Are checks really safer than debit cards?
From time to time I come across customers who prefer to write checks instead of using a debit card to make their daily purchases. When I inquire why this is the case they almost always admit that they feel debit cards are too susceptible to fraud and identity theft.
When you get down to the basics, it really is the opposite when you compare the two forms of payment.
A debit card is a 16-digit number that is "tied" to your bank account. Other than your name there is nothing specific about you or your account that someone else could use. As soon as a customer notifies their bank that their card has been stolen or that they have noticed fraudulent activity on their account, the bank immediately cancels that card rendering it useless. That 16-digit account number is no longer valid. The customer then receives a new card with a new 16-digit number and they are on their way.
With a checking account things are much different. Your check contains very specific, vital information about you:
- Your Full Name
- Your Address
- Your Phone Number
- Your Bank's Name
- Your Bank's Account Number
- Your Bank's Routing Number
- The current check # you are on
- Your Signature
There is a lot of valuable information that could be used by a criminal intent on stealing your identity or gaining access to your account. Most of the time when you write a check you put that check in the hands of a stranger, such as a cashier at the grocery store or an accounts receivable person at your utility company. Quite often this is where the fraud begins. All they have to do is make a copy of your check and they have everything they need. With the advancements in the quality of computer scanners and printers, fraudsters can make perfect copies of your check that include your exact signature. To make things worse when fraud occurs on a checking account it typically requires that the account be closed and a new account with a new account number be opened. This can be very expensive and time consuming. For example, that box of new checks you just purchased is now useless.
3 Tips to become a financially sound Millennial
Being a millennial can be tough. Millennials have some of the highest levels of student debt* and are joining the workforce during a severe recession. This can create some hard times for those between the ages of 15-35. But there are things I have learned that everyone, especially Millennials, can do to become more financially secure.
Set a Budget
Knowing where your money is going and then figuring out where you want it to go is very important. There are several apps available on your mobile device that allow you to track spending and will send you alerts when you are getting close to your budgeted amount for each category. Some popular examples are MINT, Expensify, and GoodBudget.
Pay Yourself First
This is an essential piece of financial advice. Set aside a portion of your paycheck every month to savings. This could be for your Emergency Savings, retirement or saving for a down payment on a house. If you need to start small even 2% of your paycheck can make a difference. As your paycheck increases through pay raises or promotions, add to that percentage. You won’t miss it if you never really “had” it before. In addition to this post tax savings look into your job’s 401K plan. Employers will often match a certain percentage of these contributions. If you aren’t contributing to these plans you are leaving money on the table. Saving for retirement should also be on your radar. The earlier you start investing the better your chances for a better return in the long run, plus interest can compound a lot more over 30 years than it can in 10
Get out of Debt and Stay out of Debt
Student loans, medical debt, credit cards, and auto loans are some of the most common places millennials are accumulating debt. The first basic rule is to always pay at least your minimum balance every month. There are several different philosophies when paying off debt. You can use Dave Ramsey’s Snowball method where you pay the minimums on all debt and then put any extra funds to the loan with the smallest balance first. Every time you pay a debt off, you add its old minimum payment to your next debt payments. Another strategy is to start paying off the debt with the highest interest rate and then avalanche down that way. Never missing a payment and paying on time are the best ways to increase your credit score, which ultimately will make your interest rates lower, saving you money.
These are important habits that if you can learn early in life you will be more financially successful long term.
So, what is an overdraft fee?
Overdrafts occur when purchases cause more funds to be withdrawn from your checking account than you actually have available. The Bank pays the overage and charges you an overdraft fee for covering the shortage of funds in your account.
When you swipe your card with a merchant, they sometimes “Pre-Authorize” your checking account with the bank. The bank relies on the merchant to settle your transactions and gather the funds from the specific transaction. For Example: You make a purchase and see the debit post to your account on a Tuesday; later on Friday you see a debit and credit for that same amount. This happens when the merchant actually settles, or collects, the transaction. The merchant pre-authorizes the charge at the time of purchase and settles the charge on the account with the bank a few days later.
Merchants, such as Gas stations, often pre-authorize a small amount and then settle the full amount with the bank days later. For example: you may see a pre-authorization for $1.00 from a gas station when you actually purchased $45 in fuel. Your account balance will deduct the $1.00 immediately, but the other $44.00 will be deducted when the merchant settles the transaction. If you don’t account for it, you may make additional purchases thinking that you have funds available, when in reality; the merchant has yet to settle for the rest of your transaction. From the time the preauthorization posts until the time the account is settled, you may spend more and the settling transaction (the $44 from earlier) may be more than you have in your account. This would overdraw the account and cause an overdraft fee.
Here are some tips to avoid Overdraft fees.
- Even if you do not use checks, use a check register. This can be helpful for keeping track of your finances and spending. If you keep a ledger of all your spending, you do not have to rely on the merchant “settling” a transaction up to 72 business hours later to know your true balance.
- Another helpful tip when keeping track of your finances is to round up the amount to the nearest dollar in your register. For example: if you spend $12.34 somewhere, list it in your register as a $13 debit. This will help to avoid getting too close to a zero balance and accumulating overdraft fees. Every two weeks or so calculate the difference between your actual balance and the balance in your register. Then transfer the difference into a savings account.
- You may consider declining overdraft protection on your account. If you opt out of overdraft protection and try to make a purchase without available funds, your debit card will be declined by the merchant at the time of purchase. If you choose this option, it would be wise to also stop writing checks. Checks may be returned if they post to your account when funds are not available, and you will still incur a fee for Insufficient Funds or (NSF). Likewise, purchases at a gas station that do not pre-authorize the full amount may result in and overdrawn account in which case an overdraft fee would still be charged.
If you are not sure which plan is right for you, visit with a Relationship Banker at your nearest Extraco Branch. They can look at your account history and help you determine a solution that fits your banking needs.
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Need to boost your credit score? Although there are no “quick fixes” for repairing bad credit, there are ways to improve your score over time. You may be aware of the basics, such as making all of your payments on time, but it’s the things you don’t know that can really make a difference.
One of the major factors in determining your credit score is how much revolving credit you have versus how much you’re actually using. The smaller that percentage is, the better it is for your credit rating. Credit specialists recommend that your debt-to-credit ratio be kept at 30 percent or lower – and the lower it is, the better.
- Continuously pay down your balances, and keep those balances low. Some issuers use the balance on your statement as the one reported to the credit bureau. Even though you are paying your balances in full each month, your credit utilization ratio may be higher than desired.
- Request a higher credit limit even if you don’t intend on using it. If you regularly charge $1500 per month and pay it in full, but your maximum credit limit it $3000 then you have a 50% utilization rate. By simply requesting a credit limit increase to $6,000 your utilization rate will be reduced to 25%. You may also want to consider checking to see if your credit card issuer will accept multiple payments throughout the month to keep your utilization low.
- Do you have multiple credits cards with small balances? You may want to rethink things, eliminate some of these balances, and use the same card for multiple purchases. One of the items your credit score considers is how many of your cards have balances, even if the balances are low. You can actually hurt your score by having several cards with small balances. You can improve your score by paying off your balances and then choosing one or two cards (preferably the ones with the lowest interest rate) to use regularly.
Over time you will see that making the right moves, and behaving consistently, will benefit your credit score.
President of Extraco Financial Group
Connect with Chris on LINKEDIN
Are you working to improve your credit score? You might be surprised to hear that there are a few things dragging down your credit score that you don’t know about. Let’s take a look at some actions that might be hurting your credit that actually have nothing to do with applying for or receiving credit.
- Do you have unused credit accounts? You might be tempted to close them out if you aren’t using them, but this could actually be counterproductive. These accounts can be beneficial for your credit score, showing longevity and credit available. If you close these accounts, you can actually lower your credit score. 15% of your FICO score is Length of Credit History and 30% of your FICO score is Debt to Credit ratio. Closing an old credit line can significantly alter those percentages.
- Have you ever missed a utility payment? Similar to rent payments, these bills don’t typically help your credit score. However, if you regularly pay late or miss payments your utility company can turn you over to the credit bureaus. Additionally, if you move, make sure that you have closed your account completely and paid all final bills.
- Follow-up when cancelling memberships or trial offers. Follow the cancellation procedures to properly handle any automatic withdrawals on your credit card. Check your statements to ensure you are not continuing to be charged after cancellation. You may be racking up charges on services you thought were cancelled. You could be turned over to collections for lack of payment.
- Do you have unpaid medical bills? Don’t ignore them. Pay as much as you can, or work out a payment plan with your provider. If you fail to pay, you may be reported to the credit bureaus.
- Do you owe back taxes? If the government places a lien against you, it will drag down your score and can remain on your credit report for up to 15 years.
The bottom line – most of your financial actions ultimately affect your credit score in some way.
President of Extraco Financial Group
Connect with Chris on LINKEDIN
Have you ever wondered about what is on your credit report? Do you think your credit is excellent or just average? Maybe you have had a few financial setbacks and need to work on improving your credit. Well you’re not alone. Many of us have had times in our life when we were unsure about what was being reported to the credit reporting agencies.
I have great news for you. You can easily access your credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. There is even better news; it’s 100% free. That’s right. FREE!
You can obtain one free copy of your credit report once a year from all three credit reporting agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com. Although it will not show your credit score, you will have an opportunity to review your credit history for accuracy. There is even a process to dispute incorrect information on your credit report. Recently I shared this process with a customer. She informed me later that the error had been fixed within 30 days of disputing the incorrect information on her credit report.
Knowing where your starting point is can help you create a better financial future. It may take a while, but fixing credit reporting errors and improving your credit history can often mean lower interest rates and thousands of dollars in savings over the life of a loan.
If you have questions about building, establishing or maintaining credit please feel free to stop by your local Extraco branch to speak with a lending specialist about your goals regarding credit.
Sr. Consumer Loan Specialist
Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.
What you need to know about Chip Debit Cards
Debit cards are convenient and I personally love my debit card! Swipe! Swipe! Swipe! I’m an advocate for debit…until it gets compromised. (This has personally happened to me more than 3 times in the last year.) The consequence of a data breach, if not realized quick enough by the merchant or brand network, has been and is that my bank account could be wiped out by a criminal using my debit card information. This feeling of insecurity and fear of identity theft is usually momentary because the big card brands—Discover, Visa, Mastercard—have a zero liability benefit so the money will be replaced. Whew! But is that life forever as we know it? Swipe, swipe, data breach, compromised card, new card, swipe, swipe…repeat cycle? There are huge costs associated with these data breaches for all involved: costs of lost data, trust in a merchant and the form of payment, costs to replace cards and lost funds due to fraud. Fortunately that is where the advancements in payment options and technology come into play, such as EMV / chip cards.
So what is an EMV Chip card?
You may have never heard of EMV, which is an acronym for Europay, MasterCard, Visa.
At present, EMV is the global standard for credit and debit payment cards. It provides cardholders much better protection against counterfeit card fraud and the inherent risks associated with lost and stolen debit and credit cards. It started in Europe where phone lines were not as universally consistent and they were experiencing high fraud rates. Europe wanted transactions to be supported even if they could not get through the phone lines to approve, so a mini-authorization system was created and embedded onto the card in the form of a microchip to make transactions more effective and secure.
How does an EMV Chip card work?
To think of a chip card transaction another way, it is more like a private conversation between the card and the terminal the card is swiped on. With traditional cards, all the card information is stored on the black magnetic stripe on the back. When the card is swiped, the data on the magnetic stripe enters the payments network between the merchant, third party payment processors, and the bank. So remember when I mentioned earlier that you could be like me and have experienced your bank account being wiped out because someone stole your debit card information? Well that “conversation” occurs on the magnetic stripe making it easy for criminals to steal. With chip cards, the information is stored on the chip. The card information is only shared with the terminal in a private conversation. Once that conversation is over, so is the exchange of information. No more criminals standing in the cross-roads trying to “intersect” sensitive data as it moves through the payment’s network behind the scenes. This chip provides much higher transaction security features than the black magnetic stripe on the back of plastic cards that we are currently used to.
Will EMV Chip Cards stop all fraud?
Chip cards will help protect your data from being used fraudulently, but they are not the “end all, be all”. They will help cardholders in some capacities, but fraud will still occur, especially in the online environment. The best thing you can do is activate and use your new chip card once you receive it, carry two forms of payment with you at all times, and make sure your online purchases are with merchants that you know and trust.
How is Extraco Banks involved?
Back to School shopping can be an expensive, but necessary task. Here are some tips to make your back to school shopping experience easier and more affordable.
Using coupons when shopping can save you a ton of money. Most retailers will now accept digital coupons, but searching for a product/retailer online, and tracking down coupons can still be time consuming.
Shop on Tax Free Weekends
Combine coupons with Tax–free shopping weekends and save even more on clothes, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100. The tax-free weekend for Texas is usually in August.
Want to beat the crowd? Shop online! Online shopping gives you the option to compare prices at several stores to get the best deal. Many retailers offer discounts or bonuses if you sign up for email notifications. Some even offer free or reduced shipping.
Perhaps that tablet you’ve been eyeing for your student is a little out of budget. Search online for the best price possible. Most large retailers like Best Buy and Walmart will price match, and sometimes BEAT the price of the lower priced item.
Buy Wholesale or in Bulk
The more you buy the more you save. Skip frequent trips to the store by purchasing snacks and school supplies in advance for the school year. Sam’s Club, Costco, and even value packs at your local HEB can save you time, and money.
Purchase Clothing out of Season
Off-season clothing is often deeply discounted. Purchasing your students’ winter clothing during the beginning of the spring, and their summer clothing during the beginning of fall, can save quite a bit of money in the long run.
Your local consignment shops offer discounted clothing all year round. Try gathering unused clothing and items around the house, and selling them for a credit towards your new purchase. Most will give you additional in-store credit when buying your used clothing than if you were to just get cash back. Consignment stores are very picky when buying back clothes, so rest assured that you are getting gently used clothing that is still of good quality and drastically reduced prices.
Back to School Swap
Host or attend a back to school swap with local parents. Start a Facebook group, email, or group text to hold a local meeting where you can buy, trade, and sell gently used clothing or other items.
Connect with April on LinkedIn
Guide to Business EMV Implementation
U. S. Migration to chip-and-PIN, or EMV debit cards are in full swing!
On October 1, 2015 the fraud liability shift from bank to merchant went into effect. This means that not being fully chip enabled can leave your business liable for fraudulent transactions and the associated costs. Here are the key steps to getting your business prepared for chip enabled transactions.
Decide how to upgrade your processing software and point-of-sale terminals
Knowing what equipment you have is important. Many times businesses already have components of the new processing software and terminals without having to conduct a complete overhaul. If you don’t know, that’s not a problem. We have specialist who can assist in this area.
Extraco Banks offers various solutions to meet your processing software and terminal needs. Simply contact one of our Treasury Management Service Consultants to find out more. Also, we have more information of all services we offer businesses at https://www.extracobanks.com/commercial/.
Know the difference between “Chip-and-PIN” and “Chip-and-Signature”
As a merchant you have options on how to run transactions. Chip-and-PIN provides the customer the ability to “dip” a card and enter a PIN as prompted by the terminal. Chip-and-signature provides the customer the ability to “dip” a card and sign for the transaction. As a merchant it is important to offer customers options when checking out. This allows the customer to choose their method and creates a seamless customer check-out experience.
Implementation of Chip-Enabled Terminals
Approaching implementation of EMV (chip-enabled) terminals in phases is important to allow a smooth transition.
Phase 1 - Before turning on your chip-enabled terminals it is important to focus on training cashiers and staff. This will help customers complete sound transactions and cause minimal disruption to their purchasing experience.
Phase 2 – During implementation of the terminals it is imperative to focus on the overall customer experience. Communicating the changes to your customers is imperative to bring awareness surrounding the difference in the check-out experience. Luckily thousands of chip cards are currently in circulation which increases the customer’s education surrounding how to use the chip card.
Phase 3 – After all terminals and software are upgraded continue to focus on the customer experience. Ongoing training for staff is important to keep the customer experience smooth.
Communicating Changes to Customers
You have made an investment in new terminals, now it is time to get a return on that
investment. It is important to let your customers know about the changes at check out. Communication can be as simple as in-store and point of sale signage or as large as a full marketing campaign via your website, email or direct mail. This is an opportunity to inform customers of the safety and security chip enabled terminals bring to point-of-sale transactions.
Cashiers are a great communication tool; as they are “frontline” speak with your customers at check out. If the cashier notices a chip card, she should guide the customer through the new process of inserting the card to complete a chip transaction. Additionally, cashiers can remind customers to leave the card in the terminal and allow the customer to follow the terminal prompts. Last, cashiers should remind customers to remove their card and not leave it in the terminal. Cashiers can also help educate customers on why this change has been made – to create a more secure point-of-sale transaction.
Risks of not migrating to chip enabled terminals
The October 1, 2015 date was enforced to signify when the liability shift became effective. From October 1,2015 the party with the least-secure setup is liable for any credit-card fraud committed at your business. In this case, “least-secure” setup means least chip card enabled. Without full migration to chip enabled terminals your business has a higher risk of being held liable for fraudulent transactions. To ensure you are protecting your assets, please visit our protection and security information at https://www.extracobanks.com/commercial/protection-security/.
Payments Innovation & Support Specialist
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If you use a debit or credit card, then chances are you’ve had at least one card replaced because of a data breach. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2012 saw 90 data breaches affecting 7.7 million payment cards in the US.1Since data breaches aren’t going away any time soon, I want to take a minute and debunk some of the most popular myths so you’re better prepared the next time you have a card involved in a breach.
First – let me define a data breach. A data breach is the act of stealing non-public customer data through websites, company systems, mail, a stolen wallet or cell phone, or anywhere a card may be swiped to complete a purchase. These thefts may include name and address only, but more often the thieves are out to get debit or credit card numbers or other information that will allow them to create fake payments under a victim’s name.
My Bank Was Hacked!
The truth: Because banks bear the burden of notifying customers about data breaches, customers often think the data breach occurred at the bank. In reality, data breaches can occur anywhere data is used or stored, but most frequently occur through stolen wallets & cell phones, online and at point-of-sale machines where cards are swiped. When a data breach occurs, the card brands, such as Discover® and VISA®, are notified first. The card brands, in turn, send the affected card numbers to the banks which issued the cards. It is then up to the banks to notify customers about the breach.
I Don't Need To Replace My Card.
The truth: If your card was involved in a data breach, you should replace it with a new one. You may not see fraud immediately on your account, but you are gambling with time before a thief uses that number to make fraudulent purchases. If you don’t replace your card you run the risk of all the funds being drained from your account and the time consuming task of filing the police report, etc. to get reimbursed for the losses.
I Have to Pay For The Fraudulent Purchases Made By Thieves.
The truth: Most major card brands come with zero liability, which means that the card brand will cover all fraudulent purchases made on your card. To recover the funds you will need to file a claim with your bank or card issuer. Check the paperwork that came with your card or account for more information on how this works for your personal cards.
My Bank Turned Off My Car Without Notifying Me!
The truth: This one can actually be true and false depending on who issues your card. The majority of smaller card issuers, such as Extraco Banks, go to extraordinary lengths to let customers know that their card data has been compromised and that they need to replace their card. Cards are set with a turn off date in order to minimize the risk of fraudulent transactions to both the customer as well as the card issuer. If this does happen to you, it may be that your card issuer doesn’t have up-to-date contact info on file for you. You should call and make sure your cell phone, home phone (if you have one), email address and mailing address are all current. You should also ask about notice options, such as text messages, emails, and auto-phone calls.
Mobile Payments, Like Apple Pay®,Are More Secure Than Debit Card Payments.
The truth: Mobile payments at point-of-sale machines can be more secure than debit card payments because the payment data is transferred through a process called Tokenization. With Tokenization the payment data is securely replaced with an encrypted value so even if thieves capture the data they can’t use it. However, don’t expect data thieves to give up that quickly. When tokenized payments became common overseas, data breaches online jumped 50%. So while this will reduce the risk in one channel, it will increase the risk in another.
Bottom line: There are a lot of national efforts going on right now to improve the protection of customer data and the payments system. At Extraco, we are working toward becoming certified for Tokenization, which will make it possible for us to issue chip-and-PIN cards as well as participate in mobile wallets and contactless payments. We are also working hard to minimize the disruptions created by data breaches. We’ve created an internal task force focused solely on how to improve this experience. So, stay tuned for new changes in how we handle Data Breaches in the future.
1 Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Chronology of Data Breaches, 2005–Present, http://www.privacyrights.org/data-breach
Support Manager, Mission & Marketing Strategy
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Here are some common questions you should ask yourself before buying a new or used car.
Where Do I Start?
What Can I Afford?
This doesn’t mean just monthly payments–you have to consider the total price of the car. The total price includes all the warranties that the dealerships sell, along with the new insurance premium, Taxes, Title & License. And don’t forget to set aside something for upkeep. Tires wear out, oil gets dirty and every once in a while, something no longer works the way it used to. Once you figure out what you would like to spend, you need to start researching cars in that price range. Stay within your budget. The last thing you want is to buy something you can’t afford and then default on your loan. Having your car get repossessed is embarrassing and extremely detrimental to your financial future.
Where Should I look First?
There are a multitude of internet sites you can use to research cars now. (Edmunds, Consumer Reports, Road & Track, TrueCar, even AutoTrader is helpful to see what cars are listed for now. This is by no means a complete list.) When you have your short list of cars that interest you, the logical step would be to go to the dealer or person listing the car to test drive it.
What Do I Need?
Since most lots will want you to either apply with them, or have an approval before they let you drive. So, you need to go talk to your friendly local banker (like Extraco Banks). When you apply, you need to have an idea that everything is in order. Be prepared to provide any or all of the following: proof of income, proof of residence and proof of employment. The most recent pay stubs check off proof of income & employment. Plus, they will have your address, so that might work there, too.
What if My Credit Is Not Perfect?
It is helpful to know if you have any bad marks on your credit. The banker will probably ask about them, and it helps if you have prior knowledge to help explain any problems. We (honestly) are human, too, and we understand that life happens. There is no guarantee that your loan will be approved, but being able to explain any problems goes a long way to helping us understand your situation and working out what we can do.
I have Done My Research.
I have My Financing Pre-Approved.
Once you have your pre-approval from the bank, you can go to the car lot & look at vehicles in the price range you already know you can afford. You will find that shopping is quite a bit less stressful when you already know how much you can spend. This allows you to focus on the vehicle—not the thoughts of how you can barter with the salesperson. Once you choose the vehicle you want, you can let them know that you already have a pre-approval at the bank. You give them the contact info, they contact us & everything is sorted out on that end. After that, you either sign at the dealership, or go to the bank & sign the loan papers. Then drive off into the sunset & enjoy your new ride.
With just a little research & some prep work, you can confidently buy a car and feel good about it. Are you looking to finance a car? Let the Extraco Consumer Lending Department help get you started.
Extraco Commercial Credit Specialist
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Be a Role Model to your children. Teach Smart Financial Practices
As a mom of two young daughters teaching my children about money and finances is very important. I often hear myself saying, “Mommy and Daddy work to pay for our life.” The other day I asked my six year old if she knew what that meant? She said, “Yes, it means that we have to work to make money to pay for our house, car and toys. Over the years my husband and I have saved to help with future expenses that usually come with bringing up a child.
About a month after each child was born we visited our local branch and opened a Money Market account to benefit each child. By doing this small step we have saved money each month to help pay for school clothes, birthday parties and Christmas presents. The next step we did was set a 529 College fund to set aside money for college. This fund can pay for college, living expenses, and books for a college student. The great option with the 529 fund is that it is transferable between children should one or the other receive scholarships that cover normal expenses.
The best thing you can do for your children regarding financial education is be a role model by making smart choices with your own money. Evaluate your needs and wants and make a budget to stay on track with monthly expenses. Children’s habits are often a result of parenting. By teaching your kids the value of money at an early age and sharing financial experiences you help create healthy financial habits that will carry over into adulthood.
Lastly, don’t forget to make saving money fun. One idea is to have each child pick out a piggy bank they like; pigs, hippos and super heroes all apply when encouraging our future leaders to put money aside for a rainy day.
Extraco Financial Center Manager
& Financially Savvy Mother of Two
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