Protect Yourself from Ransomware

June 9, 2021

Malware – There’s been a lot in the news lately regarding Malware attacks.  What exactly is it?  Simply put, Malware is “malicious software” designed to damage and destroy computers and computer systems. Cybercriminals typically use it to extract data they can leverage over victims for financial gain.

Ransomware is a type of malware that accesses a victim’s files, then locks and encrypts them, and demands the victim pay a ransom in order to get the files back. Cybercriminals use these attacks to try to get users to click on attachments or links that appear legitimate but actually contain malicious code.  Ransomware is like the “digital kidnapping” of valuable data – from personal photos and memories to client information, financial records, and intellectual property. Any individual or organization could be a potential ransomware target.

Here are some tips to help protect yourself:

  • Keep the software on all of your Internet-connected devices up to date. Make sure you are running the most current versions of your security software as well as other frequently used programs and apps.
  • Turn on two-step authentication – also known as two-step verification or multi-factor authentication – on accounts where available. Two-factor authentication can use anything from a text message to your phone to a token to a biometric like your fingerprint to provide enhanced account security.
  • Protect your valuable work, music, photos, and other digital information by regularly making an electronic copy and storing it safely.
  • Make sure to use a strong password with at least 12 characters. Focus on phrases that are easy for YOU to remember.
  • If you doubt a link in an email, social media posts, and online advertising, don’t click on it.  This is often how cybercriminals try to steal your personal information. Even if you know the source, if something looks suspicious, delete it.
  • USBs and other external devices can be infected by viruses and malware. Use your security software to scan them before saving anything.

Information provided by #stopthinkconnect


Practical Steps to Help Prevent Identity Theft

May 26, 2021

Identity thieves are constantly looking for new ways to obtain personal and financial information such as credit cards or Social Security numbers. There is no perfect way to completely protect yourself against identity theft, but here are 10 practical steps you can take to make it harder for identity thieves.

  1. Guard your social security number and don’t carry your card with you. If you are asked for your number, ask why it is needed and how it will be protected.  If possible, only provide the last four digits instead of the entire number.
  2. Freeze your credit with all three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This will restrict access to your records so new credit accounts cannot be opened without your permission.
  3. Be wary of phone calls that appear to come from government agencies or businesses, and emails that look legitimate. Instead of providing information, call the agency back or email them directly using the information found on their official website.
  4. Review your financial statements and credit reports Make sure every transaction listed is accurate on your financial and bank account statements. The same is true for your credit reports. The three major credit reporting bureaus are giving consumers access to a free credit report weekly until April 20, 2022.
  5. Use strong passwords and add an authentication step. Don’t reuse old passwords and don’t rely on security questions to keep your accounts safe. Your mother’s maiden name and your pet’s name are easy passwords to figure out. Create passwords that include lower and upper case letters, numbers, and symbols.
  6. Use alerts to receive a text or email when transactions are made on your accounts. Argent has a great service called CardValet that provides alerts on transaction amount, location, and merchant type when your debit card is used.
  7. Protect your mobile devices by keeping them locked, password-protected, and your antivirus software current and updated. Be wary of connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.  Even though a network requires a password, doesn’t mean it’s secure.
  8. Use a banking app rather than a mobile browser. To download the Argent App, visit the App Store or Google Play.
  9. Shred your credit card, bank, or investment statements! Shred any document containing personal or sensitive information as well as any junk mail with a pre-approved offer for credit.
  10. Don’t overshare on social media. Use privacy controls so information like your birth date, your employer or your family members isn’t publicly accessible.

Simple Saving Tips

May 19, 2021

For many, saving money can be a daunting task.  Whether you want to save for a particular purchase or have funds available for the unexpected, saving should NOT be overwhelming.  Check out these 5 simple ways to make saving easy:

  1. Count your coins and bills – Pay with cash. At the end of each day, empty your pockets and save that extra change in a jar, a cup, or a small box.  When it’s full, deposit your collection directly into your savings account.  
  2. Prep before grocery shopping – Before heading out, check your pantry and make a grocery list, then use coupons and loyalty programs to maximize your savings as you shop.  Receipts usually show you how much you’ve saved.  Deposit that amount directly into your savings account.
  3. Cut the cord – Ditch the pricey cable or satellite TV bill and consider switching to an online streaming service.  If you choose to stay with cable, bundle your phone, internet and cable to save.  Deposit the difference of what you would have spent into your savings account.
  4. Order smaller servings at restaurants – When dining out, opt for appetizers or split an entree with your companion.  Deposit the difference of the full entrée into your savings.
  5. Lower your car payment.  Refinancing to a lower interest rate on your auto loan could save you a considerable amount over the life of your loan.

These 5 tips are simple ways to start the savings process. Everyone’s spending habits are different, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.   Once you master the simple ways of saving, it will make it easier to transition into others areas.

Argent Credit Union can help you save! Check out our great rates on auto refinancing.  And, you make no payment for 60 days helping you save even more.

Auto Loan Rates

First Time Homebuyers – What You Need to Know

April 30, 2021

Buying your first home is exciting!  Whether you want a starter home, or you want a new build, you have a number of options to choose from.  Before you get swept up in the home search process, here are some tips to help guide you:

Get pre-approved first.

Getting pre-approved is extremely important.  Mortgage rates are still low and there are many buyers out shopping for homes.  Having a written pre-approval lets the seller know you are a serious buyer who’s credit and finances are in order to purchase their home.  Pre-approval also allows you to see how much you can realistically afford to borrow.

Consider your must-haves.

Before your search begins, consider things that will be a must.  For example, if you’re ready to start a family, or have children, maybe you’ll want to focus on houses in certain school districts.  Or maybe, you’d prefer a home that’s not in a neighborhood with an association fee.  How long will your commute to work be?  Writing a list of must-haves will give you a strong jumping-off point and will help your realtor filter your search for homes that are best suited for you.

Avoid buying more house than you can afford.

Falling in love with a home is easy.  But just because you qualify for a $300,000 loan doesn’t mean you can afford the monthly payment.  You have to factor into that monthly payment, taxes, insurance and, if you’re putting less than 20% down, PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance).  Pre-approval tells you what’s possible, not necessarily what’s affordable considering all of your financial obligations.  So be honest with yourself and your realtor.

Don’t assume you need to put down 20%.

The reality is, not everyone has 20% to put down.  At Argent, you can put as little as 3 percent down for a conventional mortgage.  We also provide mortgage calculators to give you an idea of loan payments.  In addition, we work with you from start to finish to ensure you get in the home of your dreams with an affordable monthly payment.

Get started today!

401(k) Hardship Withdrawals: Know the Stakes

March 1, 2021

Before your tap into your 401(K) retirement plan as a quick aid to expensive medical bills or to help out during unemployment, you need to know the 401(k) early withdrawal consequences.

401(k) Early Withdrawal

401(k) early withdrawals | man in blue checkered button up shirt paying bills on a computerA sudden job downgrade or an expensive medical bill could leave you desperately looking for an immediate source of income.

Your 401(k) should be the last place you look for quick money. But if you’ve exhausted all other options, and your employer plan allows hardship withdrawals, you might have no choice but to tap into your 401(k) retirement plan to help ease your financial burdens.

401(k) Hardship Withdrawals

  1. Comb the fine print in your 401(k) retirement plan to find out what qualifies as a hardship. Usually, it must be an immediate and heavy financial need pertaining to certain expenses.
  2. Find out if you are eligible to take a 401(k) hardship withdrawal. The IRS says you must exhaust other, specific options first.
  3. Learn how much money is available to you. It’s usually restricted to the amount you have contributed to the plan, without earnings, but not always.

Be aware that:

  • For at least six months after you receive the withdrawal, you may not make new pretax contributions and you’ll miss out on all or some employer matches during that time.
  • You will have to pay taxes on the amount you receive based on your tax bracket.
  • If you’re younger than 59½ years old, you will have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty. However, the stimulus bill passed in January 2021 included a modification to the CARES Act and temporarily waived the penalty on coronavirus-related distributions.
  • In addition to the penalty, your plan might charge a fee to take a hardship withdrawal.

401(k) Early Withdrawal Consequences

Don’t go into this without understanding the consequences. First, and most importantly, is that you’ll forgo the compound earnings you’d otherwise enjoy in retirement. To drive this home, say you are 30 years old, in the 25% tax bracket, and want $10,000 to pay for your tuition this year. You will have to pay an employer withdrawal fee, an IRS early-withdrawal penalty, and taxes; and you’ll have to stop making elective deferral contributions for six months. The end result: You could come short approximately $194,000 when you retire—assuming you miss a 7% annual rate of return.

In some situations, it is worth taking the hardship withdrawal, but it should be your last resort. Consult with your HR department and your tax and financial advisers, and evaluate your alternatives with an Argent loan officer.