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Last week we talked about various ways that a person’s identity could possibly be stolen. This week we will be talking about what to do if it does end up happening to you. Identity theft is on the rise, and with the economy not at it’s greatest point as it has ever been, then there is an increased possibility that it could happen to you.

It seems as though identity theft is happening left and right, and even the littlest things can be hard to remedy if you don’t try enough. Knowing the correct steps can really help you out!

Whatever happened to you, whether it be someone charged something on your credit card, someone opened a mortgage in your name (like me) or someone stole your whole identity and is living your life, there are basic steps that you must take. Of course with bigger cases, then there are more things that must be done, and the process is usually longer because there is more money involved and banks usually do not cover everything.

Below are some basic things you will want to do:

1. Call your bank or credit card company.

If someone stole your credit card or bank information, be sure to call your bank or credit card company AS SOON AS POSSIBLE so that you can get it all straightened out. I’ve had my credit card information skimmed a couple of times, and my bank luckily always refunds me the full amount. Not all banks do this, so make sure you check your transactions as frequently as possible.

Since my credit card information has been skimmed so many times, now whenever I make a purchase that is over $400, I have to have the cashier call my credit card company to verify that it’s a real purchase. It is a pain, but luckily I don’t spend $400 on one purchase too often :)

2. Call the credit bureaus. 

Call the three major credit bureaus and have them place a flag or fraud alert on yourself. This is so that if anyone tries applying for something that requires credit (such as a new credit card, car loan, mortgage, etc.) then the company will have to go through extra steps in order to issue any credit to yourself. It never hurts to stay extra safe!

You can also place a freeze on your credit as well so that no one can issue your credit to your identity.

3. Watch your information.

Now that your identity and information has been compromised, make sure you keep an eye out of your information. Watch your incoming mailbox and make sure nothing is stolen. Also, check on your bank and credit card accounts often and make sure all transactions are correct.

Also, keep an eye on your credit report as well. Read through them thoroughly to make sure that nothing wrong has been added because of the person who stole your identity. If something is wrong on your credit report, remember to get it fixed as soon as possible so that it does not hurt your credit score or be any further harmful in your life.

4. File a police report.

And last but not least, make sure you file a report at a police station. Tell them everything you know and anything that might happen as a result of your identity being stolen. Remember to not leave any details out. Keep all information related to this as you will most likely need it later if the  person who stole your identity is found.

Has your identity ever been stolen?

What was the first thing you did when it happened to you?

How Your Identity Could Be Stolen

Michelle —  December 31, 2012 — 1 Comment

Identity theft happens to many people every year. Many people are unaware that they have even had their identity stolen. However, when it does actually happen to you, it is a horrible feeling. You will most likely feel like your privacy has been invaded and as though someone has personally gone into your house and taken something.

There are different things that people can do. Someone might steal your actual credit card, they might skim just the numbers (which will be harder for you to catch on), they might open loans in your name, and they might even go as far as to completely take over and live your life.

I have heard of many scary stories of where the thief had started a whole new life with the new identity. They go to school, work, and live as though they are that person.

A couple of years ago I found out that someone had used my social security number and other information to buy themselves a house. They’ve always been on time with their payments, so I assume that is one of the reasons why I didn’t find out until recently (when I ran my credit check and thoroughly went through it) that there was a house in my name.

What to watch out for:

1. Important papers.

If you have important papers, then make sure you keep them safe. Try to stay organized and don’t keep papers everywhere. Also, buying a fire/water-proof safe is never a bad idea either.

Also, when discarding papers, make sure to shred the important ones very well. Papers that might have your social security number, credit card or bank information and other important information should be shredded.

Many thieves will go through trash cans and even if they are torn apart, they can easily put them back together. I once watched a whole television episode where a past thief went through trash and showed how he could piece back together shredded papers.

Identity thieves can also go through your mail. Try collecting your mail as soon as you can and don’t let it sit in your mailbox for too long.

2. Be careful with what you keep on you and in your wallet.

I know of some people who keep both their social security cards and pin numbers on them. Some people even keep a list with their passwords and usernames on them in their wallet. This is such a bad idea and there are so many reasons for this.

Either remember this information or keep it at home. All you have to do is have your wallet stolen or lose it and then everyone has all types of information about your life. There is also most likely no reason to have all of this information on you at all times also.

3. Watch your credit card information.

Many identity thieves are EXTREMELY crafty with ways to steal your credit card information. When paying for your meals, see where your credit card is taken. Most of the time, cashiers can just swipe it right in front of you, but if they take it into the back room or are gone for a good amount of time, it makes sense to be worried.

Also, when using your pin number, make sure no one is watching. It’s very easy for someone to just memorize or take a cell phone picture of your card number when you swipe your card, and then if you make it easy for them to see your pin number, it can be very harmful to your financial life. You’ve just given them everything they need if they see both your credit card number and your pin number.

Have you ever had your identity stolen?

We currently have a little over $30,000 in student loans and a mortgage that sits at around $110,000 to pay for which we are working on eliminating. We really want my student loans gone by April of 2013 at the LATEST. This is a big task to accomplish, but we feel that it can be done with a lot of effort.

There are many reasons why we want my student loans gone as quickly as possibly. While my minimum payments are only around $300 (I’ve heard of much scarier amount from different people, such as $1,500 minimum monthly payments), my interest rates on most of these loans range from 5.8% to 6.8%.

That’s such a high interest rate to me, and I can only think about how much in interest that I’m paying EACH DAY on these loans, and it all adds up so quickly.

The luxury of not having student loans no longer and not having them drag me down is a big plus and positive. We also want to buy a new house in 2014, and having a little less in debt would be a great thing, especially since it’ll most likely lower our interest rate on our future house. We are really working on our credit score and eliminating debt so that we can have the best possible credit score for when we are ready to buy our next house.

Also, having less in debt and not being tied down to my student loans is also good because it’ll free up our cash flow. If something were to happen which would decrease our monthly income, then I would prefer to not have to worry about how I’ll pay for my student loans each month.

Here’s what you can do to eliminate your debt quickly:

1. Make extra money.

This is the main thing that we are working on. Our goal is to make around $2,500 extra each month. Extra money is always nice because applying it to debt is easy and is not like you will miss that money as much as if you were struggling to pay your bills.

There are many things you can do to make extra money in order to pay off your debt faster. You can: get a part-time job at a retail store, become a freelance writer, walk dogs, babysit, tutor, among many other possibilities.

2. Cut your expenses.

We’ve already cut our expenses as much as we already would like to, so that is why we are working on increasing our income as much as we can. However, if you are really wanting to pay off your debt quickly, then you should be trying to cut your expenses as much you can. Try cutting things out that you don’t positively need, such as lattes, clothes, extra snacks, etc.

Also, call up the companies which you do business with and ask if they can lower your bills at least by a little bit. Usually they will say yes. Every little dollar counts, so don’t think you are better than one dollar! :)

3. Pay more than the minimum on your debt.

Paying only the minimum on your debt is definitely better than not paying at all, but paying more is WAY better. You can eliminate your debt much faster because you will be paying less in interest. Interest continues to build if you only pay the minimum payment, which surprisingly is something that a lot of people do not know.

4. Move money around.

I’m not saying everyone should do this, but we have decided to take some money out of our $15,000 emergency fund and we plan on applying a large amount of this towards my student loans. We’ve never touched the money before, so hopefully nothing happens in the mean time while we are trying to build it back up.

We believe that paying off my student loans (in which some are at a high 6.8%) is much more worthwhile to us right now instead of having money sitting idle in our emergency fund. Not everyone should do this though. If you are expecting future house repairs, have an unstable job, or anything else in which you might have to use your emergency fund soon, then moving money around might not be the greatest idea.

What are your plans to pay off your debt faster?

Job Interview Tips

Michelle —  December 18, 2012 — Leave a comment

Searching and applying for jobs can be tiring and extremely difficult. Nerve-wracking is also another word that most likely comes to your mind. Some people spend months and maybe even years to find a job that fits them well. Also, with the economy the way that it is, and the fact that more and more people are going to college in order to hopefully gain a better job after graduation, it has become even more hard to find a job for yourself.

Luckily, I was able to find a job relatively quickly after I graduated from college a couple of years ago. I made sure to look before I graduated, so that I could escape the rush of every other graduate who was looking for a job right at graduation as well. I’m not going to lie though, the interview processes were terrifying to me. Whether it was a phone interview, in-person interview or a group interview, my heart was beating insanely fast at every one.

However, even though I was super nervous at every single interview, I did do well at them. I was offered every job that I applied for, and was able to have my choice (I still work at the same company). I practiced, researched and made sure I was prepared for every single interview and this showed in the results that I had.

Below are some good tips for job interviews, and also what I did:

1. Research.

I researched everything that at least somewhat related to job interviews like crazy. I believe that you can honestly never be TOO prepared for anything. There’s always something that you can learn.

Start with looking up the company that you are interviewing at. Try and see what the dress code is. You don’t want to be too overly dressed or too underdressed. You can see what the dress code is by asking around or perhaps just driving by the building and see what people are wearing as they enter and exit.

Also research the position and industry that you are wanting to obtain a job in. You can look up common questions that the industry tends to ask in interviews. Research anything and everything. There are tons of articles out there.

2. Practice.

When I was practicing for my interviews, I researched every possible question that I could have. I then wrote and typed everything up, along with all of my answers just so that I could remember everything more easily.

You could also see if someone would help you practice. Maybe they can try asking you questions that will hopefully catch you off guard and you can answer them the best way possible.

3. Be prepared.

Being prepared applies to many different areas. Such as when you determine what the dress code is. Make sure that you 100% have the correct clothes to wear to the interview. Try everything on days before hand, so that if something doesn’t fit or doesn’t look right, then you can buy or find something that might work better.

Also, make sure that you arrive on time. Try not to arrive too early and definitely do not arrive late. I’ve always hear to arrive 10 minutes early. If you arrive any earlier, than just stall and maybe wait in your car. You don’t want to catch the interviewer off guard and make them feel rushed.

Also, if you have a phone interview, try and dress up for it. Yes, no one will see you, but if you dress professionally, then you are more likely to act professional on the phone. Also smile. It also shows in the way that you talk, even though no one can see you.

What did you do to get the job that you wanted?

Some people might believe that a credit score should not be focused on because you should be paying for everything with cash, however, there are many times when a good credit score is needed. I am one of those people who do not see credit scores as something bad.

A good credit score and loans have allowed me to go to both undergraduate and graduate school and earns degrees, obtain a reliable and nice car, buy a house and many other things.

A good credit score can allow you to buy things with credit and hopefully get a very good interest rate. Our credit score was good, and therefore we were able to score a great rate on our car loan.

Yes, we could have paid for the car with cash, but we chose not to because we would be earning more by investing this extra cash instead of putting it all directly towards our new Jeep. Have a low interest rate on your loans can be very helpful because even just a small difference in your interest rate can equal a savings of hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.

I put nearly everything on my credit cards, and it is all to gain rewards points mainly. My credit score is still good and high because I follow many of the tips that are listed below.

There are many things that you can do in order to increase your credit score:

1. Make sure your utilization rate does not go above 30%.

I have a friend who recently told me that she has one credit card and she has owed around $450 on it for months, and her credit line is $500. She thought by always paying the minimum payment and not over-withdrawing on her credit that she would be fine, until I told her otherwise!

One thing that many people do not know about is that your utilization rate must be watched. If your total credit limit is $1,000, try not to spend more then $300 on your credit cards.

2. Pay your balance in full.

Not carrying a balance every month is key. I put a lot of expenses every month on my credit cards, and I still make sure to pay them off completely every month, and most of the times before the months is over and anything is reported to the credit bureaus. You should also keep in mind that even though you pay your balance in full every month, that this amount will still be reported to your credit bureaus, and this is why you do not want your utilization rate to be too high as well.

We make sure to pay our balances in full every month so that my utilization rate stays low and also because I do not want to pay any fees due to carrying a balance over and then owing money due to interest.

3. Look at your credit report.

Different people have different timings for when they like to look at their credit report. Maybe look at it every other month, every quarter, twice a year, and AT LEAST once a year.

You should be looking at your credit report and make sure that everything is reported correctly and that nothing is on your credit report by mistake. There is always the chance that something was reported incorrectly and is now negatively affecting your credit score.

What are you doing to increase your credit score?

How to Improve Your Finances

Corey —  December 9, 2012 — 2 Comments

As the Holiday season approaches, many families are left wondering where all of their money went. Whether it is end of the year expenses, Christmas presents, or other random expenses, it’s not uncommon for families to be left wondering where all of their cash went. I know what this is like. Years ago my wife and I struggled. We weren’t to the extreme of relying on food stamps and other government assistance, but suffice it to say that we did not even think about getting each other presents for the Holidays.

Yet, even though I can relate to financial challenges around this time, we have made improvements to our finances in ways that we wouldn’t have imagined just a couple years ago. If you are wondering how to increase your savings around this time of the year, here are some practical steps to help you along the way.

1 – Analyze Your Spending

The first thing you can do to increase your financial situation is to determine where you are spending your money. Most families get carried away on their spending because they are not keeping track of where the money is going. One of my friends always felt like she didn’t make enough money. When I asked her where she was spending money, she looked at me with a dumb look on her face. She’s not a bad person, nor is she irresponsible. It was just that she wasn’t paying attention to where she was throwing her money away. As it turns out, she was eating out too often and also buying lots of gadgets. While it’s never easy to change your spending habits, it’s impossible to do if you don’t know what your are spending money on. I’m convinced that those who use a payday loan every once in a while do so because they don’t stop to analyze their spending.

2 – Reduce Your Spending

Once you know where your money is going, start by selecting areas that can be eliminated or reduced. It is often difficult to change these spending habits, but you may be able to find easy ways to save a lot of money. For example, if you are going to the movies every weekend, maybe it’s time to reconsider that habit. By simply watching movies at home, you can still enjoy the same hobby (even making popcorn at home), while also saving nearly $100 a month (for two people). That sounds like an easy fix to me.

While improving your financial situation is clearly more complicated than a two-step process, it often starts with these two areas. After you have minimized your spending, if you are still struggling, it may be time to look into bigger changes: this could mean a job change where you can earn more money, or it could mean moving to a cheaper location. This may sound extreme, but it could mean the difference between happiness and stress.

Buying a home is definitely a large investment. There are a lot of things that should be thought about, but what if renting your home is actually a better investment for you and your family? And what if buying your next home is clearly the better and wiser choice?

We bought our house when we were very young. We were 20 and had rented a house for a little over 2 years before, but knew we were ready. Buying a house was nearly the same amount as renting an apartment, and it was actually CHEAPER than renting an actual house in the area.  Luckily our house is worth nearly the same amount of what we bought it for a couple of years ago and hasn’t bit hurt too badly by the housing market.

However, it did hurt some areas of our lives in that dreams of traveling constantly were definitely put on hold. We do wish we would have waited a little longer, just to find the perfect house instead of being rushed by our lease being up.

Here are some factors which should be considered:

How long do you expect to live there?

How long do you think you will stay at this residence? If you are going to buy a house, it is generally said that you should try and live there for around 5 years or longer in order to make it valuable and worthy as an investment. If you are only going to live somewhere for a couple of months or even just one year, then renting is probably a better bet. This is because the cost of buying and selling would be too high if you don’t live i n a house long enough.

If you buy a house and don’t expect to live in that city long, it can also hurt or delay your plans. There is a lot less flexibility if you want to switch jobs or anything else. If you want to travel the world, then a house might hold you back because you will always have that mortgage to pay (which means you would have two residences to pay for at once).

Costs

Where I live (the Midwest), the cost of buying your own house and renting an apartment are nearly the same. The cost of living and housing is very cheap in the Midwest, which makes buying your house almost always a better bet.

Of course there are cheap apartments, but when you are comparing buying versus renting a home that are similar, then that’s where you might be able to see the value in buying instead of renting.

However, as we all know, there are many areas in the world where the cost of housing is very high. A house here in the Midwest might be very nice and big and only cost $250,000. Whereas this same house might cost $800,000 or more in a different area such as Los Angeles.

All costs should be thought about when you decide to buy a house. Will you be able to afford it still if something goes wrong? Something such as a furnace might cost over $5,000 to fix. Then there is also the roof, mowing the lawn, fixing broken windows, repairing driveways, and so on. The list of possible maintenance is endless.

The other costs included are home insurance and property taxes as well. Our property taxes are over $200 per month (we pay it annually though), so it definitely adds up quickly.

If you rented instead, then most of these costs and maintenance would just transfer to your landlord and the worries of something breaking would not be yours.

Would you rent or buy your next home?

What are your reasons?