Plastic money is getting smarter

Plastic money is getting “smarter” and may replace the cash we currently use.

Regardless, the bottom line is America may be becoming a cashless society.

Whip out your wallet or purse. Chances are, you have at least one credit card, perhaps a debit card and a few greenbacks.

Remember the cash you used to pay for gas or the change you put in a pop machine? In its place is another piece of plastic.

This time, it’s just like cash. You can use it in that same pop machine. You can even use it to pay for gas and never have to wait for change.

Welcome to the not-so-distant future, where smart cards are as good as cash and in some cases better. The question: Will these cards ever take the place of cash completely, leaving the greenback a distant memory?

Electronic means of payment, such as credit cards and best debit cards, have been growing since the mid-20th century. Debit cards, which deduct money from a checking account, have been big since about 1978.

“At that time, they were the initial ATM cards,” said Bob Gilson, executive director of the Smart Card Forum, a consortium of 220 companies that works on the development of smart cards.

Credit cards are common among consumers and have been since the 1950s.

Now, research is focusing on smart cards. Smart cards were first introduced in Europe about 26 to 28 years ago. Governments there used the smart card technology as they began to improve their public health-care systems and other socialized services.

A smart card differs from a credit card, ATM or prepaid mastercard in that it has an embedded microprocessor chip. This chip allows the card to do more than just deduct money from a bank account. The card is a computer in itself.

The card can determine the validity of the person who operates it without the use of online systems. It stores financial data. Debit cards just access an account from a computer system.

“A debit card really is a dumb card,” Gilson said. “It has none of the mechanisms to access data.”

A smart card can, for instance, be placed in an ATM machine to withdraw money from your account. The card stores the money amount on its memory chip and you spend it like cash.

Disposable cards will have a certain amount of value on them and once the amount is depleted they can be thrown away. Stored-value cards can be recharged, so to speak, by accessing an ATM machine to store more money on the card.

14 Safety Tips for Aparment Living

There is no such thing as a burglarproof home or apartment.

“An apartment house is a neighborhood,” says Detective Sergeant Gary HossĀ  from Houston. “It just happens to be vertical.”

Getting to know your neighbor in an apartment complex is just as crucial to crime prevention as it is in a neighborhood of single-family dwellings.

There is safety in numbers – a well-organized tenant association, for example, is a good first line of defense against crime of any kind.

It is just as important in Apartments in Houston to obey the simple rules of common sense: Don’t assume, for instance, that a main entrance downstairs guarantees protection. Always install a dead-bolt lock on your apartment door and a peephole.

Here are other tips for the apartment dweller from crime prevention program:

Never allow strangers to enter without proper screening. Refer solicitors to the manager.

Do not “buzz” the door open to anyone you do not know, and watch that strangers don’t come into the secured building as you leave.

If you are a woman living alone, use initials instead of your full name on the identification slot in the lobby.

Don’t leave notes for delivery people or others on your door that advertise your absence.

Check the elevator when it arrives, and don’t get in if there is someone there that you are uncertain of or consider “suspicious.”

Women riding in an elevator alone should always stand near the control panel. If accosted, press all buttons.

If a suspicious person enters the elevator while you are on it, exit before the door closes.

Always survey the hallway when you leave the elevator.

Avoid using the apartment building’s laundry room by yourself. Team up with a neighbor.

Make sure the lock or the key cylinder has been changed when you move into a new apartment.

Lock all doors and accessible windows before you leave your apartment.

Use a timer for a lamp or radio to make your apartment appear occupied when you are out late or on vacation.

Notify the building manager if you leave on vacation or other extended stay away from home.

Always report suspicious sounds, strangers or odd behavior.

How to get financial planning information for students

Operating on a tight budget is a necessity for most college students. Post-secondary education is expensive: a university degree can cost tens of thousands of dollars, based on two years or more of paying for tuition, books and supplies, computers, accommodation, clothing, transportation and only modest entertainment.

Even if a student has money from student loans, savings from a summer job, a parental contribution and ongoing income from part-time work, getting by often isn’t easy. Having just left the the family nest, the first semester of post-secondary education represents a crash course in financial planning – especially for those who have left the family nest for the first time to attend school elsewhere.

While parents can provide guidance, there are other sources of help. Some universities offer basic budgeting advice through an on-campus services.

“We provide students with assistance in planning budgets, preparing appeals and managing their financial resources through individual counselling,” says Doreen Whitehead, director of the University of Western Ontario’s financial aid office in London, Ont.

Whitehead’s office is Western’s administrative centre for student loans and other government aid programs, such as the Ontario Work Study Program, as well as the university’s bursaries and loans. “A reception area is available where students can submit forms, get applications, get appeal information and answers to routine questions,” she said. The office also has staff to handle more complicated inquiries.

At Montreal’s Concordia University, students have access to free in-depth counselling on personal budgeting and debt management. “The goal is to help students make better-informed decisions about the debt they take on as students,” says Roger Cote, director of Concordia’s financial-aid and awards office.

Students have an initial half-hour consultation to help them establish a reasonable financial plan for their university years.

The program’s ultimate objective, however, is to help students avoid a debt crunch after they graduate. “We help them make the right decision about their loan situation,” Cote said. That decision is influenced heavily by projections of what the student’ financial situation will be when he or she enters the job market.

Cote has developed spreadsheets that allow counsellors to plug in an array of income and expense data to help the student determine what is a reasonable debt load when time comes to repay education debts.

Off campus, bank branches are a good place to seek financial-planning information. Some banks have easy-to-read booklets offering information on loans and other financial aid, budgeting, banking, credit use and income tax.

B of M’s U-Choose: A Student’s Guide to Financial Survival has 30 pages that cover the basics as well as sections on food shopping, economical transportation, computer buying and even interior design. The booklet is free to students at the bank’s branches and at some college student-aid offices.

Massachusetts banking: A Student Loan Private Chioise Information is a 2-page freebie that focuses on banking-related financial matters.

Some money-management tips for students gleaned, in part, from booklets available from Bank of Montreal and Bank of Nova Scotia:

Budgeting: If you’re sharing accommodation and expenses, sit down regularly with your roommate(s) to review the budget and make changes to it.

Before you go: Check out the cost of living in the area near your school, and adjust your budget accordingly. If you have a scholarship, bursary of grant, make sure you keep receipts for moving expenses – these costs can be claimed as tax deductions.

Entertaining: A home-cooked meal will cost you a lot less than the restaurant variety. What’s more, adds Bank of Montreal booklet, “depending on your culinary skills it may be a hit by other standards as well.”