Keeping your finances safe online and in real life is extremely important and can be a real challenge for military families when on the move. Here are ten easy-to-follow tips to help you keep your money and your financial future safe.
1. Use public wi-fi cautiously.
As a military spouse, free wi-fi is one of my favorite things in the world, except for when it comes to making purchases or logging into my online banking account. Public wi-fi signals can pose a major security risk due to hacking. To make your surfing a little safer, make sure that the wi-fi signal you’re using is an official network and not a just free signal you’ve stumbled across. If you need to buy something online or access sensitive information, connect directly to your personal hotspot via your smartphone, or wait until you can access a secure connection. You may even want to consider purchasing access to a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.
2. Monitor your transactions carefully with online banking.
Online banking is an extremely powerful tool for staying on top of your finances. Make sure you regularly monitor your spending and savings accounts by reviewing your transaction history, especially if you’re currently moving to a new duty assignment or traveling for work. If you notice anything suspicious, immediately contact your bank or credit card company. The sooner you say something, the more likely it is that customer service can help you recover and/or stop fraudulent transactions.
3. Use secure password vaults and regularly update your passwords.
Regularly updating your passwords for online accounts can keep both your identity and your finances safe. And as annoying as it can be to have obscure passwords full of random characters, an obscure password is often a safe password. Consider using random password generators to help you stay away from easy-to-hack passwords. You may even want to consider using a secure password vault to encrypt and store your passwords.
Pro tip? Make sure your spouse or a trusted family member has access to your password vault in the event you need someone to help you monitor your accounts or in the event of an emergency.
4. Keep an eye on your credit reports.
I feel like I say this in every article that I write, but it’s an important point: When you have access to three free credit reports each year through www.annualcreditreport.com, you have no excuse not to know what’s on your credit report. Review them for errors and report any errors you find directly to the credit bureau and financial institutions.
Remember, blemishes on a credit report can impact security clearances so it’s extremely important that military service members keep an eye out for fraud and errors.
5. Invest in a shredder.
What if I told you that the single greatest threat to protecting your identity is people rummaging through your garbage? An address and a name might be all a person needs to steal your identity. Shredding sensitive documents and envelopes with your address is an easy way to combat a potential identity thief.
6. Keep important documents in a safe deposit box.
Social security cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses, official passports, and other sensitive documents are best kept locked away in a safe deposit box. A safe deposit box protects your important documents, not only from an identity thief, but from a possible natural disaster like a fire or tornado. Setting up a safe deposit box is the first thing I do when I get to a new duty assignment; make it a priority for your next PCS.
7. Keep your debit and credit cards safe with RFID blocking sleeves.
Radio-frequency identification, commonly referred to as “RFID”, is an extremely powerful tool that can be used for amazing and not-so-amazing things, like tech-savvy thieves skimming the account information directly from your credit card. Consider grabbing a few RFID blocking sleeves for your debit and credit cards or go all in with an RFID blocking wallet. Better safe than sorry.
8. Think twice before co-signing.
Co-signing a loan or rental agreement can be a risky proposition, especially for a military family. Being a co-signer means that if the party you’re co-signing with cannot fulfill the terms of the agreement, YOU are responsible for picking up all of the slack. Additionally, any default on that loan will also reflect on your credit history which can have an impact on a service memer’s security clearance. If you decide to cosign in support of a trusted family member or friend, Make sure you are 100% ready and able to assume any payments or other associated financial burdens before you sign on the dotted line.
9. Keep checks on hand in case of an emergency.
If you’ve ever lost your debit card and had to reorder a new one, having a stash of checks on hand can be a real life saver. Always keep a checkbook handy in the event of an emergency or while traveling. You never know when you might need one.
10. Have an emergency savings account.
An emergency savings account is your best line of defense when it comes to protecting yourself and your finances from the consequences of an unexpected expense. And let’s get honest, a military move is anything but predictable. Your savings account is the perfect tool to make sure you have all the funds you need to make security deposits on your new home without stressing you (or your finances) out. Once your moving allowances are reimbursed, you can replenish your emergency savings for your next unpredictably rainy day.
Emergency savings can keep you from seeking out expensive high-interest loans from predatory lenders like pawn shops, payday lenders, or rent-to-own. Did you know that rent-to-own furniture can cost you double what you’d pay at retail pricing? Yikes!
If you don’t have access to an emergency savings account during an emergency, contact your military branch’s aid society for assistance. They can offer no-interest loans or grants to qualifying service members and military spouses.
By incorporating these 10 easy-to-follow personal finance tips into your everyday habits, you’ll become your very own money-safe-savvy super hero.