Identity theft is a crime that affects millions of Americans every single year. It’s painful to suffer through, and it’s difficult to recover from. What’s worse is that no one is truly safe.
But if you find that your identity has been stolen, you will find that you CAN recover. Here are some simple steps you must take to ensure that you can get yourself back in order after dealing with identity theft.
Step 1: Freeze Your Credit
The first thing you should be doing is making sure that no more damage can be done to your credit.
To initiate a credit freeze, contact each of the credit bureaus and let them know that you want to put a credit freeze on your accounts.
What this will do is ensure that potential lenders cannot get access to your credit reports, and this will not allow them to complete the loan application process.
Step 2: Check Your Bank Accounts and Credit Cards for Unauthorized Transactions
If identity theft has occurred, it’s possible that the fraudster has gotten access to your money. This is the first thing you want to check.
To find these transactions, go back as far as you can & see if there are any transactions that seem odd, or are particularly large.
If you catch it too late, this won’t help you as you won’t be able to view transactions that happened long ago.
Step 3: Get New Credit & Debit Cards.
If fraudsters have access to your credit accounts or your debit cards, you need to make sure that they cannot use the cards or card numbers they have.
It’s super simple to get new cards: contact your bank, report the cards as lost or stolen, and they will immediately cancel those cards and send you new ones.
In this process, you will also need to cancel all your automatic debits that originate from debit or credit cards. Otherwise, the payments will not go through and you could lose your subscriptions or worse, see an effect on your credit report.
Step 4: Get Your Credit Reports From All 3 Bureaus & Review Them
What you’re looking for are loans that you don’t recognize or credit accounts opened in your name that you don’t have access to.
Finding these will assist in the following steps, and will allow you to prove that identity theft has occurred.
Simply noting an odd change in your credit score is not enough to prove that fraud happened. You need to prove that accounts were opened in your name and that you were not the one who opened them.
Step 5: Contact The Police
The local police departments have fraud divisions that can help deal with cases of identity theft.
However, there might not be anything they can do to help you. They may be able to, though, as the most common sources of identity theft are relatives, employees that take your personal information, and skimmers that take your credit card info.
They can’t help you if the crime originated on the Internet, however they may be able to initiate an investigation.
It doesn’t hurt to contact the police, and it might help you get closure.
Step 6: Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Accounts
A fraud alert will let credit bureaus know that there is potentially suspicious activity on your account. This is not the same as a credit freeze.
Fraud alerts are sent to institutions that request your credit report, letting them know that the applicant’s identity may be compromised. This could prevent a lot of damage done, but it can also slow down your own attempts to get loans.
They can stay on your account for up to a year, giving you peace of mind for a good amount of time.
Step 7: Tighten Your Security
Security is paramount to making sure identity theft doesn’t happen again. To tighten your security, you will want to follow these steps:
- Unique passwords on all websites you visit. We recommend using a password manager like Lastpass or Dashlane.
- Don’t click on suspicious links sent to your email that look to be from your financial institution. If you’re unsure, give them a call or visit the branch.
- Use a VPN when in a strange location. NordVPN is a popular VPN service provider that can help protect your Internet info while you browse in an insecure location such as a hotel or restaurant.
Beginner’s Guide on How To Save Money
It may seem hard to justify saving money when you have a low income and high amounts of debt. But there are plenty of good reasons to have a growing savings account, even if you’re putting most of your excess cash into debt repayment.
You Need A Rainy Day Fund
Life happens. Your car breaks down. Your dishwasher ends up needing replacement. You have a medical emergency. A close family member passes away and you need to help cover funeral costs. These things happen to everyone and it would be silly not to plan for them.
We recommend having around $3,000 saved in case of emergency. This money would not be touched at all, and only used if you’re in a situation that you cannot pay for with your job income.
You Want To Have Runway
Runway is a term used to describe the amount of time someone can be without income before they have to resort to taking out debt.
We recommend building up your runway to the point where you have a full year’s worth of expenses saved up.
Once you have 12 months of expenses saved up, you’re much more free to take risks such as going back to school, switching to a higher paying (or more fulfilling) career, starting a business, or investing in real estate.
You might think that it will take years for you to save up this amount of money, and that’s true. But we recommend saving up for this anyway, even if you have debt to pay back.
We’re also going to talk about how you can cut down expenses in such a way that makes this goal a much more manageable one. It’s a lot easier to save $24,000 than $36,000, for example.
How To Save Money
Here are the easy ways to save money:
Look at your income and expenses.
Take a look at all usable sources of income. Only include what you can consider to be income. This includes:
- Your job income (W-2)
- Pensions, military benefits
- Side hustle income
- Business income
- Investment income that isn’t being reinvested
If you have unpredictable income (for example, if you’re a freelancer or business owner), you will need to take an average of the last 3-6 months and do budgeting quarterly. The result is that you end up saving money every quarter, piling it up in advance.
Break your expenses down.
Categorize each of your expenses based on what they’re for. Your biggest expenses are likely your rent/mortgage, transportation costs, and debt repayment.
Here are some expense categories you can use:
- Groceries and necessities
- Entertainment (include takeout and restaurants here)
- Childcare & children’s activities
- Other expenses
How you categorize your expenses is up to you. Then, you need to take an honest look at your spending. Look at your bank and credit card statements and get the real numbers! Don’t estimate. We recommend using a tool such as YNAB or Mint in order to track how you actually spend your money.
You may notice that we excluded debt repayment. For debt repayment, we recommend snowballing your debt and paying low amounts on the rest of the debt. You’ll need to use a calculator to figure out how much you’re paying every month using this strategy. Learn more about snowballing your debt!
Decide which expenses are the most important.
Take some time to think about this, because even though you want to have all of the benefits of what you currently pay for, not all of them are worth keeping.
For example, you might have an unlimited data plan when your data usage (which you can check on your phone) indicates that you only need a few GB.
Rank your expenses from most to least important. The least important ones will eventually be cut out to support your savings goals!
Cut out any expenses deemed unnecessary.
You decide how you live your life, and you need to choose which expenses you can live without in order to achieve your financial goals.
For example, you might be spending less on groceries and more on takeout. This might seem like it’s saving you time, but it’s actually costing you a fair bit. However, this may not be an unnecessary expense if you find yourself unable to cook your own meals.
Subscriptions are one of the biggest sources of budget burn. There might be a few subscriptions that you use regularly, but most subscriptions provide only a small amount of benefit for a high annual cost. $10/month ends up being $120/year, which could have done into your savings.
Look for any other opportunity to reduce your expenses.
It’s likely that you haven’t made the best financial decisions in the past. That’s okay: many of those can be corrected. For example, if you have an expensive car note, you may be able to sell that car, purchase one for less, and pay down the rest of your car note. This could save you thousands of dollars.
Or, you might find that you’re paying a great deal of money on your mortgage. You may be able to refinance. We have another article on refinancing your debt: check it out for more info!
Decide how much you will save.
Essentially, whatever is remaining after your expenses, debt repayment, and investments should go into a savings account. Your savings accounts should be categorized as such:
- Rainy Day Fund (put up $3,000-$5,000 in this fund)
- Runway Fund (put up to 12 months expenses in this fund)
- Large Purchase Goals
Our recommendation is to focus on these things, in this order. If you don’t have $3,000 for a rainy day, or if you recently spent your rainy day fund, you need to put money in that fund before you put money elsewhere!
How much you save and how much you invest will depend on your own personal preferences. We recommend maxing out your 401(k) plan and taking advantage of employer matching.
Keep in mind: someone WITH debt should not be saving as much of their income as someone without debt! If you have debt, you should be putting your money into paying it off, as that will save you the most money in the long run due to accruing interest!
How To Get Your Annual Credit Report for 2020
One of the most important aspects of financial discipline is to understand your credit history. If you understand what’s on your credit report, you can see what information lenders are using to determine whether or not you qualify for loans. You can also see what they’re using to determine your credit score. Keep reading this blog on how to get your annual credit report for 2020 in free.
Certain items on your credit report may be hurting your credit score. However, it’s possible that those items aren’t supposed to be there. There are laws surrounding what credit bureaus can legally keep on your credit scores. Despite this, mistakes do get made sometimes.
You also may be a victim of fraud, but you might not know it. Some fraudulent items can exist on your credit report and hurt your credit score, even if they’re clearly evidence of identity theft or some other crime.
The good news is, you don’t have to be left in the dark about your credit. The US government guarantees every US citizen the right to a copy of their credit report once every year. Best of all, the US government mandates that the credit bureaus provide this report for free.
So how do you get your free annual credit report for 2020? Let’s discuss.
What Is A Credit Report?
Your credit report is an annotated history of your debts. It’s used by lenders to see your overall credit history.
What Information Does A Credit Report Contain?
Your credit report contains information going back up to 7 years for most things, 10 years for other things, and past that for a select few items like tax liens.
It contains a history of payments made on your debts, including but not limited to: credit cards, car loans, mortgage, student loans, and lines of credit. It also contains a history of balances held on those items.
Your credit report also contains information about past due payments, items in default, items in collections, and bankruptcies. This information is highly useful for lenders and employers who don’t wish to rely on just a credit score.
What Is Your Credit Report Used For?
Items on your credit report are used to calculate your credit score. Your credit score is a three digit number between 300 and 850 that gives lenders a general idea of how creditworthy you are.
However, lenders don’t just want to see your credit score. They also want other info, such as your income, your total debt balances, and your debt payment obligations. Although your income isn’t included in your credit report, the other items are. For this reason, lenders don’t just want to look at the credit score: they want to see the whole picture.
To learn more about your credit score, read our article on the quick & dirty guide to your credit score!
How Do You Get A Free Annual Credit Report for 2020?
It’s very easy to get your free annual credit report for 2020. All you have to do is go to the Free Annual Credit Report website, located at https://annualcreditreport.com. This domain is owned by the US Government, and is the only place that you should go in order to get your free credit report.
To get your free credit report, go to that website and follow the instructions. You can get a credit report from each of the three bureaus, for a total of three credit reports per year.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You can get free weekly credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus until April 2021, for COVID-19 assistance. This way, you can get more than three credit reports this year for free.
The Difference Between Your Credit Report & Your Credit Score
When most people think about “good credit”, they think about high credit scores. Any credit score above 800 is considered “excellent”, regardless of the circumstances behind the score. Keep reading this blog to know the difference between credit score and credit report.
But there’s much more to credit than a three digit number. Every person has a credit report, which is a compiled history of their loans, payments, and available credit.
What is the difference between a credit report and a credit score? Let’s discuss both in detail.
What Is A Credit Score?
Your credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that represents how creditworthy you are. The higher the number, the more creditworthy you appear to lenders.
Your credit score should not be used as a gauge of financial success. Many people with low incomes have near-perfect credit scores, if they know how to handle money. Likewise, many high-income earners have low credit scores due to past borrowing history.
What Is Your Credit Score Made Of?
Your credit score is calculated by proprietary formulas owned by the credit bureaus. These formulas were originally developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation, known as FICO today. For this reason, credit scores are still known as FICO scores.
The reality is that you have multiple credit scores, used by different lenders for different purposes. This isn’t something you should concern yourself with, as the credit score you get when you check it is an accurate representation of what lenders see when they process your loan application.
FICO scores are calculated using 5 different criteria that are considered to be relevant to your creditworthiness. These 5 criteria are:
Payment History: 35%
Payment history describes a history of payments made toward the balance of loans. It includes loans that have since been paid off.
This is negatively affected by past due payments and loans that have gone into default due to these past due payments.
Amounts Owed: 30%
Amounts owed, also called credit utilization or available credit, describes how much money you owe compared to the amount of credit you have available to you.
This is negatively affected by having a large amount of debt outstanding compared to the amount of credit you have. For example, if you have a $10,000 credit card limit and you owe $9,000 on it, you’ll see a negative effect on your score.
Age of Credit Accounts: 15%
This does not just include credit cards, but loans, mortgages, and lines of credit.
If you’ve had a longer credit history, you will be positively affected.
Credit Mix: 10%
Credit mix describes the different types of credit you have available to you.
If you have a car loan, a mortgage, credit cards, and personal lines of credit (and you’re up to date on all of them), you will be positively affected.
New Credit: 10%
New credit, or credit inquiries, describes whether or not you’ve applied to open new credit accounts.
This is usually not a big deal, but if you open a lot of credit accounts in a short period of time, you will be negatively affected.
What Is A Credit Report?
Your credit report is a comprehensive history of your credit activity.
Your credit report does not come with a number attached to it. Instead, it only describes your credit activity.
Lenders look at your credit report in tandem with your credit score in order to find things that may indicate that you’re not a creditworthy borrower. For example, your credit score cannot tell a lender if someone has had a recent bankruptcy. It’s not a descriptive measure. Instead, the lender will look at the credit report to see if there are loans in default, bankruptcies, tax liens, or if you simply have too much debt outstanding to qualify for the loan.
You can get a free credit report every year by going to https://annualcreditreport.com which is a site run by the US government. This can be used for all three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Therefore, you’re entitled to three credit reports every year; one from each of the bureaus.
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