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How the CARES Act May Affect Your 2020 Taxes

Now that you’ve ushered in the new year and closed and padlocked the door on 2020, it’s time to get a jumpstart on preparing your 2020 taxes. Because, like so many things over the past year, some of the tax guidelines changed as well.

Much of the attention of the $2.2 trillion, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020, in response to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been focused on the small business loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program. However, there are several provisions in the Act that could directly or indirectly impact your 2020 individual tax return.

Provisions of the CARES Act that could affect your individual tax return

Stimulus Payments: The economic impact payments taxpayers received in 2020, based on 2019 tax returns (or 2018 returns if 2019 weren’t filed yet), are technically an advance payment of a tax credit for 2020. Because of this, these payments are not considered income and therefore are not taxable nor are they used to determine eligibility for premium tax credits for Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage or Medicaid.

If you were entitled to stimulus payments in 2020, and didn’t receive them, or only received partial amounts, you can get these credits when you file your tax return. In addition, if you received stimulus payments that were more than you were actually allowed, based on your actual 2020 income, you will not have to pay the credit overage back.

Unemployment Benefits: One of the most popular benefits of the CARES Act was the $600-per-week federal boost to state unemployment benefits. But many taxpayers may have forgotten that unemployment benefits are subject to federal income tax. The extra $600-per-week you may have received is no exception. If you didn’t opt to have the taxes withheld, hopefully, you put aside some of the money you received in preparation for your 2020 tax return.

The unemployment amounts available under the Act could have a significant impact on family income and could also affect eligibility for premium tax credits for the Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage and Medicaid. Generally, unemployment benefits are considered family income in determining eligibility for these programs. Consequently, the $600-per-week CARES Act supplement will also be considered as income for determining eligibility for premium tax credits for the marketplace coverage. However, it will not be considered as income in determining Medicaid eligibility.

Early Distribution Penalty Waiver: Generally, if you withdraw money from your retirement plan before 59 ½, there is a 10% tax penalty. However, the CARES Act waived this penalty for 2020 if an individual, or their spouse or dependent was diagnosed with Coronavirus through a CDC-approved test, or were economically harmed by it as the result of a quarantine, business closure, layoff or a reduction in work hours. Under the CARES Act, an affected individual can withdraw up to $100,000 from their qualified IRA, pension plan, or 401(k) plan in 2020, without incurring the early distribution penalty. However, regular income tax will still be assessed on the distribution. Under the CARES Act, this tax payment can be spread evenly over three years.

However, any withdrawals can be recontributed to a qualified retirement plan at any time over the three-year period to eliminate the otherwise reportable taxable income. The recontributed funds do not count toward annual contribution levels.

In addition, the CARES Act allowed you to borrow up to 100% of the vested balance or $100,000, whichever is less, from a qualified retirement plan. This option was only available for loans taken out during the six-month period from March 27, 2020 to September 23, 2020. These loans must be paid back within 5 years. However, the CARES Act allowed borrowers to forgo repayment in 2020 and begin the 5-year repayment plan in 2021. The loan, however, still accrued interest in 2020.

Required Minimum Contributions: The CARES Act waived minimum distributions that were required to be paid in 2020, including those that would have been required by April 1, if an individual turned 70 ½ in 2019. If the required minimum distribution (RMD) for 2020 was already paid, you can recontribute, within 60 days of the receipt of the original distribution, to a qualified plan.

If you opted not to take your 2020 RMDs, you’ve positively impacted your 2020 taxes in three ways. You don’t pay taxes on your RMD, you’ve reduced the risk of the RMD pushing you into a higher tax bracket, and you have the opportunity to ride out the market volatility that may have affected your retirement portfolio during the COVID pandemic.

Charitable Deduction Rules: In an effort to help 501(c)(3) qualified organizations affected by decreased contributions, due to the pandemic, the CARES Act removed the income-related cap on charitable contributions for 2020.

The CARES Act gave a new above-the-line charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 to taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions. For individual taxpayers who itemize deductions, the CARES Act temporarily removes the 60% cap and allows you to deduct up to 100% of your AGI in 2020 after taking into account other contributions subject to charitable contributions limits.

With the many changes to the tax guidelines in 2020, due to several of the CARES Act provisions, your 2020 tax return will most likely be more complicated than in the past. So, if you don’t normally use a professional tax preparer for your returns, this may be a good time to start.

Protecting Yourself From Fraud This Holiday Season

The 2020 holiday season will most certainly look very different as we try to balance celebrating and keeping our loved ones and ourselves “COVID” safe. Sadly, this unprecedented change will not deter the exploitation of our holiday habits by cybercrooks. In fact, the tremendous increase in Internet shopping this holiday season, due to the pandemic, is expected to ramp up online schemes and scams.

According to CreditCards.com, 71 percent of consumers plan to do a majority of their shopping online this holiday season, greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, as the retailers roll out all their seasonal deals, it sets a fertile ground for scammers to lure in bargain hunters with fake websites and social media campaigns impersonating major brands and online outlets. These bogus sites will entice consumers to spend money for goods or services they will never receive. Some of the more recent enticements include charity scams, delivery scams, travel scams and letter from Santa Claus scams.

This season’s increased distractions and transactions, unfortunately, also increase the likelihood that your personal information will be hacked, often resulting in account takeovers, fraudulent activity and wide-ranging identity theft. Although we can’t eliminate this threat, here are several tips to help reduce your chance of becoming another holiday season, cybercrime statistic.

  • Use Apple Pay (used with an Apple device) or Google Pay (used with an Android device) or another digital wallet instead of your debit or credit card for contactless purchases in stores, apps, and on the web. Digital wallets use an encryption system, replacing your card information with a one-time digital “token” for your transaction.

  • Use a credit card for your holiday purchases. Disputing charges with a credit card is less of a hassle than with a debit card.

  • Use a virtual private network (VPN). This allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the Internet, providing online privacy and anonymity when using a public Wi-Fi connection.

  • Don’t shop or conduct any financial transactions or activities on a public Wi-Fi. Even with a VPN, it’s a good year-round practice to avoid public online transactions that could pose a threat to the security of your personal information.

  • Don’t store your debit or credit card information online. Cybercriminals will have less access to your key information in the event of a data breach.

  • Be cautious at points of sale. Skimming devices can be attached to card readers to capture your credit or debit card information.

  • Be cautious of social media ads. If the offer seems too good to be true, most likely it is. Before making a purchase, do some research on the company, including their return and refund policies, and look at the Google reviews. Drag your cursor over social media ads to display the true URL destination.

  • Beware of email phishing and social engineering scams. If an email looks suspicious or is sent from an unfamiliar address, or someone calls you seeking personal information because one of your accounts has supposedly been hacked, always go directly to the company’s website and call the support number listed.

  • Activate card security features. Set up text alerts and notifications for your card transactions. Turn your cards off when they are not in use. Use virtual cards (temporary virtual credit card numbers that stand in for your regular credit card credentials) for secure online shopping.

  • Monitor your credit and identity. Experian’s free, credit monitoring gives you access to your regularly updated credit score and report, and will alert you if there are any changes to your credit.

Although the holiday season offers more scheming opportunities for cybercrooks, being mindful of your online security is a good habit all year long. Following these safe holiday shopping tips throughout the year will go a long way toward preventing identity theft.

Maintaining Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

As you navigate this alien world of surgical masks in the grocery stores, the shortage of everyday household supplies, the overcrowding in our healthcare facilities and the bombardment of news that our world has become a dangerous place to live, you may be beginning to feel overwhelmed and anxious. The novel coronavirus outbreak has created unprecedented levels of anxiety for most of us – for some who are actually battling the virus, but for the vast majority who are facing the unknown, the disruption of their everyday routine, loss of employment and serious financial concerns.

This is unchartered territory for most of us, and it is frightening! For many people, the fear of the unknown and the incessant doom and gloom headlines make it all too easy to spiral into overwhelming dread and panic. But, there are many things you can do to self-care – manage your anxiety and fears – during this unique crisis.

Take Care of Yourself First – Like the announcement we hear each time we get on an airplane, “In case of a cabin pressure emergency, put your own mask on first before assisting others.” This is a metaphor for life. You can’t help others for very long if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Keep a Routine – Even if you’re stuck at home, try to maintain your normal routine by sticking to your regular sleep, meal, and school or work schedule.

Eat Well – Proper eating is one defense against most diseases. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating out of boredom or anxiety, eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption and other intoxicants and stay well hydrated.

Exercise – Although we can’t hit the gyms like we used to, there are many safe alternatives you can do in the comfort and safety of your home. If you don’t have any exercise videos, use YouTube and Instagram to help you find ways to stay fit or just take long walks.

Limit News Intake – Limit your media consumption to only the information you need to know to stay safe…then turn it off! This advice goes for financial information as well. Watching the stock market go up and down (mostly down) all day can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing.

Have Fun – Enjoy the extra time you have with your family by talking…and laughing, playing board games, cards, putting together puzzles and cooking.

Connect – Take this downtime to reach out to those you care about, making sure they are staying safe and letting them know how important they are to you. Take advantage of the many technical (FaceTime) and social media resources to stay connected during this time of social isolation.

Engage in Positive Activities – Read a good book, listen to uplifting music, watch the sunrise or sunset, get out in nature, practice yoga or meditate. Limit your interactions with negative people. Remember emotions are contagious and right now fear is rampant.

You can also counteract distress over the loss of control by straightening up what you can. This is a great time to clean and organize your home or to attack a home improvement project you’ve been meaning to get to.

Reflect – The sudden halt in our daily lives, caused by this unprecedented crisis, has forced us to sit still. We can spend this time by being overwhelmed with negative thoughts and a sense of despair or we can use these quiet moments to reflect on the positive changes we want to make in our lives when this pause button is removed. Try to think about the activities in your life you’ve come to realize are important and you want to resume, start making a mental list of the ones you don’t, and above all, focus on the many blessings you have.

The national Disaster Distress Helpline is available to anyone experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to speak to a counselor.

The History of New Year’s

Now that you’ve rung in 2020 with a glass or two of the bubbly and are most likely already rehashing the long list of resolutions you’ve made, and probably not kept, over the last decade, vowing to make a better effort this year, I thought I’d share some New Year’s history facts you probably don’t know. I’m sure you’ll find, like I did, that there’s a fascinating and lengthy history behind this widely celebrated holiday.

Many countries around the world celebrate the beginning of the new year. However, celebrating New Year’s is not new. Celebrations of the new calendar year have been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Babylon in 2,000 B.C. The Mesopotamians marked the beginning of the new year by the first new moon after the vernal equinox, which took place sometime in late March. This was celebrated with a huge 11-day festival called Akitu. The festival involved a different ritual every day, celebrating the mythical victory of the sky god Marduk over the sea goddess Tiamat. This celebration also included the crowning of a new king or allowing the current ruler to continue his reign. According to the history books, this was the festival of all festivals and would put our present day New Year’s celebration to shame.

The Roman’s celebration of the new year also originally corresponded with the vernal equinox. Their early calendar, which according to tradition, was created in the eighth century B.C. by Romulus, the founder of Rome, consisted of 10 months (304 days), with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox. However, over the centuries, this calendar fell out of synch with the sun. Consequently, in 46 B.C., with the consultation of the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of the time, Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. This was a solar-based calendar, instituting January 1st as the first day of the year. Caesar chose this day to honor the month’s namesake Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings. This calendar resembles the modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

By the middle ages, medieval Europe considered the January 1st celebrations of the new year pagan and unchristian-like. Consequently, in 567 A.D. the Council of Tours replaced the January 1st date with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25th or March 25th.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XII re-established January 1st as New Year’s Day, after the reform of the Gregorian calendar. Interestingly, although most Catholic countries immediately adopted this calendar, Protestant countries, like Britain and their American colonies, continued celebrating their new year in March until 1752.

So, now that I’ve astonished you with all these fascinating tidbits of New Year’s history, it’s time to begin or get back to the task at hand – formulating this year’s new and improved (LOL) list of New Year’s resolutions!

From our Intracoastal family to yours, here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020…and sticking to your resolutions!

Remembering Jane

It’s hard to believe the holiday season is just around the corner. Where did the year go? As we, the Intracoastal Bank family, happily anticipate the first holiday of this wondrous season, Thanksgiving, we are also mourning the loss of a longtime member of our banking family, Jane Worthing. Jane, who was 57, passed away recently after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer.

Jane was born in Augusta, Maine. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Prior to her 8 ½ -year tenure with Intracoastal Bank, as our Secrecy Act Officer, handling compliance issues and legal requests, and monitoring accounts for fraud issues, Jane worked for the Bank of New York.

Jane will be greatly missed by her Intracoastal Bank family as well as all the customers she assisted during her time with us. Jane was considered as one of the most selfless people – always going above and beyond to help others – by both her coworkers and managers.

When Jane wasn’t giving of herself through her duties at the bank, she spent her time traveling, especially internationally, reading and hanging out with her two, much cherished cats. Jane is survived by her parents, a brother and sister-in-law and a niece.

Ovarian cancer, which begins in the ovaries or the fallopian tubes, has been dubbed “the silent killer” because of its low survival rate (an overall 5-year survival rate of 47 percent). Also labeled as the “whispering disease” because no specific test diagnoses it, ovarian cancer’s prognosis is unfavorable due to the delay in detecting it.

The American Cancer Society estimates for ovarian cancer in the U.S. for 2019 are:

• About 22,530 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
• About 13,980 women will die from ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women and accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the reproductive system. Ovarian cancer mostly develops in older women, about 50 percent diagnosed at age 63 or older, and is most common in white women.

Sadly, our Jane is one of these statistics.

So, this year, as our Intracoastal family sits around the Thanksgiving table, we’ll be counting our many blessings, which include our health, family, friends, and the wonderful customers we continue to serve in our community. We will also take a quiet moment to fondly remember those who are no longer with us, including our Jane.

From all of us at Intracoastal Bank, may you and your family have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving holiday!

Helping Your Child Establish Credit

Preparing your child for adulthood is daunting. As a parent, no matter how old your child becomes, worrying about their health and safety will always remain in the forefront. However, as they begin to mature into young adults, their financial future becomes a growing concern.  Often overlooked, and yet, equally as important as helping your child choose a career path that is right for them, is helping your child establish credit.  

Here are a few tips to help you begin building credit for
your kids.

First and foremost, begin the “money talk” with your kids
while they are young. You should begin discussing basic financial concepts like
saving (help them open a savings account) and delayed gratification when they
are in elementary school. As they get older, introduce more complex concepts,
such as insurance, investing, credit cards and borrowing, and explain what
credit really means – the building blocks of consumer credit – and why it’s so
important. As a responsible parent, you should also make sure your credit
habits provide a good example.

In addition to providing a good financial
education…foundation, the following steps will help ensure your young, adult
child is well on his or her way by the time they are flying solo.

  1. Help them
    open a checking account.
    Show your child how a checking account works as
    well as the penalties associated with them if they overdraw their account or
    bounce checks. Once they understand and are comfortable with the basics, ease
    them into a debit card. This gives them some spending independence, while
    limiting it to the balance in their checking account.

  • Have
    them get a part-time job.
    A strong work ethic is a vital part of your child
    becoming a responsible adult. Having a part-time job in high school provides them
    with a valuable life lesson – the excitement of watching their savings grow and
    the frustration of seeing it disappear, especially if it’s due to a poor
    decision. This lesson is a precursor to understanding credit. In addition, the
    income provided by a part-time job will help them when they apply for their own
    credit card.

  • Add
    them as an authorized user on your credit card.
     As long as your own credit habits are sound,
    this is a good way to help your child establish his or her own credit record.  As an authorized user, your teen will usually
    get a credit card in his or her name, tied to your account. Typically, this
    account will also go on your child’s credit record.By setting ground rules for what they can charge and how and when
    (on-time) payments will be made, you will enhance your child’s understanding of
    how credit works as well as help their credit grow.

You can also add them as an authorized user without
giving them access to the account. Without giving them the possibility…opportunity
of overspending, you can still help them grow their credit as you use the
credit card and pay it off every month.

  • Have
    your college-aged child apply for a student credit card.
    Once your late
    teen has established good financial habits and income to support a credit line (usually
    income from a part-time job is sufficient), they may be ready to apply for
    their own credit card. These cards typically have lower credit limits and
    higher interest rates than general credit cards.

  • Help
    your college-aged child apply for a secured credit card.
    This is another
    option if your young, adult child is unable to get a student credit card. A
    secured credit card requires the cardholder to put down a deposit, typically a
    few hundred dollars, which is usually the credit limit they are given. Because
    there is little risk to the bank/credit card company with this type of card,
    most people can get approved.

What Does the Federal Reserve’s Recent Rate Reduction Mean to You?

The recent interest rate reduction, from 2.5 percent to 2.25 percent, by the Federal Reserve doesn’t directly touch any of the everyday interest rates that affect Americans. This quarter-point cut, the first cut in a decade, reduced the federal funds rate, the rate banks and other financial institutions charge one another for very short-term borrowing.

Even though most Americans don’t participate in this type of
borrowing, the Fed’s move will still have consequences on the borrowing and
saving rates you encounter every day.

Interest rates on car loans, credit card balances,
mortgages, etc., and earned interest on the money you save won’t necessarily be
directly or immediately impacted. But, consumers could, likely, over time, experience
the following trickle-down effects.

Savings Account Rates

Savers have only recently benefited from higher deposit
rates – the annual percentage yield banks pay consumers on their money – with
several online banks offering over 2.5 percent. However, the recent rate cut
will most likely cause these rates to come down.  Now is the time for consumers to shop around
for short-term rates or lock in rates with a 1-, 3- or 5-year certificate of
deposit with money that doesn’t need to be readily accessible.

Mortgage Rates

According to Bankrate, the current 30-year fixed mortgage
rate is about 3.93 percent, the lowest it’s been since November 2016. Because
mortgage rates are tied to long-term rates, which move well in advance of any
rate changes by the Fed, the current low rate came on the heels of the
expectation that the Fed was going to cut rates.  Consequently, unless the Fed hints that more
rate cuts are on the horizon, mortgage rates are not expected to fall much
more.

With that said, if you borrowed money to purchase a home
late last year, when the average 30-year mortgage rate was nearly 5 percent, it
may be time to consider refinancing.

Credit Card Interest
Rates

The Fed’s recent rate reduction is good news for Americans
who carry balances on their credit cards. Because most credit cards have
variable interest rates, there is a direct correlation to the Fed’s benchmark
rate.

With the rate cut, the prime rate lowers too, and credit
card rates will likely follow. For credit cardholders, this means you should
see a reduction in your annual percentage yield or APR (the current rates on
average are as high as 17.85 percent) within a couple of billing cycles.

With almost half of all credit cardholders in the U.S.
holding balances every month, averaging approximately $1,150 in interest
yearly, this quarter-point reduction will create some savings.

Auto Loan Rates

For those of you who are planning to purchase a new vehicle,
the Fed’s rate reduction will most likely have little impact on your car
payment. However, this rate cut lowers the financing costs for car manufacturers
and dealers, which can offer a better negotiating position for the would-be car
buyer.

Student Loan Rates

While most student loans are fixed-rate federal loans,
approximately 1.4 million students in the U.S. today use private student loans.
Private loans can be fixed or have a variable rate tied to the Libor, prime or T-bill
rates. Consequently, the Fed’s rate cut means borrowers with variable rate loans
will likely pay less interest. If you have private, variable rate loans, you
should look into refinancing to possibly lock in a lower fixed rate.

However, as borrowers begin to celebrate this recent rate
cut, retirees have begun to worry. This type of rate reduction doesn’t bode
well for returns on investments preferred by those who’ve left or have
immediate plans to leave the workforce.

Typically, yields on fixed annuities, CDs, savings accounts
and bonds go down with a Fed rate cut. Long-term care premiums and pensions
will also be pinched. The impact will likely not be felt immediately. Retirees’
portfolios may not feel a hit for more than a year.

Investment professionals warn retirees not to chase returns
in the market, possibly placing more emphasis in their portfolio on investments
like equities and real estate, which might not be safe for those who have a lot
more to lose and generally can’t afford to take on much risk. With any rate
fluctuation, it’s important to work with your financial advisor or planner to
develop a portfolio that’s right for your situation.

Although the Federal Reserve’s recent rate cut can be viewed
as both a good thing and a bad thing, the same as any rate increase, the
guiding force behind the reduction is heading off a recession. With this move,
the Fed hopes to prevent the economy from weakening and forestall layoffs and
other economic damages that could adversely affect everyone.

Trade School or College?

By the end of the 1950s, the focus of education in the United States shifted from vocational and job-ready skills to preparing all high school students, through college prep courses, for college. However, today, statistics indicate that the highly coveted bachelor’s degree doesn’t seem to carry the weight it once did.

The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that approximately 68 percent of high school students attend college. The remaining students graduate with neither academic nor job-ready skills. But even the 68 percent aren’t fairing that well. Almost 40 percent of these students, as low as 10 percent for those in poverty, don’t complete a four-year college program, wasting a lot of time and money, and often acquiring significant student debt. Of those students who do graduate, the BLS found that about 37 percent end up with jobs they could’ve obtained with a high school degree.

In the United States, a college degree has been viewed as the pathway to success, and it still is for many. Earnings studies do show that college graduates earn more over their lifetime than high school graduates. However, these studies don’t take into account the amount of debt these students take on in pursuit of higher education (the outstanding student debt balance in the U.S. was $1.5 trillion as of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve) nor that more than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. In addition, these studies don’t include data on those high school students who graduated with vocational training. These graduates have gone on to well-paying, skilled jobs, creating a rosier picture for them than many of their college graduate counterparts.

The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing. This, along with the demise of vocational education in high school and retiring baby boomer, skilled trades workers, has created, and will continue to create, a significant demand for skilled labor. The skills shortage in manufacturing today has created a wealth of opportunities for high school and unemployed and underemployed graduates alike. Many of these jobs are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges.

Even with the above statistics aside, the traditional 4-year degree isn’t for everyone. People have a diverse range of skills and learning styles. Some do best in a lecture hall or classroom, studying math, biology, history and other traditional subjects, while others learn best by doing, and would thrive in a studio, workshop or shop floor.

There are still many advantages to a 4-year degree. As stated before, most college graduates will earn more money over their lifetime, especially if they continue their studies through master’s or doctoral degrees. However, the cost/benefit equation to higher education is changing every day. The education system needs to recognize this and that vocational schools can offer students with valuable skills, resulting in competitive paying jobs and a secure financial future. Students need to be exposed to the possibility of vocational training as an alternative to the college degree, helping both them and their parents see a variety of paths to a successful future.

National Internet Safety Month

June is designated as National Internet Safety Month as a
means of spotlighting the importance of safe online practices for you and your
family.

As we head into summer, and, according to the National Cyber
Security Alliance, our children and teens begin spending an average of 7.5
hours each day with electronic devices, this month provides the perfect time to
spread awareness of the various ways we can keep our families and ourselves
safe on the Internet.

Today, with social media and social networking becoming
increasingly important in people’s everyday lives, even Grandma’s, ensuring a
safe online experience for you and your family can seem daunting. So, here are
a few guidelines that can help you keep the entire family safe in today’s
increasingly threatening digital world.

  • Home
    Wi-Fi Security

Your home Wi-Fi gives your children or
grandchildren access to the Internet from anywhere in your house. This makes it
more difficult to monitor their online activity. So, make sure your Wi-Fi is
highly secured by using strong router passwords, enabling wireless encryption,
to prevent strangers from seeing or having access to your network.

  • Read
    Online Privacy Policies Carefully

Websites and social networks that require
basic information from you when you create an account with them have privacy
policies. So, whenever you or a family member want to join a new social network
or set up a new website account make sure you know the creator’s privacy
policies – how they intend to use your information and what they do to ensure
the information you give them remains safe from dangers such as phishing and
identity theft.

  • Ensure the
    Whole Family Practices Safe Social Networking

Unless a social network is specifically
created for kids, a child under the age of 13 shouldn’t subscribe to a social
network. However, everyone else that does should use their personal information
wisely – don’t use full names, disclose birthdays or addresses. In addition,
you shouldn’t discuss your vacation plans or share photos with identifiable
details (your home address, car license plate number, etc.). You should also
talk to your children about cyberbullying and online predators and stalkers.

  • Ensure
    Safe Online Gaming

Kids and teens can interact with
their friends and people they don’t know in a fun way via live online games. However,
this can expose them to dangers such as bullying and predators. Make sure your
child uses only a nickname or an avatar (a icon or a figure) when playing
games. In addition, carefully monitor your child’s play and use the parental
controls – safety measures – the game offers.

  • Install
    Parental Control Tools on Family Computers

Although open communication and trust
is always the best practice when it comes to your child’s online use, some
extra precaution doesn’t hurt. Parental control tools can block your child’s
access to inappropriate websites as well as monitor their online activity.
Implementing a parental control tool isn’t about spying on your child. It’s
about keeping them safe from the growing number of online dangers.

  • Create
    Safe Passwords

Creating strong account passwords will help
keep hackers from breaching your online accounts and stealing your identity.
Create a strong, unique password for each online account and change it
regularly.  Make your passwords long, at
least eight characters, and a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Also,
whenever possible, use security questions with answers only you’d know. Teach
your family members this practice as well.

  • Install A
    Complete Internet Security Program on Family Computers

An effective security program will protect you
and your family from malicious links, viruses and malware.

  • Only
    Download and Install Software from Trusted Sources

The Internet provides access to free games,
movies, etc. However, some of them contain spyware and other types of malware
that can compromise your computer as well as the whole family’s Internet
security.

  • Look for
    https:// in Website URLs

The https:// at the beginning of a web
address means it’s a secure site. This should appear in every bank or online
shopping site you use. In addition, if you or a family member bank or shop
online, make sure the Wi-Fi is secure.

  • Recognize
    and Avoid Phishing Scams

Cybercrooks are after your personal
information, and they’ll use all kinds of email and text scams to try to obtain
it. Watch out for alarming messages and threats of bank account or credit card
closures. You and your family members should also be wary of requests for
charitable donations, lottery wins and giveaways as well as links contained in
suspicious looking emails, texts or websites.

  • Backup
    Important Files/Data on Your Computer Regularly

You never know when your computer will crash
or become the victim of an accident or a cyber attack. So, backup your home
computers on a regular basis to keep your data safe and sound.

  • Stay
    Informed About Internet Security Threats

The best defense is always a good offense.
You don’t have to be an Internet security specialist/analyst to defend your
family from online dangers. You just need some basic knowledge.  So, do your homework and stay informed.

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