5 tips to help prepare for open enrollment and save on health care costs

(BPT) – Millions of Americans will soon select or switch their health benefits plan during open enrollment, so now is the time to prepare for that important decision that usually happens once a year.

More than 70 percent of Americans say they are prepared for open enrollment, yet most people struggle to understand basic health insurance terms, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey. Only 9 percent of survey respondents could successfully define all four basic health insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum.

To help people make the most out of their health benefits, and better understand how to use their health care dollars, Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, offers the following five tips.

1. Know your open enrollment dates

Open enrollment isn’t the same or at the same time for everyone, so there are key dates to keep in mind depending on your situation:

* For the more than 177 million Americans with employer-provided coverage, many companies set aside a two-week period between September and December when employees can select health benefits for the following year.

* For the more than 59 million seniors and other people enrolled in Medicare, their Open Enrollment runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year.

* Health insurance marketplace or individual state exchange open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

For most people, changes made to coverage during open enrollment take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

2. Take time to review your options

Every person or family has unique health and budget needs, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting a health plan. Take the time to explore your options, and understand the benefits and costs of each plan so you can find the coverage that works best for you and your family members.

* Check if your current coverage still meets your needs and if your benefits will change next year.

* Determine if the plan is a good fit for your budget, and pay attention to more than just the monthly premium. You should also understand the other out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

* Make sure your medications are covered. Even if you don’t expect to change plans, it’s important to ensure your drugs will still be covered next year.

3. Make sure your doctor is in your plan’s care provider network

Even if you don’t make any changes to your health insurance this year, it’s still a good idea to ensure that any doctor you see regularly — or plan to visit in the coming year — is in your benefit plan’s care provider network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside of the network, be sure to understand how your costs will differ from a network care provider because those costs will most likely be higher.

Also, check if your plan includes 24/7 telehealth services for consultations on minor health issues. Often, telehealth — defined as online, or virtual, visits with a doctor over a computer, tablet or mobile phone — is available to people enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans and group Medicare Advantage plans, as well as select individual Medicare Advantage plans. Virtual visits may provide convenient and affordable access to care for minor medical issues, including allergies, bronchitis and seasonal flu.

4. Don’t forget about additional benefits

Additional benefits such as dental, vision, accident or critical-illness insurance are often affordable options that can protect you and your family from head to toe. For people enrolled in Medicare, many are surprised to find that Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs and most dental, vision and hearing services. But many Medicare Advantage plans do, often at a $0 monthly premium beyond the premium for Original Medicare.

5. Take advantage of wellness programs.

Some health plans offer discounts on gym memberships and provide financial incentives for completing health assessments, signing up for health coaching programs, lowering your cholesterol, losing weight, meeting walking goals or stopping smoking. Programs are designed to reward people for making healthy choices and being more engaged in improving their health.

For help navigating open enrollment, visit UHCOpenEnrollment.com for articles and videos with easy-to-understand information about health benefits and health insurance terms.

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Why IRAs are an important part of the retirement planning mix

(BPT) – There are so many questions people have — no matter their age or stage in life — about saving for retirement: When is the right time to start saving? How much should I be putting aside? What are the savings vehicles I should be using?

While the answers vary for everyone, depending on their individual situation and goals, there is one way to save for retirement that truly works for everyone.

An IRA is an investment option available to anyone who wants to start saving, and is a great way to either supplement an employer-sponsored retirement plan — such as a 401K — or for people who may not have access to such a plan. IRAs are a “bucket” that holds different assets for investment growth and can include stocks, bonds, CDs and more.

They are easy to open at your credit union or bank, and are often available in plans that range from high to low risk, with as much or as little hands-on management as you’d prefer.

There are several different types of IRAs to choose from, but it might be worth getting help when it comes to deciding which is your best option.

“It’s important to work with a financial adviser to determine the best IRA plan for you based on your age, retirement goals, current income and employment status,” said Ryan Blankenship, associate director of deposit products at Bellco Credit Union. “For those who may not have a financial planner, credit unions typically offer investment planning services through partner organizations as part of the credit union membership.”

The three main types of IRAs are Traditional, Roth and SEP:

Traditional IRA: This investment helps you save on taxes, since all of your contributions are tax deductible. When you withdraw funds for retirement, they are taxed at your current income tax rate, but there are penalties for drawing money before age 70 1/2.

Roth IRA: A Roth IRA provides a bit more flexibility. Contributions are made with your post-tax income, which means you can’t deduct them on your annual income tax. A benefit, however, is that you are able to draw money earlier without paying a penalty, so long as you don’t withdraw more than you’ve personally contributed. Any interest that you earn on your Roth IRA is not accessible until age 70 1/2 without penalty.

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA: SEP IRAs are available to business owners and are a great option for people who are self-employed to save for retirement. Contributions are tax deductible, and money can be withdrawn at any time. Any withdrawn funds are subject to income tax as well as an additional 10 percent tax if drawn before age 59 1/2.

One important note is that each of these IRA types has eligibility requirements and contribution limits. For example, if you have a 401K through your employer, there are limits to how much you can contribute to an IRA.

No matter which you choose, IRAs can be a powerful way to save for retirement, no matter how far off that may be.

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Embracing the awkward: Why you should pay back your friend (and how to do it right)

(BPT) – Spending time with friends is rewarding and fun, but things can become tricky when money is involved. Almost everyone has that friend who conveniently heads to the restroom when the check arrives at a group dinner; or regularly “forgets” his or her wallet on a coffee run claiming they’ll pick it up the next time; not to mention the friend who never chipped in for that hotel room you covered over a bachelorette weekend. In fact, nearly one in four Americans admit they have borrowed money from a friend or family member and never paid them back, according to a recent online survey.

It’s no surprise that owing money or being owed can put a serious strain on a relationship — sadly, more than 50 percent of Americans report they have seen a friendship end over money owed. So how do you approach a friend or loved one who won’t pay you back before your relationship goes haywire? Or initiate a conversation with a family member you’ve had a falling-out with over money you still owe?

“When money has become an issue in one of your relationships, don’t wait to address it, even if it feels uncomfortable,” said Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, relationship and friendship expert, and licensed temperament therapist. “A little compassion and tactful communication can go a long way — and, in this day and age, there are technologies that offer fast and easy ways to send and receive money, making the payment part painless.”

To help navigate awkward financial situations with your friends in a manner that doesn’t result in the termination of a friendship, here are three tips to keep in mind.

1. Plan ahead to avoid conflict

Always consider the unique relationship you and your loved ones have with money. While you may be someone who budgets for everything down to dish soap and paper towels, your friend may spend more freely. Think about whether you prefer to split shared expenses right down the middle, itemize the check or alternate who pays. As you coordinate a get-together, consider asking your friend how he or she prefers to handle the expenses so you can come to an agreement before the check arrives and the awkwardness strikes.

2. Keep the lines of communication open

If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve covered the cost of a friend’s concert ticket, or you need to repay a roommate who spotted you 50 bucks, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Even if you can’t pay your friend back right away, don’t wait to let them know when you plan to return the funds. Open, honest communication is always better than ignoring the problem or hoping someone forgets what you owe. Likewise, if you’re waiting for someone to pay you back, it’s OK to reach out with a gentle reminder. If you keep things cordial — not demanding — and remain sensitive to your loved one’s circumstances, you can come to a mutually agreeable solution.

3. Take advantage of P2P technologies

With the proliferation of person-to-person payments (P2P) that allow consumers to send money to others via their mobile device, it’s never been easier to settle up with a friend in real-time. The Bank of America(R) mobile app is a simple way to send, request and receive money from friends and family, no matter where they bank. So even when you or your loved ones aren’t carrying cards or cash, it’s easy to cover your portion of shared expenses on the spot.

Findings are from an online survey of 1,000 nationally representative panelists ages 18+ administered in July 2017.

Bank of America and the Bank of America logo are registered trademarks of Bank of America Corporation.

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Don’t be misled by these down payment myths

(BPT) – Confused about how much you need for a down payment on a house? You’re not alone.

Whether it’s your first time buying a home or you’ve been around the block, calculating the right amount for a down payment can be a challenge. Many admit that accumulating down payment funds is one of the more daunting parts of the homebuying process. However, the down payment hurdle is not always based on financial reality, but rather on a longstanding myth — that 20 percent of a home’s purchase price is required. In fact, almost half (45 percent) of first-time buyers thought they needed 20 percent or more for a down payment, according to Bank of America’s 2017 Homebuyer Insights Report.

While putting 20 percent down was an established rule of thumb for previous generations, people are rethinking the former one-size-fits-all approach to homeownership.

So, what’s the magic number?

Is it 3 percent? 5 percent? 10 percent? 30 percent? With so much uncertainty about down payment requirements, it’s no wonder people have trouble determining when and if they can buy a home. The truth is, however, that the magic number varies from one homebuyer to the next. According to the National Association of REALTORS, buyers put an average of just 6 percent down when buying a home, far below common perceptions. With this truth in mind, prospective buyers can access tips and tools that will help them create a plan that’s customizable to their financial situation, helping them feel confident in their decision to buy.

Whether you’re financially stable or could use a little assistance, don’t feel trapped by the 20 percent down payment — it’s a myth after all.

Knowledge is (buying) power

With U.S. homeownership near a 50-year record low, according to Rosen Consulting Group, it’s important that potential buyers understand the affordable housing options available to them so they have the opportunity to pursue their dreams of homeownership.

Down payments don’t need to be intimidating. There are affordable entry points to homeownership for creditworthy buyers, many of which require down payments as low as 3 percent. Prospective homeowners can explore ways to lower upfront figures by searching for down payment and cost-saving programs, using tools like Bank of America’s Down Payment Resource Center. This database has more than 1,000 local and national assistance programs and is a way to navigate and research many of the existing options in the buying space.

Purchasing power correlates with responsibility and accountability. With that said, if buyers put in the time to research and educate themselves on affordable-housing solutions, they will discover that homeownership may be closer in reach than they thought.

Be realistic, not idealistic, about buying a home

While you want to confirm that you are in a financial position to comfortably make monthly mortgage payments and properly maintain a home, you don’t have to have a perfect financial situation. Before you begin house hunting, there are things you can look into to get prepared. Checking your credit score will give you a better understanding of how you’ll be viewed as a potential borrower. While having a healthy credit score is ideal, there are options for applicants with limited or nontraditional credit histories. For instance, Bank of America’s Affordable Loan Solution mortgage accepts nontraditional forms of credit history, meaning buyers can show financial accountability in the form of monthly rent payments and utility bills. This low down payment program allows buyers to put down as little as 3 percent, and there is no mortgage insurance requirement.

Beyond formalized down payment assistance programs, many first-time buyers today get help from family in the form of gifts or assistance from employers. It’s also common to ask the seller of a home to contribute toward closing costs, which can help reduce out-of-pocket costs to close a loan.

Educational resources that support and inform the modern homebuying process allow buyers to feel confident in choosing an affordable solution that makes buying more accessible. Homeownership remains the best way for families to build wealth and stability over the long term, and busting common down payment myths helps people overcome the obstacles that stand between them and their dream of homeownership.

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Don’t be misled by these down payment myths

(BPT) – Confused about how much you need for a down payment on a house? You’re not alone.

Whether it’s your first time buying a home or you’ve been around the block, calculating the right amount for a down payment can be a challenge. Many admit that accumulating down payment funds is one of the more daunting parts of the homebuying process. However, the down payment hurdle is not always based on financial reality, but rather on a longstanding myth — that 20 percent of a home’s purchase price is required. In fact, almost half (45 percent) of first-time buyers thought they needed 20 percent or more for a down payment, according to Bank of America’s 2017 Homebuyer Insights Report.

While putting 20 percent down was an established rule of thumb for previous generations, people are rethinking the former one-size-fits-all approach to homeownership.

So, what’s the magic number?

Is it 3 percent? 5 percent? 10 percent? 30 percent? With so much uncertainty about down payment requirements, it’s no wonder people have trouble determining when and if they can buy a home. The truth is, however, that the magic number varies from one homebuyer to the next. According to the National Association of REALTORS, buyers put an average of just 6 percent down when buying a home, far below common perceptions. With this truth in mind, prospective buyers can access tips and tools that will help them create a plan that’s customizable to their financial situation, helping them feel confident in their decision to buy.

Whether you’re financially stable or could use a little assistance, don’t feel trapped by the 20 percent down payment — it’s a myth after all.

Knowledge is (buying) power

With U.S. homeownership near a 50-year record low, according to Rosen Consulting Group, it’s important that potential buyers understand the affordable housing options available to them so they have the opportunity to pursue their dreams of homeownership.

Down payments don’t need to be intimidating. There are affordable entry points to homeownership for creditworthy buyers, many of which require down payments as low as 3 percent. Prospective homeowners can explore ways to lower upfront figures by searching for down payment and cost-saving programs, using tools like Bank of America’s Down Payment Resource Center. This database has more than 1,000 local and national assistance programs and is a way to navigate and research many of the existing options in the buying space.

Purchasing power correlates with responsibility and accountability. With that said, if buyers put in the time to research and educate themselves on affordable-housing solutions, they will discover that homeownership may be closer in reach than they thought.

Be realistic, not idealistic, about buying a home

While you want to confirm that you are in a financial position to comfortably make monthly mortgage payments and properly maintain a home, you don’t have to have a perfect financial situation. Before you begin house hunting, there are things you can look into to get prepared. Checking your credit score will give you a better understanding of how you’ll be viewed as a potential borrower. While having a healthy credit score is ideal, there are options for applicants with limited or nontraditional credit histories. For instance, Bank of America’s Affordable Loan Solution mortgage accepts nontraditional forms of credit history, meaning buyers can show financial accountability in the form of monthly rent payments and utility bills. This low down payment program allows buyers to put down as little as 3 percent, and there is no mortgage insurance requirement.

Beyond formalized down payment assistance programs, many first-time buyers today get help from family in the form of gifts or assistance from employers. It’s also common to ask the seller of a home to contribute toward closing costs, which can help reduce out-of-pocket costs to close a loan.

Educational resources that support and inform the modern homebuying process allow buyers to feel confident in choosing an affordable solution that makes buying more accessible. Homeownership remains the best way for families to build wealth and stability over the long term, and busting common down payment myths helps people overcome the obstacles that stand between them and their dream of homeownership.

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All home warranties are not created equal

(BPT) –

Having a home warranty is a smart way to help deal with the inevitable home repair problems that all property owners face at one point or another.

After all, a good home warranty can mean getting expert help when your HVAC system needs to be fixed, your water heater needs to be replaced, or your refrigerator requires a new part.

But unfortunately, all home warranties are not created equal. And shopping for a home warranty can be tough, especially if you aren’t familiar with home warranty coverage and providers.

So to find a home warranty that will protect your home and budget, here are three important questions to ask, along with a few tips on what to look for in a top-notch home warranty.

1. What’s covered?

Some home warranties are only good for appliances. Others focus on systems within your house, such as your air conditioning, heating or plumbing systems. The best warranties offer broad protection at a fair price, and even allow you to select from various coverage approaches based on your needs.

When shopping around, inquire about exclusions, limitations and non-covered expenses. Most, if not all, plans DO have these. For example, there may be a cap on the amount of coverage for a particular item; an environmental disposal fee, required in some counties, may be excluded from coverage; or modifications, not covered under the home warranty, may be needed to bring a covered system up to code or in compliance with new standards.

2. Is the price affordable?

Obviously, you’ll want to initially know the specifics of how much a warranty will cost you — not just for the annual price of coverage, but also for future service calls.

When purchasing an American Home Shield warranty, you choose a $75, $100 or $125 fee for your service requests, which gives you the flexibility to pay more or less for your annual contract. As with all home warranty companies, the price of an American Home Shield warranty plan varies based on multiple factors, including the specific type of plan you choose and your state of residency. But basic coverage starts at about $300 and goes up to around $600 annually for more comprehensive plans — a bargain considering the cost of replacing things in your house that will likely break down at some point.

When considering cost factors, also ask if all the items you want covered are included in the base cost of the plan, or whether you will need to add additional items to create the perfect plan for your home.

3. Does the home warranty cover just mechanical components?

Before you buy any home warranty, inquire about the extent of coverage different companies may provide based on normal wear and tear of an item — as well as any limitations.

Many components of home systems and appliances contain both mechanical and non-mechanical features. While the primary goal of a home warranty is to repair or replace covered items so that they function mechanically, American Home Shield covers both mechanical repairs and certain non-mechanical items, such as handles, doors, knobs and shelves.

That doesn’t mean everything is covered, of course. So let’s say your child stands on your dishwasher door and breaks the seal. Sorry, but that is NOT a covered repair, because it is not “normal” wear and tear.

Also, what happens if a repair person comes to your home and, despite his or her best efforts, simply can’t fix something covered under your home warranty?

With an AHS home warranty, if a repair person can’t fix a covered item, AHS will replace it.

That doesn’t mean you will necessarily get the precise brand and color of, say, a washing machine or dryer. After all, you may have bought your laundry set four years ago, and the manufacturer might not even make those exact same models or colors today.

However, if your washer and dryer do fizzle out completely, AHS will install a replacement that has similar operational features.

What’s more, at American Home Shield, 98 percent of service requests are dispatched to local repair technicians within 24 hours.

Using your home warranty wisely

Regardless of the type of home warranty you buy or whom you buy it from, always follow the maintenance guidelines specified for your home’s appliances and systems. Likewise, it’s a smart idea to have those systems and appliances regularly serviced.

Taking both of those steps can prevent many service repair calls and help reduce your overall cost of homeownership.

Ultimately, an excellent home warranty provides you with a solid asset that helps safeguard one of your biggest investments.

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Be safe while getting social to avoid social media scams

(BPT) – For many people, social media has become a part of our daily lives. We follow friends on Facebook, share our opinions on Twitter and highlight our latest creative projects on Instagram or Pinterest. According to Statista, 78 percent of all Americans have a social media profile, and that adoption rate continues to grow. Yet while this number has created a vibrant social media world, it’s also made the medium an attractive target for scammers, making it important for all of us to think safety when we get social.

Understanding the characteristics of a social media scam

In most cases a social media scam starts in a similar fashion to a conventional phone or mail scam, with the scammer reaching out to the would-be victim. In a social media scam, this overture may appear as a message claiming the recipient’s profile was chosen at random to win a raffle or lottery through the social media website.

Sophisticated fraudsters are incredibly adept at making such communications appear legitimate by replicating official logos and graphics. They use these messages to build trust before requesting a handling fee or asking the victim for their personal information or passwords. Once the victim has handed this information over, the scammer may use it to steal the victim’s identity and amass additional debt.

Protecting yourself from social media fraud

As social media usage continues to increase across the globe, scams associated with it figure to increase as well. To protect yourself from such scams while enjoying your social media channels, follow these tips from Western Union.

* Follow the rules of scam awareness. While social media scams may be a relatively new threat, some of the telltale signs of a hoax appear here just as they do in other scams. Look for poor grammar, as it is a surefire sign that the messaging you have received might be a scam. You should never provide your personal information no matter how appealing the “award” may be.

* Think logically. No matter what you’ve seen or what the message says, remember scammers use social media sites as the avenue to facilitate their fraud. As tempting as it may be to believe otherwise, remember even the luckiest person cannot win a contest they didn’t enter.

* Send money smartly. Western Union is a great way to send money to your family and friends, but you should never use it to pay taxes or fees in claiming a lottery or prize winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes companies do not tell winners to pay money in advance to receive a prize or award.

And while Western Union makes it easy to send money from one person to another, you should never transfer money to someone you have not met in person.

* Report it immediately. If you suspect you have been a target of fraud, you should report it quickly to the social media site where the outreach took place, as well as local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. If you sent money through a Western Union money transfer and believe you may have been a victim of fraud, call the fraud hotline at 1-800-448-1492.

As social media becomes more and more a part of the daily fabric of your life, the need to be safe in your social media usage increases as well. Apply the tips above and your social media use will be as safe as it is enjoyable. To learn more about how to protect yourself from scams, visit wu.com/fraudawareness.

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House hunting and credit: What you need to know

(BPT) – By now it is something of a cliche to call homeownership the American dream. But even if sitting on your own deck, looking over your picket fence and sipping lemonade doesn’t move you, homeownership is still one of the best ways to build wealth.

For many, owning a home is cheaper than renting and, in the long run, the biggest investment they will ever make. It is also a practical financial move thanks to the fact that you’re likely building equity while getting a mortgage interest tax break.

So although it is perfectly fine to dream about backyard barbecues and the smell of fresh-cut grass, the path to owning your own home should also involve taking the time to do some financial sightseeing.

As a leader in creating credit scoring models, VantageScore Solutions has made it a priority to educate consumers on the important role a good credit history plays in buying a home.

Whether you’re about to set out to buy your first home or if you are getting ready to sell and buy another home, here are the basics of how credit impacts the home-buying process.

Basics

If you are like most people, you will probably need to take out a loan. If you are able to pay cash for your home instead, count yourself among the lucky few!

A huge part of taking out a loan involves your credit history and credit score. Basically, you must prove to lenders that you can be a responsible borrower and can be trusted with a mortgage of many thousands of dollars. A strong credit score may provide proof of this trustworthiness.

Different types of loans have different credit requirements. Some loans require you to have a credit score of at least 620, although it is possible (with some difficulty) to be approved for a loan with a credit score as low as 580. But getting loan approval is only part of the story.

Better credit, better rate

Home loans come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fixed interest mortgages, some have adjustable rates or longer terms and the list of variables goes on. Just like anything else, some loans are better for you than others. To get the loan that has the lowest interest rate, which right now is around 4 percent, usually requires a higher credit score. Rates can be considerably higher when you have a lower credit score, and the result is paying significantly more monthly over the life of the loan.

The reason is that a higher credit score demonstrates that you are skilled at managing debt and have a history of responsibly paying back many types of loans. Therefore, the lender is taking on less risk when lending you money. The less risk for them, the better the interest rate for you.

While there are, of course, more nuances to the process, your credit score plays an instrumental role in determining the type of loan you may qualify for. Therefore, before you go to your first open house, check your credit score to better understand the factors that typically impact your scores. Many websites provide free access to your VantageScore, which is a perfectly fine barometer to use to directionally gauge your creditworthiness. Mortgage lenders use FICO scores in their underwriting.

You can stay on top of things by subscribing to the monthly credit scoring newsletter, The Score. In The Score, you can find information on VantageScore 4.0, the fourth-generation scoring model that will be available to consumers in early 2018.

Knowing your credit history and understanding the factors that could impact your credit score will help you plan, budget and come up with a realistic wish list for your house.

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Be safe while getting social to avoid social media scams

(BPT) – For many people, social media has become a part of our daily lives. We follow friends on Facebook, share our opinions on Twitter and highlight our latest creative projects on Instagram or Pinterest. According to Statista, 78 percent of all Americans have a social media profile, and that adoption rate continues to grow. Yet while this number has created a vibrant social media world, it’s also made the medium an attractive target for scammers, making it important for all of us to think safety when we get social.

Understanding the characteristics of a social media scam

In most cases a social media scam starts in a similar fashion to a conventional phone or mail scam, with the scammer reaching out to the would-be victim. In a social media scam, this overture may appear as a message claiming the recipient’s profile was chosen at random to win a raffle or lottery through the social media website.

Sophisticated fraudsters are incredibly adept at making such communications appear legitimate by replicating official logos and graphics. They use these messages to build trust before requesting a handling fee or asking the victim for their personal information or passwords. Once the victim has handed this information over, the scammer may use it to steal the victim’s identity and amass additional debt.

Protecting yourself from social media fraud

As social media usage continues to increase across the globe, scams associated with it figure to increase as well. To protect yourself from such scams while enjoying your social media channels, follow these tips from Western Union.

* Follow the rules of scam awareness. While social media scams may be a relatively new threat, some of the telltale signs of a hoax appear here just as they do in other scams. Look for poor grammar, as it is a surefire sign that the messaging you have received might be a scam. You should never provide your personal information no matter how appealing the “award” may be.

* Think logically. No matter what you’ve seen or what the message says, remember scammers use social media sites as the avenue to facilitate their fraud. As tempting as it may be to believe otherwise, remember even the luckiest person cannot win a contest they didn’t enter.

* Send money smartly. Western Union is a great way to send money to your family and friends, but you should never use it to pay taxes or fees in claiming a lottery or prize winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes companies do not tell winners to pay money in advance to receive a prize or award.

And while Western Union makes it easy to send money from one person to another, you should never transfer money to someone you have not met in person.

* Report it immediately. If you suspect you have been a target of fraud, you should report it quickly to the social media site where the outreach took place, as well as local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. If you sent money through a Western Union money transfer and believe you may have been a victim of fraud, call the fraud hotline at 1-800-448-1492.

As social media becomes more and more a part of the daily fabric of your life, the need to be safe in your social media usage increases as well. Apply the tips above and your social media use will be as safe as it is enjoyable. To learn more about how to protect yourself from scams, visit wu.com/fraudawareness.

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How to save on healthcare costs in 2018

(BPT) – (BPT) – Your cable bill, entertainment expenses, grocery extras — these often top the list when people sit down to discuss where they can save money.

One expense you should consider in 2018 is your healthcare costs. Since autumn marks the beginning of the annual open enrollment period for employees, now is the ideal time to sign up for a new health benefit plan or make adjustments to your current plan.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) are two options for people looking to save money pre-tax in the New Year. An FSA, which is provided by your employer, allows you to save funds for eligible healthcare expenses. An HSA — which you can obtain on your own or through your employer — is a tax-advantaged savings account that allows you to set aside money to cover medical expenses throughout your lifetime.

Both accounts have the major advantage that the full amount of your pre-tax dollars may be used toward care that you or your family may need. Employees who enroll in an FSA can contribute a portion of their salary pre-tax to pay for qualified medical care expenses within the plan year, while an HSA provides people with qualifying high-deductible health plans the ability to rollover balances and pay for current and future medical expenses.

Awareness and interest in HSAs has increased this year, with the highest levels of interest stemming from Millennials and Gen Xers, according to the 2017 Flexible Spending Account and Health Savings Account Consumer Research study commissioned by Visa and conducted by C+R Research. This nationwide online research was conducted in March 2017, with the FSA survey conducted among 1,306 consumers and the HSA survey conducted among 1,090 consumers.

Key features of HSAs that are most appealing to consumers include the ability to roll over unused dollars from year to year, pre-tax contributions, and having money available to pay for healthcare services.

The study indicates that 91 percent of FSA users agree that saving money, since contributions are pre-tax, tops their list of reasons for having an FSA. Sixty-four percent of FSA users believe that FSAs help them be more prepared and plan for healthcare expenses. In fact, 22 percent of their healthcare purchases (most notably routine doctor visits and vision expenses) on average would not be made if they didn’t have an FSA.

One of the most convenient ways to access funds in an HSA or FSA is with a Visa Healthcare Card, which allows people to use funds in their HSA or FSA to pay for qualified medical expenses wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, making it easy to pay for expenses such as:

*Co-pays and deductibles

*Prescriptions

*Dental services: Cleanings, orthodontia, dentures

*Physical exams

*Vision care, including exams, new glasses, laser eye surgery

*Hearing exams and aids

*Medical equipment such as blood pressure monitors, thermometers

*Smoking cessation programs

For added convenience, many pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers that sell healthcare products have the capability to distinguish between covered items and non-covered items when you pay for them, so you don’t have to wonder whether something is covered.

By using a Visa Healthcare Card at these locations, you no longer have to pay out-of-pocket and then submit receipts to be reimbursed for your medical expenses, saving you time and money!

These are all great reasons why 80 percent of FSA users surveyed prefer to access their funds with their FSA card over other methods, and why 76 percent of HSA users surveyed say a debit card linked to an HSA makes paying for medical expenses convenient. As you review your options this open enrollment season, ask your employer if it offers an HSA or FSA with a Visa Healthcare Card to provide easy access to your funds. To learn more, visit www.visahealthcare.com.

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