Monday, October 31, 2016

The dangers of online shopping during the upcoming holiday season

For today’s consumer, e-commerce has become a convenient alternative to the long lines associated with holiday shopping. Shopping online allows buyers to order goods and have them delivered to their doorstep, all without leaving their home.  As a result, shoppers are beginning to prefer “Cyber Monday” over “Black Friday”. Unfortunately, as the preference for online shopping increases, so to do the risks of identity theft and other cyber-attacks. Identifying the risks and vulnerabilities could limit the damages of fraud you could potentially face.  

What are the risks?

There are several ways others could access your personal information when shopping online. Today’s most common forms of fraud that result from shopping online include:
  • Purchasing from phony/bogus websites that offer goods or services that do not exist. You make a purchase from what you think is a legitimate website, only to have the items you ordered never show up and your credit card information compromised.
  • Purchasing goods from websites that are not secure web pages. When a website does not have certain firewall and other security capabilities, it allows hackers and cyber attackers to easily access your personal and bank account information.
  • Shopping on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection.


While knowing the risks is important, preventing them is the most important. Here are a couple steps you could take to avoid damage.  

  • Visit Reliable Websites - Only visit websites that can be trusted (that you are familiar with and you deem to be reputable) and ensure the spelling of the web address is correct. For example, there could be a situation where you want to visit “” but accidentally type in “” which could potentially lead you to a phony website designed to make fraudulent sales. 
  • Ensure that websites are secure before entering your payment information. You can do so by looking for web addresses that begin with “https://”  or show a “padlock” beside the Web address, which symbolizes that it is a secure website. When checking out on the website, look for reliable card protection services. These include Visa’s “Verified by Visa” and MasterCard’s “SecureCode”.

  • Credit over Debit - Be cautious when choosing your method of payment. Shoppers need to be aware of the different risks associated with both credit and debit cards and realize there are certain advantages to using a credit card over your debit card when online shopping. When using a credit card you are spending the card provider’s money as compared to using a debit card, in which case you are using your money. If your debit card information falls into the wrong hands, it is your money that is at risk. In most cases, card providers (debit or credit) will work to rectify the situation for those who fall victim to fraudulent purchases, but if you used a debit card for those purchases you may not have access to those funds until the dispute is settled. If your personal preference is to avoid the use of credit cards, limit the amount of money that is in your checking account.  Minimizing the balance in your account could lower the risk of exposure to fraud when using a debit card.

Identity thieves and cyber criminals will most definitely be aggressive this holiday season. Employing these steps will help make your online holiday shopping experience safer.

Will Heard

Monday, October 3, 2016

Tips for improving your personal net worth

Net worth is simply the total value of all your significant assets minus all your debts. Assets include cash and investments, your home and real estate, and cars -- along with anything else of value that your own. Debts include all the amounts that you owe on these assets and other debts, such as credit cards. 

To improve personal net worth you must first determine where you currently stand. So let’s get started. Write down all your assets, including those items mentioned above, your retirement savings, and anything else of value. Next to each of these assets write down an honest estimated value. After determining the total value of your assets, write down all your debts/liabilities and the amounts you owe on each of them. There are several free online calculators to help you aggregate all your bank accounts/investments and credit cards, which may make this process a little easier. These calculators will also keep up with these accounts in real time so you can perform this calculation more quickly next time.  Two of the most popular are and Personal Capital.

Now that you know your current net worth, here are some tips to improve it. Keep in mind that these tips will help improve your net worth over time. Remember to set reasonable monthly and annual goals. Think of it like losing weight: losing 20 pounds overnight is an unreasonable expectation... so is doubling your net worth by tomorrow.

Tip 1:   Setup an emergency fund
The general rule of thumb for an initial emergency fund is about $1,000. Depending on your personal situation, you may need a larger amount. This fund is a good idea for several reasons. The cash is there for unexpected expenses and unforeseen events -- rather than having to use a credit card. Remember that using a credit card lowers your net worth, which is counterproductive. If you can’t put away $1,000 immediately, set up automatic transfers to a savings or money market account of whatever amount you can afford each pay period.

Tip 2:   Payoff debt
Begin by paying off the debt account with the highest interest rate and then move on down the line. Credit cards, student loans and car/truck loans (in that order) tend to have higher interest rates. Consolidating debt under a lower interest rate is often a good idea. The will be fewer accounts to keep up with and you will pay less in interest over time.

Tip 3:   Trim down monthly expenses
There are two ways to increase monthly available cash. You can make more money or you can reduce how much you spend. Generally, you have more direct control over how much you spend while you have less direct control over your salary. Evaluate your monthly expenses and determine what conveniences you can reduce  or even eliminate. Start small, such as ordering take-out one less time per week. Again, small adjustments make large improvements.  

Tip 4:   Start investing
One of the easiest ways to invest your money is a retirement plan. Employers often have a 401(k) retirement plan or some equivalent; and most will even match a percentage of whatever amount you contribute to that plan. A best practice is to contribute at least the amount that will max out your employer’s match.  If your employer does not have a retirement plan, open an IRA account with a brokerage firm of your choosing. Generally, you can open an account with small automatic transfers to the account, rather than contributing the large initial amount often required by financial institutions.

These tips will only get you started down the right path for increasing your overall net worth. Please consult with your financial advisor for a more personalized plan to suit your individual/family needs.

Eric Tydings, CPA