Archive for the 'tip' Category

Gift card tips for the holidays

If you still have gifts to buy this week, you may be thinking about gift cards.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers tips on purchasing gift cards – especially considering new rules passed this past summer.

The FTC notes that gift cards must now show their expiration date (if there is one), cards can only charge inactivity fees after one year, and the money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years.

There’s also a difference between retail gift cards, offered by stores and restuarants, and bank gift cards, which are offered by Visa, MasterCard, and American Express for you to spend like a debit card.

The new gift card rules are supposed to help protect consumers – which is good news for anyone who gets a gift card in their stocking this holiday.

12 fraud prevention tips

Our friends at Allied Solutions passed along 12 helpful tips to protect your personal account information, especially your checking account.

“Allied Solutions has seen an increase in losses involving stolen member checks and misused personal information that has allowed criminals to cause those individuals a loss in their accounts at credit unions,” Marie Burgoyne wrote us. “Common-sense and a logical approach with the way an individual uses and stores checks can help reduce the risk of this type of loss.”

Keep these tips in mind:

  1. Keep your account information confidential and never provide your account number or personal information to unknown persons. Be particularly cautious of unsolicited phone sales.
  2. Reconcile your bank statement as soon as possible after receipt (within 20 days) to detect any irregularities. Delays may subject you to liability for any losses due to check fraud.
  3. Protect your checks – Store your checkbook, blank checks, deposit slips and bank statements in a secure location.
  4. Don’t leave blank spaces on the payee or payment amount lines on your checks.
  5. Monitor check orders to ensure they are received timely and immediately verify that all checks were received with the order.
  6. Mail bill payments through the Post Office and not from your mail box at home. Seeing the upright red flag on your home mail box is a favorite signal for criminals to look in the box and steal whatever is there.
  7. Do not add personal information on your check (Social Security #, Driver’s License # or DOB).
  8. Destroy (shred) cancelled checks (if received), account statements and deposit tickets unless needed for tax purposes.
  9. Use your own pre-printed deposit slips and make sure the account number on your slip is correct. Thieves have made attempts to alter deposit slips at drive-up windows in the hope that bank representatives will not notice with the result that the funds are deposited into the thief’s account.
  10. Don’t ever make a check payable to cash and also, never endorse a check until you are ready to cash the item or make the deposit. If lost or stolen, a check made payable to cash may be legally and rightfully cashed by anyone.
  11. If someone pays you with a cashier’s check, be cautious and if possible, have them accompany you to the bank to cash the item. If you need to accept a check for payment, do so during normal business hours so you can verify with the financial institution that it is legitimate. Make sure you obtain identification information from the individual.
  12. If your home is burglarized, determine if any checks have been stolen. Look closely because thieves will take checks from the back or middle of your check book to avoid immediate detection.

Read more identity theft tips in our ScamWatch category.

How to: check your e-notices

NOTE: This explains e-notices, but you go through the same process to find your tax forms.

If you’re signed up for American 1’s e-statement system (and thanks if you are!), you get informational notices – like changes in your account terms or late payment warnings – through the same system.

But let’s say a e-notice e-mail shows up in your inbox. How do you get that important information?

First, log in to home banking. You should see your account screen, with all your account and loan types.

Now click on the History tab at the top, and click eStatements (above). This is exactly how you would check for your e-statements.

And just like checking your e-statements, you’re going to click “Get my E-Statement.”

Now you’re in the main e-statement system. You can see that the e-statement tab is blue, meaning that’s the active tab. Now look up in the upper right corner.

See where it says “You have unread Notices!”? That means you have something new to read, so click on the Notices tab (above).

And, again, just like e-statements, your e-notices are listed chronologically in PDF form, so you can either view or save your new e-notices.

We don’t send e-notices through e-mail for the same reason we don’t send e-statements directly to your inbox: security. That information in the wrong hands could be dangerous.

ATM robbery safety under study

Michelle Singletary at the Washington Post reports on methods to thwart ATM robberies. Some, including the reverse PIN (where you enter your PIN backwards to alert law enforcement) have been rumored for years.

The bottom line, she says, is that most robberies don’t happen while your card is in your hand:

Although news reports of ATM customers being robbed might seem frequent, there are few statistics that track ATM robberies in which a victim is compelled to withdraw funds. What evidence there is suggests that the majority of ATM robberies occur after the victim has withdrawn funds, which means an emergency activation system involving the keypad wouldn’t help.

Just remember to be alert of your surroundings, especially at night, and make it from your car to the ATM as quickly as possible. It also helps if you have someone with you.

For more ATM safety advice, quiz yourself at (our own ATM manufacturer) Diebold’s site, or visit’s 10 ATM safety tips.

Useful ideas for your old Visa card

What to do with that closed-out, expensive, higher-rate card from a big out-of-town bank?

Cut it up and use it as a guitar pick! That’s what Financial Facts recommends, along with 10 other oddball ideas. Many Americans have wallets filled with harmful credit cards – why not put them to good use, like combing your hair or cutting your food?

It’s like finding uses for those old AOL discs you got in the mail. Just make sure you close out your account first.

Your e-statement questions answered


UPDATE: E-statement subscribers – your tax documents should be posted to the system by now. Thanks!

Over the past few months, we’ve heard from lots of members about e-statements – the efficient, convenient way to check your statements. For some members, e-statements are a brand new idea, and some may feel nervous about checking your account activity on the Internet.

For some members, e-statements won’t make sense. We understand that, and respect each member’s personal preferences.

But we can try to help clear up any misgivings about how the process works, and how safe it is.

We’ve heard you. And we want to help.


For members who don’t own a computer, the idea of e-statements probably seems silly. Why check your statement on the web when you can’t access the web?

However, ask yourself: do you open your statement when it arrives in the mail?

If you honestly don’t, e-statements are a good way to clear out your real-life mailbox. It’s one less piece of clutter you don’t have to toss out or recycle. And since “reduce” comes before “recycle,” reducing your mail is a good way to help the environment.

But if you don’t have a computer and you really do check your American 1 statement each month, then by all means – continue to receive the regular paper statement.


American 1’s home banking system uses the same Internet encryption that large online retailers use.

To test it, visit Look up at the address bar. At the beginning of our web address, it will say “https://” and then our secure web address. The “s” at the end of “http” means our site is protected by high-grade online security.

But that only protects your information on our side. If you’re really worried about security, the worst that could happen is someone finds out about your online banking username or password. To prevent that kind of identity theft, keep a username and password combo that’s easy for you to remember but hard for others to guess, and keep that information safe and secure.

Thousands of account transactions are posted to American 1’s home banking site each week, with no breaches in security. Odds are, your account information will remain your account info.


Rest assured, e-statements are not sent over e-mail. Rather, a reminder is sent to your e-mail each month letting you know your e-statement is ready for viewing.

To view e-statements, you must log on to American 1’s A1@home online banking site. Your e-statement is stored there, and is not sent via e-mail. We do this to keep a copy of your electronic statement secured on our end, not sitting in your e-mail inbox for anyone to see.


If you manage someone else’s account at the credit union, share an account with family, or oversee your child’s Eagle Earners Club account, e-statements are the perfect way to cut down on mail clutter.

Or if you have an American 1 account to simply make your loan payment, you may not need a paper copy of your statement each month. E-statements are perfect for these kinds of pass-through accounts that you probably don’t need to manage on a month-to-month basis.


  • Signing up for e-statements is a good way to store your statements as well, since we keep past copies of your e-statements archived on our system. E-statements are actually more secure than paper statements because they can’t be stolen out of your mailbox, missplaced, or accidentally wind up in the wrong hands.
  • Once you start receiving e-statements, you may not miss your old mailed statements. And it could be a gateway to more cost-effective banking options like online Bill Pay.
  • E-statements are a great way to see copies of your cleared checks. You can view them free with each monthly e-statement you receive.
  • If you’re away a lot on business, out of town at school, or if you move often, e-statements are a great way to ensure you receive your American 1 account information. Combined with online banking, it’s the perfect way to manage your account from anywhere.

If you’re unsure about how the system works, ask a Member Service Specialist at any branch to walk you through the setup. E-statements are easier than ever to access, and we’d love to show you how to do it.

Winter car care & driving tips

The past few winters have come earlier and earlier, at least here in Michigan, even thought this winter it’s taking its time. Either way, winters in Michigan mean keeping your gloved hand on the wheel and keeping some winter driving tips in mind.

Mother Proof recommends keeping an eye on the side of the road for “phantom shoulders”: “Snowplows can create a deceiving shoulder made of snow that’s level with the road surface. Going off would mean sinking into the snow.”

Leave it to Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers of NPR’s Car Talk, to have some fun with a block heater, a device that keeps your engine warm all night long: “If you do get a block heater, try to remember not to drive off with your car still plugged into your house.”

Dumb Little Man advises keeping a roadside emergency kit, “including a flashlight with fresh batteries, a blanket, food bars, water bottles, cell phone, jumper cables, flares, Fix-a-Flat, HELP Sign, and a first aid kit.” An extra pair of gloves and a hat to cover your head wouldn’t hurt either.

As MSN Autos suggests, your tires can be key in winter driving conditions. Make sure to check for the appropriate tire pressure and tread depth:

Tread depth is critical to controlling a car at all times, especially in snow or heavy rain. A simple way to check tread depth requires only a penny. Insert a penny in between the tread blocks of your car’s tire, making sure Abe Lincoln’s head goes in first and is facing toward you; once the penny touches the bottom of the groove, note if you can see the top of Abe’s head with the tire’s surface at eye level. If the tread doesn’t reach the top of Abe’s head, too much has been worn off and the tire definitely needs to be replaced.

And then there are the fluids, says brake fluid, oil grade, antifreeze, and be sure to have plenty of gas in your tank. They also suggest checking your battery’s strength in cold weather starting conditions.

You can browse for the best cold weather car options over at As for the best winter-ready vehicle on the road? What’s your experience? Let us know what car or truck makes the best-driving, winter-ready vehicle in the comments.

Don’t forget about our upcoming Winter Weather Vehicle Sale, offering many vehicles to prepare you for cold-weather driving.

Save money by changing your own oil

Change your own oil

Looking to save money on auto maintenance, and happen to be in a do-it-yourself (DIY) mood?

Try changing your own oil. That’s the advice from the Art of Manliness blog.

Changing your own oil will do three things, Brett & Kate McKay say: save money, prevent theft, and feed the inner hobbyist in you.

The materials, like the oil filter and wrench set, are important, as is safety. But if you have the space, time, and inclination, changing your own oil is a good way to beat those instant lube $30 jobs.

Tips when using SimpleLoan checks


Let’s say you get pre-approved for an auto loan with American 1. You’ve got your amount all set, we’ve cut you a SimpleLoan check, and you have an idea of what kind of vehicle you want.

Now what?

Since we don’t want to send you out without the proper preperation, here are some tips to keep in mind when shopping for a vehicle with your SimpleLoan check.

First, do some research on what you want to buy. If you have a vehicle in mind, see what it’s available for in the area. Do you want used? New? Hit the auto classified section of your newspaper to see what’s selling for how much. This kind of information is extremely powerful later in the process.

If you have a trade-in vehicle, do some research to see how much you can get for it. Sites like NADA and Kelly Blue Book aren’t always 100% accurate, so ask around. And check out sites like eBay Motors and Auto Trader to see how much you vehicle is going for in your area.

Negotiate for your vehicle without letting the dealership know you have a SimpleLoan check. You should first negotiate the price of your vehicle with all the options. Once you have a price you’re willing to pay, then you can work on payments and whatever else with us at the credit union.

Pretty soon, the conversation will turn to financing. Tell the dealership you have your financing taken care of. Let them know that you are writing a check, and that you don’t need any help finding financing. The secret is that you’ve already been pre-approved with American 1, and you’re armed with your SimpleLoan check.

Don’t let them know your pre-approval amount. If the dealerships knows that amount, they’re more likely to add extras to drive up the price to your limit. This also gives you walk-away power. Remember – with that SimpleLoan check and a pre-approval amount, you’ve got the negotiating power. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t get the deal you want.

When you know the price, and you’re set to finance, then you can start talking about your trade-in vehicle. By now you’ll know what your trade-in vehicle is worth. Don’t be afraid to negotiate on your trade-in vehicle’s worth to get the maximum value.

Since you’ve settled on the vehicle you want, the price you can afford, the financing is set to go, and you’re getting a decent deal on your trade-in vehicle, you can write your SimpleLoan check right then and there.

For more auto buying tips, visit our Auto Loan Experts page, or browse through other articles here on our blog.

How to sign up for MasterCard’s Secure Code

Maybe you’ve been ready to purchase something online with your American 1 MasterCard debit card, but you get prompted by something called SecureCode.

MasterCard’s SecureCode is a security system to prevent online fraud and theft. It protects others from using your American 1 debit card, keeping your money safe.

There’s just a bit of set-up required. First, you have to make your way to American 1’s own SecureCode site, where you can begin the registration process.


When you click on American 1’s link, the first thing you’ll see is a “Register Now” button. Click that to begin the process.


Be sure to read through the agreement and click “I Agree” underneath.


On the next screen, you’ll enter your American 1 debit card number.


Then, SecureCode will ask for the rest of your information, including your card’s expiration date, the last four digits of your Social Security number, and your birthdate. This is to confirm that it’s actually you signing up with the SecureCode system.

Finally, you’ll pick your Secure Code – a 8-15 character password made up of both numbers and letters. Use something that you’ll remember, but is hard for others to guess, and the more numbers and letters you use, the better. If you forget your Secure Code, you’ll have to pick a new one.

Now, when you’re prompted to enter your SecureCode at online retailers, you’ll be set up with MasterCard’s security system.

American 1 Federal Credit Union