Safe Online Banking for Military Families

While online banking grows in popularity among civilians, it is a process many service members have been using for years. The availability of banking 24/7 is an ideal prospect for families with a deployed family member. Reconciliation of shared checking accounts can be near impossible when a family member is away; online banking helps by making transaction history available from anywhere in the world.

Many online banking programs are now designed to offer online bill pay, a service that allows customers to set up regularly occurring debits from their account to pay cell phone, car payments and other monthly bills. A good tutorial of this process is offered here: http://infocenter.bankofamerica.com/ic2/online-banking/bill-pay/.

As a PFM, you are probably used to encouraging service members to do their research before opening an account. Bankrate.com is an excellent resource that allows users to comparison shop for bank services (such as online access), interest rates and locations before opening an account. Service members will be able to find a bank that best suits their family’s needs.

Suggesting military families open accounts with military-affiliated credit unions or banks increases the likelihood that the financial institutions understand the military lifestyle. Military credit unions also offer a bevy of services, and are always located on or near military bases. Member-owned credit unions also usually offer higher interest rates on savings accounts and lower rates on loans than shareholder-owned banks. And, in case you were not aware, the Navy Federal Credit Union now serves all four branches of the military and offers specialized accounts. Large national bank with locations around the country can also a good strategy, as military families relocate frequently.

However, for all of its advantages, online banking does require vigilance to protect user’s account numbers and personal information. Here are seven steps you can suggest to military families so they may conduct online banking, safely:

1. It is important that computers used for online banking have updated operating systems, web browsers and security features. Be certain that installed anti-spyware, anti-malware and firewalls update automatically and are turned on.
2. Be cautious about conducting online banking in wi-fi hotspots where Internet access is shared among several users. Ask if the network is secure and what security measures are in place.
3. Be sure banking and other online transaction sites begin with “https” where the “s” stands for “secure.” Sites might also use a padlock or key symbol to show their site is safe. However, scammers can re-create these symbols, so if a site looks unusual or functions differently than usual, use caution and log off.
4. Use strong, unique passwords and keep passwords hidden. Strong passwords typically contain a combination of lower case and upper case letters as well as numbers. Do not use any part or combination of your name, birth date, or, common words. Change passwords every 90 days and use different passwords for different accounts.
5. Log out after completing online banking and clear the Internet history.
6. Keep account numbers and banking information in a safe, secured location, in the event that passwords are forgotten or online access is otherwise denied.
7. Be skeptical of emails from your bank requesting account numbers or passwords. Delete and call the bank for confirmation. A reputable bank will never ask for this information through an email.

Additional tips and information are available here.

What tips can you suggest for service members to keep their banking information safe?

From Chaos to Community

two preschool girlsIt’s that time of year again – the start of a new school year. For many young children, this may be the first time they’ve been in group care. In the life of a young child, that’s a BIG deal!

Remembering my years teaching preschool, those first few days were packed with feelings – scared, excited, lonely, delighted, confused, curious, tired, more excited…and that was just me! Seriously, it’s always a wild mess of highs and lows for children those first few days.

Although entering a new child care environment is a chaotic, challenging experience for all young children, for children of military families it may be just one of many unfamiliar situations. These children have often experienced a lot of changes, especially if the family has recently relocated. Imagine what it would be like to not only have a new child care setting, but also a new house, a new neighborhood, a new place of worship, a new park…and the list goes on. As a child’s new teacher or caregiver, you have a unique and critical role to play in helping him or her to begin to adjust to a new place with new people.

Create Predictability: One of the best ways you can help children adjust to their new “school” is to establish some order in the chaos – to begin some routines and regular practices that will soon become familiar to the children. Although it’s easy to think that variety will be more interesting to the children, the truth is that, at least at first, boring (i.e., predictable) is best. Children, from young babies to kindergartners, will feel much more relaxed when they know what to expect. And more relaxed, happy children will listen better, get along better, and learn better.

Create Community: But even more important to young children’s adjustment to school is to create an environment where they feel like they belong. Creating a place where new children feel safe (both physically and emotionally), cared for, listened to, valued and enjoyed is, in my opinion, the most important goal a teacher can strive for. Creating a strong sense of community in a program will take time but there are many things you can do to start off on the right path. Here are my “top four:”

Visually represent your classroom community.  In as many ways as you can think of, show children that each of them is part of the larger group. For example, post displays of the children’s names and/or photos all together under the name of the class/group at children’s eye level. Every way you can, give the children visual evidence that they belong.

Focus on names. For young children, names are a central aspect of their self-identify. It’s often the first word they learn to read and to write. Use that information to help each child feel valuable and unique AND to help them get to know one another by playing name games, writing their names down often, using name labels to identify places to sit or works of art, etc. And don’t forget to remind them of your own name often, especially during the first couple of days. You are the most important person in the classroom for them to build a connection with; that connection starts with knowing your name.

Help children connect. Give children lots of opportunities to connect one-on-one with each other. A whole group of new faces is overwhelming for any age of child (or adult, for that matter!). But one new face at a time is manageable for most. Subtly suggest playmates during free play time, especially for those who are a little slower to warm up. Pair children up throughout the day for short bits of time: walking to the playground, sitting together at snack, doing an art or building activity, or doing movement or music activities. Although in general it’s best to let children pick their own play partners, during this time when everyone’s a stranger, it can be helpful to give them opportunities to get to know each other one at a time.

Those are just a few of my suggestions for helping children quickly feel a part of a new group. But I’d also love to hear from you! What strategies do YOU use to develop a sense of belonging and community in your program? Please share your thoughts in a comment.

If you want more on this topic, here are some resources I suggest. Feel free to share others.

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Kathy Reschke