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Just How Cyber Smart Are You?

9/23/2019
Matthew DAntonio
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS

 

Massive data breaches like Equifax and Yahoo served as important wake-up calls to remind us that cybersecurity should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. But unfortunately, that’s not the case.

According to a survey of 2,000 U.S. home users by cybersecurity firm Webroot, while digital users of all ages have certain security practices down, there are still gaps in awareness, especially when it comes to ransomware.

Despite the growing prevalence of ransomware attacks in news headlines, nearly two thirds (61.6 percent) of survey respondents could not accurately define ransomware. In a ransomware attack, hackers encrypt or lock consumers' files to extort payment. Unless the victim pays the ransom, their files may be gone forever; however, there is no guarantee that payment will actually buy back their files.

Here’s how survey results—and cybersecurity savvy—breaks down by generation. See how you rate:

Gen Z (18 - 24)

- This group was the least ransomware-savvy. Less than a quarter (23.7 percent) were able to accurately define ransomware.

- Although antivirus offers strong protection against ransomware, members of Gen Z are likely to report they either don't use antivirus protection (33 percent), or don't know if they have any installed (23.8 percent).

- This same group is the most willing to pay a hacker to return stolen data; 25.1 percent reported they would pay a hacker up to $500 to return stolen data.

- Thirty-six percent of Gen Zers who reported they have clicked a link in an email or text from an unknown sender have also been a victim of a ransomware attack or know someone who has.

Millennials (25 - 34)

- While more savvy than their younger counterparts, only a third (34.2 percent) of millennials could accurately define ransomware.

- Nearly a third (28.9 percent) of survey respondents who were most concerned about losing personal photos in a cyberattack were millennials.

- Over 60 percent of millennials share their personal information online via mobile banking and bill pay, tax, financial and health care forms, or by shopping online. This makes them more vulnerable to data breaches of all types, underscoring the need for cybersecurity knowledge.

Baby Boomers (55 - 65+)

- While only half (47.6 percent) of baby boomers could accurately define ransomware, this was still the highest of any generation.

- Respondents 55 and older might be the most unsafe online, as they are most likely to admit to having received suspicious texts or emails (73.3 percent), or having clicked links in emails/texts from unknown senders (26.9 percent).

- Despite the risks they face, baby boomers are the savviest when it comes to not forwarding emails from unknown senders; 94.2 percent said they had not done so in the past year.

No matter what your age, make sure you’re up to speed on the latest in cyber security.

Source: Webroot

Solving Student Loan Challenges

9/9/2019
Matthew DAntonio
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS

 

When it comes to student loans, dealing with the lender can be more difficult than repaying the loan. That’s one of the top complaints by consumers in a report of the student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

For federal student loans, more than twice as many consumers (71 percent) reported difficulties dealing with their lender or service than the 28 percent who complained to the CFPB that they were struggling to repay their loan. Two percent of complaints were about a problem with a credit report or credit score.

Accessing Protections
Federal law provides protections for federal student loans. Many are designed to help borrowers avoid delinquency and default during economic distress, such as a job loss.

Servicing loan breakdowns “can delay, deter or deny access to federal benefits and protections, rendering them illusory for many student loan borrowers,” the report states.

Nearly all federal student loan borrowers should be eligible to make payments based on their income through an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan. The plan can help struggling borrowers avoid default.

Yet borrowers complained to the CFPB about servicing roadblocks in IDRs, such as obstacles when trying to enroll in an IDR plan. These include unexpected delays, lost paperwork, poor customer service and inconsistent application processing. They can lead to higher loan costs, reduced benefits and extended repayment terms.

Forbearance Instead of IDR
Others said that when telling their servicer that their standard monthly payment is unaffordable, they’re directed to options like forbearance or extended payment, which can be more expensive over the long-term than an IDR plan.

Borrowers in IDR plans are required each year to recertify their income and family size so they can qualify for an affordable monthly payment—a process that should take weeks but is longer, according to the CFPB. Federal law allows borrowers during that recertification time to continue paying their current monthly plan until their new IDR payment is recalculated.

However, borrowers complained that they either had to continue making the unaffordable monthly payment, or their loans were incorrectly placed into forbearance during this process, which prevented them from accessing loan forgiveness programs. Forbearance allows loan payments to be temporarily suspended, and a long delay in the IDR recertification can prevent borrowers from making progress toward loan forgiveness.

Consumer Action
While the CFPB takes legal action against some student loan providers, there are steps consumers can take to deal with student loan problems.

When contacting a student loan servicer, do it in writing so that there’s a paper trail that may help solve problems later. Borrowers can also sign up for automatic payments, which can get them a slight interest rate reduction on their loans and will make sure their payment is made on time each month. They can also look into student loan options such as refinancing, consolidating loans, IDRs and student loan forgiveness.

To submit a complaint to the CFPB, go to consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call 855-411-2372.

Or submit by mail to:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
P.O. Box 2900
Clinton, Iowa, 52733

Downsizing With Style: Your Next Adventure

9/9/2019
Information is brought to you by
Matthew DAntonio
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS

 

For empty nesters with more space than they need, downsizing has lots of appeal – less to clean, less maintenance, maybe even better access to culturally inviting areas. But taking that step brings up natural questions: Will we be able to have some “alone space?” Where will we put up the kids or grandkids when they visit?

Oregon decorator Karen Olsen tells LivingBetter50.com that it’s all about understanding that every square foot counts, and that a ‘less is more’ approach can make it work.

Olsen offers seven tips for downsizing with style and comfort:

Make it possible – Get rid of stuff you don’t use, books you don’t read, furniture that’s too big or too old. Give it to the kids. Donate it to charity. Or take it to a consignment shop for sale. Keep only what you love. Better yet, enjoy starting anew.

Be flexible – Use furniture that does double duty. An ottoman can serve as a coffee table, extra seating and/or storage. A good-looking sofa bed becomes a guest bed. Nesting tables and mobile pieces on rolling casters offer flexibility to a floor plan.

Go vertical – Use tall furniture pieces, such as bookcases, built-in cabinetry and armoires. Not only do they draw the eye up, but you can double your storage space without using up valuable floor space.

Get reflective – Wall mirrors, glass top tables, mirrored furniture pieces, and metallic finishes don’t carry as much visual weight as solid wood pieces.

Use the corners – Turn what could be wasted space into an eating area, an art gallery, even a small work space.

Be color-wise – Use a unified color throughout the house. It creates unity and a sense of spacious cohesiveness, especially in a smaller home.

Be inventive – Turn a small closet into a home office nook. Use those big suitcases as side tables so you don’t need to find space to store them. The right coffee table can open up to hold blankets, pillows, or even your holiday décor.

Tackle These Simple Tasks Before Fall Officially Arrives

9/5/2019
Matthew DAntonio
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS

 

As the summer winds down, many homeowners are looking to fall for their seasonal home sweep. But by completing several tasks now, when you have a more flexible schedule and longer daylight hours, you can prepare your property for the upcoming season. Below are a few tasks to tackle before fall officially arrives.

Clean and seal your deck. If you have a deck or porch that got a lot of use this summer, take the time to power wash it, or at least give it a manual scrub down. Once the area is clean, add a fresh coat of sealant to protect it from harsh winter weather.

Clear the gutters. Typically thought of as a fall to-do, cleaning your gutters before the seasons change will make room for falling leaves and other debris—and help avoid a costly clog down the line.

Inspect doors and windows. Before cold weather hits, check for cracks around your windows and doors, and weather-strip as needed. This will help keep your home warm during fall and winter.

Tidy the yard. Before the season changes, trim back trees and shrubs, cut your grass, trim your garden beds and add a fresh layer of mulch to protect them from frost.

Have your furnace or boiler inspected. Bring in a professional to make sure your furnace or boiler is in working order before cold weather hits. This will not only extend the life of your appliance, but also ensure that you don’t have a breakdown later on down the road.

Financial Smarts: Are You Prepared for the Unexpected?

9/5/2019
Information is brought to you by
Matthew DAntonio
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS

 

While you may be living a comfortable lifestyle, what would happen if you lost your job tomorrow? Almost half of Americans say that if they lost their primary source of income tomorrow, they could only maintain their current lifestyle for three months or less.

A recent study commissioned by the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) and Harris Poll, revealed that many Americans, even those considered financially successful, do not account for unexpected risks during financial planning.

A majority of Americans (61 percent) say their family would assume debt if the primary earner passed away tomorrow, with 38 percent of U.S. adults saying the debt would be $10,000 or more. Additionally, only half of Americans (50 percent) have life insurance. Of those who have any dependents, 47 percent say their dependents would run out of money without their personal income in two years or less if they were to pass away tomorrow.

Americans are also not taking into account the possibility of disability or illness while planning for their financial future. One in 20 Americans (5 percent) are unemployed and unable to work because of disability or illness, but only 20 percent of U.S. adults have either short-term and/or long-term disability insurance. Of those Americans who do have disability insurance, only 39 percent believe it would be enough to cover their long-term care and medical expenses if they were to have an accident.

And it’s not just lower-income Americans who are vulnerable to financial risk. On average, those surveyed say their household has two sources of income, with 40 percent having income of $74,000 or more.

Future college expenses also pose a potential financial risk for many Americans. Although college expenses are rising faster than inflation, only 36 percent of parents with children under the age of 18 in their household are saving for their children's college education. Lack of college savings may be a result of many Americans still working to pay off their own student loan debt. According to the Quarterly Report on Household Credit and Debt from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans currently owe $1.31 trillion in student loan debt.

To help protect you and your family from these risks, talk to a financial planner and come up with a course of action for a secure financial future.

Should You Ask Someone to Co-Sign Your Mortgage?

9/5/2019
Information is brought to you by
Matthew DAntonio
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS

If you’ve found the house of your dreams but are having trouble qualifying for a mortgage, you could ask another person, such as a family member or a close friend, to co-sign your mortgage. While this could ultimately help you buy the house you want, it would carry substantial risks for both you and the co-signer.

Reasons to Have a Co-Signer
There are several reasons why you might be unable to qualify for a mortgage on your own. You might be attempting to buy your first house and might not have a lengthy credit history. Maybe your credit score is too low to get a loan because of missed payments, high credit card balances or a history of bankruptcy. Perhaps your income doesn’t meet the lender’s requirements, or you have a high debt-to-income ratio. Having someone with a higher income and a better credit score co-sign the loan application could make the lender feel more comfortable approving it. The co-signer would not have an ownership stake in the house, and his or her name would not appear on the title.

Things for a Potential Co-Signer to Consider
Some people are willing to co-sign a mortgage because they want to help a family member or friend realize the dream of owning a home. Co-signing a loan can help someone who is starting out establish a strong credit history.

If you ask someone to co-sign a mortgage for you, he or she may have legitimate reservations. Co-signing a loan would increase the secondary borrower’s debt-to-income ratio, which could make it harder for him or her to qualify for a mortgage, credit card or loan. If you fail to make the payments on time, the co-signer could suffer. Late payments and fees would affect the secondary borrower’s credit score, as well. The lender could seize the co-signer’s property or garnish his or her wages to meet your debt obligations. That means your friend or family member could be stuck with your mortgage payments and could be unable to pay his or her own mortgage, car loan, credit card bills and other expenses.

Should You Ask Someone to Co-Sign?
Co-signing a mortgage for a family member or friend can be a tremendous act of generosity, but it’s also a leap of faith. If the co-signer trusts you to pay the mortgage on time and you don’t, that could put the co-signer in hot water. The damage to your friend’s or family member’s financial security could harm or destroy your relationship.

Before you ask someone to co-sign a mortgage, make sure you can afford the payments. If you have any doubts, you might be better off saving more money for a down payment, improving your credit score so you can qualify for a mortgage on your own, or choosing a less expensive house, rather than potentially jeopardizing your loved one’s financial future and your personal relationship.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional or legal advice.

Don’t Put These Items in the Dishwasher

9/5/2019
Matthew DAntonio
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS

If you’re like most people, you’ve come to rely on your dishwasher to clean a multitude of kitchen items. But despite the convenience and deep cleaning the dishwasher offers, not everything can be safely cleaned there. Here is a list of items that should never be cleaned in your dishwasher:

Your carving and steak knives. Dishwashing detergent can dull the blades over time, and the heat of the water and drying cycle can loosen the handles. To preserve the form and function of these knives, wash them by hand with warm, soapy water.

Certain plastics. If your plastic items don’t say “dishwasher safe,” do not put them in the dishwasher, as they most likely won’t stand up to the heat. Even for dishwasher-safe plastics, put them on the top rack where they’re further away from the intensity of the heat source.

Nonstick cookware. Most nonstick cookware is coated with Teflon, a substance that won’t stand up to the heat of the dishwasher and will, therefore, wear out over time. If you want to keep your omelettes from sticking, wash your nonstick cookware by hand unless the pan specifically says “dishwasher safe.”

Fine china and crystal. The delicate nature of these items makes the dishwasher a hazardous place for them. Avoid damage to the fine finishes of china or chips to your crystal stemware by keeping them out of the dishwasher.

Copper cookware. Popular copper cookware can discolor and get dull in the dishwasher. Instead, wash it by hand with soapy water, then restore its shine with lemon juice, salt and vinegar.

Aluminum cookware. While stainless steel cookware is fine in the dishwasher, aluminum is not, as it can fade and oxidize when exposed to the high temperatures of the dishwasher. Aluminum also doesn’t do well with soaking. Instead, clean it with a mixture of cream of tartar and water. To remove discoloration, simmer a mixture of one tablespoon lemon juice per quart of water on the stovetop.

Wooden utensils and cutting boards. The abrasive nature of dishwashing detergents can damage wooden items over time, and the drying cycle can cause them to warp and crack. To disinfect a cutting board after cutting raw meat on it, clean it with white vinegar or a mixture of two tablespoons bleach in a gallon of water. Rinse thoroughly and dry the board by hand.

Cast iron. Dishwashing detergent will break down the seasoning you created when you first got your cast iron pan, and prolonged exposure to water in the dishwasher will cause it to rust. Instead, rinse your cast iron with a tiny bit of soap or an abrasive such as salt, then dry it thoroughly, leaving it on low heat in the oven or on the burner for a minute or two to thoroughly dry it. 

Source: Real Simple Tips

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