Tuesday, May 18, 2010 Edition #559

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Today’s Highlights:
1st Flash: RENT VS. OWN IN TODAY'S WORLD
2nd Flash:  WHERE WILL THEY HACK NEXT?


Weekly Spotlight:

GCF has Mortgages Available! Low Rates! Call for details (856) 589- 6600. GCF Bank is an Equal Housing Lender.

Our Current Rates:

For a listing of our current deposit and loan rates, visit www.gcfbank.com/rates.aspx.

1st Flash
RENT VS. OWN IN TODAY'S WORLD

Once upon a time a boy met a girl. They fell in love. They got married. They rented an apartment until they could save up enough money to put a down payment on a home of their own. When they had saved enough to put down 20 percent on a home in a nice neighborhood with monthly payments that fit within their budget, they took that giant leap into home ownership.

Okay, let's stop right here for a moment. This article began reading like a fairy tale. And sadly, the housing bubble spurred by subprime mortgage products turned this once accepted scenario into just that.

That bubble, as is their nature, inevitably burst. And with it the fairy tale dreams of millions of Americans who got caught up in the improbable notion of living beyond their means. Some knew the risk and gambled anyway, others had no option but to take the plunge and pray for the best.

But one man's disaster is another man's opportunity. The record-high foreclosure rate, coupled with historically low mortgage rates, has brought home ownership back to common ground. This time at a price that's truly affordable for many who previously found it beyond their grasp.

Yet the big question will always remain: When is buying a home more economical than renting? That answer differs, depending on what part of the country you're sitting in while reading this article.

Some of the regions hit the hardest when the bubble burst have seen home values drop so low that it's cheaper to buy than rent. That makes now the perfect opportunity to own a home in South Florida, Phoenix or Las Vegas.

Other areas find their values remaining very high, making it a better value to rent instead. You might consider that option if you're looking for housing in San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, Ore.

It's a coin toss in New York or Los Angeles along with their suburbs. There are good deals to be found in this buyer's market, but also a lot of areas where renting is your best bet.

So with all the variables, how do you know which choice is best for you?

You have to look past the income tax advantage to weigh this properly. While your mortgage interest is deductible when you itemize, the advantage may not outweigh the actual costs of home ownership.

Factor in the down payment, closing costs, property taxes, mortgage interest, repairs and co-op fees when calculating true cost. Don't forget homeowner's insurance. Is it wise to have a separate wind or flood policy where you live?

Do you plan to live in the area for more than five years? Do you have a family? The stability can be a major factor in your decision to buy vs. rent.

How secure is your job? That's a hard one to answer these days. But if there's a chance you could get laid off, you might want to stick with renting until the situation works itself out.

No longer is it a given that real estate value will increase over time, no longer can you depend on your home for investment purposes. Is this an important factor for you?

Once you've answered all of these questions, it's time for the calculations. While there's no magic formula to assure you against future uncertainties, you can make a sound financial analysis by using the Should I Buy or Rent My Home? calculator in the Home Finance section on our Web site.

And when you've finally reached that big decision to buy, come check out the great mortgage products GCF Bank has available to make your dream a reality.

2nd Flash
WHERE WILL THEY HACK NEXT?

Congratulations! You've just won (enter prize here)! Or so claims the pop up window that magically appeared on your screen. Or the email that just appeared in your inbox.

The good news is that people finally recognize these notices as a hoax. Fewer and fewer are falling victim to this type of scam.

And the bad news... when one business model stops working, another is developed to keep business flowing as usual. This is true no matter if your business is manufacturing new automobiles or stealing identities.

Cyber criminals are paying attention to consumer behavioral patterns, and finding new ways to attack.

Facebook is the fastest growing social networking site online today. It's also the site with the fastest growing number of malware threats. This is not a coincidence.

Without stringent security options selected, your online information is ripe for compromise. Hackers can easily do enough research to impersonate you online, sending infected messages to those on your friends list. They see your name and assume the link came from you. Click - and their computer becomes infected with a password stealing program.

Dial into work remotely from your infected home computer, and the villain has struck gold. The hacker can now infiltrate your employer's network and access all information from within. They can also bring the entire system crashing down.

Cyber crooks don't limit their activity to Facebook's internal email. They'll use the popularity of the site and other social networks to try to trick you. It's common to find email in your private inbox reporting to come from the sites. One such message claims that they had to reset your password. The recipient is asked to click on an attachment to get their new login credentials. Those that take the bait get snagged by malware.

Just yesterday, I got identical emails telling me the site administrator had a message for me. One was from Facebook, the other from Twitter. I was instructed to click a link to retrieve this message. Obviously, the sites would not have sent identical messages. But to err on the side of safety, I visited each site individually using the same URL I do daily rather than the one embedded in the email I received. Neither site contained a message from the administrator.

I have several different email addresses, each reserved for a specific purpose. You may do the same. The one I use to fill out online forms, my junk mail catcher, gets several Facebook friend requests daily. This email address is not registered with Facebook, so I know right off these are not legitimate requests. Be watchful for any messages that seem apart from the norm.

Risk is not isolated to email messages. Earlier this year, Facebook users were greeted with an app request that appeared typical. "One of Your Friends May Have a Crush On You," the teaser read. Along with it were buttons labeled "Find Out Who" and "Ignore." Those who opted to learn the identity of their Secret Crush were rewarded with a malware download bearing the same name. The site quickly learned of the scam and removed it promptly.

And when we're not being social online, we're busy texting. Maybe we're using our smartphone to check our bank account, pay bills, trade stocks or download apps. Once again the crooks have taken notice.

Smartphone attacks can be launched through app stores, the web and email. Worms can access your email or SMS messages, calendar appointments, contact list or photos. They can use that information to steal personal data.

A 2009 Trend Micro survey revealed that one in five smartphone owners has already encountered at least one phishing scam where hackers posed as a bank or other institution to try to collect personal information.

Protect your smartphone as if it were your home computer. If it's hacked into, or even misplaced, your personal information is at risk.

The common adage once warned "Danger lurks around every corner." But these days, no corner is necessary. It can be lurking right in the palm of your hand.

Financial News
New claims for unemployment benefits dropped again for the fourth week in a row, reflecting a slow but sure improvement to the job market. Employers are hiring again as the economy shows signs of improvement, but not fast enough to reduce the jobless rate. The Labor Department reported the four-week average falling by 9,000 to 450,500 - close to the average's lowest level this year reached in late March. After dropping steadily last year from a peak of 651,000, first-time claims have fluctuated at around 450,000 since January. Employers added 290,000 jobs in April, the most in four years. But much more hiring is needed to make up for the loss of more than 8 million jobs during the recession. The unemployment rate rose last month to 9.9 percent, as the new jobs weren't enough to offset the more than 800,000 people that started or resumed job searches.

The economy expanded at a 3.2 percent pace in the January-to-March quarter, the third straight quarter of growth. That followed four quarters of decline as the economy sunk in the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Growth is expected to continue. However, the recovery is uneven. Large companies and wealthy households have done well, while small companies and those less well off have struggled. Various economists are predicting that the uneven recovery may force the Federal Reserve to keep the benchmark federal funds rate on overnight loans among banks near zero until the second quarter of 2011 to help reduce unemployment.

Today’s Market Rates
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Dow Jones Industrial Average
(Up 82.90 or 0.79% since 12/31/09)
10,510.95 (-1.08%)
S&P 500
(Up 5.70 or 0.51% since 12/31/09)
1,120.80 (-1.42%)
Nasdaq
(Up 48.11 or 2.12% since 12/31/09)
2,317.26 (-1.57%)
10 Year Treasury Bond Yield 3.376%  
British Sterling 1.4324  
Euro 1.2192  
On The World Wide Web

Trying to save a buck? Find that treasure at a thrift store. Visit the Shopping Guide supplied by the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops on their Web site to search for a store based on location and other consumer resources.

With winter behind, it's perfect weather for garage sales! Here's one (link no longer active) you can even browse on a rainy day. You can even negotiate with sellers via instant messenger.

Do you like the idea of eBay but prefer to deal with someone local? Try ebayclassifieds.com!

Tip of the Week
It's hard to hide anywhere. There are more people search Web sites than one can imagine, all offering your personal information anyone willing to spend whatever fee they request. One site brought to my attention offers demographic information as well. And while it appears fact-based, the data displayed for both myself and my husband were far from accurate. Others have reported the same.

But they do offer an option for removal, and will take you off their site upon request. Visit www.spokeo.com. Search for yourself. Follow the Privacy link at the bottom of the page to request removal for those that would rather not appear.

Quotable

"Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach." - Tony Robbins

Today in History

1980 - Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington, killing 60 people.

Flash Fact

There was no grass during the time of the dinosaurs. Grass evolved from bamboo-like plants only 24 million years ago.

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GCF Bank
381 Egg Harbor Road
Sewell, NJ 08080
(856) 589-6600
www.gcfbank.com