Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Tokenization: How to Stay Safe with the Wallet of the Future

Left your wallet at home? No worries; you can still pay for those purchases! Just use your phone.

Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and other mobile wallets are revolutionizing the checkout experience by blending two developments in payment infrastructure to save you time: near-field communication (NFC) and token encryption.

Approximately one-third of all payment terminals nationwide have been updated to accept Apple Pay. However, it only works on phones equipped with the necessary NFC equipment. If you already have an iPhone 6 or a newer iPhone, though, all you need is the preinstalled Passport app. There are simple, on-screen instructions for adding a debit or credit card. You can even add your UCCU card!

Samsung Pay is structured similarly, but only works on select Samsung Android devices. However, Samsung has incorporated magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology as well. Hold a phone against a payment terminal and it will emit a signal that simulates the magnetic strip on a debit or credit card.

In terms of convenience, this means you can use Samsung Pay on almost any payment terminal in the country. The only situation where Samsung Pay won’t work is when you need to insert your card into a slot, such as at a gas station. Otherwise, though, you’re free to use this payment method even if the merchant hasn’t updated their equipment.

Both payment methods use a process called “tokenization” for maximum security. In the simplest terms, tokenization is the use of a non-secure piece of data to stand in for a secure one. It’s like arcade tokens. The secure data is the quarter, which you exchange at a machine for a token. That token then tells the arcade machines you have a quarter (or credit) to play. The game machine never sees the actual quarter, but accepts the token that stands in its place.

Apple Pay and Samsung Pay work the same way. When you make a payment with one of these services, the app creates a token – a random series of numbers – that corresponds to your account, along with a one-time security key. It transmits that data to the payment terminal, which sends that token to the “token vault,” a secure database that links these tokens to the actual accounts. If the security key is correct, the token vault will transmit a charge directly to the linked cards and return a verification of funds to the payment terminal. Since the token vault is hosted at the payment processor, the point-of-sale terminal never sees your card information. 

This is different from a swiped or keyed transaction. Ordinarily, the terminal reads your credit or debit card information directly and transmits it to the payment processor, which then sends it to your financial institution. This means your card’s information is stored in three different places, any of which could be the site of a data breach.

With tokenization, your information is seen only by the payment processor and your financial institution. That’s fewer points of failure along the information chain and there is less vulnerability for your sensitive data.

This also means that Apple and Samsung have no idea what purchases you’re making. For fans of internet privacy, this is heartening news.

There are other layers of security involved in these services. To use Apple Pay, you’ll need to use TouchID, FaceID or input your PIN. For Samsung Pay, you’ll have to authenticate your fingerprint, input a PIN or confirm an iris scan. If your phone gets swiped, a thief will have a hard time using it to go on a shopping spree. In contrast, if a criminal grabs your actual wallet, they can do enormous amounts of damage to your finances and credit score before you even realize it’s gone.

Whether you’re a die-hard Apple fan or a staunch Samsung supporter, mobile wallets are an efficient, secure way to pay. Download the app, link your UCCU card, and start leaving your wallet at home!  


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How Many Credit Cards Should I Own?

Hopefully, you’re working hard to keep a high credit score by using your cards and paying on time. You may be wondering, though, if more is better. Is several credit cards and more available credit a good idea? Or, are too many cards a liability to your score? 

Read on for the answers to all your questions. 

How your credit score works 

Let’s explore the major components of your credit that credit scoring agencies, like FICO and VantageScore, use to calculate your score: 

  1. Your payment history. The timeliness of your payments comprises 65% of your FICO score. VantageScore calls payment history “extremely influential” in your score.
  2. Your credit utilization. Credit scoring companies look at how much of your available credit – in total and per line – you are using.
  3. The age of your credit history. Lenders want to see a long and active history of credit cards and on-time payments.
  4. Your credit diversity.  A variety of credit indicates that you are an attractive borrower.

Why have several open cards?

Over time, having multiple cards can boost your score in two important areas:

  • Your payment history. When you pay several credit card bills on time instead of just one, this component of your score will go up.
  • Credit utilization rate. FICO likes to see a low credit utilization rate. Having multiple cards lowers this number by increasing your available credit and allowing you to spread your credit use across several cards.

The right number of credit cards

There is no magic number of cards you should shoot for to achieve a high credit score. Instead, let’s take a look at the credit cards of consumers with excellent scores.

Statistics find that the average individual with a FICO score exceeding 785 has 7 open credit cards. The average credit account is 11 years old and the most recently opened account is 28 months old.

While it may be OK to have a few cards, having lots of NEW cards probably won’t help you achieve excellent credit.

When not to open new cards

If you’re planning on taking out a large loan within the next year, applying for new cards can hurt your score. Here’s why:

  • Hard checks. When you apply for a new credit card, your credit history gets pulled. Lots of “hard checks” can negatively affect your score.
  • Your credit age will decrease. The age of your credit is determined by taking an average of the age of all your cards. By opening lots of new cards, you’re bringing that overall average down, and therefore hurting your score.
  • Your credit variety will decrease. Opening more unsecured cards with revolving credit will lower your credit variety because you’ll now have more unsecured lines than other types of loans.
  • Too much open credit. Lots of open credit will negatively affect your VantageScore. This score is used for auto loans and other large loans; though most mortgage lenders only consider your FICO score.

Keeping your credit score strong can positively affect your finances for years to come.

Your Turn: How many credit cards do you own? Do you think this number is too few or too many? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!



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Voluntary Visionaries

The UCCU Board of Directors is made up of nine members from a variety of industries and areas of expertise. These elected representatives serve voluntarily, providing a wealth of diverse experience and leadership that benefits both UCCU and our members.

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Look Before You Pump! Don’t Get Skimmed at the Gas Station

Gas-pump skimming is an old crime making a comeback, and your card may be at risk. Since skimmer devices are almost invisible, they can be difficult to spot. And Bluetooth technology lets the scammer remotely obtain the info it collects from as far as 100 yards away.

While EMV-enabled cards are more commonplace, gas stations have until 2020 to update their systems, making them vulnerable. Protect yourself against this hack by learning about card skimmers. 

How it works 

Hackers usually outfit the pump farthest from the convenience store with their skimmer. This way, they are out of the range of any security cameras at the shop’s entrance. The hacker places a skimming device on top of the pump’s card reader or inside the pump itself, and then leaves the area. 

Choose your payment method wisely 

You may seek extra protection by using a credit card or cash to pay at the pump. A credit card lets you easily dispute fraudulent charges. And, depending upon your financial institution, a debit card may not have much purchase protection.

The safest payment method might be cash, but remember that it cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.

How to spot a skimmer

If you don’t like the idea of using cash, you can still protect yourself by being on the lookout for skimmers. If something looks suspicious, don’t use that pump! 

4 ways to spot a skimmer: 

  1. Use your eyes. Do numbers on the PIN pad look newer or bigger than the rest of the machine? Does anything look like it doesn’t belong? Is the fuel pump’s seal broken?
  2. Check the tape. Many gas stations place serial-numbered security tape across the dispenser to protect their pumps. If the tape has been broken, or there’s no tape on the dispenser at all, it’s likely been compromised.
  3. Use your fingers. Feel the card reader before sliding your debit card into the slot. Do the keys feel raised? Is it difficult to insert your card?
  4. Use your phone. There are several free skimming apps, like Skimmer Scanner, that can scan a card reader for a skimming device and alert you if one is found. You can also check your phone’s Bluetooth for any strange letters or numbers appearing under “other devices.”

General card safety 

It’s always a good idea to practice general safety when using a card to pay at the pump. Choose the pump closest to the store and always cover the number pad with your hand when inputting your PIN. It’s also a good idea to periodically check your account statements for suspicious charges. 

Your Turn: How do you pay at the pump? Why do you choose this method?



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UCCU Book Review: Your Money or Your Life

Your Money or Your Life is unlike any personal finance book you’ve ever read. It’s not an investment guide or a collection of savings tips. Instead, this recently updated classic aims to help you figure out exactly how money fits into your life. 

Most personal finance books try to help you earn and keep enough money to maintain your current lifestyle. In Your Money or Your Life, authors Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez break convention by showing you that financial independence is most easily achieved with a minimalist approach. You only need enough money to buy and pay for that which you need – and no more. 

Here’s a brief overview of book’s 9 steps toward reshaping your relationship with money: 

Step 1: Tally up every dollar you’ve ever earned. Then calculate the total worth of all of your assets, not including money you still owe on these purchases. Now, take a look at these two numbers and their startling discrepancy. 

Step 2:  Calculate how much you really earn each hour. You’ll need to take your weekly work hours and add the time you spend commuting and attending company events. Then, subtract your weekly income by any money you spend on work-related expenses. Divide your adjusted weekly hours by this number, and you’ll have your true hourly rate. 

Step 3: Track all of your income and expenses over several months. Then, calculate how many hours of work each expense costs you.   

Step 4: Evaluate your expenses by the number of hours in your life that you use to pay for them. 

The book instructs you to ask these questions for every single expense:

  • Do I receive fulfillment and value compared to the life energy spent on this?
  • Is this use of my life energy in line with my values and goals?
  • How would this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work?

This exercise often has sobering results: Much of our time and money only enables us to work more instead of reflecting our true values. 

Step 5: Over the next few months, you’re going to fill out a chart comparing your income and expenses. Your goal, here, is to make those numbers as far apart as possible. 

Step 6: Train yourself to live a thrifty lifestyle by spending less and maximizing your time. 

Step 7: Re-evaluate your job and verify if your work resonates with your values. Use the information you’ve tracked over the last 6 steps to help you answer this question. 

Step 8: Determine if your investment income can cover all your living expenses. If you’ve worked through the steps correctly, and your income now far surpasses your expenses, this incredible goal can actually become a reality. 

Step 9: The ultimate goal is to have your investments growing even when they’re paying for your living expenses. 

Does it all sound like a dream? Some would say so, although many readers claim this book has changed their lives. 

But Your Money or Your Life has lots of critics, too. Many readers complain about a lack of real investment advice in the book. Others find the book’s tone to be intimidating and overly negative. While the authors claim most people work and spend to feed their greed, critics argue that this doesn’t ring true for everyone and lots of people spend their money prudently. 

Another point of contention for readers is the subtle encouragement the authors give readers to stop working so they can fulfill their true potential. The book never recognizes the fact that many people find fulfillment through their jobs and are actively working to make the world a better place. 

Everyone agrees, though, that Your Money or Your Life is a provocative read that will leave you with lots to think about long after you’ve turned the last page. 

What do you think: Do most people work and spend to feed their greed (as the authors claim), or do lots of people work to make the world a better place? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!



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Investing – Step #10: Diversify Your Portfolio

Just as location is super important for real estate brokers, diversification is equally important to financial advisors. That’s because it’s key to successful investing.

You may be satisfied with the returns your equities are providing. However, you can never be certain of the market’s pattern, regardless of how well a specific sector is doing. That’s why a well-diversified portfolio is crucial. As always, a good offense is your best defense: The time to diversify is before it becomes a necessity.

Here are three easy ways to make diversification happen:

1.) Spread the wealth over economic sectors, styles and sizes

You may have discovered the best equity in today’s market. Nonetheless, you should never put all your investment funds in one stock or in one sector. Instead, create your own mutual fund by investing in a variety of companies and sectors.

Be wary of too much concentration in any single stock or sector. If you’ve purchased shares in 20 single industry-related stocks, your eggs are all in one basket, because you’ve only invested in stocks that are similar. Broaden your investments to include other economic sectors, or even foreign stocks and bonds or real estate.

It’s also smart to diversify your holdings among small- and large-cap companies. You may have chosen your preferred style and allocated most of your money there, but you can still broaden your portfolio by investing in other sized companies, styles and sectors.

2.) Consider index and bond funds

Spreading your money over different economic sectors can be expensive. The way to do it inexpensively is to purchase an index fund, which tracks an entire index for you at an affordable price.

Owning bond funds will add even more diversification to your portfolio at no risk.  Even within bond investments, remember to diversify. Consider investing in bonds with varying maturities and credit qualities.

Remember, you want to mix up your portfolio as much as possible.

3.) Keep building

Even if you’ve adequately diversified your portfolio, that doesn’t mean you can forget about it. Continue to add to your investments on a regular basis. This will help smooth out the regular peaks and bumps of the market.

It’s important to bear in mind that the goal of diversification is not to boost performance. It won’t guarantee against loss or ensure gains. What it will do, though, is help minimize loss in the event of a sharp market decline and improve your returns for your specific level of risk and investment goals.


How diversified is your portfolio? Which sectors do you invest in? Share your chosen approach with us in the comments.

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