Cash or Credit?

“Currency still has its place, despite the pervasive use of plastic.”

Today, it seems that more people are using credit or debit cards to pay for everything.  And yet, this article provides reasons why cash may be a better payment option.  Those include

  1. A cashless society? Not so fast.  According to a recent Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study, 40 percent of consumer transactions involve cash–a higher percentage than for debit cards (25%), credit cards (17%), electronic payments (7%), and checks (7%).
  2. Currency comes in handy. Most vending machines don’t take plastic, and cash works best for all small purchases.
  3. Hamiltons can’t get hacked. With data breaches of major retailers becoming common, some consumers pay by cash to protect their credit card information.
  4. A cash fix can cost you. If you get a cash advance from an ATM outside your bank’s network, you’ll pay more than $4, on average.
  5. Cash is a great budgeting tool. If you have trouble controlling your spending when you pay with credit cards, then cash or a debit card is best for your finances.
  6. Paying by cash may be a good option, but it won’t help build your credit history. Using a credit card now and then for routine purchases can help build a good credit history.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Reinforce the concept of paying by cash.
  • Discuss what happens when people use their credit cards and overspend.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would you prefer to pay for merchandise and services with cash or credit? Explain your answer.
  2. How could paying with cash help you balance your budget and control spending?

IRS: Protect Yourself Online

The Internal Revenue Service, the states and the tax industry urge taxpayers to take steps to protect themselves online in the fight against identity theft.  Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are stealing taxpayers’ personal information and ultimately their money.  But, there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourselves, like keeping computer software up-to-date and being cautious about giving out your personal information.

Here are some best practices you can follow to protect your tax and financial information, click here.

  1. Understand and Use Security Software. Security software helps protect computers against the digital threats that are prevalent online.  The operating system will include security software from well-known companies or Internet providers.
  2. Allow Security Software to Update Automatically. Set security software to update automatically.  Malware–malicious software—evolves constantly, and your security software suite updates routinely to keep pace.
  3. Look for the “S.” When shopping or banking online, always ensure that the site uses encryption to protect your information.  Look for “https” at the beginning of the web address.
  4. Use Strong Passwords. Use passwords of eight or more characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters.  Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words.
  5. Secure Wireless Networks. A wireless network sends a signal through the air that allows it to connect to the Internet.  If your home or business Wi-Fi is unsecure, it also allows any computer within range to access your wireless and potentially steal information from your computer.
  6. Be Cautious When Using Public Wireless Networks. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient but often not secured.
  7. Avoid E-mail Phishing Attempts. Never reply to an emails, text or pop-up messages asking for personal, tax or financial information.  Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust.  Instead, go directly to the organization’s website.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students which best practices they follow to protect their tax and financial information. Make a list and share it with other students.
  • Ask students to make a list of essential software tools available to them for keeping their financial/tax information secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why it might be prudent to purchase security software programs from well-known companies or Internet providers?
  2. Where should you keep your passwords list and why?

When Small Charges Can Signal a Big Crime

Counting every penny on your credit and debit card statements can help detect fraud

Most people looking at their bank statements would probably notice if their credit or debit card were used without their approval to purchase a big ticket item, and they would quickly call their bank or card issuer to report the error or fraudulent transaction.  But consumers are less likely to be suspicious of very small charges, including those less than a dollar…which is why criminals like to make them.

“These transactions might be signs that someone has learned your account information and is using it to commit a crime,” said Michael Benardo, manager of the (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) FDIC’s Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section.  “That’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for fraudulent transactions, no matter how small.”

He added, “When thieves fraudulently obtain someone else’s credit or debit card information and create counterfeit card, they might test it out with a small transaction—like buying a pack of gum or a soda—to make sure the counterfeit card works before using it to make a big purchase.  If this test goes unnoticed, by the true account holder, thieves will use the card to buy something expensive that they want or that they can easily sell for cash.”

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know someone who had his/her credit or debit card compromised. If so, how they detected the illegal charge and how the problem was solved.
  • Under what circumstances should you close the compromised account?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to regularly scrutinize your monthly credit and debit card statements?
  2. What can be consumers do to protect themselves from such frauds? What is the best way to catch this type of fraud?

BAM banned from debt collection

In late July 2016, filed as part of Operation Collection Protection, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that BAM Financial used lies, threats, intimidation, and other illegal practices to extract payments from consumers.  When obscene language, incessant calls, and harassment of family members didn’t get the results they wanted, the defendants got personal.  For instance, the defendants told the parent of one purported debtor “No wonder your daughter is in such predicament with a mother like you.”  The FTC alleges that they falsely stated to another consumer’s 84-year-old mother that they had a warrant for her daughter’s arrest and later told the consumer they were bounty hunters.

The FTC says BAM’s letters and phone calls were riddled with false threats of litigation.  The complaint also charged that in numerous instances, the defendants didn’t follow up within five days of their initial communications with proper validation notices as the law requires.

The settlement with BAM Financial, Everton Financial, Legal Financial Consulting, Luis O. Carrera, and Robert Llaury bans them for life from debt collection agency industry.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students what consumer rights they have when dealing with debt collection agencies.
  • Ask students to list important provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Discussion Questions

  1. Nearly 30 million Americans have their accounts in collection, and debt collectors make as many as one billion contacts with people every year. Are these contacts legal?
  2. What types of debts are covered under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
  3. How can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?

Protecting Your Privacy and Security When Making Mobile Payments

For most consumers, the biggest benefit of mobile payments is convenience.  No need to pull out your wallet for cash or plastic—especially if you’ve got your phone at hand anyway.  No need to type your payment information to buy online.  But what if your financial and other personal information isn’t safe?

Security is important since you usually carry your mobile device with you, it’s on most of the time, and it may contain sensitive information.  Consumer Federation of America (CFA) offers advice on how to avoid security pitfalls, what features keep your mobile device and your payments safe, and how to prevent others from making mobile payments without your permission.

For more information, click here.

 Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to read the privacy policies of the companies whose services they are using to make mobile payments.
  • What are your options if you don’t like a company’s privacy policy?

Discussion Questions

  1. Should you voluntarily provide information that is not necessary to use a product or service or make a payment?
  2. Why is it important to use extreme care when you use free public Wi-Fi?

Investor Alert: Securities-Backed Lines of Credit (SBLOC)

SBLOCs are loans that are often marketed to investors as an easy and inexpensive way to access extra cash by borrowing against the assets in your investment portfolio without having to liquidate these securities.  They do, however, carry a number of risks, among them potential unintended tax consequences and the possibility that you may, in fact have to sell your holdings, which could have a significant impact on your long-term investment goals.

Set up as a revolving line of credit, an SBLOC allows you to borrow money using securities held in your investment accounts as collateral.  You can continue to trade and buy and sell securities in your pledged accounts.  An SBLOC requires you to make monthly interest-only payments, and the loan remains outstanding until you repay it.  You can repay some (or all) of the outstanding principal at any time, then borrow again later.  Some investors like the flexibility of an SBLOC as compared to a term loan, which has a stated maturity date and a fixed repayment schedule.  In some ways, SBLOC are reminiscent of home equity lines of credit, except of course that, among other things, they involve the use of your securities rather than your home as collateral.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA) have issued an investor alert to provide information about the basics of SBLOC, how they may be marketed to you, and what risks you should consider before posting your investment portfolio as collateral.  SBLOCs may seem like an attractive way to access extra capital when markets are producing positive returns, but market volatility can magnify you potential losses, placing your financial future at greater risks.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to prepare a list of possible advantages and disadvantages of securities-based loans.
  • How might market volatility magnify potential losses placing your financial future at a greater risk?

Discussion Questions

  1. How are securities-backed lines of credit different from home-equity lines of credit?
  2. Why some investors prefer SBLOC to a traditional short term loan?

Chip Card Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of millions of consumers who haven’t yet received a chip card.  For example, scammers are e-mailing people, posing as their card issuer.  The scammers claim that in order to issue a new chip card, they need to update your account by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link to continue the process.  Information received can be used to commit identify theft.  If they click on the link, they may unknowingly install malware on your device.

How can you tell if the e-mail is from a scammer?

  • There is no reason your card issuer needs to contact you by e-mail or by phone to confirm personal information before sending you a new chip card number.
  • Still not sure if the e-mail is a scam? Contact your card issuers at phone numbers on your cards.
  • Don’t trust links in e-mails. Only provide personal information through a company’s website if you typed in the web address yourself and you see that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the “s” stands for secure).

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to visit other identify theft websites, such as, consumer.gov/idtheft, to learn what to do if your identity is stolen.
  • Ask students to compile a list of what actions can they take to ensure that their credit/debit cards and other financial information are secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you discover that someone has stolen your identity?
  2. What steps can you take to thwart identity thieves?

New Credit and Debit Chip Cards

Banks and card issuers have been sending out new credit and debit chip cards, usually as existing cards expire or need replacement.  If you haven’t gotten your new cards, don’t worry.  The rollout will continue at least through 2016.  If you want to know when yours new chip cards will arrive, contact your card issuers at the phone numbers on your cards.

Your new cards look like your old cards with one exception.  New cards have a small square metallic chip on the front.  The chip holds your payment data—some of which is currently held on the magnetic stripe on your old cards—and provides a unique code for each purchase.  The metallic chip is designed to reduce fraud, including counterfeiting.

Here’s how it works: To buy something in a store, instead of swiping your card, you’ll put it into a reader for few seconds.  Then you might have to sign or enter a PIN.  With each transaction, the chip generates a unique code needed for approval.  The code is good only for that transaction.  Because the security is always changing, it’s more difficult for someone to steal and use.

There will be no change in how you use your card online or by phone.  That means chip cards won’t prevent crooks from using stolen card numbers to buy online or by phone.  So it’s a good idea to still guard your card information closely, and check statements for suspicious activity.  If there is a problem, your consumer protections remain the same.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have received a new chip credit or debit card. Show how the new card differs from the old card.
  • Do you believe that new cards will help reduce fraud? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions

  1. How might scammers try to take advantage of the millions of consumers who have not yet received a chip card?
  2. How can you protect yourself from the scammers?

Attention College Students: Student Loans, Debit and Prepaid Cards

College students often make financial decisions that can have consequences for years.  Getting a student loan or credit cards can influence long-term financial success.  Here are the ways to strengthen your decision-making skills:

  1. Do your research before applying for a student loan. If you have to borrow to pay for some or all of a college education, review the different types of student loans.  Choose one that’s low-cost and has a flexible repayment terms, which will generally be a federal student loan.
  2. Understand the pros, cons and costs of debit and prepaid cards. Debit cards enable you to withdraw money from your checking accounts for purchases or cash.  Prepaid cards are used to access money that has been loaded (added) onto the card, which is not connected to a bank account.
  3. Use credit cards responsibly: While credit cards are a convenient way to establish a credit history, they can make it easier to spend money. Purchases that cannot be paid in full by the due date will incur interest

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have an outstanding student loan. Was the process of financing an education daunting and time consuming?
  • Ask students to visit the College Affordability and Transparency Center website (collegecost.ed.gov) for choosing the financial aid package that best suits their needs.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important that you find the most affordable education that fits your budget, future career, and long-term financial goals?
  2. What might be the benefits of understanding the pros, cons, and costs of debit and prepaid cards?
  3. Are school-affiliated cards the best deal for all students? Why or why not?

Income Tax Identity Theft Baffles IRS

“Income tax identity theft is a huge problem that is only getting worse.”

According to a 2015 report of the General Accountability Office (GAO), the IRS paid out $5.8 billion in bogus refunds to identity thieves for the 2013 tax year–the latest year that complete data are available.  To make matters worse, the actual dollar amount is probably higher because of the difficulty of knowing the amount of undetected fraud.

To combat the problem, the IRS announced a new cooperative effort between the IRS, state tax administrators, and private tax preparation services to fight income tax identity theft.  A number of specific steps are outlined in this article.  Unfortunately, the experts admit there are additional problems to stopping identity thieves that are not addressed in the new program.  In fact, most experts agree that additional regulations are required to coordinate employer reporting of employee wages with Social Security reporting requirements.

For individual taxpayers, bogus tax returns become a very real and personal problem if their social security number is stolen and their personal tax return is flagged by the IRS as suspicious.  To help resolve disputed tax returns, the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate, which is an internal watchdog for consumers at the IRS, suggests that you file a police report and then mail a paper tax return with an attached Form 14039–Identity Theft Affidavit with a copy of the police report.  In addition to additional documentation, expect that it may take on average 278 days to resolve a claim if you become a victim of income tax identity theft.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Discuss the importance of protecting your personal identity and especially your social security number.
  • Stress the importance of monitoring your credit report and all financial documents that could indicate your personal identity has been stolen.

Discussion Questions

  1. What steps can you take to protect your personal identity?
  2. There are a number of credit monitoring services that will help protect your identity. Most charge $75 to $100 or more a year to monitor your financial and personal information.  Do you feel this  service is worth the cost?