Password Protection Strategies

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—they’ve all fallen prey to hackers who exposed passwords and other personal information for hundreds of thousands of their users. If you haven’t yet had your password stolen, chances are, it may be only a matter of time.

Hearing the word “hacker” may conjure up the image of a teenaged wiz-kid up all night systematically trying to guess at passwords. But hacking has become a much more complex, sophisticated, and lucrative operation. Breached passwords can fetch big money on the black market.¹

So, what does that mean to you? It means your passwords are valuable and vulnerable commodities. There are steps you can take to help foil hackers and protect your privacy. Consider these strategies for protecting your passwords.

No Plain English

Simple strings of numbers, along with passwords that can be found in the dictionary, are the easiest to crack. Microsoft suggests that your password should contain one or more upper- and lower-case characters, numbers, symbols, and even unicode characters.2

Fast Fact: According to CSO Online, roughly 1.5 billion people, or one-quarter of the world’s population, will be affected by lost and stolen data by 2020.
CSO Online, December 14, 2015

Mix It Up

Many people use the same password for multiple accounts because it’s easier to remember. But this could lead to serious consequences. You may not be too concerned about the personal information stored in your LinkedIn or Twitter accounts, but what would happen if hackers used your compromised password to access your email, brokerage, or bank accounts? If you have trouble remembering multiple passwords, you may want to keep a list, but don’t store it on your desktop or in your inbox. Give the file a misleading name and bury it where only you can find it.

Favor Length and Complexity

The longer your password, the more difficult it will be to crack. Instead of a password, consider using a favorite movie quote, song lyric, or poem. To make your password even stronger, string together only the first couple letters of each word in the phrase. Another strategy involves simply jamming on the keyboard, intermittently hitting Shift and Alt keys until you have a password you’re satisfied with. For sensitive accounts, it may make sense to change your passwords on a regular basis. If you like the idea of optimal password protection but worry you won’t be able to handle multiple changing passwords, password-protection software can help you organize, store, and use password data.

There’s no such thing as an impregnable password. Still, putting personal information behind a basic password is like leaving your Porsche in a parking lot with your keys on the dash. By taking preventative measures to strengthen your password, you may be able to help safeguard your sensitive personal data and your privacy.

Recognize Any of These?

Take a look at the most common passwords, according to SplashData.com. If your password is one of these, it might be time to make a change.

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345
  4. 12345678
  5. qwerty
  6. 123456789
  7. 1234
  8. baseball
  9. dragon
  10. football

SplashData.com, 2015

1 PCWorld.com, August 2, 2016
2 Microsoft.com, 2016

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Crowdfunding—Capital for the 21st Century

One of the earliest examples of crowdfunding occurred in 1884 when funds ran short for building the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. The publisher Joseph Pulitzer used his newspaper to appeal to Americans to donate the money needed to complete the pedestal’s construction. Over $100,000 in six months was raised from more than 125,000 people.¹

But it took the Internet to truly put the wind in the sails of this unique form of fundraising. One study found $34.4 billion was raised worldwide in 2015—a 112% increase from the previous year.²

Crowdfunding Roots

Up until now, the primary use of crowdfunding has been to find donors to support the personal endeavors of artists, inventors and filmmakers. In return, donors may receive a perk, recognition, or a product as a form of gratitude. These tokens of appreciation are often tiered to be more attractive the larger a donor’s gift.³

Crowdfunding has not been generally viewed as an investment and thus has escaped regulatory oversight or supervision.

Crowdfunding Grows Up

Until recently, crowdfunding to solicit investments from the general public was not allowed. However, with the passage of the JOBS Act of 2012 and recent rulemaking by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the table is now set for raising equity and debt capital for businesses, heralding a new era in capital markets allocation.⁴

Crowdfunding sites are springing up like mushrooms following a heavy rain. Not only are they multiplying in number, but they are also beginning to specialize.

Crowdfunding continues to gain momentum as more people search the Internet for new financing choices and fundraising alternatives. It’s strongly recommended that you take the time to research and investigate crowdfunding sources before making any commitment.

  1. National Park Service: Statue of Liberty, 2015
  2. DazeInfo.com, January 12, 2016
  3. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.
  4. Forbes, April 9, 2015

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

A Penny Saved is Two Pennies Earned

This modern twist on the Ben Franklin maxim reflects the multiplicity of taxes to which earnings are subject in today’s world.¹ Finding ways to manage expenses is one of the cornerstones of a sound financial strategy.

Here are some simple and inexpensive energy-saving tips that may help you save money.

Audit First…

To better understand where opportunities may exist for improving energy efficiency, consider an energy audit. Perform one yourself by purchasing a home energy monitor, which tracks your energy use, and a handheld air leak detector to identify windows, doors, and other areas of the home that are drafty.

Also, your local power utility may offer in-home energy audits or related services that can help identify remediation opportunities.

…Then Act

Consider these do-it-yourself ideas that may offer immediate savings at very little cost.

  • Install a programmable thermostat to automatically lower the heat or air conditioning because—let’s face it—you forget to do it.
  • Devices that offer “instant on” or continuous display (e.g., TV, cable box, and recharger) use energy non-stop. Consider a power strip to reduce their electrical use by shutting off the power strip at bedtime.
  • Plug up air leaks through weather stripping or caulking; install door sweeps to block drafts. Close the fireplace damper when it’s not in use.
  • Be sure to have your heating system serviced to ensure maximum efficiency.
  • Install a water heater blanket and turn the heater down to 120 degrees; not only is a higher temperature wasteful, but a lower temperature is a safety precaution for younger children. Lower it to a minimum when you leave for vacation.

Honk If You Like to Save Money

For many, the cost of running their automobile(s) can be higher than the cost of running their home. Here are ways to save:

  • Tune up your car.
  • Check your tires for proper inflation.
  • Drive sensibly by eliminating excessive idling, aggressive driving, and speeding.
  • Eliminate weight — empty that trunk!

 

  1. Brainyquote, 2016
  2. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Prevent a Rift: Money Tips for Newlyweds

In a recent study, 35% of people experiencing relationship stress said money was the primary reason. This could help explain why some experts say financial problems are the #1 reason marriages fail.1,2

Fortunately, couples may be able to head off many of the problems money can cause in a marriage.

10 Tips for Newly Married Couples

  1. Communication—Couples should consider talking about their financial goals, memories, and habits because each may come into the marriage with fundamental differences in experiences and outlook that will drive their behaviors.
  2. Set Goals—Setting goals establishes a common objective that both become committed to pursuing.
  3. Create a Budget—A budget is an exercise for developing a spending and savings plan that is designed to reflect mutually agreed upon priorities.
  4. Set the Foundation for Your Financial House—Identify assets and debts. Look to begin reducing debts while building your emergency fund.
  5. Work Together—By sharing the financial decision-making, both spouses are vested in all choices, reducing the friction that can come from a single decision-maker.
  6. Set a Minimum Threshold for Big Expenses—While possessing a level of individual spending latitude is reasonable, large expenditures should only be made with both spouses’ consent. Agree to what purchase amount should require a mutual decision.
  7. Set Up Regular Meetings—Set aside a pre-determined time every two weeks or once a month to discuss finances. Talk about your budgeting, upcoming expenses and any changes in circumstances.
  8. Update and Revise—As a newly married couple, you may need to update the beneficiaries on your accounts, reevaluate your insurance coverage, and revise (or create) your will.²
  9. Love, Trust, and Honesty—Approach contentious subjects with care and understanding, be honest about money decisions you know your spouse might be upset with, and trust your spouse to be responsible about handling finances.
  10. Consider Speaking with a Financial Advisor—A financial advisor may offer insights to help you work through the critical financial decisions that all married couples face.
  1. CNBC, February 4, 2015
  2. DrPhil.com, 2015
  3. When drafting a will, consider enlisting the help of a legal, tax, or financial professional who may be able to offer additional insight, especially if you have a large estate or complex family situation.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Personal Finance Tips for Military Families

One survey found that military personnel have higher credit card debt and fewer tangible assets than their civilian counterparts.¹

While the financial situation of military personnel and their families mirrors the general population in many respects, heavy indebtedness and mismanagement of credit cards may be especially acute issues for service members.

Of course, military families face unique challenges, such as deployment to conflict zones, overseas assignments and the constancy of change, making personal finance even more critical.

Money Tips to Consider

  • Take Full Advantage of What’s Available
    • The Thrift Savings Plan is one way to save for retirement and a Roth TSP is now available.
    • The Savings Deposit Program allows eligible personnel serving in designated combat zones to invest up to $10,000 and receive a guaranteed return of 10%.²
    • Saving in a Roth IRA may be a good idea if you receive tax-free combat-zone pay. This allows you to deposit tax-fee income and take tax-free qualified withdrawals in retirement.³
    • The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers the full cost of in-state tuition, up to 36 months.
    • Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance protects your family with low-cost life insurance.4
  • Set Goals—Like any mission, success begins with articulating goals you want to pursue.
  • Establish a Budget—A budget provides the financial discipline that may help you control spending impulses that can lead to greater debt levels.
  • Pay Yourself First—Determine how much money you need to set aside to reach your savings goal, deduct this amount from your paycheck, and attempt to live within the limits of what remains.
  • Establish an Emergency Fund—Uncertainty marks the life of military families, so be sure you have an emergency fund that allows you to be as prepared as possible for these changes.
  • Control Your Debt—Indebtedness is one of the enemies of financial independence.

As you think through your financial goals, remember, taking action today is your first and most important step.

  1. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), 2015
  2. The Savings Deposit Program is a benefit offered to eligible personnel serving in designated combat zones. The guaranteed rate of return is subject to change.
  3. To qualify for the tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal of earnings, Roth IRA distributions must meet a five-year holding requirement and occur after age 59½. Tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal also can be taken under certain other circumstances, such as a result of the owner’s death. The original Roth IRA owner is not required to take minimum annual withdrawals.
  4. Several factors will affect the cost and availability of life insurance, including age, health and the type and amount of insurance purchased. Life insurance policies have expenses, including mortality and other charges. If a policy is surrendered prematurely, the policyholder also may pay surrender charges and have income tax implications. You should consider determining whether you are insurable before implementing a strategy involving life insurance. Any guarantees associated with a policy are dependent on the ability of the issuing insurance company to continue making claim payments.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Bitcoin 101

If you look up “currency” in Merriam-Webster, you will find it defined as “the money that a country uses” and “the quality or state of being used or accepted by many people.”

Recent news stories involving a new form of currency, bitcoin, have sparked the interest of many individuals.

How Bitcoin Works

Bitcoin has emerged as a digital currency that exists virtually. It is a “cryptocurrency” which uses cryptography to manage the creation of units, administer use, and provide security. Bitcoins are “mined” by solving complex mathematical problems. Ownership of bitcoins is anonymous.

Bitcoin is different than the currency we use in three fundamental ways.

  1. Bitcoin operates without a central authority (e.g., a central bank). The currency is managed by a peer-to-peer technology that is responsible for all functions, including issuance, transaction processing, and verification.
  2. Unlike the national currencies, bitcoin exists primarily as a digital currency, though bitcoin can be made available in physical form, if desired.
  3. The number of bitcoins is limited to 21 million. New bitcoins are created at a rate of 25 every 10 minutes (a rate which is reduced by 50% every four years).

Bitcoins can be purchased on a bitcoin currency exchange and transferred to a digital bitcoin wallet. It should be noted that bitcoins have been subject to sharp and rapid changes in value, rendering their value highly unpredictable at any given time. Its commitment to a limited production is fundamental to its objective of retaining value, unlike other national currencies, which may be devalued by printing excess supply to meet economic and political ends.

Once you have a bitcoin balance, you may begin to purchase goods or services from providers who accept them. However, bitcoin has limited acceptance, though it has found some appeal to parties engaged in illegal activities because of its anonymity.

Whatever the eventual public acceptance is of a digital currency, bitcoin is proof that a currency can be anything as long as it is used and accepted by people to transact business.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

A Cheat Sheet for Sending Your Kid to College

College marks a great milestone in a child’s life. It may be the first time he or she will live away from home. Dropping off your child at college may be an experience loaded with emotions, so here are a few tips for a smoother transition.

Accept that the Parent-Child Dynamic Has Changed

Your child is always your child, and will need you as much as ever. However, parents need to understand that their role has transitioned from “supervisor” to “mentor.”

Make the Move Simple

Do not bring the moving van. Not only will it embarrass your child, but dorm rooms just aren’t that large. Bring only what’s appropriate.

Consider pre-ordering essentials (soap, bedding, shower caddy, etc.) for pick-up at a location by the school. This will save space whether your trip is by car or plane.

Don’t Leave “The Talk” to the Drop-off

While college represents a gateway to many wonderful experiences, parents will want to have a serious conversation about safety, responsible behavior, finances, and expectations about staying in touch.

Do not leave it for the drop-off. It is sure to sour the moment and may rush a conversation that deserves more time and mutual dialogue.

Time to Learn Financial Responsibility

Your child will need spending money. You may want to provide a debit card attached to an account that has a set sum for the full semester, or one that’s refreshed with monthly deposits. College is a perfect time to learn budgeting.

Take the Lead from Your Child

Let your child have the discretion to make decisions about what to bring. However important you think a dust skirt for the bed is, try to avoid fights. Let your child make a mistake. It’s the best way to learn.

Your child will likely send signals when it’s time for you to go. Listen to them. It’s time for him or her to begin connecting with new roommates. Expect that final “good-bye dinner” to be canceled since your child may prefer an impromptu introductory dinner with the new roommate.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

The Financial Literacy Crisis

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Imagine driving a car without a basic understanding of the rules of the road, or even how to operate it. Scary thought.

Yet many Americans are operating their personal finances with only the barest minimum of knowledge. One study found that, when asked five basic questions about finances and the markets, 61% of Americans were unable to answer more than 3 correctly.¹

The study also found that 18% of Americans routinely spend more than their household income and one-in-five have overdue medical bills.

It has been said that knowledge is power, and if that’s true, then too many Americans lack the power to control their financial futures. Success rarely comes accidentally; it is the culmination of a journey whose first steps are in education.

One of the obstacles to increasing financial knowledge is what has been called the “Lake Wobegon effect,” the idea that we all consider ourselves above average. It is a self-assessment that keeps many from learning as much as they need to. But whatever your knowledge level may be, it should be recognized that an ever-evolving financial landscape puts a premium on continual learning.

There is a wide range of resources for individuals who understand that the more informed they are, the better the decisions they can make.

If you are committed to increasing your financial literacy, a good beginning is never being afraid to ask questions of financial professionals. Another good place to start your self-education is on a U.S. Treasury-sponsored website, which was created for that very purpose.²

  1. FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 2016
  2. www.treasurydirect.gov

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Saving on Fitness Center Membership Costs

The cost of a membership to your local fitness center can be pricey, especially if you are looking for a modern facility with a wide selection of the most current equipment. But there are ways to improve your physical fitness without denting your fiscal fitness.

Ways to Save on a Fitness Center Membership

Don’t Pay List Price—There are ways to save on the quoted fee schedule.

  • Take advantage of free trials. They may be as short as one day or up to 30 days. It will allow you to test the club’s vibe and its members.
  • Search for coupons. Fitness centers may offer coupons that reduce the cost. Visit the fitness center website and “deal of the day” websites to see if coupons are available.
  • Negotiate. Let the manager know you are looking around and the prices you’re being quoted. Ask him or her to make a best offer. Shopping during the slow season or at the end of the month gives you greater leverage.
  • Join with a friend. A fitness center may have special pricing. If they don’t, it’ll certainly increase your negotiating leverage.
  • Exercise during off-peak hours. Some fitness centers, especially the 24-hour ones, may offer discounts for using the facility in off-peak hours.

Get Someone Else to Pay for It—Forward thinking employers recognize that a physically fit employee is likely to be a healthier and more productive worker. Insurance companies also like healthy people since they cost less in medical care. Ask your employer or insurance company if they offer any perks that subsidize memberships, or have any affiliation with centers that offers discounts.

Don’t Buy a Membership—The fact is that many Americans’ resolve to exercise can be ephemeral, leaving them with membership bills that keep coming. To protect against this risk, consider:

  • Buying a month-to-month membership until you’re sure you’re going to stick with it.
  • Starting your new exercise regime by buying an exercise video or walking/running outdoors.

The decision to exercise is always a good one. Now, make the decision that will also be good for your bank account.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Stop Wasting Money

Benjamin Franklin once said, “a penny saved is a penny earned.”¹ The modern upgrade to that observation might be that $100 not spent is more like $143.²

One way to find the money to meet your spending or saving needs is to examine your current spending habits and consider eliminating money wasters.

Top Money Wasters

  1. Bargain Shopping … and its Expensive Cousin, Impulse Buying
    Fire sales and impulse buying (such as buying products sold on infomercials) can be money wasters, made worse by how often items purchased this way sit idly in a closet or drawer.
  2. Unused Gym Memberships
    At a monthly rate of $40-50, unused memberships can add up over time. Begin your fitness commitment inexpensively by walking or jogging; you can graduate to the gym once you know you’re going to stick with it.
  3. Cable and Cell
    Call your provider and see if it’s possible to negotiate a new rate. Cell providers, who face stiff competition, may be responsive. Cable companies may be less so, especially if they are a single provider, but you can review your package and make sure you are not paying for service you don’t want.
  4. Paying for Water
    Switching from an essentially free product to one that may cost up to $1.50 a day or more makes for real budget leak. Consider purchasing a reusable container and refilling it during the day.
  5. Gourmet Coffee
    $2 or $3 a day may not seem like a lot of money, but when Americans step into a gourmet coffee shop, they may often buy more than just the coffee. Consider brewing your own coffee. It can be ready before you leave for work, and it’ll save you the wait in the drive-through line!
  6. Eating Out
    Americans now spend more money dining out than they do at the grocery store.³ Consider the cost of going out to lunch twice a week. If you spent $10 each time, it would cost you $1,040 annually. While dining out may be one of life’s pleasures, it is often less about socialization and more about convenience. Twice a week may not seem like much, but over time it can add up.
  1. Brainy Quote, September 2016
  2. This is a hypothetical example that assumes a 30% tax rate. The example is used for illustrative purposes only. It is not representative of any specific tax rate or combination of tax rates.
  3. Bloomberg, April 14, 2015

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.