail.

On July 21, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Act. This act, in part, permanently raised the current standard maximum insurance of $100,000 to $250,000.

So, what does this mean to you?
This means that in the event of a bank failure, the FDIC insurance coverage limit of $250,000 applies per depositor, per insured depository institution for each account ownership category.

The FDIC insurance covers all deposit accounts at insured banks and savings associations, including checking and savings accounts, money market deposit accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs) and certain retirement accounts. This insurance however does not protect money invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, life insurance policies, annuities or municipal securities. It is important for depositors to understand these distinctions.

What are the basic FDIC coverage limits?

Single Accounts (owned by one person with no beneficiaries) – This is a deposit account owned by one person and titled in that person’s name only, with no beneficiaries. All single accounts at the same insured bank are added together and the total is insured up to $250,000.

Joint Accounts (two or more persons with no beneficiaries) – This is a deposit account owned by two or more people and titled jointly in the co-owners’ names only, with no beneficiaries. If all co-owners have equal rights to this money, each co-owner’s shares of all joint accounts at the same insured bank are added together and the total is insured up to $250,000.

Revocable Trusts (Formal and Informal) – A revocable trust account is a deposit account owned by one or more people that identifies one or more beneficiaries who will receive the deposits upon the death of the owner(s). A revocable trust can be revoked, terminated, or changed at any time, at the discretion of the owner(s). The term “owner” means the grantor, settlor, or trustor of the revocable trust.

This ownership category includes both informal and formal revocable trusts:

• Informal revocable trusts — also known as payable on death (POD), in trust for (ITF), testamentary, or Totten Trust accounts — are the most common form of revocable trusts. These informal revocable trusts are created when the account owner signs an agreement — usually part of the bank’s signature card — stating that the deposits will be payable to one or more beneficiaries upon the owner’s death.

• Formal revocable trust — also known as Living trusts or family trusts — are formal revocable trusts created for estate planning purposes. The owner of a living trust controls the deposits in the trust during his or her lifetime. The trust document sets forth who shall receive trust assets after the death of the owner.

Deposit insurance coverage for revocable trust accounts is provided to the owner of the trust. However, the amount of coverage is based on the number of beneficiaries named in the trust and, in some cases, the interests allocated to those beneficiaries, up to the insurance limit. A trust beneficiary can be an individual (regardless of the relationship to the owner), a charity, or a non-profit organization (as defined by the IRS).

Revocable trust coverage is based on all revocable trust deposits held by the same owner at the same bank, whether formal or informal. If a revocable trust account has more than one owner, each owner’s coverage is calculated separately, using the following rules:

• Revocable Trust Deposits with Five or Fewer Beneficiaries — Each owner’s share of revocable trust deposits is insured up to $250,000 for each unique eligible beneficiary named or identified in the revocable trust (i.e., $250,000 times the number of different beneficiaries), regardless of actual interest provided to beneficiaries.
• Revocable Trust Deposits with Six or More Beneficiaries — Each owner’s share of revocable trust deposits is insured for the greater of either (1) coverage based on each unique eligible beneficiary’s actual interest in the revocable trust deposits, with no beneficiary’s interest to be insured for more than $250,000, or (2) $1,250,000.

Determining coverage for revocable trust accounts that have six or more beneficiaries and provide different interests for the trust beneficiaries can be complicated. Please don’t hesitate to contact our office if you need assistance in determining the insurance coverage of your revocable trust or should you have any questions concerning your FDIC coverage.

Spring Cleaning Safety Tips

Spring has sprung! And so has our sense of urgency to clean our closets, houses, garages and all of the stuff that has piled up over the winter months.  What most of us don’t realize is these chores can be hard on our bodies. In fact, according to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, a national leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, millions of home-related injuries occur every year as we clean our way into the warmer months.

Typically, we all try to do too much too quickly. If you are anything like me, you feel the overwhelming desire to get this done in the shortest time frame possible – warp speed!

Cleaning chores involve stretching, lifting, climbing, pushing, pulling, climbing, twisting and turning – movements most of us don’t do on a regular basis.  Many of these movements use muscles we wouldn’t typically use even in a daily exercise program. In addition, most of us don’t take the necessary precautions to avoid injuries.  Many common injuries are the result of improper bending or lifting or not using our common sense when it comes to safety, e.g. securing and stabilizing a ladder before climbing to reach the hard to reach areas that require our spring cleaning attention.

To help us all get the job done safely and without injury, below are some helpful tips:

  1. Set realistic goals – Rome wasn’t built in a day and either is our thorough annual cleaning. Tackle one project at a time. Spread projects out over a few days or even several weekends.  I know…this is killing you…us… A+ personality types, but this will alleviate our tendency to overdo and give our bodies some rest in between.
  2. Check all equipment that is needed for cleaning projects – Make sure all ladders, stools, etc. are in good solid working order before beginning a project.
  3. Work safely – Make sure all cleaning areas are free of clutter and well lit. Make sure to work in well-ventilated areas when using cleaning solutions and chemicals and keep them away from children and pets.
  4. Ask for help – We have a tendency to think that the only way anything gets done right is if we do it ourselves. Well, that may be true but, other people live in the house and they should all do their part too. Assign tasks so that everyone shares in the workload. In the end, everyone will feel good…especially about the sense of accomplishment.
  5. Use proper cleaning techniques – Using the correct body movements can help minimize risk of injury.   Here are a few recommendations.
    • Lifting and carrying – Always have someone help you with heavy boxes or when moving furniture and remember bend your knees and lift with your legs, not your back.
    • Windows – Always keep your feet on the ground or on a secure ladder/step stool.  Never climb on furniture or windowsills.  Yes, I know, we’ve all been guilty of this.  Keep level with the area that is being cleaned to avoid overstretching. Also try to keep your back straight and avoid tilting your head upward or backward, especially for long periods of time.
    • Painting – Always keep paintbrushes and rollers in front of you and waist high. This will avoid stress on the spine.  Looking up at high walls or ceilings for long periods of time puts extra pressure on the neck, which can cause pinching and numbness. Again, although we’d all like to have a freshly painted house before the sun goes down, we will benefit immensely, body and mind, if we practice patience – paint in short intervals and take frequent breaks.

Getting our house in order is good for the body and the soul.  It’s great exercise and we feel such a sense of accomplishment when it is completed.  But, let’s be sensible. We must our limits, take frequent breaks and always drink plenty of fluids.

Here’s to spring!  Now let the cleaning begin!

Small businesses Fall Prey to Cyber Attacks

Hackers are expanding their sights beyond the large multinational companies to small business owners. A recent survey conducted by Symantec and the National Cyber Security Alliance found that 77 percent of small business owners in the U.S. believe that their company is safe from cyber criminals and 83 percent of them don’t have a cyber security plan.

However, the threat to small businesses is greater than ever. The Secret Service and Verizon Communications, Inc.’s forensic analysis unit, which investigates cyber attacks, cites that a majority of their responses to data breaches over the last couple of years have been at companies with 100 or fewer employees. Visa, Inc. estimates that approximately 95 percent of the credit card data breaches it discovers each year are on small businesses.

Hacking small businesses is big business and unfortunately, it is going to get worse before it gets better.

The reason for this is three-fold. The first reason is that a majority of small companies have now gone to computerized systems, digital record keeping and conduct most their financial transactions online. The second factor is that most small companies don’t have the resources (financial, tools and manpower) or the time to fully secure their businesses from today’s ever-changing and increasingly sophisticated threats. The last and most significant factor is complacency. Most small business owners have the unrealistic mindset that this isn’t going to happen to them. After all, what could a hacker possibly want with a small company anyway? These high-tech criminals want their bank account information, employee lists, including social security numbers, and their customers’ credit and debit account information.

Typically, cyber threats on small businesses come from several sources, the most popular being outside the organization and from within the organization when an employee or an ex-employee steals data. Most financially motivated attacks rely on computer code that the hackers plant on victims’ computers, often as attachments or links in emails sent to employees. While these malicious programs are well known to security experts, the hackers tweak them frequently to render them undetectable to antivirus software.

The bottom line is, the costs of a breach can put a small business out of business. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. However, the following is a list of best practices for small business:

-Use secure web browsers.

-Maintain up-to-date firewall and antivirus protection as well as an intrusion detection system.

-Establish policies that stipulate how and when employees can access the Internet, especially when accessing the computer system from home or a mobile device.

-Run automatic computer updates.

-Never open emails, attachments or links from unknown sources.

-Never have sites remember passwords or financial information.

-Shut down computers when not in use.

-Businesses that use online banking for wire transfers and ACH origination should have a dedicated computer for those functions.

America Saves Week

The week of February 25 – March 2 is “American Saves Week.” “America Saves Week,” which was coordinated by America Saves and the American Savings Education Council, was started in 2007. America Saves is a national campaign comprising more than 1,000 non-profit, government and corporate groups that encourages individuals and families to save money and build personal wealth. The Consumer Federation of America manages the America Saves campaign. The American Savings Education Council is a national coalition of public and private institutions committed to making saving a priority for all Americans.

“America Saves Week” provides an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings habits and a chance for individuals to assess their current savings status – how much they have saved in their non-retirement and retirement savings.

Results from the 2012 Annual National Survey Assessing Household Savings showed that having a savings plan with specific goals and objectives has beneficial financial effects, even in lower-income households. But the key is to have a plan to save!

So, let’s get started.

A great place to begin is by setting a goal. What would you like to save for – an emergency fund, a home, a vacation, a new car, pay off revolving credit card debt, retirement, etc.? Knowing what you are saving for provides the motivation to save. Note: If you don’t have an emergency fund, this should take precedence over your other saving goals. You should have at least $500 of emergency savings – this will alleviate using high interest rate credit cards for unexpected expenses. After this saving goal has been achieved, the next goal is to put money aside to pay off any credit card debt.

The next step is to make a plan. How much are you going to save monthly? The best way to come up with this figure is by making a budget. Yes, I know, the ever-dreaded budget. But unless you know where your money is going you can’t determine how much you can save…more importantly where you can save…where you can cut back. The most important factor in making a budget is making an accurate budget – accounting for every expense to include your daily Starbucks Vanilla Latte habit. The budget process is very similar to a diet – you don’t know how much you are eating until you keep an accurate food log. Your expenditure log is your budget. I can promise, this exercise will be extremely eye opening.

The final step is to begin saving automatically. Routinely putting money away is difficult for most of us. But if you make saving automatic, you will never miss having that money.

Once you determine how much you are going to save each month or pay period, either have your employer direct deposit that portion of your paycheck into a savings account or if your employer doesn’t use direct deposit, immediately transfer that part of your pay into an established savings account. The most important piece of this savings plan is discipline. Once you determine how much you are going to save, treat this amount like a bill – pay it and pay it on time!

For more information on “America Saves Week” and/or helpful tips on saving, visit AmericaSaves.org. You can also follow America Saves on Facebook and Twitter.

Children Become Main Target of Identity Theft

In a world where technology is king, identity theft has become a growing problem. Identity theft can go undetected for years, especially if the victim is a child.

Identity theft among children age five years or younger doubled in the past year. Children are being targeted for identity theft 35 times more than adults (www.jacksonsun.com, Tips to Prevent Child Identity Theft, Randy Hutchinson, Jan. 4, 2013).

Social security numbers that belong to children are unused. They are a blank slate for identity thieves. Once this thief steals a child’s information, it may be years before it is detected. Most identity theft occurs over the Internet. Typically the thieves steal the child’s social security number, attach a different name and birth date to it and proceed to open credit cards, auto loans and even home mortgages.

The child usually doesn’t have a clue until he or she applies for credit card, a student loan, a job or possibly an apartment lease. The identity thief may be a family member, sometimes even a parent, who is having financial difficulties or someone completely unknown to the family or the victim.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there are several red flags that indicate that your child’s personal information has been comprised. The following warning signs have been identified by the FTC:

  • Your child gets calls from collection agencies or bills from credit card or other companies, or offers of credit.
  • Your child or family is denied government benefits because they are already being paid to someone else using your child’s social security.
  • The IRS or another governmental agency asks you to confirm that your child is employed – even though your child has never had a job.
  • After filing your tax return listing your child as a dependent, you are notified by the IRS that your child’s social security number and information is listed on someone else’s tax return.
  • Your child gets a notice from the IRS that he or she has failed to pay taxes even though he or she has no income.

Although some of the advice for preventing identity theft applies to both adults and children e.g. don’t provide personal information in response to unsolicited emails or other messages, keep documents containing personal information secure, if you are scanning personal information make sure that your antivirus is up to date and it’s password protected, and shred unwanted personal documents, some special tips for children include:

  • Talk to you child. Go over the importance of his or her privacy settings on social media sites and when it’s appropriate to share information and photos – also what information shouldn’t be shared, e.g. address, complete birthdate, etc.
  • Don’t carry around your child’s social security card or his or her number. Keep his or her card in a safe place. Just like your social security number – memorize it and have your child memorize it.
  • Make sure you fully understand how your child’s information is being used at school. Read notices explaining your rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, including the option to not have your child’s information released to third parties.
  • Check your child’s credit report close to his or her 16th birthday or earlier if you suspect a problem. You can check this once a year for free.
  • If you determine that your child’s personal information has been compromised, immediately contact the three credit bureaus and follow their instructions for resolving the problem. File a report with the FTC and consider filing one with the police if the theft involves your child’s medical or tax records. Finally, contact every company where your child’s information was misused. Ask these companies to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it resulted from identity theft.

Important numbers to keep on hand:

Equifax – 1-866-493-9788
Experian – 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion – 1-800-680-7289

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – 1-877-438-4338

Setting and Sticking to a Holiday Shopping Budget

Every year the holidays seem to begin earlier and earlier. Both Walmart and Target started bringing out their Christmas decorations and merchandise before the Halloween candy was even off the shelves.

Not only have the holidays been thrust upon us sooner, but they’re also getting more expensive each year as well. Yes, the holiday season is a time of giving, however, it’s important to remember that we can’t give more than we have. We’ve let the Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and all the one-night-only, anxiety-inducing sales get the better of us. After all, who wants to pass up a good deal…right?

But as many families continue to struggle financially with today’s tightening economy, getting a good deal is smart, but getting carried away, allowing our credit card balances to balloon, is not. If we set a strict budget and stick to it – not being naughty but nice – we can get gifts for everyone on our shopping list while avoiding the after-the-holiday blues of falling into debt.

Here are some helpful tips to ensure that all of our holidays are “oh so merry:”

1. Make a budget – Yes, just like everything else in our lives that involves money; we must create a budget. We need to come up with a realistic amount of money we can spend. No, this isn’t the amount of money we can afford to charge on our credit cards and pay off in increments by next year’s holidays. This is the amount we can spend in cash and still be able to afford the holiday dinner with all the trimmings.

2. Make a List and check it twice – Before we head out the door or get on our computer, we need to make our list of the people we plan to buy gifts for this year. Like grocery shopping, having a prepared list will keep us on financial target and keep us from impulse buying. We must prioritize our list – family, friends, tithes, teachers, etc. We must determine an amount we plan to allot to each of the people on our list and then make sure the total dollar amount equals our budgeted figure. If we are over budget, we must – as difficult as it seems – remove people from our list or spend less on each person. WE MUST STAY WITHIN OUR BUDGET!

3. Pay Cash – We must avoid the temptation to use debit or credit cards. We typically spend 12-18% more money when we use our credit cards. If we are going to the store; we should bring cash. If we are going to use the Internet, a debit card is better than a credit card, but the best way to stay within our means is to use a prepaid card.

4. Be creative – People love getting gifts that are homemade and come from the heart. We can make pies, cookies, jellies, etc., and wrap them up festively to give to friends, teachers, co-workers, etc. We can give the gift of time – make coupons for a nice dinner for someone, babysitting – take care of friends’ children so they can have a nice evening out. This is a great gift idea for dads/husbands – give wives a coupon for a day all to themselves.

5. Be a savvy shopper- Look for coupons, clearances and sales. Shop early – avoid those last minute anxiety driven impulse buys.

6. Be honest – If we are going through tough financial times – lost our job, pay cut, etc. we need to let our family and friends know that money is tight for us this year. Sharing the holidays together is the best gift of all.

Whether we’re ready or not, the holiday season is upon us once again. Let’s not make it one that leaves us disheartened long after we’ve packed the decorations away. In the true spirit of the season, let’s make it about having fun, spending time with our family and friends and making lifelong memories.

Happy holidays from our Intracoastal family to yours!