Financial institutions are not all created equal and neither are their members. As a member of the team at PenFinancial Credit Union, I get to see how unique our members and their needs are and how we can help them everyday. That may sound a little trite, but it is true. I originally wanted to open my first Truly Local Advice blog with a fun quote about banking. After googling “banking quotes”, I learned that my industry isn’t very popular… at all. So I shelved that idea and went with sincerity over humour for my opening. Beyond that, I felt compelled to do some charity work after reading how cunning and unscrupulous my industry can be.
How do you feel about holiday shopping? I know I’d rather clean toilets. That’s why I bill myself as a shopping ninja: I’ll plan a shopping excursion for the item I need, power walk with purpose into that store, snap up the coveted item, and triumphantly exit that store faster than the clerks can ask if I’d like to pay for the extended warranty. It’s no wonder I’ve always loved convenience stores. They’re a convenient way to grab those random items… or in my case, they’re a convenient way to grab those holiday gifts I put off and forget to buy. Yup. That happened.
Investing is a variable experience. It varies according to your goals, your profile, and a host of other factors. As a woman in your 40s or 50s, those factors may include experiences unique to your demographic. Think about all the women you know who have children to put through college; or have lost a job or had a spouse who lost a job; or who have lost a spouse – most often on purpose! For many women, these common experiences add a layer of uncertainty in their financial world, and for some, cause them to wonder if they’ll ever be able to retire. But, I am here to reassure you that you can find a way to retire, and enjoy your life in the meantime too.
Millennials. Gen-X & Y’ers. Baby boomers. Canada is a mosaic filled with diverse cultures and multiple generations of wisdom. I was reminded of this recently when a member met with me to plan for her joint finances with her common-law husband. Did you automatically picture a young person sitting across from me? Bright-eyed and rosy cheeked and damned if she was going to make the same mistakes as her mother? You’d be wrong. Debbie was a 56-year-old divorced woman who had “shacked up” with her new partner, Ron, a year earlier. It seems that millennials aren’t the only ones skipping the walk down the aisle these days.Read More
The idea of a wedding on a budget may make you recoil in horror – this is supposed to be your dream day, an amazing event to celebrate your life together, not a dreary affair with sawdust chicken and moonshine wine.Read More
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes
After your parent’s made you read Catherine’s blog on how to fund post-secondary education, you may think you’re all set for school.
- You know approximately how much money you need to cover your year.
- You’ve secured funding and have approximately enough money to cover your year at school.
- You know how to make sure your cash lasts all year.
How will you avoid sliding into your final exams drinking instant coffee and wearing clothes stained with noodle soup? You need a plan. You definitely don’t want to do that. Have you tasted instant coffee lately?Read More
Fraud is no joke. You’ve no doubt seen news stories about money transfer scams: emails promising you $7 million dollars if you transfer money from Nigeria.
Have you ever wondered how people fall for fraud scams? Well, it’s a lot easier than you may think, and it can have you using a few other choice F words if it happens to you. In our busy, automated world, it is easy to accidentally click on a pop-up ad, open a random spam or phishing message, or download an infected file. You may think you’re replying to an online shopping order confirmation, but with a simple click, you may download malware that accesses your personal data or unwittingly share information with a scammer.
Financial fraud was the topic of a recent Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce Lunch n’ Learn I spoke at and hearing those F words probably turned a few stomachs. At this event myself, and Detective Sergeant Paul Spiridi of the NRP Central Fraud Unit, helped educate businesses and consumers about a few types of fraud to watch out for and what to do if the F bomb happens to you.
Fraud scams are constantly changing – so how do you know what to watch out for? Educate yourself. The The Little Black Book of Scams: Your Guide to Protection Against Fraud by the Competition Bureau of Canada explains a few types of fraud, including:
- Money transfer requests (e.g., asking for wire transfers or e-transfers of funds)
- Internet scams:
- malware (installs software on your computer to record/access your personal information, etc.),
- phishing (tricking you into handing over personal and banking details),
- spam emails (sent with the hope that you click on a link that will install malware/ransomware to gain access to your device), and
- online auction and internet shopping scams (may lead to purchasing items that are never delivered or the recording of personal data, etc.)
- Mobile phone scams (someone gains access to your personal data and open a mobile phone account in your name which results in large phone bills, stolen phones to gain access to your personal information or your contact information, text scams that try to make you click on a link to install malware on your system, etc.)
According to Detective Sergeant Spiridi, Niagara residents fall victim to all of these types of fraud. In addition, debit and credit card fraud continue to be big problems, as well as elder abuse-related fraud and various forms of identity theft and fraud. He notes that phishing scams can also be particularly problematic. Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming identity theft blog which will go into this in greater detail.
For example, several Niagara residents have fallen victim to a recent phishing scam that tricks people into believing they owe the Canada Revenue Agency thousands of dollars. The scammers pretend to be a company that works with tax payers to pay outstanding bills to keep victims from being arrested. Victims are told to purchase iTunes gift cards for the amount of the outstanding bill and to give the gift card numbers to the scammers, who will transfer the funds to the CRA.
It may sound like a rather obvious scam, but Detective Sergeant Spiridi notes that high-pressure tactics and personal circumstances lead many people to fall for it. Sometimes victims are tipped off by cashiers when they try to purchase the gift cards. Other times they lose their money to the scammers.
Ultimately, it is your responsibility to protect yourself from financial fraud in daily life. Although your financial institution may safeguard the transmission of data and its backend, it cannot protect your devices. In addition, as Detective Sergeant Spiridi notes, given the nature of online scams, it is very difficult to track down perpetrators. Your credit card from Welland may be used to make purchases in Tennessee, but it may have been accessed during a security breach by a company you shared your credit card information with 2 years ago. With such international implications, it is impossible for Niagara police to track down who made purchases in your name and thus often impossible to get your money back.
So what can you do to stay safe? To protect yourself Detective Sergeant Spiridi and myself recommend a few tips:
- Keep your operating and anti-virus systems up-to-date on ALL your devices – yes that means your phones, tablets, and computers.
- Use caution online. Check for “https” or the lock logo in the address bar before entering your personal information. Avoid downloading from less-than-reputable sites. Go directly to websites instead of clicking on email or mobile links. Scammers can copy brand logos and create very realistic messages and fake sites to trick you into sharing your personal information.
- Check your financial statements every month. Ensure no unauthorized transactions have occurred and report them immediately if they have.
- Review your credit report annually. Look for unauthorized companies checking your credit, purchases that you did not make, and things like credit cards, lines of credit, etc. that you did not apply for. Often people are unaware of identity theft until they hear from a collections agency – so don’t wait – proactively check your credit. Equifax and TransUnion are two trusted sources.
- Educate yourself about fraud and how to protect yourself from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and Consumer Protection Ontario.
Check out this blog to learn more about how to stay safe from fraud.
Dropping the F Bomb
What do you do if you are the victim of fraud? Depending on the type of fraud, you may report it differently. If you have lost money, Detective Sergeant Spiridi acknowledges that your options may be limited. Here are few things you can do:
- If an unauthorized transaction happens in your account, report it to your financial institution immediately for investigation and resolution (the sooner you report the problem, the better chance you have of stopping transactions and saving your money)
- Report fraud immediately to other appropriate authorities when you lose money and recognize you might not get it back
- Learn more about fraud and how to protect yourself from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and Consumer Protection Ontario
The F bomb can have a huge effect on your life. Educate yourself about how to stay safe and take steps to protect yourself. Also, remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Getting rich quick may seem like a possibility, but it is usually only the scammers that get rich off your misfortune.
It’s Father’s Day this weekend, and I have some pretty awesome father/son bonding time planned: we’re building a deck at my new house! I can’t be the only one who has dad on speed dial for home renos, right?
In the current Niagara housing market our fathers, general contractors and other home renovation experts are hot commodities right now. You may have seen my last blog about first-time homebuyers in Niagara . And unless you’ve been living under a rock in New Mexico, you know that Niagara’s real estate market is better than, well, a rock in New Mexico. Houses are selling at a fast and furious pace, and prices are on the rise. So, for those of us lucky enough to own a home – and have a dad skilled in the ways of home renovation – we are faced with two primary options:
1. Renovate to further our own enjoyment of living in this home, hopefully increasing its value when the time comes to sell down the road;
2. Renovate to increase the resale value now, and use a greater potential profit to buy a new home.
In speaking with Ben Ellens, an appraiser with Ronald C. Ellens Appraisals Inc. and a young dad who learned his trade from his father, I learned some interesting tips on renovating for a quick market value uptick:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or facelifts can increase face value
One person’s open-concept living space dream may be another’s, “Oh, my dear! I can see the mess from every angle” nightmare. So, before you go all HGTV renegade, and tear down walls, check with a trusted realtor on values for comparably renovated homes in your neighbourhood. Ripping out walls may seem like fun at first glance, but make sure you’ll get the most bang for your buck out of the effort. Most times, it’s best to go with a simpler cost-effective reno like painting to enhance market value. Remember – flamingo pink may remind you of the islands, but it can make potential purchasers’ eyes bleed – so consider opting for more popular neutral colours and tones.
The most common home renos are kitchens, bathrooms, landscaping/decks, pools, and cosmetic touches such as painting. But which ones are right for you to achieve the desired benefit: increasing the market value of your home now? Ben notes the renos that cost you the least but make a big visual impact by appealing to a wide homebuyer audience, are the safest bet. Large kitchen updates may seem like a great idea, but if a change of lighting fixtures, flooring, a fresh coat of paint, and new cabinet hardware will make the desired impression, go with “less is probably best”. Most homebuyers will want to tweak the purchase with their own additional renos anyway.
You and dad may be handy with 2×4’s and a bucket of nails, but you need to know when to call in the professionals – trades such as plumbers and electricians. Light switches that have non-functional dimmers tend to scare off buyers, wondering about other possible DIY efforts. As our HGTV friend, Mike Holmes, has often said, “Get your permits where necessary, and do quality work”.
In the current marketplace, homebuyers are looking for quality touches that fit their eye, and they are always getting better at spotting the right stuff. So, spend what you need to within your budget, and take the time to do it well, ensuring local building codes are respected – this approach will always yield a higher return on your home reno investment. Most of all, don’t “over-personalize” your renovation.
The Appraisal Institute of Canada suggests these are the home upgrades that generate the highest and lowest returns for the dollars you spend:
Highest Return Lowest Return
Bathroom Renovations 75-100% Landscaping 25-50%
Kitchen Renovations 75-100% Interlocking 25-50%
Interior Painting 50-100% Fencing/Paving 20-50%
Exterior Painting 50-100% Swimming Pool 10-40%
Windows/Doors 50-100% Skylights 0-25%
Note that the longer the period of time you wait to sell following renovations, the lower your return on those expenditures will likely be. If you plan to sell quickly, choose the most cost-effective improvements with the widest homebuyer appeal.
One more for the road
Ben Ellens tells us that one other important reno to consider is an income suite. More than a few television series have been crafted around this topic because it can provide an excellent opportunity for first-time homebuyers and those “moving up” to meet their mortgage payments. Income suites can be incorporated into a larger renovation where a separate entrance is available and local bylaws are followed. Renting is not for everyone, but it is an often overlooked option when considering the most effective upgrades for practical market appeal. Rental income can also provide funds for additional upgrades at a later date, building equity as you complete them.
With today’s high new home and “move-up” market prices, effective renovating can be the answer to meet your current lifestyle wishes. An experienced financial advisor can help you determine if a loan for larger renovations is feasible, and most important, properly structured for your situation. Your advisor can provide some other valuable advice, including reminding you to ensure you have some cold beverages on hand to share with dad or those supportive friends helping you. I know I’m looking forward to a beverage and BBQ with my dad to properly celebrate completion of my new deck! Doesn’t he look thrilled?
Finally – Spring has sprung in Niagara. Birds are chirping. Plants are growing. Mud is everywhere. Warmer winds are blowing. But when we look out our front windows at the sun on our verandas, we can imagine the glory of summer. And the fun of summer vacations! Read More
A Growing Problem
Many Canadians trust their finances – and a large portion of their livelihood – to one of five major banks in Canada. They trust the banks, and their employees, to offer solid advice and good products and services to manage their money.