What you should do about the credit card security breaches

Credit card security breaches have been in the news frequently over the past months. What actions do you need to take to protect yourself?

Who has been affected?  People who shopped and paid with any credit or debit card in the following stores may be impacted:

  • Target retail stores between November 27- December 15, 2013
  • Neiman Marcus retail stores during 2013
  • Michaels Stores recently, no specific dates have been disclosed.

The largest credit card security breach incurred at Target. Keep in mind that any credit card that was used at these stores during the affected time periods could be impacted in the future. That could be a Target Card, a Neiman Marcus card, as well as American Express, Visa or MasterCard credit or debit cards.

What is the most important thing you can do now?  The most important step an individual can take is to diligently monitor the affected credit card activity on a very regular basis. We recommend you review the card activity online, at least weekly. The stolen card data from this crime may be resold and activated at some point in the future. Your card could be impacted this week or months from now. At a minimum, carefully review your monthly statement.

What is the benefit of the free credit monitoring services that are being offered by these retailers?

 Target and Neiman Marcus are offering one year of free credit monitoring services to affected customers. While we recommend you take advantage of this service, it does not really address the problems caused by the breach. The impact of the breach is someone may use your card data to make unauthorized purchases on your affected card account in the future. A credit monitoring service is not going to prevent or notify you of these unauthorized purchases. 

Credit monitoring services are primarily to let you know if a new credit card has been opened in your name or for signs of identity theft. These are not the primary risks from these security breaches, based on current information.

How should you enroll in these free credit monitoring services?

Be careful and do not click on links from emails, unless you are very sure of their source.  We recommend that you sign up for these services by going directly to the retailer’s website (by you typing the site address on your computer, not by clicking on links).

I registered for the credit monitoring offered by Target, even though I regularly shop there and was not notified by them of the credit monitoring service. To enroll in this service, go to:  creditmonitoring.target.com. It is a two step process. After going to that web address, Target will email you an activation code sent from targetnews@target.com.  Next, at the credit monitoring website (Experian), you will need to provide personal information, such as your full name, address and social security number.

For information regarding Neiman Marcus, go to neimanmarcus.com/infosecurity, which will also offer credit monitoring service by Experian.

You do not need to pay extra money for a credit score, unless you want it. These free services provide you full reports of all of your credit card accounts and account histories, but a FICO score (or comparable score) cost extra.  See our prior blog post on free credit reports, which you are entitled to annually, at Truly Free Credit Reports.

If you have any further questions, please contact us. We are here to assist you with various aspects of your financial life.

Why the Ford F-150 Innovations are Important to You

How can Ford’s new F-150 pickup truck save billions of gallons of gas in the future? Creative ideas. Risk taking. Investing in the future. Meeting challenges.

I have been reading Abundance, The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis. The book focuses on how some of the world’s major problems may be solved over the next 20-30 years. He writes about major gains, exponential gains. Not marginal small strides. It is an outstanding book and I’ll write more about it in the near future.

The concept of achieving major gains in fuel economy is taking a next step toward reality. I had heard about Ford’s new 2015 aluminum based Ford F-15- pickup truck.  But I did not realize the impact that this vehicle can have on our country, individuals and companies.

Then I read Dan Neil’s Wall Street Journal article on Saturday. He explained the huge impact that this vehicle can have. I took his figures, did some additional research and realized the startling accomplishment that Ford’s engineers have made.

Ford has reduced the weight of the 2015  F-150 pickup by 700 pounds. Neil states this a “staggering figure…(which is) of immediate and national consequence.”  The weight reduction and engine innovations result in an estimated increase of 3 miles per gallon (mpg). That may seem marginal, but it is a 20% improvement in mpg.  From 2014 to estimated 2015 figures, that is a gain from 15 to 18 mpg in city driving and 19-23 to 21-27 mpg for highway.

Diamandis’ book focuses on exponential accomplishments, not on small gains.  The “big multiplier,” as Neil wrote, is that the Ford F-150 series sold 763,000 vehicles in 2013 (I found statistics of 793,000 sales).  He feels this is “the single biggest real-world advance in fuel economy in any vehicle since the Arab oil embargo (in the 1970s).”  Gains from hybrid and electric cars are important but the huge sales volume of Ford pickups is what makes this exponentially important. The Ford F series of pickups is the bestselling vehicle for 32 years in a row, and the 2nd place seller is 480,000 units.

Assume 15,000 miles are driven per vehicle (and that may be low), 167 gallons would be saved per year,  per vehicle. If 800,000 pickups are sold in a year, 133 million gallons of gasoline would be saved. Now let’s think longer term. Over 5 years, assuming 800,000 vehicles are sold each year, almost 2 billion gallons of gas would be saved. 

The implications of these statistics and the accomplishments are incredibly important. We have written that companies are resilient and that societal problems can be resolved. While we cannot specifically identify individual stock market winners and cannot predict the future, we are generally positive about the future. This is another real world example.

If these vehicles are successful, the benefits will be wide ranging. Companies large and small will save on fuel costs. Individuals will save money as well. Our reliance on foreign oil will lessen. Reduced demand for gas should cause the price of gas to decline or at least moderate upward pressure.  All of these results are positive for our economic future.

Neil made a profound statement in his column.  He wrote:  “Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally (should) receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom…Ford’s investment in aluminum construction on such titanic scales is costly and risky. ..(He) made the hard and right choice for their company and embraced the future.  It also happened to be right for the country.”  The more I researched this, the more I agree with him.

What do you think?

 

Note:  This article is not a recommendation or commentary on Ford stock as an investment. The estimated mpg figures are based on Ford press releases and are ranges, as the vehicle types and engine sizes will vary.

Investment Lessons and Thoughts of the past year

As the New Year begins, it is a time to reflect on the investment lessons of 2013, to think about what worked well and contemplate the future.

Some lessons and thoughts from 2013:

  • The past year again taught us it is best to focus on what we can control.
    • When 2013 began, the country was fixated on the “fiscal cliff.” There was not much public optimism about the stock market or the economy.
    • By adhering to the financial allocation we designed for each client, rather than focus on Washington’s lack of productivity, our clients benefited.
  • Most market forecasts are not likely to be accurate or reliable, so don’t rely on them.
    • Few would have predicted the significant gains of 2013 in most stock market sectors.
    • Rather than focus on market predictions or guesses, we work with you to make progress on your specific goals, issues and challenges.
  • Be resilient and positive.
    • We have been consistently more positive than the generally negative slant of the media. We think the economy is slowly, but consistently strengthening.
    • Companies and countries, over time, have shown an ability to deal with challenges and overcome obstacles.
    • We have had many conversations with clients about these matters over the past year. Clients find these discussions very helpful. If you have concerns about things like the federal deficit, inflation or other matters….please talk to us.
  • Discipline and rebalancing are very important.
    • Our clients again benefited this year by adhering to our consistent investment philosophy of global market diversification, having an investment plan and rebalancing back to their target stock allocation.
    • Having discipline and sticking with your equity allocation through good times and difficult stock market conditions is the proper long-term strategy.
      • The long-term trend of stock markets worldwide is upward, even through major bumps in that upward trend.
    • While the markets have been positive the past few years, it is important to remember that the broad US stock market has had 13 significant declines since World War II (the mid-1940s), averaging losses of approximately 30%. There will be down markets, averaging one every 5-6 years, but they are temporary.

We have spent time with clients during the past year assisting them with matters that are not directly related to investments, but are very important. We have advised clients on their estate planning, insurance questions, charitable planning, Social Security and beneficiary designations of retirement accounts. We would be pleased to talk to you about these or other financial matters that are important to you.

Note:   This is an excerpt of the quarterly client letter that was mailed to our clients in January 2014, along with their quarterly reporting statements, which are easy to read and understand.

 

My Three Words 2014

The “My Three Words” concept is based on blog posts I read by  Chris Brogan. The idea is that rather than set a bunch of New Year’s resolutions, to develop three words for the year that have meaning and context for various aspects of your life and business.

This concept is about taking a step back, evaluating where you are and then looking at where you want to go in the next year(s). This was a great exercise and one I plan to do each year.

2014:

Relationships – To strengthen relationships with the key people in my life, particularly my immediate family, relatives and friends, as well as client relationships. I want to develop and improve relationships with those whose lives I can add value to.  I want to spend more time with people who can assist us in furthering our business and in other aspects of my life. Tom Peters said this perfectly in a recent quote:  “All we have, as in all, personally or professionally, is the quality of our relationships!”

 Consistency – I want to be consistent about doing what is most important. I want to be more consistent and committed to routinely doing certain things.  As a result, we will have a better firm and my clients will be better off .  Professionally, this means being more proactive with clients and meeting client commitments in advance. It means developing and adhering to more internal systems, which will make our firm stronger.  It means blogging more regularly.  Personally, it means adhering to goals that I want to do regularly, such as exercising.

 Expert – I want to take steps to be viewed as an expert in our community and possibly nationally. We are truly grateful for the growth of our firm and the clients who have referred us to others.  To continue growing by gaining significant new clients, through referrals or other ways, I/we need to be more recognized as a go-to person/firm in the greater Detroit area and beyond. We will need to explore what this means, how to get there and who can help us.

 

If this prompts you to consider this “Three Words” exercise, please share it with me, either via the website or email me directly. I would love to see what your “Three Words” are for 2014.