8 Tips to Protect Your Identity While Holiday Shopping Online

The holiday season is one of the busiest online shopping times of the year. It’s also one of the most dangerous to your financial safety because online criminals are in full force during the holidays. Even so, you can stay safe and enjoy your online holiday shopping by taking some easy precautions.

Following these tips will help you keep your identity and financial accounts safe from scammers and prying eyes:  

  1. Watch your Smartphone carefully. Do you use your Smartphone to make purchases online?
    • Before you let a friend, family member, or stranger borrow your phone, ensure you’ve logged out of every program and website.
    • It’s easy for someone to steal your identity online by using your logged-in credentials on a Smartphone. You may want to set up and download apps that lock your phone if it’s lost or stolen. These apps can prevent thieves from stealing your information. Search your favorite app store for security apps designed for your phone.

  2. Watch out for fake shopping websites and emails. Fake websites and emails can steal your personal information before you even realize that the website isn’t real.
    • Verify every website you use to do your online shopping.
    • Be careful before you click on any links in your email. These may be scams created to harvest your personal data.
    • Ensure the websites you use are secure and have security certificates that are up to date. Secure sites encrypt your personal financial information to help you keep it safe.

  3. Pay attention to your accounts. Identity thieves have learned that they can make smaller transactions online, and you may not notice them. These small transactions also verify active accounts. If these small transactions go unnoticed, they go on to steal even more.
    • Keep an eye on all of your online accounts. If you see any transactions you don’t recognize, call your bank or the merchant that holds the account immediately.

  4. Avoid public computers and networks. It’s safer to shop online during the holidays at home on your personal devices.
    • You may not be able to tell if a public computer or network has been hacked by identity thieves. They may have set up key logging software that can capture every bit of information you type. They may have also infected the machines with malware or viruses to steal your data.

  5. Avoid using your debit card. It’s safer to use a credit card for shopping online. Credit cards have stronger safety and consumer protection measures than debit cards.
    • If a thief gets hold of your debit card number, they can drain your bank account in minutes, yet it can take days, weeks, or months for your bank to replace your lost funds.
    • On the other hand, with a credit card, they run up your balances, but the fraudulent charges are taken off again when you report them right away.

  6. Pay attention to the privacy policies. Legitimate websites have privacy policies that state that they protect your financial information. If you’re using a website to shop during the holidays and don’t see any type of privacy policy, then it may be a sign of a scam.

  7. Print your online receipts or save them. Saving all your receipts enables you to keep track of your purchases. You can compare these receipts to any charges you don’t recognize on your accounts.

  8. Be careful on social media. Your social media friends may share amazing deals during the holiday shopping season. It’s smart to check these deals out ahead of time with your friends to ensure they are really deals that they recommended to you.
    • Social media networks are also vulnerable to identity thieves.

You can shop online safely and protect your identity at the same time. Stay safe as you browse for gifts and enjoy the holiday season.

8 Small Things You Can Do Each Day To Enhance Your Self Development

Some things matter more than others. Since your time is so limited, it’s wise to use your time as effectively as possible. You can’t do everything, but you can do the things that matter the most.

Fortunately, many of the most important things are also easy to do. If you’re serious about taking your self-development to the next level, there are things you can do that will give you the best bang for your time.

Make the most of your self-development efforts with these strategies:

  1. Be very consistent. A moderately good plan can be incredibly powerful if followed day after day. A great plan doesn’t accomplish much if you’re inconsistent.
    • Strive to be consistent with your efforts. It doesn’t matter if you’re following a diet, learning about physics, or learning to play the piano. Consistency matters.

  2. Become an expert. Expand your knowledge and become an expert on whatever it is you’re trying to improve. The more you learn, the greater your potential to make progress.
    • However, it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of learning at the expense of doing. Many procrastinators convince themselves that they need to learn more, when they actually need to be doing more!

  3. Create routines. Routines encourage consistency and require a minimal amount of brain power. Routines eliminate decisions. At the very least, have a morning and an evening routine. Set yourself up to have a great day and end your day on a positive note. An example morning routine:
    • Wake up at 5:30 AM.
    • Read something positive for 15 minutes.
    • Exercise for 30 minutes.
    • Play guitar for 30 mins.
    • Review tasks for day.
    • Shower.
    • Breakfast.
    • Leave for work by 7:30 AM.

  4. Measure your progress. Things that you measure get done, and they improve. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, bench press more, save more money, or become a better cello player, find a way to measure your performance and progress.

  5. Review your day. Reviewing your day allows you to gain the most benefit from it. Review your good decisions, mistakes, and progress. Use that information to make every day in the future even better.
    • Try to live your life just a little bit better each day than you did the day before. The results over time will astound you.

  6. Use affirmations when your self-talk goes south. Everyone suffers from negative self-talk to varying degrees. One way to combat it is to recite affirmations when your thoughts are negative. Have a list of affirmations you can read. YouTube also has a lot of affirmation audio recordings you can listen to.
    • Affirmations can be a great tool to use at the beginning and end of your day.

  7. Unplug at least an hour before bed each night. Give your brain a break and put away all of your electronic devices at least 60 minutes before you turn out the lights. No TV, cell phones, computers, video games, or tablets before bed. This is a great time to read a book and increase your knowledge.

  8. Plan your day in advance. It’s easy to waste a day by not having a plan. Avoid going to bed without having a clear plan for the next day. You’ll accomplish much more with this simple idea. Never again will you wake up wondering what you need to do that day.

Self-development can be hard work, so it’s important to make your efforts as effective as possible. Consistency, planning, routines, and review are simple but powerful tools you can use each day. These take little time but supercharge your efforts. If you’re working hard to develop yourself, use these tips to enhance your results.

Essential Steps for Setting Up a Trust Fund

Have you considered setting up a trust fund but were intimidated by the process? A trust fund doesn’t have to be complicated and your attorney or bank can guide you through the process.

Follow these steps:

  1. Determine why you want or need a trust fund. Depending on your needs, the trust fund process can change.
    • You don’t need a high income with a large number of assets to benefit from a trust.
    • Trusts can be an important part of your financial plans and useful tools for planning your inheritance.
    • Consult an attorney or financial expert for how a trust could benefit you the most in your situation.

  2. Consider who will be your trustee. A trustee is the person who manages the trust. It’s a management role that can serve multiple purposes over time.
    • You can have one or more trustees, but they’ll have to work together.
    • You can select family, friends, lawyers, banks, trust companies, and others to fill this important role.

  3. Consider who will be the beneficiary. The beneficiary is the person who will receive the trust.

  4. Select the type of trust that you need. Trusts are available in multiple forms:
    • A revocable trust allows you to change the terms.
    • An irrevocable trust can’t be changed after it’s created. This means that the terms and beneficiaries are set.
    • Living trusts are able to go into effect while you’re still alive.
    • Other types of trusts also exist, so you may want to explore the options with your lawyer or financial advisor.

  5. Create the trust. You’ll have to consult a lawyer or other expert to create a trust.
    • After it’s created, you’ll have to fund the trust. You can fund it by transferring titles from assets or properties. You can also fund it by transferring ownership. You can designate different accounts that will be used to fund the trust. They can be transferred right away or after you pass away.

  6. Consider notifying the people involved. It’s up to you to decide who should be notified about the creation of the trust.

  7. Understand the limitations. Trusts can be useful tools for determining who will receive property and other assets. However, they have limits and can’t solve all issues. Be aware of the trust limitations.
    • Trusts aren’t the same as living wills, so you can’t specify your medical wishes in them.
    • Trusts can’t protect you from creditors, so your debts will still need to be paid. They can’t stop you from being sued by creditors.

  8. Update the trust. Have you gone through a recent divorce and later remarried?
    • Life situations can change, so trusts may need to be updated periodically. Has your family situation changed significantly? Has your financial situation changed?
    • Have you adopted a child? Has a beneficiary listed in the trust passed away?
    • Frequent updates can make things easier for your beneficiaries in the future. They can reduce challenges down the road and make the trust easier to manage.

Trust funds can be an important way to save and provide for the future. If you follow the basic steps, then you’ll be on your way to have a working trust fund.

A 7-Step Process to Overcome Fear and Self-Doubt

Fear and self-doubt are two things that every normal person faces. These are also two of the biggest obstacles to success and happiness.

Some people feel more fear and self-doubt than others. And, some are better at overcoming these emotions than others.

Regardless of where you fall on the fear/self-doubt spectrum, there are many things you can do to rise above these emotions.

Conquer your fear and self-doubt with this process:

  1. Identify what you’re actually afraid of. What do you really fear? Most of us don’t have to worry about being eaten by tigers. Our lives are rarely in danger. The most common fears in a modern society are failure and making a fool out of one’s self. Of course, there are others.
    • If you want to start a business, but can’t seem to get started, what is your real concern?
    • Maybe you want to ask out a coworker on a date. What is the real fear? They certainly aren’t going to hit you over the head with a rock.
    • Be aware of your actual fear, and then you’ll have a chance of addressing it.

  2. Find situations related to your fear that are only mildly uncomfortable. Perhaps you have a fear of public speaking. What could you do that’s similar, but less terrifying? You could:
    • Give a speech to a group of friends
    • Start conversations with strangers
    • Visualize yourself giving a speech
    • Do more group activities and speak up more
    • If you’re afraid of heights, you could start by looking down over a 2nd floor balcony and slowly work your way up to greater heights.

  3. Take action. Thinking creates and magnifies fear. Taking action lessens fear. One of the best ways to get over fear is to immediately take action before you have a chance to talk yourself out of it.
    • Most people would be more successful, happier, and less afraid if they thought less and did more.

  4. Visualize yourself being unafraid. Imagine you have a twin that’s similar to you, but different in other ways. If you could build the perfect twin, what would they be like? What skills, beliefs, and attitudes would they have? How would they handle the situation that creates fear in you?
    • Allow yourself to become that twin.

  5. Give yourself small successes. Set yourself up to win. Make the game so easy that you can’t fail. As you gain confidence, up the stakes a little. Get used to being successful in the situations that cause you to feel fear.
    • If the thought of making 100 cold calls a day makes you break out in a cold sweat, give yourself the goal of making just one cold call. The next day, you can do three.
    • Show yourself that you can do it. Show yourself that nothing bad is going to happen to you.

  6. Be realistic. What is the worst consequence you are likely to endure if the thing you fear comes true? It’s probably not anything you can’t handle!
    • What happens if the publisher rejects your book? What if your speech doesn’t go well? What’s actually going to happen to you? Will you still be safe? Will your family still love you?

  7. Get help. Whether you need some help from a friend or a professional, there’s no shame in getting help. You would get help if your car’s engine blew up. You’d get help if you had a broken leg. Get the help you need to deal with your fears.

How much do you allow fear and self-doubt to rule your life? Imagine what your life would be like if you could overcome all of your fears and self-doubt.

Most people avoid the actions that trigger these uncomfortable feelings. You can do better. You can act in the face of these emotions and live your life to the fullest.

Become a 401(k) Millionaire by Avoiding These Mistakes

It’s quite easy to become a 401(k) millionaire if you get started early enough. It’s also important to avoid making silly mistakes. Fewer people are able to retire at 65 than at any time in recent history. 30.8% of those over the age of 65 are working to make ends meet. With a 401(k) and some diligence, you can avoid becoming one those forced to work in your senior years.

Become a 401(k) millionaire by following a few simple rules:

  1. Get the full company match. Every company is different. Some match 50% of the first 4% of your income contributed to the 401(k) plan. Others might match dollar for dollar on the first 5%. Ensure that you’re at least getting the full match amount. It’s free money, so ensure that you get it.

  2. Maintain your job. It can take a few years to be fully vested. So the money that your company contributed to your 401(k) in the last couple of years probably won’t be yours if you leave for another company. Of course, if a new job provides a greater income, a lower cost of living, or a more generous 401(k) program, it’s worth considering.
    • Pull out your calculator and do the math before you take a position with another company. Take everything into account.

  3. Time is the deciding factor. There’s a limit to how much you can invest in a 401(k) each month. And unless you have a high income, it’s unlikely you can reach the contribution limit of $18,000 or $24,000 if you’re over age 50.
    • That means that getting started early is important. Becoming a 401(k) millionaire is a piece of cake if you start at age 25. It’s far more challenging if you start at age 45.
    • Compare: Two employees work for the same company and have the same salary. We’ll assume that both make $50,000 per year and receive a 2% raise each year. Their employer matches 50% up to 6% of salary. The annual return is a theoretical 8%. Both contribute 10% of their income and retire at age 65. One employee is 25 years old. The other is 45.
    • The 25-year old employee will retire with $2,204,825. The employee contributed a total of $308,050 and the employer contributed $92,415.
    • The 45-year old employee will retire with $358,688. The employee contributed $123,917. The employer contributed $37,175.
    • Time can make all the difference in the world!

  4. Leave your 401(k) account alone. Avoid taking any money out of your account. It can be tempting to pull out money to purchase a home or to pay for a nice vacation. It is possible to borrow money from your 401(k) and pay it back, but will you? Allow the money to stay in your account and grow.

  5. Contribute as much as you can. The more you save, the more you’ll have at retirement. It can be challenging to save at first. However, get in the habit. Even if it’s just a few percent of your income. When you get a raise, apply as much as you can to your 401(k). You’ve lived without that raise, you can continue to do so.

The biggest mistake is waiting to get started. When you’re first starting out, your income might not seem sufficient to save significantly. But it’s important to begin as soon as possible. Every dollar matters. Start saving for your retirement as soon as possible. Time and a small monthly contribution are all that’s necessary to become a 401(k) millionaire.

Is a Neutral Mind Better Than a Positive Mind?

Being positive and optimistic might not always be the best choice. First, it’s impossible to have a positive mindset 100% of the time. Second, there are times when it’s best to have a more neutral approach.

Learning to navigate the ups and downs in life is one of the challenges of life. It can be easier to live with calmness, composure, and level-headedness.

Just because you’re capable of strong emotional responses doesn’t mean it’s a good idea all the time. You’re capable of eating nothing but chocolate for a week, too.

The great basketball coach, John Wooden, once said that he hoped people wouldn’t be able to tell if his team had just won or lost a game by their demeanor.

The ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism has become quite popular over the last few years. In a nutshell, a major component of Stoicism is the idea that people should be indifferent to their successes, failures, pleasure, and pain.

Consider these ideas to remain calm, composed, and present:

  1. Practice meditation daily. Meditation is the perfect way to practice being calm, composed, and focused. When you meditate, your mind wants to wander. You feel physically and psychologically uncomfortable. Meditation isn’t for sissies.

  2. Watch TV shows and movies that elicit emotional responses and learn to view them objectively. Part of the reason TV and movies are so attractive is due to their ability to alter your emotions. That’s what these media are designed to do.
    • This is another great way to practice being stoic. Watch, but constantly remind yourself that it’s only a movie. Try to keep your emotional responses subdued.

  3. Observe your thoughts and emotions with curiosity. Once we feel an emotion, our tendency is to focus on it and take an emotional ride. Instead of magnifying your emotions, study them like a scientist would. Notice how your thoughts change when your emotions change.

  4. Be practical. What’s really happening? Be logical and objective. For example, if your pool pump goes down, then you either need a new pump or the current one needs to be fixed. That’s it. All of your emotional gyrations have zero effect on the situation. They only make you less capable and miserable.

  5. Realize that nothing is permanent. The stock market, weather, good times, or bad times – none of them last. It only makes sense to avoid big emotional swings.
    • Enjoy and be grateful for positive experiences, knowing that life cannot always be just like this. When you encounter troubled times, keep in mind that these, too, will pass on and make way for good times again.

  6. Understand how little control you have over the world. Aside from your decisions and direct actions, there’s not much you can do to change what’s going on around you. Other people are nearly impossible to control in any meaningful way. If it’s going to rain, it’s going to rain. Why get emotional if it doesn’t help?

Negative and positive experiences and emotions can both be disadvantageous. When people win, they tend to celebrate. Clinging too tightly to past wins can inhibit further growth and success. It’s hard to move forward when you’re stuck in the past.

Negative experiences can suck the life and motivation out of people. They can also inhibit progress. With a neutral mind, neither positive nor negative experiences have a great impact on you. Each day is another day to make progress and move forward.

Having a neutral mind isn’t about approaching life like a robot, completely devoid of emotion. It’s about tempering your emotional responses and learning to be emotionally okay with any outcome.

This is an effective way to continue to make progress in life. You’re not thrown off by either positive or negative experiences. You go with the flow, but you avoid a flood, and you’re able to keep going and moving toward your goals.

9 Steps to Removing Credit Report Errors

Checking your credit reports on an annual basis can be a great idea. A study done by the Federal Trade Commission found that 25% of all consumers have an error on their credit report that negatively impacts their credit score. There’s a good chance that your reports have one or more errors.

The study also showed that 80% of those that challenge items on their credit report are able to get at least some of the negative information altered or removed. That’s great news!

Follow this process to get these errors corrected:

  1. Get copies of your credit report from the three major bureaus. You can get a free copy of each report each year from AnnualCreditReport.com. If you’ve recently been rejected for credit, you’re also entitled to a free copy of the report containing the derogatory information.

  2. Get your official credit scores. It would be a shame to do all this work and not know how much of an effect your efforts had on the metric that matters the most.

  3. Find and record all the errors that are harming your credit score. Some people decide to simply challenge all the negative information, whether it’s accurate or not.

  4. Write a dispute. Your dispute can be very simple. Provide enough information that the credit bureau can identify you and the item you’re disputing. In general, it’s most effective to declare that you were never late or that the account isn’t yours.

  5. Mail your disputes and request a return receipt. The credit bureau is on the clock from the time they receive your complaint. If they can’t complete their investigation within 30 days, they basically have to make the changes you requested. Include only one dispute per letter.
    • The credit bureaus would love for you to file your dispute online. It saves them money and helps to automate the process. Receiving your letter is much more cumbersome for them. So send your complaints via snail-mail.

  6. Watch the calendar. Their response should be postmarked within 30 days of receiving your letters.

  7. Evaluate the responses you receive back. It’s likely that some of your disputes will be found in your favor. It’s also likely that some will not. One credit bureau has been known to simply give you what you want without investigating at all!

  8. Continue disputing all the negative items. At the end of the day, the credit bureaus exist to make money. They make money by selling credit reports, not by dealing with consumers. Your disputes cost them money. With a little diligence, you’re likely to get your way, so be persistent.
    • Consumers have historically done well when suing the credit bureaus. It’s difficult for them to truly verify the information in your credit reports. If you’re not satisfied with the results, consider filing a claim in small claims court. Credit bureaus get fined $1,000 per infraction. You’ll likely settle out of court and get your credit report cleaned up.

  9. Stay organized. Maintain records of all your correspondence. Make copies and keep those copies filed in an organized manner. Be sure to keep track of dates.

Fixing the errors on your credit reports is simple, but it does take time. It’s important to check your reports every year. The cost of credit reporting errors can be staggering, as they can dramatically increase your interest rates on any loans you receive.

Request your credit reports today and spend the time to examine them carefully. Consider making it a part of your annual financial housekeeping.

Give Yourself Something to Look Forward To and Discover the Power of Anticipation

Have you ever had a horrible day, week, or month, but you had something great to look forward to? If you’ve ever been in that situation, you know how much it can help to have something exciting looming on the horizon.

No matter how tough life can be, the power of anticipation can put a smile on your face.

Fortunately, it’s easy to use the power of anticipation. It’s always available to you, and it doesn’t have to cost a dime. It’s a great way to enhance your mood and your success.

Master the use of anticipation with these strategies:

  1. Use anticipation as motivation to achieve your goals. It’s easier to achieve your goals if you use anticipation in a positive way. For example, if your goal is to lose 25 pounds, you might anticipate how great you’re going to look or all the compliments you’ll receive.
    • On the other hand, if you’re anticipating how hungry you’re going to feel, it will be more challenging to be successful.
    • Anticipation will also help you overcome obstacles and persevere until you reach your goal.
  2. Just thinking about doing something you like lightens your mood. Studies have shown that having something to look forward to puts you in a better mood. But you already knew this.
    • Whether you’re looking forward to receiving a desirable package in the mail, a date on Saturday night, a bonus at work, or a trip to Cancun, it certainly has a positive impact on your mood!
  3. Give yourself something to look forward to each day, week, month, and year. Give yourself plenty of things to look forward to in both the short and long term. Here are a few examples.
    • Daily: A walk with your dog. A cup of your favorite coffee. Getting home and shutting out the world. Lunch at your favorite restaurant.
    • Weekly: Dinner with friends. Sleeping late on Saturday. Going to a ballgame. Buying a new book.
    • Monthly: A weekend out of town. Buying yourself a treat.
    • Annually: You might plan to buy a new car at the end of the year, take a big trip, or buy a house.
  4. Consider the alternative. What if you didn’t have anything to look forward to? Imagine having a life so lacking in hope that you felt you had nothing to look forward to. It would be a challenging existence for sure.
    • No matter how bleak your life might look, ensure that you have something to look forward to in the future that gives you a reason to smile.
  5. Keep several things in your pantry that you love. Having a hard day? You can look forward to your favorite chocolate bar, bottle of beer, or frozen treat.
    • Always having your favorite foods or beverages handy is an easy way to make a bad day better.

Remember Christmas as a kid? With a few weeks left in the semester, you were ready to be out of school. One of the things that kept you going was knowing that Christmas was just around the corner. Summer vacation was similar. Thinking about everything you were going to do over the summer was a great boost to your mood.

As an adult, we don’t have as many exciting things built into our schedule. We have to take responsibility for giving ourselves things to look forward to.

Start today and give yourself something to look forward to tomorrow. It can be as simple as relaxing on the couch with your dog and your favorite movie after work. A little anticipation can change your life for the better.

7 Important Financial Actions for Widows and Widowers

The loss of a spouse is challenging emotionally and financially. Death is an uncomfortable subject and few of us have prepared sufficiently to deal with the aftermath. However, if you find yourself in this situation, there are steps you can take to minimize the negative financial aspects.

When a spouse passes away, women are often in a more challenging situation than men are. On the average, women earn less, save less, and start investing much later in life.

Consider these steps after the loss of a spouse:

  1. Acquire multiple copies of the death certificate. You’ll find that you can’t have too many copies. It’s necessary to send a copy to the Social Security Administration, credit card companies, insurance companies, and many other financial institutions. The death certificate is necessary to verify your spouse’s death.
    • A death certificate is also necessary to change or remove names from accounts. This can also include changing beneficiaries.
    • Fifteen copies should be sufficient.
  2. Contact the necessary professionals first. Ideally, you’ll speak with a tax accountant and an estate-planning attorney before taking any significant action. These experts are knowledgeable on the financial ramifications of your situation. Before receiving an insurance payout or taking any other major financial step, speak with an expert.
    • Avoid taking the advice of well-meaning friends and family. Unless you know someone that works in an applicable field, their advice isn’t likely to be your best course of action.
  3. Update your will. It’s likely that your spouse was the primary beneficiary of your will. Updating your will is necessary for other reasons. In most states, your will becomes invalid when your spouse dies. This means the state will determine how your assets are distributed until a new will is created.
  4. Contact the social security administration. You are probably eligible for a death benefit and a survivor’s benefit. This can be a huge help with funeral expenses.
  5. Ensure that you’re paying your bills on time. It’s common during times of grief and stress to ignore day-to-day activities. Remember to take care of yourself and pay your bills on time. The additional stress of late fees and phone calls from creditors is the last thing you want or need.
  6. Collect all insurance policies and contact the companies. This includes life insurance, automobile insurance, any insurance provided by your spouse’s employer, mortgage insurance, and any other insurance.
    • In some cases, you’ll receive a benefit. In others, you may receive a refund when you cancel a policy that has become unnecessary. There are instances where you may keep a policy, but wish to change the beneficiaries.
  7. Contact the Department of Veteran’s Affairs if your spouse was in the military. There are funds available for funeral expenses. It’s also possible to receive monthly payments if your spouse was receiving disability benefits.

These are just a few of the necessary steps to secure your finances if your spouse passes away. It’s very important to work with the appropriate financial experts.

Most importantly, speak with your spouse before this circumstance occurs. Discuss how these financial issues will be handled and get your papers in order. Take the initiative to get organized beforehand.