• Online banking hacked? It happened to me

    There’s a special horror that comes with the territory of the violation of your personal spaces. If you’ve been burgled before, you know exactly what I mean. That crawly feeling; the knowledge that someone’s been inside your living room, kitchen, bedroom … looked around, touched your stuff, helped themselves to things.

    It’s kind of like that when you learn that someone’s gained access to your online banking. It makes you realise how fragile the building blocks that enable your daily life are. Just like in The Handmaid’s Tale, when women were suddenly cut off from their bank accounts and could no longer access their own money.

    As a sleep deprived parent, I barely registered the strange alert that a new device had signed into my internet banking. That notification came at a really odd time in the wee hours – but mornings are chaos at home, and this was over the New Year break, so honestly, the whole day was chaos.

    When I realised what had happened and saw the missing money, I obviously freaked out.

    Initially, the person on the other end of the phone at the bank sounded sceptical. Despite me explaining that yes, I used a unique password and no, it wasn’t written down anywhere or saved in any browsers; no, I hadn’t clicked on any links in emails and always type in the URL manually – it took quite a while for her to take me seriously. Frustrating.

    Fast forward a few days, and things got straightened out eventually. My cards and accounts were locked down and my online banking had a freeze put on it while I took my laptop to an IT dude for a checkup. My bank couldn’t recover the money from the receiving bank (presumably it was immediately transferred elsewhere), but I was refunded the lost amount.

    Does this make me super paranoid now? Ummm, yeah. Funnily enough, last year I interviewed for a job in the cybersecurity space. At the time, I talked about how it was a growing field that would be exciting to be part of, yadda yadda. (Here are some pretty terrifying stats on cybercrime – the FBI gets 900 complaints a day, and cybercrime costs the world economy nearly $3 million per minute. The mind boggles.) It didn’t really mean much to me personally, though.

    But an incident like this makes it real and brings it home. This stuff matters.

    Change ALL THE PASSWORDS

    For obvious reasons.

    Turn on two-factor authentication

    I didn’t actually realise my bank now has 2FA enabled for desktop banking.

    Keep some money accessible at another bank

    Luckily I already had this in place, though I’m resisting the kneejerk urge to spread my (limited) money around even more.

  • Joint credit cards and other such shenanigans

    Ah, credit cards. Love ’em or hate ’em, there are times when they are just an outright necessity.

    Before we left on our big RTW trip, getting a credit card organised for T was one of the many annoying things we had to do. He’s the driver in our pairing (I hate driving and don’t have my full licence) but had never had a credit card of his own. He didn’t go to uni, so he never had banks offering him sweet deals on overdrafts and credit cards on campus during orientation.

    Ironically, as it turned out, he didn’t even need it. Yes, car rental companies require you to show a credit card in the name of the driver when you turn up, but we prebooked through CarHirePlanet, which took a small deposit early on and then charged the full amount a couple of weeks before pickup, strangely. I had used my credit card to make the booking, so at no point was any part of the rental charged to his. And of course, when we picked up the car there was no balance owing, and the terms of the booking meant we were fully insured with a zero excess so even if we had an accident there would be nothing to pay.

    When we popped over to Australia last week, although I booked through the same site, things were categorically different with this particular Cairns rental company. The excess would be $3300 (yikes) and payment was to be made on pickup using a card in the driver’s name. Debit cards incurred an extra fee and of course require you to actually have the full amount available in your account. It’s one thing to have a few grand of credit placed on hold; another entirely when it’s a few grand of your own cash being held hostage.

    We’d cancelled his credit card when we got back to NZ, and with so little time before we actually left for Australia (last minute trip!) and the fact he’s currently between jobs, the odds of him getting a credit card with a high enough limit were not looking good.

    The solution: an additional credit card for him linked to my Visa. This is different from a joint credit card – this means as the primary card holder I remain responsible for the account. The process was relatively quick and easy and his card arrived just in time a couple of days before we departed.

    While I’m not loving the idea of paying another $12 in annual fees for his card, you never know when you might need it – and I reckon it’s easier to have one on hand than to find yourself scrambling for one. We’ll probably keep this one this time around.

    Do you have a shared or joint credit card with your partner?

  • Guest post: Credit cards – Is the financial force with or against you?

    Y’all know I’m a big fan of credit cards (when used sensibly). Today’s post weighs up both sides of the coin – the dark and light, if you will.

    It’s not only superheroes who need to be cautioned that with great power comes great responsibility; those looking to wield the power of the plastic would be well advised to take this maxim to heart too. Credit cards have the capacity to provide the wellspring for the ultimate in spending convenience and they can just as easily coax you into a crippling state of debt. How you choose to use them is of course entirely up to you, but before you begin to wield the financial equivalent of The Force, perhaps it’s a good idea to get to grips with both the light and the dark side of these controversy courting little cards. Our highly skilled Knoxville credit card bankruptcy attorney is dedicated to helping clients like yourself get out from under their debt and take back control of their financial future. We sincerely care about our clients, and do everything in our power to ensure that they are given the chance they deserve to regain their footing and get a fresh start.

    Welcome to the Dark Side – The disadvantages of credit cards

    “The Dark Side of the Force is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” – Star Wars

    By allowing you to spend more money than you actually have, credit cards can fast fuel your descent into the dark side of debt. Letting your self-control slip when it comes to spending is what credit card firms capitalize on because this is where they make their money. The more you spend and the longer you go without repaying what you owe the more interest they will charge. It’s not uncommon for credit card firms to charge up to 20% interest on unpaid balances, which is why those careless with their credit cards can very easily find themselves on a very slippery slope that leads to ever deepening debt and if ridden long enough, even bankruptcy.

    If you do find yourself falling behind on your payments, it’s not only your bank account that will take a beating but your credit rating as well. This will make it increasingly more difficult to apply for loans, rentals or even find a good a job. It’s the kind of damage that once done is very difficult to undo.

    Budgeting can become a bit of a nightmare because the temptation to buy now and pay later can give you a false and misleading sense of security. Regardless of the balance in your current account, credit cards allow you to charge up to the maximum limit allowed – which for the undisciplined is a perfect recipe for sliding into the red.

    Over 5.5 billion dollars was fraudulently stolen from credit cards worldwide in 2012, making credit card theft and credit card fraud a very real danger. What’s more, as technology increases to grow in sophistication the problem looks set only to get worse. In many cases victims of credit card fraud don’t even realize that they’ve been stolen from until they receive their monthly statement, which makes it essential to check your monthly statement scrupulously for any additional and suspicious charges.

    Welcome to the light side – The advantages of credit cards

    Use the force, responsibly you must.

    It’s not all doom and gloom, however. If the force is strong with you and you use credit cards responsibly – by keeping track of all your purchases, sticking to your budget, paying off your end of month balance on time and in full and being vigilant over who you give your credit card information to – they offer a wealth of advantages.

    Provided you commit to paying your balance on time, credit cards make paying for purchases easy and relatively effortless. It’s also a great comfort not having to walk around like a cartel kingpin with rolls of cash stuffed down your socks every time you need to make a big purchase. Furthermore, things like booking into a hotel, reserving flights and renting cars whilst on vacation are so much easier if you have a credit card.

    Used responsibly, credit cards will help you to establish a good credit history. This will you put you in good stead when you need to achieve favorable terms on taking out a home loan, for example. If banks can see that you manage your money well and you’re dependable with your repayments they will be much more eager to extend their borrowing services to you.

    Most credit card companies offer a host of rewards in the form of points that you can redeem down the line in return for goods and services, such as airline miles or discounts at hotels. Whilst credit card point systems shouldn’t be your primary focus when opting to get a credit card, it never hurts to look into what kind of rewards they offer.

    One of the most worthwhile benefits of a credit card has to be its ability to come through in an emergency. Nothing can rival the power of the plastic in a situation where you need to make payment fast but have no cash on hand.

    Just as with any young apprentice learning the way of the force, a money master would not fail to point out that it’s never really about the card. After all, a credit card is just a tool. It is the qualities inherent in the wielder of the tool that determine whether it will be used sensibly for good, or conversely, send you off on a debt ridden path towards the dark side.

    Toby Adams is a professional copywriter based in Auckland, New Zealand, who enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics including travel, finance, health, education and much more.

  • Credit card perks – when are they worth it?

    It’s easy to get disheartened about your finances when you’re an avid reader of personal finance blogs. Like some people might read fashion magazines and quietly compare themselves to the models they see on the pages, I read money blogs and compare myself to people who are either way behind me – the debt bloggers – or, in most cases, way ahead.

    But you know what always cheers me up? A chat with my bank.

    I remember paying a visit to my local branch years ago toward the end of high school. I probably only had about $4k in my accounts (I never cracked $10k until after graduating university), yet the teller was apparently amazed that I’d saved that much, and asked me what I was saving for.

    “Ummm, uni?” I offered, stumped.

    You work at a bank, for goodness sake. Is saving for the sake of saving really such a foreign concept?

    This month I applied for a second credit card, thinking it would be good to have a backup while we travel that can be carried separately just in case I get mugged or my wallet gets lost. The online process took just a couple of minutes, and was followed up by a call the next day with a few more questions – so you don’t have a student loan? car loan? hire purchase? store cards anywhere? – along with acknowledgement of my strong savings history. Way to boost the ego. (I’ve been with my bank for over a decade, so they’re all up in the intimate details of my financial history – which is pretty vanilla.)

    The bank rep also tried to upsell me to a Gold or Platinum Visa. Now that’s something I never thought I’d hear in my life. Say what?

    If I booked my flights with one of these premium cards, I’d get free travel insurance. Righty-o. Pity I’ve already booked both – and don’t really want to pay hefty annual fees for the privilege of a shinier credit card.

    This got me thinking, though. Putting aside the fact that I just don’t see myself as the kind of person to own a gold or platinum credit card, would it ever make sense from a financial standpoint?

    Well, at $80 to $130 a year in annual fees, I think not. In comparison, my humble standard Visa only costs $24 (bank credit cards without annual fees don’t really exist here). According to interest.co.nz, I have one of the best credit cards in regard to annual fees. Given my lifestyle and spending habits, the credit card perks of free travel insurance and the ability to earn reward points marginally faster don’t really appeal.

    My needs in a credit card are simple, really: enable me to buy stuff online, rent vehicles, provide an imprint at the odd hotel, and be widely accepted, so I can use it to pay for as many things as possible in order to rack up points. As well as the $24 a year I pay for the privilege of my bank credit card, I also pay $20 to partake in the rewards programme, which earns me more than enough to cover all the fees, as well as pay for a few trips to the movies or a few meals out.

    What, if any, perks do you get through your credit cards? And what do they cost you?

  • The elements of a perfect bank

    I’ve been with my bank for about 10 years, ever since I paid a visit to the branch down the road from my house and opened up my first account on my own. Most of my friends were also with ASB, and are to this day.

    Inertia is what keeps most people where they are. It’s a pain to make changes in your financials, and changing banks is a pretty major undertaking. It seems too hard, too complicated, too time-consuming. Geocoding can be done simply through address interpolation, which uses data from a street GIS where the street network is already inputted within the geographic coordinate space. Attributed in each street segment are address ranges, such as house numbers from one segment to another. Here is what geocoding does: (1) It takes an address, (2) matches it to a street and particular segment (e.g. a block), and (3) interpolates the address position. However, issues may arise in the free geocode api process. What happens is that you have to distinguish between ambiguous addresses (say, “43 Hampton Drive” and “43E Hampton Drive”). It’s also a challenge when you geocode new addresses for a street that is not yet added to the GIS database. Using interpolation also entails a number of caveats, including the fact that it assumes that the parcels are evenly spaced along the length of the segment. This is quite unlikely in reality – it can be that a geocode address is off by a number of thousand feet. A more sophisticated geocoding application will match geocode information to the property level, using such tools as USPS address data, and cascade out to block, track or other levels depending on data matching accuracy. Other means of geocoding involves locating a point at the center of a land parcel, if parcel or property data is available in the GIS database. GPS is also useful for mapping a location in rural places areas or locations that lack reliable street network data and addressing. As for traffic accidents, it is appropriate to geocode to a street intersection or midpoint along a centerline on a street. Combining different geocoding techniques is also useful for certain situations. It is recommended to choose the most versatile geocoding tool. Address geocoding, for instance, can be used to determine latitude/longitude values with cascading accuracy, from the advanced tools, get reverse location by translating latitude and longitude information to find street addresses, and append FIPS state codes (FIPS 5-2) and FIPS county codes (FIPS 6-4) to street addresses, to mention a few. Address geocoding is a must for increasing the efficiency of shipping, tracking, regional store recommendation, customer distribution analysis, and mailing efforts in important matters, along with being a great way to pinpoint everyone in your contact list for personalized and targeted messaging. Maps that appear on a computer screen look more and more like those printed in books… over the past few years they even have the same enhancements and features as do printed maps to make them even more “user friendly”. But there are two very different kinds of maps, and the differences are important. Rastor maps are really electronic versions of printed maps… essentially pictures of geography and roads. They are, like printed maps, drawn to scale, with accuracy depending on the drawing accuracy. Usually relationships of distance are accurate so that, for example, two roads are located the correct distance from each other. But rastor maps, like printed maps, are designed to show relationships, not actual specific locations. Digital maps are actually renderings from a database. That database contains information about each road segment and node (an intersection between roads) that includes such things as direction, curvature, road classification, restrictions, and longitude and latitude. They can be drawn on the screen or printed with a result that is usually more accurate than rastor or printed maps and has the added feature of the roads being in the geographically correct location, and far more easily matched to geocoded data. In some cases, maps from different sources don’t agree with each other. You might see a street on a printed map, but not find it in a database. You could see the street in both places, but can’t access addresses on part or all of the street. Mapping data is gathered from a variety of sources, and linked to address data through multiple methods. Sometimes data is missing or simply behind the updating process.

    But for me, it’s more than that. I can’t say my bank has ever really rewarded me for loyalty (after all, I’m small fry) but I genuinely think ASB is truly innovative and hands down has the best internet banking facility out there. Given how I like to manage my finances, this is top of the list for me. I’ve seen National, ANZ, Kiwibank and BNZ internet banking in action (albeit, some of them not for a couple of years now) and ASB has always been way ahead of the curves feature-wise.

    I’ve had the opportunity to give direct feedback in the past through a one-on-one market research session, and the one feature that I really wanted turned out to be something lots of others had requested, and was implemented by popular demand. A company that listens to customers is a rarer beast than it really should be. And a preview of new features in the mobile app (now out) definitely cemented that – the integration with TradeMe is a stroke of genius. Anyone who’s ever used TradeMe to buy anything (which is most of the adult New Zealand population…) knows what a pain organising payment can be (unless it’s a bigger seller that accepts Visa). Linking in with TradeMe’s API to facilitate easy transactions eliminates most of that hassle.

    Overall, I’m pretty happy with my setup – no monthly fees, a high interest online savings account, a Visa with low fees and a rewards programme. Even better would be a no-fee card, but I’ve yet to find one of those in New Zealand. The only reason I might anticipate changing in the future is at the home-buying stage if another bank has a better deal on a mortgage.

    What is it that keeps you loyal to your bank? Would you change banks for a better offer?

  • Tracking expenses – the lowdown on how I do it

    I always seem to be getting questions about how I manage/track money, so here’s my attempt to answer everything in one sticky post:

    The basics

    Two words: Internet banking. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been with ASB so long…their internet banking and expense tracking is awesome (although I think BNZ and Kiwibank are starting to catch up.) Here’s a screenshot of what this looks like:

    I usually check in a couple of times a week and categorise new transactions. Come the end of the month, I look over all transfers and payments and make sure everything is correctly identified. Generally, I remember any unusual expenditures (eg car expenses, concert tickets, etc.), and I’ll make a note of that. Switch over to the Dashboard view, and there are the colourful graphs that I pinch and post every month:

    Oh, and I virtually never touch cash at all, which helps with the tracking.

    Of course, it’s not infallible. You can’t “split” transactions – ie, once in a while T gets a box of beers while we’re grocery shopping, but it’s all lumped into one payment – so it’s not an exact science. But a) those are the exception, not the norm and b) I’m far too lazy to put any more time into money management than I currently do. If you’re more diligent than I, there are PLENTY of other programmes that will do a very thorough job for you.

    The nitty gritty

    Monthly roundups (for now) include all my expenses and our joint expenses. They usually include his allowance, fun money or whatever else you want to call it. Except in November, when I undertook to track all of our money and live on $2500. Debt repayments refer to a non-interest-accruing debt of his.

    They don’t include (the full amount of) savings. That’s because I handle cashflow in what T calls a ridiculously complicated way. To which I say, hey, it’s worked for me for years!

    Basically, I work on the premise that many self-employed people use (even though I have a regular job). I “pay” myself from my savings account every week. When I get paid, the whole amount goes straight into savings. To be honest, I don’t recall exactly when or why I adopted the method – maybe when I started getting paid fortnightly but still paid rent weekly? Regardless, this means that what I save doesn’t show up in a neat little transfer of its own – because it’s already in my savings account, minus the amount taken out for living costs.

    I’m a fan of the zero-based budget, and psychologically like having very little in checking – it definitely cuts off the possibility of the desire to spend it.

    Finally, the percentages are of total spending, not of income, since as explained savings don’t show up as a true line item.

    Net worth

    You won’t find net worth updates here. 1) I don’t place a whole lot of importance on it at this stage. 2) I’m far too lazy to do that every month. Got money with Rabo? You’ll understand why! 3) The whole semi-anon thing; I’d happily talk to you IRL about how we spend and even save; I’m not sure if I’d tell you how much I’m “worth”.

    Got any questions? Shoot, and I’ll try to answer.

  • Betting on the bank

    Alas, Greer’s Bank Idol series is over, almost before it even started! I was so looking forward to an honest comparison of offerings.  But fair enough – personally, just thinking about paying personal visits to each and every bank out there is enough to drive me to drink.

    I must admit I’m a little sad that she didn’t find ASB worthwhile. I love my bank and the only complaint I’ve ever had is that they charged me $20 for an unarranged overdraft (which I know I could have got waived if I had fought it, because others in the same trap did!) Honestly, I thought I had one set up – why else would I have signed up for a tertiary student account? But no, apparently you have to specify that you want one, and all that kind of thing. It was a painful lesson.

    But the main reason I stick with ASB is their impressive internet banking. In the past, I have used National, ANZ and BNZ online banking. I’ve also seen Kiwibank’s in action. Granted, that was years ago and could have changed, but I still think ASB’s is pretty awesome. I track my transactions every month with their online tool, which although not perfect, is pretty nifty.

    Funnily enough, the reason Greer is leaning towards Kiwibank is their online banking, too – they’ve set up some kind of proactive software to help you manage your money. I’m pretty sure BNZ are also launching, or have launched, one as well. (It’s interesting to note, though, that those are all somewhat, if not completely, separate from their plain-jane internet banking functions.) And I think those are great…for other people. People who swear by Mint and similar personal finance software, who get alerts sent to their phone and proactively manage their accounts.

    But me? I’m pretty laissez faire with my finances. That’s why clever tools like Budgetpulse and the like don’t do it for me – they’re just too much work! I set out a rough spending plan, then tally up the damage at the end of each month. I’m not sure obsessing over every transaction would be beneficial…or healthy.

    How important is internet banking to you?

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  • The money shuffle

    Since I created two new accounts (bills and travel) the dashboard on my internet banking is starting to look a little unwieldy.

    ASB
    Cheque
    Fastsaver (me)
    Fastsaver (T)
    Visa (plus a true rewards card, on which I accumulate points – it shows up as its own account)
    Bills account
    Travel account

    Raboplus
    Savings (high interest)

    Every Wednesday I make sure there’s enough in checking to cover rent and other autopayments which go out Thursday (I’m paid alternate Fridays, so this could possibly be streamlined when we move, and if our rent day changes. This used to work well enough when I got paid on Tuesdays). I work one paycheck ahead, so I pull 400 from savings into checking for the week, and sweep my full pay back into savings when it’s deposited – that then comes out later on to cover the next two weeks’ worth. It makes sense to me in my head, though it might not quite come across that way…

    I put a set amount into the bills account every week, and my travel account is funded solely by my side job. If that ended, well, I guess that fund would too (or at the very least, go on hold).

    I’m happy with how my system’s working, BUT I want to move the majority of my money to Rabo, as the interest rate is slightly higher (3.5% vs 3.15). I need to strike a balance, though – once I figure out how much I’m comfortable having tied up (no instant access) versus on-call in case of emergency, then I can make the transfer. I’m thinking $2000-3000 would be a suitable amount to keep on hand. All up, I currently have enough to cover three months of living expenses. Woohoo!

    Thoughts? How much would you want to keep easily accessible just in case? (Bear in mind I don’t keep a cushion in my cheque account).

  • Going paperless

    I can safely say that the majority of the mail I get consists of bank statements. I chuck them on my desk and at the end of the month, file them away. (I’m getting better, I promise: I used to do it even less frequently! But in an effort to simplify and declutter, I’ve reorganised my desk and filing system).

    But I’ve been thinking: Should I stop my paper statements? I do all my banking online and don’t actually read the physical copies, because I’ve already seen it all. I keep them more for my records and in case I ever need to check something out – I’ve been told my bank only stores electronic statements for 12 to 18 months.

    What do you think? Do you still receive statements in the mail? And what if you need to confirm a transaction from, say, two years ago?

  • Major WTF

    Huge, massive WTF, in fact.

    T’s been coaching for two months now. He was paid once, middle of last month. Then the franchise was taken over by new people. A payment showed up this week in his account with no reference details, but it was about the right amount for what he was owed from them.

    He called today to give notice (all their coaches are employed as contractors) as he and our other flatmate have some work lined up for the summer. Even if it’s not full time, it beats the three hours a week of coaching. And apparently the new owners were pretty upset and have had a few other coaches quit on them.

    Then that money disappeared from his account. No trace, no record of a deposit or withdrawal/retraction. Really, really odd. (So basically, no proof except for my memory of seeing the deposit earlier this week). I don’t know if the  angry bosses recalled that payment (Can they do that?) Or was it just a bank glitch that has been resolved? (In which case he’s still owed for a couple of weeks’ work…)