If you have applied for a credit card or loan, you know that your credit score is important, and you should be reviewing your credit report for mistakes. It can be easy to procrastinate, however, especially since credit reports can be difficult to understand. And if you find a mistake, how do you correct it? The Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission has created a blog series that walks you through reading your credit report and how to correct any mistakes you may find including sample letters to send to the credit bureau.
To get started, go to Annualcreditreport.com to request your credit report. Since there are three credit bureaus, you can request a report from all three at once or you can request one from a different bureau at different times throughout the year. To help you remember to request the credit report, put a recurring reminder in your calendar. For example, every January 15th, review your Equifax report, every May 15th, review your Experian report and every September 15th, review your TransUnion report. This way, you are reviewing your credit report more frequently without having to pay fees.
Next, review your report carefully. If you find mistakes, be sure to address them immediately. Although it may seem like a tedious task, once you have done it, you will feel more secure in knowing that your information is correct and be on your way to become more financially stable.
Online shopping not only lets you find unique products that may not be available in stores near you, but it is also extremely convenient. You can do all your holiday shopping without leaving your house and have everything delivered directly to your doorstep. However, entering your credit card information along with your name and address on websites can pose a security risk. With the amount of data breaches that happen, it is even risky for those who follow all the recommended online safety tips (i.e., verify the website is secure before entering personal information, use different passwords, have updated virus protection, etc.). How can you keep your information safe and still take advantage of the convenience of online shopping? One way is to use virtual card numbers. Virtual card numbers are linked to your credit card but can only be used at that site. They allow you to shop online without exposing your actual credit card number. If you would like to use a virtual number, contact your bank or credit card company to see if they offer them. They are typically offered through a browser extension that you download. It does an add an extra step to your online shopping (you have to login to your card account to obtain a virtual card number) but the additional security is worth the completing an extra step.
Additionally, if you are an avid online shopper be sure to use these tools to save money on your purchases:
- Paribus– is an online tool that reviews your online receipts and let’s you know if you the price dropped after you purchased an item. It then helps you get a refund for the price difference. It does require access to your email account. If you are uncomfortable giving an app access to your personal email account, you can set up an email account that you use exclusively for online purchases.
- Wikibuy and Honey are browser extensions that maintain lists of coupon codes and will try them on your virtual cart before you purchase items to see if any of the codes will save you money.
Some people find themselves going deeper and deeper in debt because tragedy strikes (i.e., loss of employment, medical emergency, damage to major appliance or vehicle, etc.) and they are unaware of assistance programs available to them. Instead of applying for aid, they go into debt to cover expenses and some are forced into bankruptcy. This is unfortunate because there are lots of national and local programs available to help people get back on their feet. If you find yourself in a situation where you are having difficulty making ends meet, be sure to research aid programs to see if you qualify. Below is a list of websites and places to help you get started:
- Benefits.gov helps you find government assistance programs. You just answer a few basic questions and then select the programs in which you are interested. The website then walks you through a series of questions to see if you qualify for the program.
- USA.gov also provides detailed information on different government public assistance programs.
- Need Help Paying Bills is a website that provides information on programs that are available to help pay a variety of different types of bills. It gives a basic explanation of each program and information on how to contact the program.
- The Salvation Army also provides emergency assistance.
- Local churches can sometimes also be a great resource even if you are not a member of the church.
- Some hospitals have financial aid programs as well. Their applications are usually long and in-depth but can save you thousands of dollars. If you have large medical bills, contact the hospital’s business office and ask about financial assistance programs.
- Your city government. Many cities offer housing assistance among other programs. You can search their website or call their Human Resources office to find out more information. Even if they do not sponsor any programs, they may have information about other local organizations that do.
Even if you do not qualify for any of the above programs, call and talk with your creditors (i.e., hospital, credit card company, mortgage company, etc.) and see if they will work with you to lower payments or skip a payment. Most companies are willing to work with you if you are proactive and make an honest effort to repay your debt.
“I wish I cared about anything as much as my dad cares about lights being turned off in unoccupied rooms” is a popular meme making rounds on social media. Although it may make you laugh, anyone trying to stick to a budget and save money knows that by turning off lights and appliances that aren’t in use, you can save not only energy but also money. Did you know that you can also save money by purchasing appliances designed to save energy? Energy Star appliances help you conserve energy and you can receive tax credits or rebates for using them. The products page of the Energy Star website has information on where to purchase appliances, rebates, and quality ratings for all types of household appliances. Energysage.com has lots of information about solar products as well as incentives and programs for energy savers. Finally, DSIRE has detailed information about government energy saver policies and incentives by state. If you are considering purchasing a new appliance for your home, remember to research energy star appliances to see if they are right for you so that you can take advantage of the many different types of incentives offered.
Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases that a person will make in their life aside from buying a house. Since many rely on their car to commute to and from work, take their children to school, and go to enjoy different activities, it is important that you are sure you are getting a reliable car. But the process of buying a car and negotiating with a dealer or private owner can be extremely overwhelming. Below are a few guidelines to help you get started.
- Set a budget. Before you even begin shopping for a car, it is important that you know how much you can spend. Do you have enough money in savings to purchase the car or will you need financing? How much can you afford to pay each month? When calculating how much you can pay for a car payment be sure to include all the expenses that come with a car such as gas, insurance, registration, maintenance, and parking. Once you have calculated how much you can afford, stick to that amount. Don’t be swayed by a convincing salesman that you can possibly afford more.
- Research what type of car you need. Do you need a small car or a larger SUV? Are you wanting to buy a domestic or foreign make? Websites like Kelly Blue Book, Car Fax, Consumer Reports can help you determine how much a car will cost and provide information on a car’s safety, reliability, gas mileage, etc.
- Shop online. Most dealerships list their cars online and you may be able to find a better deal from a private owner.
- Test drive. Be sure to drive on different roads at different speeds, test out the lights, blinkers, windows, sit in the front seat and the back seat, open all the doors including the trunk and hood, etc. Have a trustworthy mechanic inspect the car and run a history of the car using its VIN number to see how many accidents it has been in.
- Sleep on it. Buying a car is very exciting and it can be incredibly easy to get pressured into buying one on impulse but resist the urge. Salesman are very good at their jobs and can be very convincing that you may miss out on the car or offer a discount if you buy the car that day. But it is always better to take a couple of days to think about the purchase and any additional questions you may have. After a couple of days, go back and test drive it again before buying the car.
Creating and following a budget, saving, investing, and planning for the future are difficult topics and sometimes confusing for adults. It, therefore, can be very overwhelming to think about how to teach your children about complicated financial topics. So much so, that many people avoid talking to their kids about money which can lead to kids not being able to become financially independent adults or not knowing how live within their means. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the amount of complicated financial topics, start small by focusing on the basics of money management and following these steps:
- Set a good example. Children are excellent observers and will model the behavior of their caregivers. If you are living within your means, budgeting, saving, etc., your kids will learn from your habits.
- Start early (or now, if your kids are older) and don’t rely on the schools to teach your kids about finances. Show your kids how to balance their checking account, the importance of saving, etc.
- Don’t pay your kids for regular chores. They won’t earn money for doing everyday tasks as adults. Instead, if you choose to give your kids an allowance or pay them, have your kids earn it by taking initiative and going above and beyond. For example, raking up all the leaves in the yard, helping with special tasks, etc.
- Show them the importance of saving. Help them set goals and encourage them to achieve those goals.
- As your kids grow, help them become financially independent. Have them be responsible for their cellphone costs, work to earn money to buy “wants”, etc.
Scams are becoming more and more sophisticated and sometimes difficult to recognize. Especially with advances in technology and the ability to find personal information about people online. Scammers are excellent at presenting themselves as legitimate and earning people’s trust. How can you protect yourself from falling victim to a scam? Be skeptical. Always question why someone is offering you a deal or contacting you and research them thoroughly before sending any personal or financial information. Here are a few additional tips to keep in mind to help you recognize a scam:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Everybody likes to find a great deal and passing up hundreds of dollars of potential savings is hard to do but it is worth it to protect yourself from losing money or having your identity stolen by a scammer. For example, if a home security salesperson is at your door offering you a $1,000 discount on the latest system with free installation just because your address ends in the number “5” and in order to take advantage of the deal, you have to pay a down payment right then, it is probably a scam.
- If the salesperson is insisting that you pay immediately, it is probably a scam. Most offers do have an expiration date, but legitimate companies give customers a chance to review the offer first. Scammers pressure people to pay immediately so that they take their money before the customer realizes it is a scam.
- If contact is made completely out of the blue, it may be a scam. Getting a message from an old high school crush or long-lost friend is exciting but be very cautious. It is very easy to find lots of personal information online through searches and Facebook. If an “old friend” makes unexpected contact and something just doesn’t seem right (even though they know the name of your high school, former teachers, etc.), trust your instinct. Especially if this person suddenly needs money. Scammers will use your good nature against you.
- Never give out personal or financial information through email or on the phone to someone calling from an unknown number. If you are unsure if it is really the company calling you, tell them that you will call them back (look for their phone number on their website or card or statement).
- Trust your gut and resist the urge to be impulsive. If something just doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct and don’t do it. Lots of victims of scams say that they had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but they didn’t want to seem rude or miss out on a deal. Had they listened to their instinct they may not have fallen victim to the scam. Always take the time to make sure that you are dealing with a legitimate company and the person really is who they say they are.