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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Your Easiest New Year’s Resolution: Make Your Savings Grow Faster

Sticking to your new year’s resolution is often a time-consuming proposition. Want to get fit? Be ready to spend hours at the gym. Considering a side hustle? Goodbye, weekends.

But if your resolution is to save more, there’s one quick way to start: Open a high-yield online savings account. You can do this at many banks in less than 15 minutes, and you’ll earn at least 20 times more interest than you would in a traditional savings account.

Maggie Germano, a Washington, D.C.-based financial coach for women, recommends that her clients use high-yield accounts, and she practices what she preaches: “Since I feel most comfortable keeping some of my money liquid in case of emergencies, it’s important to me to still make sure the money is working for me,” she says.

So just how much can higher rates help you achieve your savings goals? And what else can online accounts do for you? Here’s why opening a high-yield account is a good use of a couple of commercial breaks.

You’ll save more money

If you’re trying to accumulate extra cash, lifestyle changes are the best way to make serious progress. That might include lowering your housing costs, negotiating a raise or trading in your ride for a less expensive vehicle.

But earning more for your money while it’s deposited definitely doesn’t hurt. “My emergency savings is growing even if I’m not adding more money to it,” Germano says.

Nationally, the average annual percentage yield, or APY, is 0.09%. At that rate, a $5,000 deposit would earn $4.50 in interest in a year. But it’s not unusual to find online savings rates around 2% these days. That would earn the same deposit $100 after 12 months. It’s not a huge sum, but it could cover a few surprise doctor’s appointment copays, a new tire, or simply pad your account.

“A hundred dollars here and there is nice to have, and you certainly don’t want to leave money on the table,” says Cheryl Ober, a Minnesota-based certified financial planner.

And rates have been on the rise, meaning your savings will grow even more in the coming years if you switch. “The interest rate has more than doubled in the years since I opened my account,” Germano says.

You’ll pay fewer fees

Earning more interest isn’t the only way online accounts can support your savings efforts. For some, low fees are a better selling point.

When it comes to lower account balances, “it’s typically easy to bank fee-free at online banks, and that has more of an impact than a high interest rate,” says Justin Pritchard, a certified financial planner based in Montrose, Colorado. “When you’re dodging fees of $90 or more per year, those accounts are helpful.”

If you use one of the country’s largest banks and typically pay a monthly fee on checking and savings, you could easily spend $200 per year just to park your money at that financial institution.

It’s about “knowing you’re not being completely being taken advantage of,” especially if you often owe your bank money, Ober says.

This was a big win for Germano when she switched: “Not only was I saving money by not paying fees, but I was making money on top of my money,” she says.

Every monthly fee you don’t pay is a little bit less you’ll have to save to meet your goals.

They have helpful account features

It’s easy to open your first online savings account, and many institutions make it just as easy to open and use additional accounts — often for free. “That helps you manage your money and earmark funds for specific goals without paying fees for each account,” Pritchard says.

Online banks often let users open multiple savings accounts. Adding a nickname — such as “Bahamas fund” or “New car” — can help keep you focused on your goals.

If you don’t have an emergency fund that can cover at least a few months of living expenses, you should likely focus your savings there. But if you have enough to consider a few goals, setting up an account and automatic deposits to each from every paycheck can make saving seamless.

High-yield accounts mean effortless saving

A high-yield account is no substitute for regular savings contributions. But it is the easiest, most efficient way to add a little extra to your nest egg. And over time, your balance can really add up, and a high interest rate will benefit you even more.

“As your account grows, the more it matters,” Pritchard says.


The article Your Easiest New Year’s Resolution: Make Your Savings Grow Faster originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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How to Save $500

Here’s a hint: Skipping your daily coffee isn’t going to cut it.

Little luxuries are a popular punching bag for financial gurus, but they’re usually not what really keeps you from reaching financial goals. Instead of eliminating lattes to save that first $500 — and beyond — try changing your mindset.

Why $500? It can be a solid start to building an emergency fund. It might not seem like much, but that amount can keep a car repair or an unexpected medical expense from going on your credit card.

NerdWallet gathered perspectives from a financial planner, a blogger and a writer and strategist on how to get started.

Change the way you think about saving

It’s tough to save when that means saying no to things you want (or could really, really use).

“Most people tend not to save because they feel like it means delaying gratification or sacrificing something now for some future benefit, and that’s really hard for anyone to do,” says Eric Roberge, certified financial planner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock, a Boston-based financial planning firm.

Roberge suggests a perspective shift. “Stop looking at it as savings. Start looking at it as purchasing more freedom, flexibility and choice for yourself in your life,” he says. “The more you save, the more freedom you buy to use in your life when you want to leverage it.”

While $500 is a smaller goal, it’s also specific, which Roberge says is helpful. “If you just say you want ‘more money,’ then you’ll never have enough,” he says. “That’s a moving goal post.”

‘Grow the gap’

Financial blogger Paula Pant started seriously saving while earning $21,000 as a newspaper reporter. Back then, Pant, the founder of, didn’t have many places to economize. “At a certain point,” she says, “especially if you’re lower income, you just can’t cut any further.”

To build her savings, Pant turned to freelance writing. She used the money to travel and, eventually, buy real estate and quit her 9-to-5.

Writing — or freelancing — might not be your thing, but there are other ways to make money alongside a full-time job. You can dogsit for, for example, or rent out your car when you’re not using it with Getaround.

Or maybe there are ways you can cut back on spending. If so, Pant suggests focusing on three main areas: housing, transportation and food.

“It’s easy to point the finger at things like getting a manicure,” she says. “But the reality is that if you get a manicure once a month and it costs $20, I can tell you exactly how much you’ll save.” For real savings, she says, keep the manicures and downsize your home: “You’ll save a lot more money.

Either way, you’ll want to increase the difference between what you earn and what you spend — or “grow the gap,” as Pant says.

Make it automatic

So you’ve decided to save, and you’ve found space in your budget. Next, make it habitual. That’s the approach writer and strategist Erika Sabalvoro takes.

“I found that the most effective way to pinch some money for an emergency fund is by treating it as a bill to pay,” she says. “It was a bill, billed by my future self to my current self.”

Many banks and credit unions offer automatic savings transfers, making it easy to move money on a schedule you choose. But most savings rates are low; the national average is just 0.09%. Picking a high-yield savings account with an annual percentage yield closer to 2% will help your balance grow faster.

Sabalvoro says she started by putting aside $35 here and there, and increased the amount as her circumstances changed. If she has money left over at the end of the month, she’ll add that to her “take care” fund, too. She says she uses this term, rather than “emergency fund,” because she sees the money as an all-purpose buffer that gives her choices, say, to leave a bad job.

But sometimes it comes in handy for actual emergencies. Sabalvoro recently sent multiple months’ worth of rent checks at once to avoid late fees and online payment costs. She asked for them to be cashed as they came due, but her landlord cashed them all at once.

“I thought, oh gosh, good thing I got it covered. It was really helpful,” Sabalvoro says of her savings.

Like Sabalvoro, you might find that your emergency fund picks up steam once you’ve made space in your budget, but getting started is the most important thing. You never know when you’ll need to dip into your savings — the only sure thing is that you will.

The article How to Save $500 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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How Not to Be a Knucklehead on Venmo

Venmo takes the anxiety out of splitting brunch and utility bills. With a linked bank account and someone’s username, you can send and request cash in a few taps. But some wonder if the app makes it a little too easy for people to hit each other up for money.

Just ask Soham Maniar of Houston. He was hosting a friend for a weekend, and the two took an UberPool to dinner. Later, Maniar was surprised to receive a request for $2.85, his half of the ride cost.

“When someone is nice enough to host a friend or guest, it doesn’t mean you have to give them something in return, but I think in a world without Venmo, that friend would not have asked me for $2.85 in cash after I got out of a cab,” Maniar says.

You can take advantage of Venmo without ticking off your friends with these simple tips from Maniar and others.

Try not to sweat the small stuff

“Anything under $20 with friends I usually never charge,” Maniar says. “And if someone did something nice for me, I try and return the favor when it makes sense.”

There’s no right threshold. After all, if it’s almost payday and you have a $30 bank balance, covering a co-worker’s coffee might not be in your budget. “It’s not nickel-and-diming if [the amount] does make a difference,” says Erin Lowry, author of “Broke Millennial.”

But if you can afford it, consider springing for small items once in a while. When Maniar treats, he says, “I like to assume they’ll treat me for something in return in the future. It probably evens out.”

Reciprocity is key, though. If you notice that one of your friends tends to take advantage, “you need to have a conversation,” Lowry says — in person. “Don’t Venmo them for the last six years of your friendship.”

Don’t stealth-charge

Venmo and other peer-to-peer payment apps let you request money without asking first — even without a username, which you can find with the app’s search function — but that doesn’t mean you should. Establishing how you’ll split the bill (or that you’ll split the bill) ahead of time helps avoid annoyance later.

“Unless we’ve spoken about sharing a cost, don’t expect a Venmo request from me for splitting it,” says Stefanie O’Connell, a finance blogger. And “don’t send me a Venmo for the guacamole you offered me a bite of,” she adds.

Spell it out

Use the memo field to add detail about the request, especially when you’re splitting multiple bills. (Emoji not required.)

“Before sending someone a request for money, you should clear it with them, including what it’s for and what they should expect to pay,” says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert.

After a weekend trip, a simple note, such as “Hotel $100, gas $40, dinner $30” can take the stress off your recipient, particularly if you’re requesting a large chunk of money.

Make your transactions private

You can control who sees your transactions on an individual basis or set a default for your account: private or friends only. If your friend’s account is wide open but yours is locked up, the app will honor the more restrictive setting, according to Venmo’s website.

To privatize your feed, open your Venmo menu, scroll down to “settings,” and then click on “privacy.” Be sure to click “save” when you’re done.

For O’Connell, privacy is important on the app. “Who owes me money and who I owe is nobody’s business but our own,” she says.

It’s like real life — but (hopefully) better

Does Venmo actually make people ruder? Or is it just another way to demonstrate rudeness? It’s a chicken-or-egg argument with no easy answer — but some suspect it’s more often the latter.

“If you’re a jerk, you’re probably going to be a bigger jerk [on Venmo],” Swann says.

Lowry agrees: “If you’re somebody who remembers that four years ago your friend borrowed money for coffee and never paid you back, you’re going to use Venmo that way,” she says.

The good news is that if you’re considerate about money outside of the digital world, you’re well on your way to being considerate about Venmo. Think of it as a tool for payment, not a substitute for communication, and soon you’ll be splitting brunch without provoking a single eye roll.

The article How Not to Be a Knucklehead on Venmo originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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