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“Phishing” Fraud: How to Avoid Getting Fried by Phoney Phishermen

“Phishing” involves the use of fraudulent emails and copy-cat websites to trick you into revealing valuable personal information — such as account numbers for banking, securities, mortgage, or credit accounts, your social security numbers, and the login IDs and passwords you use when accessing online financial services providers. The fraudsters who collect this information then use it to steal your money or your identity or both. 

When fraudsters go on “phishing” expeditions, they lure their targets into a false sense of security by hijacking the familiar, trusted logos of established, legitimate companies. A typical phishing scam starts with a fraudster sending out millions of emails that appear to come from a high-profile financial services provider or a respected Internet auction house. 

The email will usually ask you to provide valuable information about yourself or to “verify” information that you previously provided when you established your online account. To maximize the chances that a recipient will respond, the fraudster might employ any or all of the following tactics:

How to Protect Yourself from Phishing

The best way you can protect yourself from phony phishers is to understand what legitimate financial service providers and respectable online auction houses will and will not do. Most importantly, legitimate entities will not ask you to provide or verify sensitive information through a non-secure means, such as email. 

Follow these five simple steps to protect yourself from phishers:

What to Do if You Run into Trouble

Always act quickly when you come face to face with a potential fraud, especially if you’ve lost money or believe your identity has been stolen.

  • Names of Real Companies — Rather than create from scratch a phony company, the fraudster might use a legitimate company’s name and incorporate the look and feel of its website (including the color scheme and graphics) into the phishy email.
  • “From” an Actual Employee — The “from” line or the text of the message (or both) might contain the names of real people who actually work for the company. That way, if you contacted the company to confirm whether “Jane Doe” truly is “VP of Client Services,” you’d get a positive response and feel assured.
  • URLs that “Look Right” — The email might include a convenient link to a seemingly legitimate website where you can enter the information the fraudster wants to steal. But in reality the website will be a quickly cobbled copy-cat — a “spoofed” website that looks for all the world like the real thing. In some cases, the link might lead to select pages of a legitimate website — such as the real company’s actual privacy policy or legal disclaimer.
     
  • Urgent Messages — Many fraudsters use fear to trigger a response, and phishers are no different. In common phishing scams, the emails warn that failure to respond will result in your no longer having access to your account. Other emails might claim that the company has detected suspicious activity in your account or that it is implementing new privacy software or identity theft solutions.
     
  • Pick Up the Phone to Verify — Do not respond to any emails that request personal or financial information, especially ones that use pressure tactics or prey on fear. If you have reason to believe that a financial institution actually does need personal information from you, pick up the phone and call the company yourself — using the number in your rolodex, not the one the email provides!
     
  • Do Your Own Typing — Rather than merely clicking on the link provided in the email, type the URL into your web browser yourself (or use a bookmark you previously created). Even though a URL in an email may look like the real deal, fraudsters can mask the true destination.
     
  • Beef Up Your Security — Personal firewalls and security software packages (with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features) are a must-have for those who engage in online financial transactions. Make sure your computer has the latest security patches, and make sure that you conduct your financial transactions only on a secure web page using encryption. You can tell if a page is secure in a couple of ways. Look for a closed padlock in the status bar, and see that the URL starts with “https” instead of just “http.”
     
  • Read Your Statements — Don’t toss aside your monthly account statements! Read them thoroughly as soon as they arrive to make sure that all transactions shown are ones that you actually made, and check to see whether all of the transactions that you thought you made appear as well. Be sure that the company has current contact information for you, including your mailing address and email address.
     
  • Spot the Sharks — Visit the website of the Anti-Phishing Working Group atwww.antiphishing.org for a list of current phishing attacks and the latest news in the fight to prevent phishing. There you’ll find more information about phishing and links to helpful resources.
     
  • Phishy Emails — If a phishing scam rolls into your email box, be sure to tell the company right away. You can also report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. If the email purports to come from the Securities and Exchange Commission, alert the SEC by submitting a tip online at https://denebleo.sec.gov/TCRExternal/disclaimer.xhtml.
     
  • Identity Theft — If you think that your personal information has been stolen, visit the Federal Trade Commission's feature on Identity Theft at www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft for information on how to control the damage.
     
  • Securities Scams — Before you do business with any investment-related firm or individual, do your own independent research to check out their background and confirm whether they are legitimate. For step-by-step tips and links to helpful websites, please read Check Out Brokers and Advisers and SIPC Exposes Phony “Look-Alike” Web Site. Report investment-related scams to the SEC using our online Complaint Center.

    Article from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

A Woman Worth Becoming

By Caitlin Koppelman
-October 2015-

As a woman who is young in my career, I often wonder about things like: How do I become truly successful? What traits do successful business women possess? What sets a woman apart from the crowd as a leader and influencer both in business and in her personal life? I suspect that many women share these questions, regardless of their career stage or their position with their current company.  

The book of Proverbs provides a wealth of wisdom that I find applicable in all areas of my life. I recently rediscovered how affectively this book provides answers to some of these questions. Regardless of a person’s spiritual beliefs, the characteristics that the woman in one particular proverb possesses are to be admired. Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • She works with eager hands
  • She is an entrepreneur
  • She is a vigorous worker
  • She is well equipped for the work given to her
  • Her trading in the marketplace is profitable
  • She puts in extra time to accomplish the goal
  • She is generous
  • She dresses well
  • Her business supplies materials to other businesses
  • She is strong & noble
  • She has no fear of the future
  • Her children and her husband call her blessed
  • She is worthy of the reward she has earned
  • Her works bring her and her family praise and respect

What an incredible list! As I read through this portion of the book, I can even see the path to becoming this astonishing woman: she applies herself to gain wisdom and understanding, she postures herself in humility, she honors the gifts and talents she’s been given, and reveres the Source of those things. 

Towards the end of this proverb, we’re even shown some details about traits we as women can be persuaded to use as leverage to gain success. The author says that, “Charm can mislead and beauty fades”. It’s true that a woman needs to take care of her physical appearance and that charisma has a place in the business world, but the results of a career built on those things alone won’t last.

The path to success in the business world is littered with distractions, snares, and pitfalls. When I find gems, like those in the book of Proverbs, I hear this clarion call to us as women in the marketplace: It is possible to be women of integrity and lasting character, who are effective leaders in the business world!

Saving Money On Home Ownership

-November 2015-

Last month, we looked at ways tenants could save money and combat rising rent prices. But if you’re one of the millions of Americans that owns a home, saving money on rent may feel like an irrelevant skill. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for you to save on homeownership.

Saving During the Buy
Right House, Right Neighborhood – Any realtor will tell you that location plays a huge role in determining home value. However, a good location can have costs beyond the home price. Property taxes can vary wildly between suburbs. Saving hundreds or thousands a year could be as easy as looking just a few blocks from your target neighborhood.

Keep an Eye out for Easy Fixes – An overgrown yard, dirty basement or tacky wall colors can drive down the cost of a house even though yardwork, cleaning and restyling were things you were likely to do anyway. If you’re willing to do a bit of work, you can get a good house below its asking price while picky buyers are looking elsewhere. 

Check Your Taxes – Buying a new home can come with new tax opportunities—especially if it’s your first home or you plan to make major improvements. When tax season comes around, be sure you’re getting your maximum benefits, even if it means seeking professional tax advice.

Saving While Owning
Get it Green – If you haven’t considered energy efficient appliances, improved windows or better insulation, you need to review your utilities budget and find out how much you could save each year. If saving energy isn’t enough, you could make your own by buying or leasing solar panels. Green homes save money and have higher property values.

Refinancing – An obvious option to most homeowners, refinancing a mortgage provides a way to save on interest or restructure repayments. Refinancing isn’t always a good option, though; a refinanced mortgage needs to provide savings large enough to offset the costs it incurs.

Early Repayment – In most cases, mortgages allow you to repay the principal early without penalty. If you have extra money from a bonus or tax refund, consider putting it towards paying off your mortgage. For a mortgage charging 4.5 percent interest, every $1,000 paid early will save you $550 in interest over the next 10 years.

Light Right – Old incandescent and halogen bulbs use up lots of energy, most of which becomes heat. Using energy efficient LED lightbulbs and/or installing skylights (window or tube) will reduce the electricity needed to light a room while also cutting down on your air conditioning costs.

Saving When Selling
Only Stage the Key Rooms – Improvements can greatly improve resale value, but there is no need to spend big on every room. The kitchen, main living room and largest bedroom are the areas that tend to convince people of a home’s value. Focus your upgrades on those spaces; not every room of a house needs to dazzle prospective buyers. 

Be Patient – If you are certain of your home’s value, don’t feel pressured by a realtor to offer a discount. Realtors are there to help you, but they also work on a commission system that rewards high turnover. Dropping $10,000 from a list price barely affects their cut and allows them to move on to selling a different house. Be sure that any discounts are justified by market demands. 

Get Friends to Help Move – Hiring a moving service can be much faster and more convenient than moving yourself, but it will cost you thousands. For the price of providing lunch, you may be able to convince friends and family to help you load or unload a moving truck you rented yourself.

The Cost of Biases

-November 2015-

Behavioral finance—the interaction between human psychology and money—has become a major component of current economic theory. Experts on behavioral finance love to study how greed and fear cause massive swings in the markets.

But behavioral finance doesn’t just exist in academic theory and panicked stock crashes—it’s part of everyday life. The human brain isn’t a calculator and struggles to separate money from emotion. Every time we open our wallets, our financial biases and blind spots threaten to disrupt good decision-making.

Fortunately, biases become much easier fight once we learn to recognize them. Here are a few of the most common financial biases people face:

Bandwagon Effect

One of the strongest biases, the bandwagon effect is the tendency for people to change their opinion or behavior to match that of those around them. Bandwagons often create social pressures and can push people to spend far too much “keeping up with the Joneses.” Always evaluate your financial decisions on what works best for you, not what works best for others.

Familiarity Bias

Familiarity bias is when people show an irrational preference for something that they’ve used in the past. One common effect of this is default brand loyalty, which can hurt the efficiency of a budget or draw you into extra spending.  How many times have you bought a familiar product brand even when there is evidence another option might be better or cheaper? Give something new a try.

Ego Depletion

This bias is a kind of mental lapse. Self-discipline is difficult, and our brains can only do so much of it before taking a break. If we push ourselves too much, we often react strongly in the opposite direction. Ego depletion is what leads to shopping binges after you cut too much discretionary spending from your budget. Remember: rewarding yourself for progress is an investment in your goals.

Recent/Available Information Bias

When it comes to information, people are quick to embrace the new and forget the old. Information biases are responsible for many fads and false fears. For example, if you have two coworkers who were robbed in the past year, you may want to buy an expensive security system. Even if the thieves were caught and local crime rates are extremely low, your judgement is disproportionally affected by the information that is most recent and most available to you.

Survivorship Bias

This bias is the tendency to misinterpret a situation by focusing on the quality examples. It can be paraphrased as, “you only hear about the ones that make it big.” This bias is most dangerous to entrepreneurs or investors because it causes them to underestimate difficulties overestimate success. People should be brutally honest with themselves and consider the possibility of failure before investing their life savings in a business.

Zero-risk Bias

Humans love certainty; it eliminates risks and makes planning for the future much easier. We love it so much we’re often willing to pay more for extra peace of mind, even if it doesn’t make complete sense. For instance, people happily pay a lot of money for the reliability of a new car and then also buy the dealership’s short-term warranty to protect it against a breakdown. We know a new car is highly unlikely to have problems for a few years, but we still feel the need for added certainty.

Fighting for Financial Independence

-September 2015-
In America, the idea of “independence” is almost sacred. Every July 4th, we celebrate the start of the United States’ long road towards independence and control of its own interests.

When people make plans for the future, many put “financial independence” as their ultimate goal. But much like national independence, financial independence— living without the need to work for someone else—takes years of struggle against huge challenges.

Here are some of the essential concepts to help you win your war for financial independence. Each one battletested and proven effective by that other great struggle for independence: the American Revolution.

Coordinate your attack – Winning a war takes success on all fronts. If you neglect a certain area of your finances, all your progress could be completely undermined. For instance, going to great lengths to secure higher income for yourself becomes pointless if it forces your expenses to grow even faster. Even though you are worth more, your net worth will decrease and it will take more time to reach your goal. Every part of your financial plan needs to work together to secure victory in the shortest amount of time. (Siege of Yorktown, 1781)

Seize opportunities to advance – Sometimes a great financial opportunity appears, but we are too nervous to take advantage of the situation. Although caution is useful, having the courage to commit to a solid investment can pay huge dividends in the future. Watch for financial opportunities, judge them rationally and make a bold move if everything looks good. (Battle of Saratoga, 1777)

You can lose a battle and still win the war – Both financial plans and military strategies must survive
setbacks and short-term problems on their way to a longterm goal. If generals completely changed their campaigns every time something went wrong, no army would ever accomplish its objectives. Don’t let temporary market downturns or sudden expenses cause you to panic or abandon your goals. Expect difficulties and learn to push through, even when things are disrupted. (Battle of Bunker Hill, 1775)

Keep your morale up – Staying disciplined with saving, planning and investing is difficult in even the best of times. But if your attitude turns negative, you’ll never be able to reach the level of independence you desire. When things get tough, try to focus on the future and how great things will be when you reach your goals. Don’t forget to regularly reward your efforts; it’s better to occasionally deviate from your plans than to get worn out and give up entirely. (Winter at Valley Forge, 1777-8)

Drill your actions – As with all things, practice makes permanent. Habits take time to develop, so keep trying to put your financial plans into practice. If you continually allow or encourage yourself to break your rules, you’ll be creating bad habits that could end up being costly. Training is about getting so comfortable with an action that you can perform it in the middle of chaos. (Baron von Steuben, 1730-1794)

Get creative – The most impressive victories are the ones that an enemy never saw coming. Traditional tactics can work well in most situations, but taking time to find an original approach to your goals can get you to financial independence faster and more efficiently than anyone expected. (Battle of Cowpens, 1781)

The fight for financial freedom takes hard work, discipline and sacrifice. It’s a war unlike anything else, but its values are nothing new. By understanding the challenge and adapting the lessons of the past, we can learn how to keep winning independence for the future.

When it comes to economic growth, no country can compare to China. The country’s expansion over the past quarter-century has been staggering, posting annual GDP growth rates between 7.4 and 14.3 percent. What makes the growth rate even more impressive is the scale on which it’s happening: China is the world’s most populous country, home to approximately 1.3 billion people.

Although it is mostly communist, China has tried to introduce more free-market principles into its economy. It has encouraged—and limited—its citizens to make domestic investments. The government knows that if it can attract foreign investment while keeping Chinese capital within the country, it could perpetuate economic growth. The only question is how difficult it will be for citizens to integrate financial markets into their lives.

 

Lifetime Debt

-September 2015-

Debt is not a bad thing. Credit is not a bad thing. Mortgages are not bad things. Student loans are not bad things.

But they sure can cost you a lot of money, both now and in the future.

Paying to Pay
Debt, in whichever form, means paying extra for immediate access to money. Debt is said to be “efficient” if the benefit the money provides is greater than the extra cost of borrowing it.

In the United States, we love debt. At the end of 2014, America’s total household indebtedness was $11.83 trillion. Major sections of consumer debt include:

• $8.68 trillion in housing loans
• $1.16 trillion in student debt
• $950 billion in auto loans
• $700 billion in credit card debt

(Figures taken from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s “Household Debt and Credit Report” Q4-2014)

While using debt is routine for most people who need to buy homes and cars, go to college and cover major expenses, it is still extremely important to consider its cost. The website www.credit.com estimates that the average American surrenders $279,000 in debt interest over the course of his or her lifetime (not including student loan interest). What’s more, household debt is trending up; it has risen 43 percent since 2004. Student loans have grown particularly fast, climbing over 300 percent over that same time.

This is cause for concern among some economists and financial news pundits. The fear is that loans (particularly student loans) are siphoning off wealth people traditionally would have saved. Though broad loan usage helps stimulate the economy, high debt among individuals could stunt their financial growth.

A major part of the problem is that debt is self-sustaining. It not only grows on its own, but also puts people in a position to need more debt. A single event (e.g. medical cost) can trigger interest payments that ruin a family’s cash flow and send them into a debt spiral.

To the Limit
But does debt need to cost us anything? Many people successfully avoid, or even invert, debt costs by being careful. The classic example of this is using a credit card to accumulate rewards while religiously paying off the monthly balance. Unfortunately, this may still lead to losses; your spending habits are much harder to outwit than a credit card company.

As it turns out, debt causes us to spend more money—even if interest is avoided. Debt psychologically enables extra spending, giving us immediate gratification while delaying the pain of cost. The result is a mental lapse in valuation that makes us comfortable with paying higher prices or buying on impulse.

This distortion of debt value is particularly bad when buying high-priced items. We may labor over spending an extra $20 at a grocery store, but when buying a car or house, our reasoning is skewed by big numbers and long timeframes. Hundreds or thousands of dollars seem trivial when we already have to take out a huge loan with decades on the term.

What Can You Do?
Although it comes at a price, debt is still an important tool that can give people amazing opportunities. The good news is that you can do several things to reduce the cost of debt in your life:

• Improve your credit score – The difference between a “Fair” and a “Good” credit score can easily translate into tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments over your life.

• Pay with cash when possible – This might seem like an unrealistic or outdated idea, but it limits your ability to buy impulsively and reduces bloated credit spending.

• Fight for each dollar – Remember that $100 saved when buying a car is worth the same as $100 saved while shopping. Don’t let a loan inflate your target price for a big purchase.

• Consolidate – If you have numerous debts, consolidate them under a single bank loan. Interest rates are very low right now and a consolidation can save you thousands.

Keep Reaching for Your Financial Goals

-September 2015-
Few things are able to motivate us like self-improvement. But despite our initial enthusiasm, our personal goals can seem like impossible challenges after just a few days.

Financial goals are particularly difficult to accomplish. Spending money is an unavoidable part of modern life and financial goals can easily get lost in other money issues. What’s worse, the feedback from financial goals is blunt and immediate. As soon as we get started, our finances begin evaluating our success with clear positives and negatives. Financial goals also remember our mistakes. A one-time slip-up, like a significant purchase, can disrupt and damage a goal for months or even years.

The success of a goal often comes down to the strategies and tools used to support them. However, valuable techniques are often abandoned as soon as a little bit of progress is made. Can anyone expect to reach their goal if they don’t sustain their plans for meeting it?

Do you have a goal you’ve given up on? Give it another try. It’s never too late to renew your efforts. Use some of these steps to help make your goal a reality:

Be reasonable – It’s always important to be realistic; but for financial goals, it is essential. If you make your goals too extreme, you set yourself up for frustration and disappointment. It’s better to have an easy goal you can reach than an impossible goal that makes you quit. Once you have a little success, you can raise your expectations.

Set solid milestones and celebrate them – Milestones are a great way to track progress and boost your morale, but you need to make them an important part of your life. If you’ve made it halfway to your goal, celebrate in some way and give yourself a taste of what success will feel like. Stay positive; milestones are meant to show you how far you’ve come, not how far you still have to go.

Find some accountability – Talk with an advisor about your goals and having them check up on your progress can massively boost your discipline. Even if your advisor only asks for occasional updates, being accountable for your actions can provide a lot of encouragement to stick to your plan.

Automate what you can – Constantly trying to make the right choices can wear down your motivation.
Automating your target savings or debt payments can help you avoid the potential mistakes and will allow you to save your energy for other challenges.

Limit the number of goals – Reaching goals can be difficult, so don’t try to accomplish several of them simultaneously. Only start one or two financial goals at a time and don’t create new ones until your current efforts have become second nature.

Bend so that you don’t snap – Interruptions are inevitable. Much like setting a realistic goal, it’s important to have realistic expectations for your progress. If there is an unavoidable problem, adjust your goal accordingly and keep trying. Don’t give up on a goal just because of an unplanned setback.

Reaching goals is a skill that takes practice and experience. In accomplishing one goal, you learn which strategies work best with your personality. Even when you fail, you’ve learned more about what it takes to reach success. The important thing is being willing to try again.

Simple Fitness Truths

June 2015
-By Mark Olson-

Why is it that most of us have a sincere desire to manage our health and finances to their highest potential but few have effectively cared for those critical aspects of life over the long haul?

Most of us will acknowledge the primary cause is that life is complex, and the urgent tends to crowd out the important.  Another contributing factor is that we are surrounded by, and vulnerable to, varieties of myths and traps that keep us from taking, and then staying on, that higher road. 

One dominant health myth is that there is a magic diet or product that will allow us to be fit and maintain our target weight with a minimum amount of time or effort.  Six-pack abs in six weeks anyone?

The financial arena is loaded with illusions that financial security is an end-all or that a guru or scheme exists that can magically turn $100 into $1,000 virtually overnight.  The untimely death of a loved one can be a sobering reminder that financial security and blazing returns may not be so important after all.

So what is it that can help us rise above the complexities of life and do what is most important? 

The missing link, that can make all the difference, is a goal-focused plan that flows out of our deepest convictions overseen by someone who can hold us accountable.  One of the first steps of getting there is to be quiet enough, long enough, to define those elements in life that matter most.  Spouses, coaches, pastors, advisers and friends can be invaluable along that path.

If your conviction is that you are a steward of the physical aspects of your life, your goal-focused health plan may be to maintain a target weight and exercise some minimum amount per week.  If so, your long-term success could be assured by simply eating less calories than your body expends, finding ways to exercise consistently with activities that bring you joy and engaging people to hold you accountable.

If your conviction is that you are a steward of the financial aspects of your life, your goal-focused financial plan may be to maintain giving and saving at some target level and living on the rest.  If so, your long-term success could be assured by giving to the people and causes you care about most, investing in a globally diversified portfolio with a target return that flows out of your plan and engaging with some type of coach to help you adhere to your plan until your needs change.

In health, as well as finance, I have found that the differentiating keys to success over the long haul are defining reasonable goals and maintaining consistency through an appropriately balanced pace.  It’s all about average speed over a lifespan; not maximum speed at any emotionally charged point in time.

See you on the journey.

“There is no shortcut to anywhere worth going.”  Beverly Sills

“Slow and steady wins the race.”  Robert Lloyd

“The glory of God is man fully functioning.  Find your place to do that, and you will find the peace that passes all understanding.”  Irenius

Know Your Financial Math

May 2015
Please keep in mind that these are simple estimations and are not to be treated as precise technical calculations. They can be influenced by a number of factors and don’t take any personal information into account. The formulas help call attention to parts of your budget, but do not calculate exactly what you should expect.

The easiest and best place to start. Your cash flow is the total surplus or deficit you have each month after paying your expenses. If you find you are running a deficit most months, you need to cut your expenses down or find a way to boost your income.

Another easy formula, calculating how much a monthly (or weekly) expense will cost you over a whole year is an important insight for a budget. Paying $8 a month for a subscription may seem cheap, but you should realize it’s costing you $96 over the course of a year.

The EPA estimates that the average car owner uses about 500 gallons of gas a year (almost 700 if you drive a truck or SUV). While volatile gas prices make it impossible to project your exact gas expenses for a year, this formula makes it easy to understand how much a change in gas prices is worth: for every $0.01 gas drops, you could expect to save $5 annually.

Have you ever wanted a quick estimate of how long it takes for money to double? Try the “Rule of 72.” Just divide 72 by the annual growth rate of your account and you get an approximation of how many years it takes to double. (Example: 6 percent growth would be 72/6 = 12 years to double). If using this formula for investment account, remember that the market is unpredictable and average market performance does not guarantee future returns. Investments can be subject to losses, which will greatly change their nominal rate of return.

Although there are some major outliers, most new cars depreciate around 10% when driven off the lot and another 10% each year they are driven (for the first 5 years). So when looking at new cars, remember that most lose their value fast. Without a down payment, you’ll likely be underwater on the loan for the first year or two.

This equation is a bit more complex, but it’s pretty handy for people wondering how their rent cost compares to a 30‐year mortgage. Take 75 percent of the expected mortgage interest rate and add 3 percent to get the annualized rate of repayment. If you multiply this number by the initial mortgage amount, you get the annual cost. (Example: A 30‐year mortgage issued at 4 percent would have an annual repayment rate of (3+4×.75) = 6%. If the mortgage was for $200,000, you’d pay ($200,000×6%) = $12,000 a year ($1,000 a month) to stay on the 30 year schedule.) Keep in mind that this is an estimation of the mortgage costs only and does not include home insurance, mortgage insurance, property expenses or any of the other various costs of owning a home.

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Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser. 

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

The Dollar Vacation

May 2015
Every day, there are countless pressures on national currencies. Exchange rates are in constant flux, while supply and demand change the prices of a country’s goods and services. For those vacationing abroad, a sudden shift in the market can make big differences in how much money they can spend.

In 2014, the U.S. economy delivered a gift to its travelers: a strong dollar. Hitting its highest value in years, the dollar’s performance drove up U.S. exchange rates, decreasing international prices. While tourism costs followed the exchange rate down in most countries, some destinations stand out as especially good (or surprisingly bad) deals for Americans planning a vacation.

Better Deals Abroad:
Russia: Provided you know where to travel and how to get around safely, there is a great deal to be found in traveling Russia right now. International conflict and falling oil prices have crushed the ruble in currency markets over the past year, decreasing tourism costs by 30‐50 percent.

Romania/Bulgaria: As economic growth remains low in Eurozone countries, these countries have decreased their already low tourism costs over the past year. Many Americans do not realize that both these countries have extensive Black Sea coastlines that attract many vacationers.

Norway/Sweden: Although these Scandinavian countries are still some of the priciest destinations in Europe, both the krone and the krona have lost a considerable amount of strength over the past year. If you’ve been thinking about traveling to these countries, now might be the time.

Argentina: The disastrous bond default by the Argentine government has damaged the national economy and has upped the dollar’s exchange rate to the peso by about 50 percent. High consumer price inflation will limit how far these extra pesos go, but the overall effect is still cheaper tourism.

The Neighbors: The U.S. dollar made significant gains on both the Mexican peso and the Canadian dollar. Though neither country may feel particularly “foreign,” the money saved on short travel times can make them two of the easiest destinations for exploiting the strong U.S. dollar.

Countries Bucking the Trend:
China: Although it remains fairly cheap compared to the United States, China’s growth has outpaced the United States for decades, and its currency has grown in strength. China is no longer the bargain earlier travelers remember, and chances are good vacations there will only get more expensive.

Switzerland: Already a fixture on the list of most expensive places to visit, Switzerland threw off any dollar advantage in January when the Swiss Franc jumped in value after breaking ties with the Euro. Americans eager to see the Alps may wish to stay in the slightly more affordable Eurozone countries of France and Italy instead.

India: While the nominal exchange rate between the dollar and the Indian rupee remained relatively flat throughout the year, the country’s high inflation (over 5 percent annually) means your dollars will get you less. Much like China, India is still affordable in many areas, but its rapid growth likely means its cheapest days are behind it.

Alternative: See America First U.S. National Parks: Traveling around the United States won’t provide you with any currency advantage, but the recent drop in gas prices has
certainly made American road trips drastically cheaper than last year. The U.S. National Park Service protects 407 places of natural and historic significance and offers an annual pass for just $80.

The current strength of the dollar is a bonus for American travelers, but smart planning will always be the biggest factor to a successful vacation. Hunting for deals on airfare and choosing the best seasons to travel will have a bigger impact on the quality and price of a trip than any currency fluctuation. By taking time to detail your spending and itinerary, you can get the most out of any vacation.

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Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser. 

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

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