7 Tips for Staying Safe After the Equifax Breach – Without Equifax’s Help

If your bank got robbed, would you make a large deposit the next day? If a babysitter lost your child, would you ask that person to lead the search party? Then why would you turn to Equifax for help dealing with the Equifax data breach?

Equifax already allowed hackers to steal 145.5 million people’s personal information. So giving the company more info – to sign up for complimentary credit monitoring or to see if you were affected by the breach – is something of a “fool me twice” situation.

Plus, let’s get something straight right from the start: Your personal information is out there. There’s no use in hoping otherwise or confirming your status with Equifax. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults were affected by the data breach at Equifax. And that’s just one breach. You also have to consider the many others that have happened in recent years, including:

  • Anthem: 80 million people’s records were stolen in 2015.
  • Target: 41 million customers had their payment info stolen in 2012.
  • Yahoo: 3 billion accounts were compromised in 2013-2014.

Your goal should be to make yourself as tough of a target for identity thieves as possible. Imagine, for example, that we everyday consumers are a herd of wildebeest, and the identity thieves are a pack of lions. Sure, they can see all of us, but they won’t be able to catch everyone. So they’ll target the weak.

Here’s what you can do to avoid being attacked.

  1. Sign up for 24/7 credit monitoring. You’ll get a notification whenever there’s an important change to your credit report, allowing you to immediately look into the change and take action if needed. And there are plenty of free 24/7 credit-monitoring services to choose from these days.
  2. Enable two-step verification everywhere.This means you’ll have to input a code texted to your cell phone whenever you sign into an account on a new device. This adds an extra layer of security to any account, but it’s especially important with online bank accounts, credit card accounts and your primary email. You’ll likely use your main email to reset other account passwords, after all.
  3. Change your passwords.You hear this advice all the time, and for good reason. It’s a simple, effective way to keep your information safe. And a breach of this magnitude is a good excuse to catch up in this regard. Ideally, you should create three new passwords: one for email, one for financial accounts and a third for all other accounts. They should be at least eight characters long, including at least one uppercase letter, lowercase letter, number and special character.

By the way, you should avoid using a password manager. That would create a single point of failure, exposing all of your passwords if it were compromised.

  1. Freeze your reports for added security. Fraud alerts don’t really do anything. They’re just a warning and are easily overlooked by lenders. Freezing your credit reports, on the other hand, prevents anyone without a special PIN from accessing your files. There’s generally a small fee for locking each of your credit reports, which you must do individually. But it’s waived for victims of fraud.
  2. Suppress fraudulent info. A fraudulent account on your credit report could find its way back onto your file if you remove it by following the standard credit report dispute process. In contrast, suppressing or blocking the info prevents it from being re-reported in the future and making an unwelcome comeback. (This is essentially a dedicated dispute process for credit report inaccuracies stemming from identity theft. It’s faster than a standard dispute, and it requires you to take special steps such as completing a Federal Trade Commission affidavit.)
  3. Never respond to unsolicited requests for info. Spam calls and emails typically increase in the aftermath of a big breach, indicating that at least some of your info has been released. When the time comes, don’t let the moment fluster you. Just hang up or delete the email.
  4. File your taxes early. If you’re anticipating a refund this year, you can cut identity thieves off at the pass by filing early and claiming the money you’re due before they have a chance to.

Finally, it’s important not to get overly focused on your Equifax credit report. Just because an identity thief gets his or her information from Equifax does not mean the fraud perpetrated with that info will automatically show up on your Equifax report. Lenders typically select one of the three major bureaus to pull a report from. So make sure to keep a close eye on your TransUnion and Experian reports, too.

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Stressed About Money? Here’s How to Cope

If you stress about money, you might find comfort in the fact that you’re not alone, especially if you’re a millennial. More than two-thirds of the generation report having moderate to high levels of anxiety about savings and income, while only half of the general population says the same, according to a survey by financial services firm Northwestern Mutual. Even worse, that financial stress is spilling over and negatively impacting other aspects of their lives: 28 percent of millennials say their financial anxiety affects their job performance, 23 percent get physically ill, 18 percent feel depressed and 24 percent say it causes issues in relationships with their spouse or partner.

“Stress doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it can permeate multiple aspects of our lives,” says Megan Ford, a financial therapist at the University of Georgia and president of the Financial Therapy Association, a professional trade group for this emerging field of finance. “Stress in our lives – related to money or otherwise – can be toxic to our physical health, emotional health and to our relationships.”

Of course, you can find plenty of reasons to stress about money at every stage of life: In or near retirement, concerns about having enough money to fund longer life expectancies loom large. Starting in your late 30s through your 40s, 50s and even 60s, your budget might be pulled in many different directions, from paying for child care to helping care for aging parents. For adults age 18 to 34 (how Northwestern Mutual defines millennials ), a lack of knowledge when you’re just starting out and first trying to wrap your arms around your finances can be a huge stressor.

And just thinking about all those financial demands, as well as daily expenses and how to cover them can weigh on people. “It’s this constant game of debits and credit, and it’s exhausting – emotionally, physically, cognitively,” says financial psychology specialist Meghaan Lurtz. “If you spend your entire day thinking about [finances] … even if you’re doing well … it’s gonna feel scarce, and it’s gonna feel stressful.”

Beyond the quantitative and logistical demands of financial planning, money can come with emotional pressure, too. “Often there are deeper reasons we react to money with fear, stress or anxiety,” Ford says. “For example, how your parents dealt with money or what your money climate was growing up influences your feelings and behaviors concerning finances.”

The first step to coping is to recognize that you have a problem and seriously contemplate how you’re feeling about it. “When we identify what specifically this anxiety may be rooted in, we can see more clearly what other steps are necessary to keep the stress under control,” Ford says.

For example, if you grew up seeing your parents struggle financially, that might have ingrained a sense of fear in you that makes you overly cautious about spending. Or perhaps you grew up accustomed to a certain standard of living, so you have difficulty giving up certain luxuries you can no longer really afford and have wound up digging yourself into a hole of credit card debt.

Whatever your personal situation, devising a solution to your financial problems starts with an inventory of your assets, debts, income and expenses. “Just really get a grip on what is happening in your financial life,” says Chantel le Bonneau Stewart, a Los Angeles-based certified financial planner with Northwestern Mutual. “That way you at least have the information you need to start making choices.”

Setting and prioritizing your financial goals is the next step to easing your financial stress. It can be challenging to juggle all the demands on your money, so knowing the root cause of your anxiety can really help you sort through what is most important to you. For example, if fear due to your parents’ financial struggles fuels your money stress, perhaps building and maintaining a sizable emergency fund should be a top priority for you. Or if you really need to treat yourself from time to time, you can find a way to fit some indulgence into your budget and try to avoid an unplanned splurge. “This can take some thought, but really reflect on what is important to you financially and why,” Ford says. “Investing in and spending on what ultimately makes you happy helps to reduce stress.”

Finally, you might consider getting some professional help. Tackling your finances is certainly a huge endeavor that requires you to become financially literate. But all the information on the subject that’s available online, on television, in newspapers and magazines – while helpful – might also be overwhelming. Working with a pro can help you sort through the noise and take control of your own financial situation.

“You don’t need to understand every component of finance, but you need to know how it impacts you and the choices that you’re going to have to make,” le Bonneau Stewart says. “A lot of times that knowledge empowers people to make choices and feel a lot better about the work that they’re doing.”

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Prepare Now for These 5 End-of-Year Expenses

For many Americans, December is an expensive month. The extra expenses flow like mulled wine, resulting in an empty checking account and a full credit card bill when January rolls around.

The truth is that most of these expenses are easily predictable, and you can prepare for many of them right now, reducing their impact when December rolls around.

Here are five major end-of-year expenses that people face along with actions you can take today to minimize them.

 

Holiday gifts. The best strategy for reducing the expense of holiday gifts is to start shopping early. Identify items that you might want to give to each person on your gift list, then start carefully shopping for those items to find them on steep discount.

The more time you give yourself for such shopping, the more likely you are to find discounts that will cut down your overall holiday spending. You don’t have to wait until Black Friday to keep an eye out for sale items or discounts on the gifts you intend to give.

Even better, if you buy some of your gifts now, you’re spreading out the expense, so it doesn’t hit like an avalanche in late November or December.

Even if you do decide to wait to buy gifts, there’s no reason not to put aside some money starting now, so you’ll have it later.

 

Travel expenses. For many, December means traveling to visit family and enjoy holiday celebrations together, and that means travel expenses.

Of course, if you plan ahead now, you can save quite a lot on flights and hotel stays, not necessarily by buying right now, but by checking for prices starting now.

Plus, if you start thinking about travel planning now, you can be more specific in your requests for time off at work and thus be able to search for less common travel times, which might be less expensive.

Your first step, then, is to talk to family members now and nail down travel and holiday plans, so you can use that as a basis for smart travel planning and time off from work.

 

 

Food and hosting costs. For others, a big part of the holiday expense comes from hosting family members and providing lots of food. That can be expensive, especially when you’re throwing together meals for a crowd.

Again, you can save money and spread out the cost by planning ahead for this, even starting now. You can make large batches of soup in advance and stow them in the freezer, so you can thaw them later when they’re needed, or you can prepare foods such as chopped onions and green peppers and freeze them to save time during the busy December months.

Not only that, you’re also giving yourself time to shop for large meal expenses, such as a ham, turkey or large quantity of flour, which can be stored in the freezer or in the pantry until then.

 

Home winterizing. Winter is coming, like it or not, which means that your home likely needs some preparatory work to be energy efficient and ready for the cold months.

You can start on these tasks right away, of course. It’s probably time to change your furnace filters and add caulk to your windows where you find a draft. You might want to add a weatherstrip to a door that has a draft under it, too.

As cold weather gets closer, you can take more cold-weather energy-conservation steps, such as reversing the direction of your ceiling fans and dropping your thermostat by a few degrees, so the heat isn’t always kicking on.

 

Charitable giving. Many people give to charities during December because they’re inspired by the season and want their giving included in the current year for tax purposes.

While you personally may want to wait to make such donations, you can start putting aside money for charitable giving now. Put a portion of your donation aside in your savings account today, so the financial burden of the donation doesn’t hit you in December.

Also, if you start thinking abut charitable giving now, you can give more thought to the various charities you wish to support and amounts you wish to give. With the extra time, you can do some homework into how the charities actually spend their money and give to charities that are most in line with your personal values.

If you start taking action now, then the end of the year won’t hit you like a financial freight train. Instead, it’ll be a joyful period, when you can focus on family and friends rather than dollars and cents. Good luck.

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Financial Advice For Dads

5 Ways Dads Can Make and Save More Money This Summer

Here’s how fathers can improve their family’s finances.

Most people think of summer as a time to spend money on vacations. But for dads, it can also be a good time to save money or even make some. The days are longer, which means that families may be enjoying free outdoor activities. The weather is warm, so families can spend less on heating (although they might be spending more on air conditioning). And with so many people on vacation, things can sometimes be a little quieter at work.

If money’s on your mind this summer, here are five ways to make or save more money to improve your family’s financial situation.

Automate your savings. As a dad, you have a lot of things you need to save for, from college and retirement to Christmas and vacations. Unfortunately, if you wait until the end of the month, finding money for all of them can be tough. Automating your savings as a deduction from your check is the best way to ensure that your good intentions don’t pave the way to an empty savings account. How do you automate your savings? Contribute to a pre-tax retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) or traditional IRA, to save for your retirement. Or consider contributing to a 529 savings plan for college expenses. These are all savings plans that are automatically deducted from your check before taxes come out, which increases the actual amount you will be able to save.

Open a Christmas savings account. Saving for those big expenses, such as Christmas or vacations, can be challenging, which is why these kinds of purchases so often end up being paid with a credit card. The interest on these purchases then adds to the overall cost of the trips or gift. Get ahead of the game by starting a savings account just for these kinds of expenses. You can set up an account with your bank and have funds transferred directly into this account, automating the saving process. Some credit unions or smaller banks even offer a special savings plan, called a Christmas Club, just for this purpose. But if your bank doesn’t, you can still take advantage of this idea. Just make sure to put the money you’re saving into a high-interest account, such as a money market account, through your bank.

Max out your retirement plan employer contributions. Many employers offer a 401(k) matching program that matches your contributions up to a certain percentage of your income. These employer-matching programs are very popular. Of employees who participated in a retirement savings plan through their employer, 62 percent were in plans in which the employer matched, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For instance, if your employer matches your contributions up to 5 percent, that means when you save 5 percent of your income in your 401(k), your employer will contribute the same amount. Your 5 percent suddenly turns into 10 percent. If your employer offers this program, make sure to participate in it since it doubles your money with no additional investment or effort on your part. Also keep in mind that you are not limited by employer contributions. You can always save more.

Sell your excess stuff. Every time the season changes, you inevitably retire some items. This is especially true when you have kids since they outgrow their clothes, shoes and toys almost as fast as you can buy them. Instead of letting the discarded stuff clutter your home, why not turn it all into some quick cash? Now’s the time to go through your kids’ things and identify which items you can keep, sell or donate. To reduce the hassle of selling and get the most money for your items, bundle your clothes by size and season and sell them in “lots” on Craigslist or eBay. EBay buyers often pay more, but if you don’t want to bother with shipping, go with Craigslist to find local buyers. Take note: Summer is the best time to list kids items since many parents are getting started on school shopping.

Make more money with a side gig. Saving money is great but sometimes the best thing you can do to improve your financial situation is to increase the amount of money coming in. That’s why, according to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, 29 percent of workers nationwide have a side hustle, including 44 percent of those age 25 to 34. A side gig has many benefits, from allowing you to increase your job experience and work on projects you enjoy, to increasing the amount of money you have left over at the end of the month. There are many ways to do this in today’s “gig economy.” You can drive for Uber, list your home on Airbnb, start freelancing through a site such as Upwork or even begin a consulting business on the side. The options are almost endless, but check with your employer to ensure there are no rules at work that limit your ability to moonlight at another gig.

The summer will be over before you know it. Implement these ideas now, and you could make a significant improvement in your family’s financial situation in just a few short months.

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Family Finance

5 Rules for Moving Back in With Your Parents – So They Don’t Kick You Out

Boomerang kids can take steps to improve the living situation with their parents.

When Savanna Atherton graduated from college in 2016, she was still searching for a job. To ease the transition, she got two roommates, whom she’d known for her whole life: her parents.

“I decided initially that I was going to live with my parents until I did find a job,” says Atherton, who now works as a public relations associate in Portland, Oregon. “And once I did find a job, I decided to stay and save on money.”

Atherton, 23, discovered that returning to the nest was a boon for both her relationship with her parents and her pocketbook. “It’s been fun to spend time with my family,” she says. “I’m working and have my own life, but they’re still a part of it, and we’re still together.” And in the meantime, she’s using her low-cost living situation to accelerate repayment on her student loans and build savings.

As a boomerang kid – an adult child who returns to live in the family home – Atherton is not alone. In fact, for the first time in more than 130 years, living with a parent is the most common young adult living arrangement in the U.S., according to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center. While the Great Recession – and corresponding weak job market – was associated with an uptick in young adults returning to live at home, the trend hasn’t receded in subsequent years. Instead, the number of adults ages 18 to 34 living at home has continued to grow due, in part, to a drop in the share of young adults who choose to shack up with a romantic partner, according to the survey.

For grown children who move in with their parents, how they navigate the experience can determine whether it’s a fantastic and financially fruitful experience – or one fraught with frustration and fighting. Fortunately, boomerang kids can take steps to ensure their parents are comfortable with the new arrangement and hopefully prevent being given the boot.

Communicate your reasons for moving home. Be honest with your parents – and yourself – about your reasons for returning to the nest. If you’re looking to build savings, save on rent or start a new business venture, make those goals clear, experts say. “Have the conversation and see what your parents’ expectations are out of you,” says Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York City and co-author of the upcoming book “The Millennial Money Fix.”

Developing those financial goals can help you devise a timeline for moving out; and it can help your family understand what you hope to accomplish by living at home. It’s a good start.

Set a deadline. Unless your goal is to live with Mom and Dad forever, then come up with a deadline for moving out of the family homestead. “Very seriously put together a timeline,” says Lili Vasileff, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based fee-only certified financial planner, specializing in divorce and wealth protection management. “I think that’s the biggest thing that frightens people [about their kids moving back home] is that there is never an end to it.”

Practice good financial housekeeping. If you have money coming in, don’t spend it all on clothing, concert tickets and craft beer. Reckless spending may be one of the fastest ways to find yourself back on the street – and your bedroom converted to a deluxe home gym. Use this time, when your living costs are low, to build an emergency savings account, pay down student debt or max out your retirement accounts.

These good habits will show your parents that you’re not frittering away their financial help. And, more importantly, they’ll place you on the right financial path when you eventually do leave the nest. “If you spend everything that comes in, it’s going to be really difficult to adjust your lifestyle once you have rent,” says Randy Bruns, certified financial planner with HighPoint Planning Partners, based outside of Chicago.

Paying off debt and other bills on time is also key to building a credit history, which is essential when it comes time to apply for your first apartment or mortgage, or take on utility bills.

Share expenses. Moving back home may not cost your parents extra in rent or mortgage payments, but they will pay more in food, utility costs and other household expenses.

If you can afford to, offer to pitch in with household bills and even pay some kind of nominal “rent.” Atherton, the Portland PR pro, pays her parents $300 per month for rent and insurance fees. It’s still far less than she’d pay a landlord in Portland, and it helps contribute to the family’s finances. “It’s a really good deal,” she says.

Don’t forget your parents’ financial goals. Yes, even Mom and Dad have their own financial goals and dreams. They may be preparing for retirement, hoping to downsize or looking forward to traveling more in their golden years. Sit down with your folks and talk about what they’re hoping to accomplish in the next few years and really listen to how your boomerang situation may be affecting their dreams. “It can kind of throw a wrench in their plans,” Vasileff says.

If they are hoping to downsize or retire, work together to make sure that they can still reach those goals, despite your return.

Budgeting In Retirement

Budgeting in Retirement: Making the Switch from Biweekly to Monthly Income

Getting ready to quit? Here’s a five-step action plan to make a smooth transition to living on your retirement income. 

Retirement brings many changes, not the least of which is a significant shift in how most people get paid. Rather than weekly or biweekly checks, retirees may find they get a single Social Security or pension payment that is intended to last them the entire month.

Financial planners say adjusting to a monthly income shouldn’t be too difficult for many seniors. “It’s a mental shift; it’s budgeting; its proper allocation,” says Patrick Meyer, director of wealth management client services for Unified Trust Company in Lexington, Kentucky.

Potential bumps in the road can be smoothed by taking the following five steps.

Plan early for a smooth transition. Planning is important for all pre-retirees, but particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck. Jared Snider, senior wealth advisor for Exencial Wealth Advisors in Oklahoma City, says starting early can identify where there might be problems in a budget and how best to address shortfalls. “Do expenses need to get dialed back when you hit retirement?” he asks. “Or do you need to dial back now?”

Create a cushion. As part of the planning process, pre-retirees should create a financial cushion to fill any gaps during the transition period from biweekly to monthly payments. Keith Bernhardt, vice president of retirement and college products for Fidelity, recommends all seniors head into retirement with a buffer in their bank account that will cover at least two to three weeks worth of expenses. “Think of that buffer as a bill to yourself,” he says, noting that people may need to budget for this cushion well in advance if they are living paycheck to paycheck.

Meyer recommends people continue to maintain a buffer even into retirement. “You hate to see people have to sell when the market is at a low point,” he says. By keeping extra cash in a liquid bank account, retirees can use that money rather than making withdrawals from retirement funds during a down market.

Consider your new income and taxes. For many people, switching to a monthly income is less of a problem than adjusting to a reduced income. Even more affluent people may find they need to budget for considerably less money once they reach their retirement years. To address this problem, “Take a real critical look at what’s mandatory spending and what’s nice to have,” Bernhardt says.

Taxes can also be different in retirement. Ryan Moore, a principle in the firm Ryan the IRA Guy in Corpus Christie, Texas, notes that retirees may no longer be eligible for certain write-offs such as college tuition or mortgage interest . That doesn’t mean seniors are destined to pay high taxes though. Many retirees become eligible for new types of tax breaks. However, Moore says retirees need to be careful about when and how they pull money from retirement funds.

Align bills to income. While many forms of retirement income come only once a month, many retirees get payments from multiple sources. “Most people don’t get [only one] once-a-month check,” Moore says. That can make budgeting around monthly income significantly easier. The key, financial planners say, is to line up your bills so they are due around the same time the income arrives. This can be achieved by asking creditors to change due dates, if necessary. Some retirement funds will allow account holders to name their withdraw dates as well.

Even those who are living solely on Social Security or a pension can replicate the experience of being paid biweekly or weekly. Retirement checks can be deposited into a savings account and then automatic transfers can be set up to send money to checking at regular intervals. “If someone likes seeing that money moving into their account on a weekly basis, by all means do that,” Snider says.

Limit fixed expenses to guaranteed income. To ensure a smooth transition to monthly income in retirement, make sure your mandatory expenses don’t exceed guaranteed income. “You can’t rely on rental income,” Moore says. “You can’t rely on a percentage gain in the market.”

Social Security and pension benefits, as well as annuity payments, are reliable sources of income. Moore and others recommend seniors keep fixed expenses such as mortgage or rental payments, utilities and insurance within the amount received through these guaranteed sources. Then, money from IRAs, dividends, interest and similar types of income can be used for discretionary spending such as travel, dining and gifts.

Transitioning from the workforce to retirement can be challenging, but making the switch to monthly income doesn’t have to be difficult if you prepare for it.

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