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Data breaches: Here’s how safe your money is at banks and other financial institutions

Published: Thursday, October 05, 2017 @ 4:17 PM

You have to forgive the modern consumer these days if they’re a bit skittish when handing over their personal information. Security is a top concern right now, in the wake of the Equifax data breach.

The massive hack exposed as many as 145.5 million people to identity theft and has put the financial world on its heels. And so a guarded approach is warranted.

Of course, we’re still swiping away with our credit cards and performing billions of financial transactions online. But the recent events have brought some burning questions to the forefront: Namely, how safe is my personal info and the money I’ve worked so hard to save? And exactly what safeguards against future data breaches are in place at our various financial institutions?

Is your money safe from hackers in banks and brokerage houses?

If you’ve read the fine print on any bank’s literature (or seen some commercials), you’ve familiar with the words “Member FDIC.” Virtually all banking institutions in the United States are members of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC.

The agency insures many of the accounts we use every day, such as our checking and savings accounts, money market deposit accounts, certificates of deposits (CDs) and money orders and cashier’s checks.

What is the FDIC and how does it work?

When a person’s identity is stolen or if their account is hacked, does the FDIC cover them? Not directly.

The FDIC’s role is to stop bank failures, an immeasurably important duty that is necessary to maintain public confidence in the U.S. financial system.

The FDIC’s website has a plethora of information about cybersecurity and how to safeguard your personal info, but the agency offers no reimbursement guarantees. Instead, it directs consumers to “contact their state, local, or federal consumer protection agency” if they suspect any suspicious activity.

Now, if a bank gets dangerously close to insolvency and is in danger of failing, the FDIC will buoy that institution, indirectly benefiting consumers who have their money tied up with that bank.

Do the major banks offer identity theft guarantees?

Speaking of banks, they all virtually have some protections in place for consumers, but you may be surprised at how some of the major institutions talk about data breaches.

Wells Fargo Bank says this on its website: “We guarantee that you will be covered for 100% of funds removed from your Wells Fargo accounts in the unlikely event that someone you haven’t authorized removes those funds through our Online Services. To qualify for this guarantee, you must follow Your Responsibilities.”

Those “Responsibilities” include taking reasonable steps on security no later than 60 days after the bank sends you a statement which has a discrepancy on it.

Citigroup says it will cover its financial customers “for the full amount of the loss for which you’d be responsible for under Federal Banking Regulations.” The bank will also cover the loss of any interest, overdraft charges and returned check fees.

Bank of America says if you’re a victim of identity theft, “we’ll cancel your card and issue a replacement immediately. You won’t be liable for any fraudulent activity.”

JP Morgan Chase has plenty of information available to customers about identity theft, including an “Identity Theft Tool Kit,” but the bank reserves the right to decide how it handles individual instances on a case-by-case basis.

What are brokerage houses and are they data-breach safe?

In addition to banks, many people have their money invested with brokerage houses. Brokerage houses are financial institutions that help you buy and sell securities.

Brokerage products are generally not insured by the FDIC, but instead by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which helps protect account holders if a brokerage firm gets into financial trouble – but there are limits.

“SIPC does not protect against the decline in value of your securities,” the agency says on its website. “SIPC does not protect individuals who are sold worthless stocks and other securities.” The agency also does not cover you in the case of hacks:

“SIPC’s role and responsibilities are as defined under the Securities Investor Protection Act (SIPA). Under that law, SIPC only becomes involved when a SIPC member brokerage firm is eligible for liquidation under the Securities Investor Protection Act. If you discover that your account has been hacked or your securities or cash have been stolen, you should contact your brokerage firm, the SEC, FINRA, your state securities regulator, and/or law enforcement authorities.”

Here are the protections in place, as stated by the major brokerage houses:

TD Ameritrade says on its website: “If you lose cash or securities from your account due to unauthorized activity, we’ll reimburse you for the cash or shares of securities you lost.” Ameritrade says that it will stand by its policy “if you work with us,” including doing all you can to reasonably secure your information and cooperate with any investigations they launch.

Similarly, E*Trade Financial says that it “will restore to your account cash and/or shares of securities equal to the amount of cash and/or shares of securities in your account at the time of any unauthorized activity.” The company guarantees “$0 liability for unauthorized use” relating to all trades and funds transfers.

Fidelity, another brokerage firm, says that it will “reimburse you for losses from unauthorized activity in covered accounts occurring through no fault of your own.”

Fidelity says that for its policy to stand, customers must actively review their accounts and report any suspicious activity no later than 30 days after it is discovered. Customers also “must adopt Fidelity’s recommended security practices” at Online Security at Fidelity. Safeguards there include having a strong firewall, encryption activated and secure email.

Charles Schwab, another leading brokerage firm, covers all of its customers’ losses in the event of a “unauthorized activity,” including a hack. “Schwab will cover 100% of any losses in any of your Schwab accounts due to unauthorized activity,” the company says on its website.

Switch to an online bank to earn more on your savings

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Downtown Dayton office building/Table 33 home sells for $2.8M

Published: Tuesday, May 01, 2018 @ 2:08 PM

Dayton city garage maintenance worker Kevin Price points upward at the 130 W Second St./ 1st National Plaza in downtown Dayton in this 2001 photo. FILE
Dayton city garage maintenance worker Kevin Price points upward at the 130 W Second St./ 1st National Plaza in downtown Dayton in this 2001 photo. FILE

A downtown Dayton office building near the federal building sold for just over $2.8 million today, according to local property records.

Titan Loan Investment Fund L.P. is identified as both the buyer and the seller for the May 1 transaction at 130 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton, according to Montgomery County property records.

The transaction is a sale to an investor named Brian Lash, a new owner coming into the market for this building, said Katie Doup, a Columbus-area spokeswoman with  real estate firm CBRE. She said a fuller press release was being prepared now on Lash’s investment in Dayton and his plans. 

 MOREMaker of Gibson guitars declares bankruptcy

Doup also said a second announcement on the sale of another Dayton building may be forthcoming in the near future. 

The 22-story building at 130 W. Second was on sale with an asking price of $4.25 million, according to a LoopNet real estate listing. It offered a rentable building area of just over 326,000 square feet and was built in 1972.

Acadia, the Table 33 restaurant, IT firm DataYard and County Corp. are some of the building’s most notable tenants. 

Acadia moved to the building last year from Kettering. The company moved to 4,800-square-feet of offices in that building.

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6 tax mistakes procrastinators make and how to avoid them

Published: Thursday, April 05, 2018 @ 11:46 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 05, 2018 @ 11:46 PM

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Taxes

We get it. Doing your taxes is no fun, especially if you know you’re going to owe money. But as with any project on which you procrastinate, leaving everything to the last minute can lead to errors, both large and small, and some of those errors could cost you serious money.

If you’ve gone and done it, though, and are still looking at that pile of tax forms over there in the corner, we’ve compiled a list of six quick-and-dirty tips that could keep you from making some obvious, and not-so-obvious, mistakes when you finally sit down and tackle the task. They could also help you maximize your tax refund.

1. You Forgot to Sign It

You might wonder how anyone could forget to sign their tax form, but this simple process is one of the most common tax mistakes, according to the IRS. Just like forgetting to sign a check or a contract, it means your return isn’t valid. Usually, there isn’t a penalty or interest associated with this error (since you’ve already included a check or electronic payment if you owed), so the IRS will just send a notice asking for a valid signature, but it will delay the processing of your return. If you’re getting a refund, that too will be delayed.

So check, double-check — heck, triple-check — that you signed or completed the e-signature process before filing your return. Also, check out these last-minute filing tips from the IRS.

2. You Miscarried the 9

Math errors are also a very common mistake made by folks in a hurry. Fortunately for most people, the IRS corrects any miscalculations, so there’s no need for filing an amended return. But these mistakes can mean the difference between you thinking you’re getting a refund and the reality that you actually owe taxes, so be sure to check your calculations carefully.

One way to help you avoid math errors is to file electronically so the calculations are done for you. Bye-bye, No. 2 pencil! So long, calculator!

3. You Didn’t Account for All Your Income

Did you have a side hustle early last year? A freelance design gig for a friend’s business? If so, you’re going to need to account for it, regardless of whether you received a W-2 or 1099 from whomever paid you. That’s because, while there’s an IRS threshold for filing these documents by employers, there’s no similar threshold for claiming the income. Income is income is income. If you made money and don’t report it — and the IRS catches it — it’s going to cost you penalties and interest at best, and open you to a possible audit at worst.

4. You Forgot Deductions or Tax Credit

It’s easy to forget these things when you’re in a hurry, but they can end up saving you some serious money and are well worth the extra time to figure out if you qualify. So if you’re just claiming the standard deductions because you’re under the gun, you might want to take a deep breath and check out TurboTax’s list of 10 commonly overlooked tax deductions that can keep you from overpaying the tax man.

5. You Filed for an Extension but Didn’t Understand the Rules

Filing for an extension is a great idea if you’re down to the wire and don’t really understand your tax situation. But remember that an extension gives you an extra six months to file your paperwork, but not an extra six months to pay any taxes due. So, if you’re confused, tax pros recommend doing a quick calculation of your taxes, filing for your extension and making any required payment of taxes you think you owe. This will help you avoid penalties and interest once you get your final calculations together.

6. You Didn’t Bother to Request an Extension

You gave up. You shoved, slammed and jammed your return through and now it’s full of mistakes that are going to cost you money by way of penalties or because you’ve left money on the table. It’s a much better idea to file the extension, then get the help you need from a tax professional to ensure you’re not overpaying your taxes.

Whatever you do, make sure you file your taxes. Unpaid taxes can have serious consequences on your personal finances, including your credit scores if they go unpaid long enough.

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11 ways to reduce next year’s tax bill

Published: Thursday, April 05, 2018 @ 11:55 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 05, 2018 @ 11:55 PM

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 14:  Liberty Tax Service tax preparer Ronn Seely works on tax returns on April 14, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 14: Liberty Tax Service tax preparer Ronn Seely works on tax returns on April 14, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If you claimed the right number of dependents and standard deductions on your 2017 federal income tax return and you still ended up owing the IRS, you’re probably looking to avoid a repeat performance next year. Luckily, there are several ways to increase your chance for a refund (or at least reduce the amount you’ll owe) and you don’t have to be a tax whiz or accountant to take advantage.

Here are 11 ways you can pay less in federal taxes for your income return next year.

1. Contribute to a 401K or IRA

Contributing to a retirement fund is an important way to ensure financial independence in your golden years, but it can also convey short-term tax benefits. In most cases, the contributions you make to your 401K and IRA plans are tax-deductible and are not included in your taxable income at the end of the year. (Note: If you didn’t contribute to an IRA in 2017, you still have time. You have until April 17 to contribute up to the maximum amount and shave off a good chunk of your tax bill. Filed your taxes already? That’s OK. You can file an amended return to reflect the contribution.)

2. Buy a Home

There’s a distinct tax benefit to home ownership. The interest you pay on your mortgage is tax-deductible, and the interest is front-loaded. For the first several years, most of your mortgage payment goes toward interest, which will drastically reduce your adjusted gross income at tax time. Want an extra boost for your taxes next year? Consider paying January 2019’s mortgage payment in December to get a tax benefit before the end of the year.

3. Donate to Charity or Volunteer

You probably know charitable donations can be itemized and deducted from your income, so you’ll want to save receipts anytime you donate cash or items to charity. You can even deduct miles you travel for volunteering or other charity work.

“Miles you travel on behalf of a charity are deductible at 14 cents per mile for 2018,” said Gail Rosen, CPA.

4. Start a Home Business

Starting a home business can provide you with a new source of income and allow you to take deductions off any income the business generates.

These deductions include business costs you incur throughout the year, a portion of your mortgage and utilities if you use a home office and the cost of goods needed to keep your business running. You can even deduct startup costs.

“Any expenses that are incurred before the first sale are ‘start-up costs,’” Rosen said. “These costs cannot be deducted until the first sale. Then they are deducted over 15 years and you can deduct the first $5,000 in the first year.”

5. Search for a New Job

If you hunt for a new job in your field this year, you can write off some qualifying expenses as you search. There are exceptions, but potential write-offs include things like clothes or travel.

“If you looked for a new job in 2018, you should be aware of the income tax deduction that may be available with respect to job-search costs,” Rosen said. “Qualifying expenses are deductible even if they do not result in a new job being offered or accepted.”

6. Open a Flexible Spending Plan

Many employers offer flexible spending plans that let you contribute toward yearly medical expenses pre-tax. These contributions typically don’t count toward your taxable income.

7. Deduct Medical or Dental Expenses

Many medical and dental expenses are tax-deductible. According to Rosen, the cost of getting to and from medical treatment is deductible at 17 cents per mile, plus the cost of tolls and parking, and dependent expenses are also deductible.

“If you cover the medical cost of dependents, these can be deducted. Additionally, if you are covering the costs of an individual who would qualify as your dependent except that they have too much gross income — for example, an elderly parent — you may be able to deduct these costs as well,” said Rosen.

8. Education-Related Expenses

Current and former students have many eligible deductions and credits related to their education expenses. Paid student loan interest and tuition and fees can be claimed as deductions. Eligible current students can also access the American Opportunity Credit, which can cover up to $2,500 annually for four years, and the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can cover up to $2,000 per tax return.

9. Install Solar Energy

Homeowners who install solar energy systems in their home can get back tax credits at up to 30% of the cost of installation. This credit will begin to decrease after 2019 so you may want to act soon if you’re planning on installing solar panels.

As an added bonus, solar energy can significantly reduce your energy bills.

10. Hunt Down Every Available Tax Credit

We’ve named several tax credits above, but there are more, including credits for adopting children, the cost of child care and low-income households. Tax credits are more valuable than deductions, as they reduce your taxable income on a dollar-for-dollar basis, so make sure you’re taking advantage of every option.

11. Get a Pro to Do Your Taxes

No matter how much research you do, a professional may be able to identify tax deductions and credits that hadn’t occurred to you. Paying a reputable professional you trust can help you stay organized and minimize your tax liability. Here’s a handy guide to finding the right tax professional for your needs.

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5 surefire ways to retire earlier than you thought

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 11:27 AM

The following are five surefire ways to get to retirement quicker Set clear goals for yourself and track your progress Working hard and being disciplined is the most reliable ways to retire early Streamline your spending and scale back on luxuries Cut your housing expenses Put your money to work - wisely

Retirement can seem like a difficult goal to reach, so the thought of achieving it early may seem downright impossible.

But getting to retirement quicker doesn't require genius-level investing knowledge or extreme deprivation. With a plan, hard work and discipline, you may be able to get there sooner rather than later.

RELATED: House hunters, here are 5 secrets to getting the best home loans

The following are five surefire ways to get to retirement quicker:

Set clear goals for yourself

Consumer adviser Clark Howard recently shared advice from Chris Reining, who decided in his late 20s that he wanted to retire early. By the time he turned 37, he was able to reach this goal.

Howard said he thought setting clear goals was one of the most important things that Reining did. He labeled his investment account "Retire early" so he could see the words every day. In addition, Reining tracked his progress by using a spreadsheet you can get on his website. He wanted to save up 25 times his annual expenses before retiring.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Work hard

The Forbes Finance Council recommends working hard and being disciplined as the most reliable ways to retire early.

This can be achieved through a high-paying job combined with saving as much of your income as possible. Another path is starting your own business.

Reduce spending

Forbes quotes a blogger who retired early and says that streamlining your spending is an important step toward achieving this goal. It's not glamorous or complicated, but it works.

He suggests scaling back on luxuries and investing your savings in a low-cost index fund. When you accumulate 25 to 30 times your annual spending in this type of account, you can quit working for the rest of your life.

This Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, photo shows a new home for sale in a housing development in Raeford, N.C. On Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, Freddie Mac reports on the week’s average U.S. mortgage rates.

Cut your housing expenses

If you're like most people, your home is your biggest expense, so it's also your biggest opportunity to save, according to Money.

Housing costs take up about a third of the average budget, so Money recommends not taking out the biggest mortgage you can get. Live in a more modest-sized home when possible, and in some cases, homeowners can purchase a two-family home, living in one side and renting out the other.

Put your money to work - wisely

CNBC talked to Scott Alan Turner, who had more than $70,000 in debt at age 25, yet managed to turn things around and retire by age 44.

He put his money to work and although he made some mistakes in the beginning, he evolved into what he calls a boring investor. His savings are automatically funneled into low-cost index funds, which Warren Buffet calls a surefire way to build wealth.

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