Shoppers Share Black Friday Strategies That Actually Work

If at first you don’t succeed, talk to someone who has.

Black Friday is arguably the biggest discount day of the year, but making the most of it requires some practice, planning and strategy.

So ahead of Black Friday on Nov. 29, we talked with shoppers and shopping experts to hear their best — and worst — Black Friday stories from years past.

Here’s what they said, and what you can learn from them.

The professor: Expect the unexpected

Vicki Morwitz knows a thing or two about Black Friday. She’s the Bruce Greenwald Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.

She also spent years as a Black Friday shopper — combing through stores with her mom as part of an annual tradition.

Nowadays, she keeps Black Friday at arm’s distance. But she still checks for deals. Like last year when, on a whim, she spotted a travel sale for a boutique luxury hotel she had dreamed about booking for her trip to Israel.

“I just happened to go on their website… and they had a 50% off Black Friday sale, so it was now in my price range, and I booked it and was very, very happy,” Morwitz says.

Tip: Check your favorite stores and businesses on Black Friday, no matter how obscure. Some luxury brands may offer a discount, even if they rarely go on sale.

The researcher: Ignore the hype

Some 71% of Americans plan to shop on Black Friday this year, according to a recent NerdWallet study conducted by The Harris Poll.

That’s a lot of shoppers.

But not everything is a great deal on Black Friday. “Don’t believe the hype,” says Danny McLoughlin, content and research director at RunRepeat, an athletic shoe review and price aggregator site.

McLoughlin studied price data from the past three years for thousands of sneakers. According to the pricing analysis by RunRepeat, from Aug. 1, 2018, to July 31, 2019, sneakers were cheaper on 66% of those days than they were on Black Friday.

Not exactly what you would expect from a day assumed to have the best deals on everything.

Tip: Start monitoring prices now. That way, you’ll know how much a product has been discounted — if at all.

The blogger: Resist FOMO

As you search for deals this holiday season, there’s no need to limit yourself to Black Friday itself. Christy Palmer, blogger at (not affiliated with Target), says Black Friday deals are available early — and late.

“Many online stores start their Black Friday sales prior to Black Friday, so you can often grab the deals you want and you don’t even have to leave your home,” Palmer said in an email.

She said she’s also seen deals that are equal to or beat Black Friday prices even after Black Friday is over.

Tip: Continue your savvy shopping habits after Black Friday by monitoring prices, signing up for retailer mailing lists and using coupons.

The cyber shopper: Stay home

This Black Friday, Lydia Senn will be shopping online in her pajamas with a cup of coffee in hand and Netflix on her screen.

Senn, who is the owner of the blog Frugal, Debt Free Life, doesn’t bother going to the store. She also doesn’t interrupt family time on Thanksgiving for shopping. She’s found standout deals online, like a $30 markdown on an Instant Pot a few years back.

Her shopping prep includes mapping out a shopping list and looking at Black Friday ads online from coupon websites.

Tip: Avoid the crowds and shop Black Friday deals from home. Cyber sales generally happen from Thanksgiving Day and to the Monday after, Cyber Monday.

The savvy consumer: Stick to necessities

Ravi Gehlot is a web developer from Sarasota, Florida. He shops all year long, including on Black Friday. In fact, that’s when he scored big discounts on Dell monitors.

But despite his deal-hunting prowess, Gehlot might have the best Black Friday advice of all: Don’t shop just to shop.

Given his past success snagging impressive deals, we asked if he’s going shopping on the day after Thanksgiving this year. His reply? No, because he doesn’t really need anything right now.

Tip: Plan out the products you really need (either items for yourself or holiday gifts for others), then hold tight to that list during Black Friday sales.

The article Shoppers Share Black Friday Strategies That Actually Work originally appeared on NerdWallet

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5 Signs an Online Loan Is a Debt Trap

As you scan the crowded pages of Google search results for a low-cost loan, it can be difficult to decipher reputable lenders from predatory ones.

These lenders, who use abusive or unfair practices, offer loans with high rates and excessively long or short repayment terms that make the lender money but leave the borrower with a loan they may not be able to repay.

Payday loans are a common type of predatory loan: About 12 million Americans take them out every year, says Alex Horowitz, a senior research officer with the nonprofit public interest group Pew Charitable Trusts. These short-term, high-interest loans can trap borrowers in a cycle of debt.

“Consumers fare best when they have affordable payments — when they have a clear pathway out of debt,” he says.

Knowing what makes a loan dangerous can keep borrowers from falling into a debt trap. Here are five signs of a predatory loan.

1. No-credit-check ads

Some lenders advertise loans that don’t require a credit check, meaning the lender doesn’t obtain information about the borrower’s financial history and can’t gauge their ability to repay the loan.

Predatory lenders will often charge a much higher annual percentage rate to make up for the borrowers who inevitably default on their loan, says Brad Kingsley, a South Carolina-based financial planner with Cast Financial.

“If they’re making it super easy [to get a loan], then it’s a red flag,” he says. “Some pushback is positive.”

2. Focus on monthly payments

Lenders that advertise low monthly payments on a loan without mentioning the APR or loan term should set off an alarm, Kingsley says.

Lenders may do this to distract from the loan’s term and rates, he says.

Because predatory lenders offer loans with high fees and interest rates, borrowers should focus as much on the full cost of the loan — which an APR represents — as the monthly payments.

3. Sky-high rates

The APR on a loan shouldn’t come out to more than 36%, says Charla Rios, a researcher with the Center For Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group.

That maximum rate has been affirmed by multiple states and federal agencies because it gives borrowers a fair chance at repayment and incentivizes lenders to offer affordable loans, according to a 2013 report from the National Consumer Law Center, a policy-focused nonprofit that serves low-income people.

Many payday lenders charge APRs well above 100% and may not make that explicit on their homepage, Rios says.

If you can’t see an APR range anywhere on the lender’s website, you should be cautious about doing business with them, says Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center.

“If you have to hunt for [the APR], that’s a red flag,” she says.

4. Excessively long or short repayment periods

Payday lenders typically require a borrower to pay the loan back within a week or two.

But some lenders offer small loans with high APRs and excessively long repayment periods, Horowitz says. These loans can leave a borrower paying more in fees and interest than the amount they originally took out.

For example, a $1,200 loan with an 18-month repayment period and a 300% APR would result in monthly payments of about $305 and total interest of $4,299.

5. All-in-one payment requirements

A predatory lender may have repayment terms that require a single payment or a handful of small payments, then a lump sum, also called balloon payments.

The average payday loan takes 36% of a borrower’s paycheck, Horowitz says. If a borrower can’t go without that income, they might take another payday loan to make up for the cost.

A reasonable loan repayment plan should center on a consistent share each paycheck, rather than a balloon payment, he says.

Getting out of a predatory loan

Borrowers who have a predatory loan can try a few avenues to get in better financial shape.

Refinance the loan

If borrowers have somewhat solid credit, Kingsley says, they may be able to pay off a predatory loan with another loan from a reputable lender. Many credit unions offer low rates to borrowers with undesirable credit.

Seek free advice

You may be able to find a nonprofit legal aid office in your area that offers free or inexpensive legal consultation, Rios says. Another option may be to search for a credit counselor to help you determine the best way forward.

Contact your attorney general

Writing to your attorney general won’t get you out of the loan, but it will create a record that you’ve encountered predatory lending practices, says Rios with the Center for Responsible Lending. If you’re one of many complainants, it’s possible the office will investigate further.

The article 5 Signs an Online Loan Is a Debt Trap originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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How to Stop Anxiety From Ruling Your Finances

Financial decisions are rarely easy, whether it’s buying your first car or home or deciding whether to refinance student loans.

The anxiety can be heightened for millennials who witnessed economic turmoil during the Great Recession as they weigh milestone financial choices as adults.

“Many [millennials] grew up and saw their parents lose a house or have to delay retirement,” says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and associate professor at Creighton University. “Of course, they are going to be anxious.”

In fact, a survey this year by insurance company Northwestern Mutual found that this generation not only has a stronger inclination to make financial plans compared with older generations, but also has a higher level of anxiety about whether they are following the right strategy.

The survey found that 66% of millennials (those born from 1981 to 1996) said they were “highly disciplined” or “disciplined” financial planners, compared with 60% of Generation X (born 1965-1980) and 52% of baby boomers (born 1946-1964). At the same time, 70% of millennials said their financial planning needs improvement. That’s compared with 68% of Gen Xers and 52% of baby boomers.

There are ways to reduce the stress of financial decisions. Start by identifying your attitude toward money. Then, take action in a way that’s tailored for you and turn to others who’ve been there.

Know your attitude toward money

Most of us grow up with a specific approach toward money, often learned from our parents, imbibed from those around us or informed by our own experiences.

Being aware of your relationship with money can help you avoid pitfalls like worrying too much. Klontz, the author of several books on finances and psychology, says he’s found four common approaches to money: worship, avoidance, vigilance and status.

For example, those who are vigilant about money always worry about having enough and experience trouble making spending decisions. On the other hand, avoiders don’t look at bills or statements until they absolutely have to, Klontz says.

“Your ‘tendency’ shapes your perspective on the world and influences what kinds of [financial] strategies will work for you,” Rubin says. For example, a “questioner” likes doing their own research and will only seek outside counsel they trust, Rubin says.

Take actions tailored to you

Once you’ve identified your attitude toward money, use that knowledge to ease the anxiety of financial decisions.

Make a to-do list

People who don’t know where to begin can start by making a financial to-do list, says Eric Tyson, author of “Personal Finance for Dummies” and a former financial advisor. You could calculate how much money you earn and spend every month or add tasks like saving money for a goal or getting your credit in shape for a loan.

“Prioritize it, get some early victories,” he says. “Don’t beat yourself up thinking you’ve got to do it quickly.”

Stay accountable

If you’re an “obliger” and want to save up for a goal, use accountability to get started and stay motivated, Rubin says. That may be in the form of friends, a financial advisor or thinking about what you want in the future, she says.

Visualize the end goal

If you are a “rebel” who doesn’t like being told what to do and wants to pay off debt, think of the freedom you’ll have when you’re debt-free. Set up automatic payments so you don’t have to think about them, Rubin says. The automatic payments option is effective for anyone, she notes.

Turn to others for guidance

Tyson says the biggest mistake he’s seen people make is that they don’t get advice — or rely on one source — before making a financial decision.

“If your Uncle Joe seems financially savvy, you can run your thinking by him, but you should be selective about taking one person’s advice as gospel,” Tyson says.

If you want an expert’s perspective, turn to a fiduciary fee-only financial advisor. Advisors who are paid by fees only, not commissions, have fewer conflicts of interest; those who follow the fiduciary standard put clients’ interests ahead of their own. Or you can set up a free consultation with a nonprofit credit counselor.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

The article How to Stop Anxiety From Ruling Your Finances originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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How I Ditched Debt: From ‘Extravagantly Broke’ to Comfortably Frugal

DeShena Woodard

How much: $51,754 in 2 years 8 months

DeShena Woodard is happy.

She’s working full time in her dream job as an RN, running her own financial blog and living in a suburb outside of Houston.

From the outside looking in, you’d never guess this got-it-all-together professional was recently struggling.

Just a few years ago, Woodard was anxious. Every dollar she made at her part-time job was earmarked for a bill to pay someone else. She had nothing in savings and was growing weary of living paycheck to paycheck.

Woodard was spending more than she earned, something she refers to as living “extravagantly broke.” (Appropriately, Extravagantly Broke is now the name of her blog.)

That’s when things changed. With her children getting older and her own education complete, Woodard was in a position to begin working full time. She upped her salary to approximately $75,000 in 2017 (a sizable increase from about $50,000 in 2016) and undertook a financial journey.

While her husband paid down household debt, Woodard worked on paying her own. She shifted her focus from habits like buying new clothes and overspending on Christmas to holding on to things longer instead of replacing them. She bought only what she needed and rarely what she wanted. Her lifestyle went from extravagant to frugal.

And it worked.

Between January 2017 and August 2019, Woodard paid off $51,754 in debt — a combination of credit cards, auto loans and a personal loan.

She paid off a Nissan auto loan, hefty credit card charges for her schooling that had been building up and expenses for her daughter.

Nowadays, she’s living comfortably and is still getting used to small victories like seeing money building in her bank account. The best part? Woodard says she’s doing better emotionally.

“I feel much happier not having any debt and driving a Nissan than I would having a lot of debt driving a Mercedes.”

Here’s how she paid off debt and what she learned along the way, in her own words.

What triggered your decision to start getting out of debt?

I was not happy with the current state of my finances. I was stressed and anxious about money all the time. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t working and decided to make a change. I changed my attitude toward money and that is what led to a change in my spending behavior. I made the choice to live a comfortable life instead of an extravagantly broke one.

How did you prioritize your debts?

I was paying all of them at the same time, but I was paying more on some than others. For one credit card, I was paying $500 a month and the other one $300. On my car, I was paying double. But once I got both credit cards paid off, then I was able to pay triple on my car.

For me, I needed to see that they were all moving in the right direction. That’s just what worked better for me. For some people, it may be better to just pay one thing off at a time if that’s what you can do.

How has your life changed for the better since you got out of debt?

My life has definitely changed for the better since being out of debt. For one thing, I can sleep better at night. I’m not always worried about being able to pay my bills. I am now at the point where I forget when payday is. And I often go for more than a week before even checking my bank account to make sure that I did get paid.

How do you remain debt-free today?

I have become much more money savvy and I don’t make spur-of-the-moment purchases. Every spending decision has to be well thought out. I stick to using cash or debit. And I budget for everything.

What made you start your blog?

I know there are people out there like me. For me, it took a mindset shift. Until we can change our thinking, it’s hard to change our behavior. In my writing, I focus a lot on mindset, trying to dive a little deeper. I can just give you tips, but until something changes mentally, it all just washes over people.

It really takes this sort of self-discovery. You really need to think deep and figure out what is the reason that you need that? Why do you need this car versus that car? Or do you really need another car? What’s wrong with the car you have? Would it be more affordable to fix that up or put a little money into it versus pay a monthly car payment that you’re going to be responsible for for the next 60 months or however many months of your life?

What is your next goal?

I’m working toward becoming a certified life coach so that I can begin coaching people on their mindset and their money to help them bridge the gap and get over the hurdle of why they’re spending.

How to ditch your own debt

In addition to shifting her thinking, Woodard implemented several money-saving strategies. Used in combination, they were effective in reducing her spending and paying down her debt. Here are a few you can try, too:

  • Distinguish between needs and wants. Stick to a budget that differentiates between needs and wants. Woodard says she tries to live on 50% of her income and is saving approximately 30% of her income. According to the popular 50/30/20 budget, no more than 50% of your monthly take-home income should be spent on needs, 30% on wants and 20% on savings.
  • Shop smart. Woodard is always on the lookout for a good sale. But she doesn’t shop a sale just because she finds it. She waits for a sale to match an item she already needs. For instance, she waited until a Memorial Day sale to replace her refrigerator.
  • Become a savvy consumer. Often, when you sign up for promotions from utility providers such as cable companies, the introductory price is valid only for the first year, so it’s up to the customer to ask for a new deal. Woodard calls regularly to negotiate a better price.

There are also some universal strategies to keep debt at bay. Here are a few of NerdWallet’s top tips:

  • Use a calculator. If you’re not sure how much you should be spending each month, rely on a budget calculator to do the math for you. Then try to adjust your spending to the recommended levels.
  • Write everything down. Put your budget down in writing in an app, on a spreadsheet or on paper to track your spending.
  • Build an emergency fund. Cushion your savings with a healthy emergency fund to prevent yourself from falling back into debt. It’s important to have the money to cover an unexpected expense.

Photo courtesy of DeShena Woodard.

The article How I Ditched Debt: From ‘Extravagantly Broke’ to Comfortably Frugal originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Vanquish 5 Common Financial Fears

Fear can consume you. The anxiety of the unknown can drive you to pull the blanket over your head, whether you’re worried about a rustling sound outside your bedroom window or that you won’t have enough retirement savings.

Financial fears — not wanting to check your credit, confront your debt or even discuss your student loans — can feel especially shameful. But facing those fears can empower you to take action.

1. Student loan stress

Student loans topped the list of most-feared financial topics among U.S. adults, according to a 2019 survey of 1,006 consumers by TD Ameritrade. Student loan debt, at 36%, outranked even living paycheck to paycheck (26%) and credit card debt (20%).

How to conquer it: Understand your loans in detail — that’s key to knowing whether you’re on the best repayment plan. Know each loan’s term, balance, interest rate and whether it’s a federal or private loan.

For unaffordable federal loans, look into income-driven repayment plans. For private loans, you may be able to refinance for a lower monthly payment (but it may cost more overall).

2. Recession anxiety

Indicators like slowing global economic growth hint that a recession might be coming, raising fears of job loss and asset depletion.

How to conquer it: Shore up your savings and diversify your skills. Build up at least $500 in savings to cover an emergency, advises Boston-based financial coach Kimberly Zimmerman Rand. After that, work toward having a few months’ worth of expenses saved in case of job loss. Make saving easier with direct deposits from your paycheck or automatic transfers from checking to savings.

“On the professional side, since we’re not in a recession right now, see how you can improve your job skills, your network, your resume, so if the unfortunate does happen, you’ve already laid the foundation to transition to a new position,” Zimmerman Rand says.

3. Credit card debt concerns

Paying off credit card debt can feel like a never-ending task, but there are ways to get it done.

“I’ve had clients who come to us for debt counseling that have the fear that they’re the worst situation we’ve ever seen financially, and that’s never the case,” says Maura Attardi, director of financial wellness at Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling agency.

This fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: You’re afraid to check your overall debt because of how high it might be, but while you’re not looking, you keep accruing interest.

How to conquer it: List each account, interest rate and balance. Then choose a payoff strategy. One popular option is the debt snowball, where you pay off your smallest debts first then roll those payments toward your bigger debts.

4. Credit crisis

Ever been afraid to undergo a credit check or apply for credit because you thought your credit profile wasn’t up to snuff? You’re not alone: 46% of 1,503 U.S. adults surveyed by the financial service company Finicity found themselves in just that situation.

How to conquer it: Check your own credit score at your favorite personal finance website or bank website, and access your credit reports for free by using Looking at your score and reports will help you understand your options for improving your credit.

“Go through your credit report with a fine-tooth comb and contest any untrue information,” Zimmerman Rand says.

“For bringing up your score, start on positive financial behaviors, like making on-time payments,” she says. If you use credit cards, keeping the percentage of your credit limit you use below 30% on all cards will help too.

5. Broke retirement blues

“Among my clients, there’s a kind of feeling of hopelessness when it comes to the idea of retiring,” Zimmerman Rand says. But starting early is most important, not waiting until you can put away a lot.

How to conquer it: Choose a retirement plan. If you have a workplace retirement plan that offers an employer match, contribute enough to get it. An individual retirement account is a good alternative if you don’t have a workplace plan. Set yourself up for success by automating contributions and bumping up how much you’re saving every time you get a raise.

Avoid withdrawing money from your retirement account to get the maximum benefit from compound interest, where you earn interest on your interest.

“The magic of compound interest is truly magic — and it works,” Zimmerman Rand says. “After you’ve been saving for years, your investment begins to double a lot faster. For millennials, now is the time to start investing.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

The article Vanquish 5 Common Financial Fears originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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3 Things to Do When You Get a Salary Increase

Bravo! Everyone wants to make more money, and you’ve managed to do just that. Whether you received a raise or took a higher-paying job, a salary increase is something to celebrate.

It’s also something to evaluate within your larger financial picture. That way, you know what to do with your additional cash.

Here’s what to do when you get a salary bump.

1. Determine your new take-home pay

It’s too easy to fall into the “earn more, spend more” trap known as lifestyle creep. Extra spending could easily surpass your additional income — and that’s before you even see most of it.

“People will say, ‘Well, annually, I’m going to make this much more,’” says Autumn K. Campbell, certified financial planner at The Planning Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Well, that’s from one year after the time you got the raise,” she says. In that time, she adds, “we can learn habits that are tricky to get out of.”

Before building such habits, get a reality check by calculating how much more you’ll make in the shorter term. “We need to talk to ourselves in real numbers,” says Lynn Ballou, CFP and senior vice president and partner with EP Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, California.

Say you were making $50,000 and received a 4% increase, or $2,000 over a full year. Divide that $2,000 by 12 for about $167 per month. If you’re paid every other week, divide $2,000 by the 27 pay periods expected for 2020, and you’re looking at $74 per paycheck.

This math doesn’t account for tax withholdings and deductions that chip away at your take-home pay. (Scrutinize your paychecks to calculate that amount.) But having a rough figure for this extra income does help you figure out what to do with it.

2. Check your financial picture

To identify opportunities for your extra income, first take stock of your cash flow (incoming and outgoing money), as well as savings, investments and debts. Depending on your situation, these questions may help you think about next steps:

Are you meeting basic needs?

Consider food and shelter. If you’re facing overdue bills and shut-off notices for utilities, those payments should be a priority, says Campbell, who is also the president of FPA NexGen, a professional group for young financial planners.

Could you cover an emergency?

Emergency funds help prevent you from taking on debt if — actually, when — you face unexpected expenses. This is a smart time to start the fund if you don’t have one, Ballou says.

Ideally, the fund could cover a few months’ worth of living expenses, but it’s OK if you can’t swing that. Just build a buffer. For example, perhaps you set up automatic monthly transfers of $50 from your checking account to a high-yield savings account.

Do you have high-interest debts?

These are debts with interest rates around 20% or higher and could be from credit cards, personal loans or payday loans. They can hinder both your current and future finances. “It’s very hard to plan long-term if our short-term needs are in flux or being stretched,” Campbell says.

Sound familiar? Identify your debt strategy and consider using some of your additional income to pay it down.

Could you put more toward goals?

Use this opportunity to check on your financial goals, Ballou says. (Or identify a few, if you don’t have any.)

Say you’re aiming to retire with a certain amount saved. Consider contributing more to your 401(k), a tax-favored retirement savings account offered by some employers.

Other goals may lead you to put more earnings toward a down payment or vacation fund, or toward your student loans. Or perhaps this is the time to buy life insurance or contribute to a 529 plan for your kids’ college savings.

3. Reward yourself

Celebrate your raise “in a way that honors your hard work and also moves you forward in life without the stress of spending it and never really getting ahead,” says Lazetta Rainey Braxton, CEO and founder of Financial Fountains, a financial planning firm in Baltimore, and president of the AAAA Foundation, which helps cultivate the next generation of African American financial planners.

To pull this off, give yourself the “gift of time” rather than something that costs money, Ballou says. Spend an afternoon hiking or digging into a book, for example.

If you do spend money, Braxton suggests setting boundaries, such as a spending limit equal to the increase you’ll see in one or two paychecks.

Before spending, try to wait a few weeks or even months. By that time, you’ll have paychecks that show exactly how much more you’re taking home — and hopefully you’ll have cooled on any impulse-purchase ideas. After all, “there’s no rush,” Campbell says. “It’s not like the money is going to disappear.”—

The article 3 Things to Do When You Get a Salary Increase originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Stop Doing These 4 Things Online — Immediately

If you’re like many people, you might sign up for an online account at your gym, download the local movie theater’s app and share a cat video on Twitter all before 9 a.m. — and all without thinking twice. But when navigating the internet, security experts say, a little bit of deliberation often pays off by keeping your data more secure.

“We all have day jobs, but to a hacker, we are their day jobs,” says Adam Levin, former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and founder of CyberScout, which helps individuals and businesses deal with cybersecurity threats. “It’s not a fair fight.”

This National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, here are four routine things to stop doing online — and a few alternatives from cybersecurity experts.

1. Recycling passwords

Study after study shows that a majority of people reuse passwords across sites. This lets a hacker who uncovers your password in a data breach of one site easily use it elsewhere.

But what to do when everyone from your dog groomer to your grocery store wants you to create a login? Doug Jacobson, director of Iowa State University’s Information Assurance Center, recommends separating accounts into security tiers. The most sensitive — such as your financial accounts — should all get a unique, robust password. Slightly less sensitive accounts can share a set of strong passwords, and the least crucial, ones with little or no personal data attached, might share the same password.

To create a solid password, Levin suggests choosing a phrase that would be tough for others to guess and changing key characters: making an “o” a zero or turning a 1 into an exclamation point. You can also use a password manager, such as 1Password or LastPass, to create and store strong passwords that are random character strings.

2. Granting all the permissions apps request

Many apps ask for access to certain aspects of your phone’s data when you download them. And while it’s understandable that Google Maps wants to know your location, says Kurt Rohloff, director of the Cybersecurity Research Center at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, other apps have less transparent intentions when collecting your data.

Your data might be used simply for marketing purposes, but unless you’ve done a deep dive into who’s making all your apps, it’s better to be cautious. Apps should have “the bare minimum [information] they need to provide services,” Rohloff says.

If you’ve already given an app too much access, try adjusting its permissions in your phone’s settings, Rohloff says. For directions, click here if you have an Android, and here if you have an iPhone. And if that breaks the app, find an alternative.

3. Oversharing on online account applications

You probably know the pitfalls of posting vacation updates — hello, burglars — or giving your Social Security number just because a form has a blank for it. Any personally identifying information you disclose that falls into the wrong hands can “[give] hackers a pathway into your life,” Levin says.

When creating an online account, Jacobson says, “Give them only the information that has the star by it,” indicating a required field. “You don’t need to fill out your full profile.”

And you need not always be truthful, either. For example, you can supply a fake mother’s maiden name or high school mascot for security questions, Levin says. “No website is going to conduct a national security clearance to see if you are who you say you are,” he adds.

4. Trusting appearances

Scam emails don’t always come complete with typos and graphics from 1997 to tip you off. In fact, Jacobson says, he recently received an email from a hacker masquerading — somewhat convincingly — as his boss, asking for money. These messages can also harvest your account information or install malicious software on your computer.

“Always independently confirm who that company is or who that individual is through another source,” Levin says. That might involve calling the supposed sender to confirm the request. Make sure to use a number you know is safe — for example, one you find on your bank’s own website as opposed to clicking through the email.

And if you’re ever entering payment information, look for the padlock symbol on your browser window. “What the padlock ensures is that the website you typed in is the one you went to … and the communication is encrypted,” Jacobson says.

Being cautious keeps you safe

Pausing to consider your clicks definitely makes the internet less convenient. But when you receive services for free online, Jacobson says, “you typically are paying for them with your information.” That doesn’t mean you have to delete all your accounts, but you should ask yourself if the service you’re receiving is worth the information you’re giving up.

Luckily, for most people, identity theft is a crime of opportunity, Jacobson says. So taking even small steps to safeguard your data can make you a less tempting target.

“Generally, my attitude about this is, something is better than nothing, and small things are better than no things,” Rohloff says.


The article Stop Doing These 4 Things Online — Immediately originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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