Archives January 2021

This Is America’s New Favorite Grocery Store

Happy woman putting away groceries
Photo by Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock.com

America’s new favorite grocery store is a familiar name: Amazon.

The online retail giant jumped two places to take the top slot in the fourth-annual Dunnhumby Retailer Preference Index for grocery.

The consumer data science firm compiled its rankings based on a survey of 10,000 households.

Categories used to rank the grocers included:

  • Price
  • Quality
  • Digital
  • Operations
  • Convenience
  • Discounts
  • Rewards and information
  • Speed

Dunnhumby says Amazon took first place because it ranks 11th out of 56 retailers for price, second for speed and first for digital. In a press release, Grant Steadman, president of North America for Dunnhumby, says Amazon’s gains may have come in part due to its perceived safety during the coronavirus pandemic:

“Amazon accelerated past every other retailer on our Covid Momentum Metric and customer safety ratings, due to its speed to shop and virtual store format.”

The Covid Momentum Metric (whose name refers to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus) reflects how a grocer’s performance, based on the same categories above, affected its short-term financial success in 2020.

Based on the rankings, the top grocery chains of are:

  1. Amazon
  2. H-E-B
  3. Trader Joe’s
  4. Wegmans
  5. Aldi
  6. Market Basket
  7. Sam’s Club
  8. Costco
  9. Publix
  10. Target
  11. Fresh Thyme
  12. ShopRite
  13. Sprouts
  14. Walmart

The report also details the qualities that help specific grocery chains thrive. Dunnhumby says:

“Retailers who were well-positioned to deliver on Speed, Digital and Discounts, Rewards & Information tended to gain more market share, visit share and have higher year-over-year sales growth in 2020, even if they weren’t as strong on Price and/or Quality.”

Speed has become especially important to consumers in the wake of the pandemic. Consumers value a fast shopping experience because they dislike how new COVID-19 safety measures have slowed shopping, and they believe a speedy shopping experience keeps them safer from the threat of the virus.

If safe shopping is important to you, check out “The Safest Grocery Store to Shop During the Pandemic.”

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

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I signed up a while ago, and it’s super easy! I linked my Up3 band to it in about 3 minutes and it looks like I’ll earn the equivalent of $1-2 every 4-6 weeks for doing nothing. And if I logged more (water, food, etc.), I could earn more points more quickly!

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This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Source: moneysavingmom.com

What to Know About Medical Bills Sent to Collections

May 20, 2020 &• 8 min read by Gerri Detweiler Comments 328 Comments

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Disclaimer

If you think you’re immune to damage from a collection account on your credit report because you pay your bills on time, think again. Medical bills that you don’t know about could be hurting your credit—and the odds are not in your favor.

In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that around 31.6% of adults in the United States have collections accounts on their credit reports. That’s almost one in three Americans! Medical bills account for over half of all collections with an identifiable creditor. Chances are good that you too have a medical bill in collections.  

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Many times, medical bills hit collections because you didn’t even realize you owed anything. Here are four common medical bill myths that can cost you dearly and the truth you need to manage your credit and medical expenses more proactively.

Your Insurance Won’t Cover Everything

It’s a consumer’s obligation to know what they’re responsible for paying. A lot of people are under the impression that their insurance will cover all medical costs, so they don’t owe anything. Due to how a visit or procedure is billed with insurance, this isn’t always the case. It’s always best to be prepared for the worst to prevent anything from being sent to collections.

Insurance companies usually send out an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) before you receive a bill from the provider. Be sure to go through these important documents carefully to ensure you understand what your estimated out-of-pocket costs are. If you have questions about why something wasn’t covered, reach out to the provider and your insurance company.

Your Medical Bills Can Be Sent to Collections, Even If You’re Paying

Making payments on a medical bill doesn’t necessarily keep it out of collections. If you’re making small payments—or if you make your payment a few days late when you’re under a payment arrangement—you might discover the provider has turned the bill over to collections.

Protections under the Affordable Care Act give patients at nonprofit hospitals time to apply for financial assistance before any “extraordinary collection measures” are taken. But for the most part, any unpaid balance is fair game.

To prevent medical bills from going to collections while you’re making payments, set up a payment arrangement with the provider and get it in writing. If you make an arrangement to pay off a debt in six months and the provider agrees to it, they shouldn’t send you to collections as long as you make payments as agreed.

Medical Collection Accounts Are Treated Differently

This one is good news for you. Medical bills are treated differently than other bills sent to collections—at least as far as your credit report is concerned.

  • Medical Debts Are Given Less Weight: Newer scoring models such as FICO 9 and VantageScore 4.0 weight medical collections less than other types of collections so that they don’t impact a score as much. However, not all creditors use these new scoring models, so medical collections could still hurt your ability to get credit in the future.
  • Medical Debts Are Given a Grace Period: The three credit bureaus now wait 180 days before listing medical debt on your credit reports. This grace period gives you time to figure out payment options before the debt affects your credit scores.
  • Medical Debts Are Removed Once Paid: While most collections remain on your credit report for seven years, medical debt is removed once it has been paid or is being paid by insurance. Unpaid medical debt in collections will still remain on your credit report for seven years from the original delinquency date.

Tips for Dealing with Medical Bills

Any time you are contacted by a collection agency, you have the right to written confirmation of the debt as well as the right to dispute it. That’s your right under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you know your rights, you’re in a better position to stand up for them.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, you also have the right to dispute inaccurate information on your credit reports. But you have to know how to properly dispute an item on your credit report to get results.

Some best practices to consider when dealing with medical debt include:

  • Never assume that you won’t owe. Ask your provider for details about costs, and follow up with your insurance company and provider even if you don’t get a bill.
  • Always ask for proof of what you owe. If a medical provider or its billing entity sends you a statement, it’s probably not going to contain a detailed breakdown of all the charges. You have a right to receive that information, though. Request it in writing, and then review all the charges to ensure that they reflect the services you received.
  • Compare bills to insurance EOBs. Your insurance explanation of benefits breaks down each charge. Typically, an EOB should tell you how much the provider charged, how much the insurance disallowed, how much the insurance paid and how much you owe. Make sure what you’re billed for doesn’t exceed what the insurance said you owe.
  • Make payment arrangements as soon as possible. It’s never too early to talk to your provider’s billing department. Even if they aren’t sure exactly how much you owe, start asking about payment arrangements. Many providers have processes in place to create payment schedules or discount portions of your bill if you pay in advance.
  • Ask to make monthly payments on medical bills. You may be able to make monthly payments, but you will need documented proof that the provider or collector has agreed to this. That way, if they report a negative item on your credit report, you can dispute it showing they agreed to the payments you’re making.

Dealing with Medical Bills in Emergency Times

The only certainties in life are death and taxes—and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that not even taxes are certain. During emergency times, rules and regulations around medical bills might change. Government interventions and hospital policies right now are making it easier for many people to seek much-needed health care during this time if they have COVID-19.

At a time when your personal finances might also be strained by loss of income or other factors, facing medical bills might seem daunting. But even during a crisis, you shouldn’t ignore this aspect of your health care. Instead, discuss options as early as possible with your provider, and let them know if you don’t think you’ll be able to pay. If you speak up proactively, medical providers can act early to help you access any assistance that might be available.

Any time you’re facing financial pressure because of medical bills, you might consider a personal loan. Personal loans let you spread out a large expense over time, and they might be a good option if you can’t get a medical collector to agree to a payment plan.

Medical Debt and Your Credit Score

If you’re concerned about how your medical debt could be impacting your credit, you can typically check your three credit reports for free once a year, but currently under the accommodations for COVID-19, you can check weekly until the end of April 2021.

If you’d like to monitor your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card provides you with an easy-to-understand breakdown of the information in your credit report using letter grades. It also includes a free credit score that’s updated every 14 days.

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Source: credit.com

5 Sacrifices to Help You Max Out Your Retirement Account Next Year

Are you at the point where you’re ready to invest more in retirement each month but aren’t quite sure how? Maybe you want to increase your savings rate but the numbers don’t add up. I’ve always said that saving something is better than nothing. If you can’t max out savings like your retirement account, it’s not a big deal and you can always work your way up to this goal year after year. We’ve put together 5 sacrifices to max out your retirement account.

Right now, the maximum contribution limits for a 401(k) is $19,000 and $6,000 a traditional or Roth IRA. This year, I was finally able to max out my retirement account contributions for the first time. I know how it seems like you’d have to fork over a lot of money each year to do the same thing, and that’s because you will. However, you can save enough to max out your retirement for the year and still live a comfortable life.

You may have to make some sacrifices, but they may not produce super drastic changes to your budget or your lifestyle. Here are 5 reasonable sacrifices to help max out your retirement account next year and every year afterward.

Your Car

One thing that you can sacrifice to help you max out your retirement account is your car. While you can probably save a ton of money by not having a car especially if you live in a big city, you don’t have to give up owning a car completely. My husband and I both drive older paid-off cars and we love it. With the average car payment hovering around $400 to $500 per month, that’s a lot of money to fork over each month just to drive.

In fact, $500 per month is all you need to max out an IRA right now since the annual contribution limit for anyone under 50 is $6,000. Since cars depreciate in value so much, it often doesn’t make financial sense to buy a brand new car. Used cars can be paid off quicker and you may even be able to buy a decent used car in cash. From there, you can use that money that you would save by not having a car loan and put it toward retirement savings.

 Here are 5 reasonable sacrifices to help max out your retirement account . Click To Tweet

Live in a Smaller Home

My husband and I are sacrificing our dream home right now and I’m totally fine with that. We bought our first home a few years ago when we were 26 and 29 years old. It’s a nice starter home and it’s small. We don’t even have a basement but our family size is small right now so it’s fine. By having a smaller home and making it work, we save a ton of money on our mortgage, maintenance, repairs, and cleaning.

Now, would I love to have more space, walk-in closets or an extra enclosed room to serve as my office? Sure, but it’s not killing me that we live in a 1,300 sq ft home and instead I’m choosing to focus on what I love and enjoy about our home. I love how we have an extra bathroom and a nice fireplace in the family. We always have a decent-sized yard with a wrap-around deck and garden boxes that were already set up when we moved. Even though we are technically ‘sacrificing’ our dream home right now, I know that we will buy it later down the line and I’m content with where we’re at now.

RELATED: 6+ Easy Ways to Save Thousands on Home Repair

Frugal Travel

Some people give up traveling to pay off debt and save more. You don’t have to do this even if you’re willing to make sacrifices to max out your retirement next year. Instead of giving up travel altogether, find ways to make it more affordable so you can go on trips, and still invest generously. This is why I love frugality. Being frugal allows you to get creative and use the resources available to spend wisely on your values and save where you can.

Instead of paying for flights full price, you can wait for sales or sign up for a rewards credit card. Instead of spending tons of money on a hotel, see if you can stay with a friend or relative when you travel or book an Airbnb. Usually, when I travel, I’m not super picky about where I stay so long as it’s clean. I also plan to cook some meals if possible if our accommodations allow it.

I’ll usually book an Airbnb or a suite with full kitchen access so I can prepare breakfast and snacks. You don’t have to dine out for all 3 meals when you travel and breakfast is one of the easiest meals to prepare whether you have full access to a kitchen or not.

RELATED: How to Plan for Budget Travel This Year

Delay Your Gratification

We live in a society where people want everything fast and right now. This often leads to getting items and services before you can pay for them in full. If you want to avoid debt and living above your means, practice delayed gratification regularly and budget for larger purchases instead of financing them.

My husband and I used to have a ton of credit card debt, student loans, personal loans, and car loans. This debt really ate into our disposable income. Even after paying it off, I’ve still been tempted to finance things like furniture and other purchases. I choose not to and to delay my gratification. By simply waiting and planning, I save a lot of money and do a better job of committing to live below my means.

When you slow down on financing purchases and making impulse buys regularly, you’ll find that your budget is not so tight. You may even wind up with thousands extra each year that you can invest.

Your Time

Time is not a renewable asset. Once you use your time, it’s gone. You can never go back or relive a day where you wasted time. Keep this in mind when considering sacrifices to max out your retirement account. However, it should also be motivation to make good use of your time especially when it comes to working and earning extra money. If you’re looking to start maxing out your retirement account, odds are you’re still earning an active income where you’re trading time for money. If you want to earn more or increase your savings rate, you may have to get a second job or a side hustle.

Even if you want to establish a passive stream of income, you’ll need to dedicate time or energy to get that idea off the ground. Of course, sacrificing your time to work is not a waste. You can even make the most of your effort by choosing work that is enjoyable and fulfilling. Or start a side business where you can do things you love and still make good money.

Try to stick to your budget and save your money wisely to make it all worth it in the end. Pay yourself first consistently and remain dedicated to your goal in order to max out your retirement next year and each year afterward.

Source: everythingfinanceblog.com

The 10 Best Cities for Women’s Pay

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This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.

Women’s earnings in the U.S. make up about 81% of men’s, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from the past several years. Though this figure has steadily grown over the course of decades, researchers predict the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could set back pay for women.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data unequivocally shows that the COVID-19 crisis has had a disproportionate impact on women’s participation in the labor force and unemployment, and many analysts theorize this will carry over to women’s earnings.

In this study, SmartAsset uncovered the best cities for women’s pay leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is SmartAsset’s third annual study on the best cities for women’s pay. Check out the 2020 version here.

We compared the 150 largest U.S. across four metrics: median earnings for women, growth in women’s earnings, women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings and the change in women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings. Both metrics that examine changes over time consider the years 2017 and 2019.

For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section at the end.

1. Raleigh, NC

Raleigh, North Carolina
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Raleigh, North Carolina, ranks in the top quartile of cities for all four metrics in our study. It has the 32nd-highest median earnings for women (about $50,300), and women’s earnings make up the 10th-highest percentage of men’s earnings (almost 96%).

Between 2017 and 2019, Raleigh had the sixth-greatest increase in earnings for women (18.62%) and fourth-highest increase in women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings (13.05%).

2. Tacoma, WA

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Women in Tacoma, Washington, earn roughly $49,700 on average.

Though this figure does not fall in the top fifth of the study, Tacoma ranks within the top 15 cities for our other three metrics: Women’s earnings increased by more than 17% between 2017 and 2019, and women’s earnings make up about 93% of men’s earnings — almost 10% higher than in 2017.

3. Huntington Beach, CA

Huntington Beach California
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Women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings increased the most in Huntington Beach, California, compared with any other city in our study.

Census Bureau data shows that the gender pay gap there closed by almost 16% between 2017 and 2019. Huntington Beach also has the 12th-highest median earnings for women, at $61,148.

4. Sacramento, CA

Sacramento, California
Andrew Zarivny / Shutterstock.com

Sacramento, California, has the smallest pay gap of all 150 cities in our study. In 2019, women’s earnings made up 99.05% of men’s earnings. This figure is 7.27% higher than it was 2017.

As a gross figure, median earnings for women in Sacramento are about $50,400, 31st-highest of the cities we considered.

5. Jersey City, NJ

Jersey City, New Jersey
f11photo / Shutterstock.com

Earnings for women in Jersey City, New Jersey, grew by the second-highest rate of any city in the study.

Between 2017 and 2019, median women’s earnings increased by 22.82%. As a result of that growth, 2019 median earnings for women in Jersey City are the seventh-highest overall, at $62,530.

6. St. Petersburg, FL

St. Petersburg, Florida
Brian Lasenby / Shutterstock.com

Women’s earnings in St. Petersburg, Florida, have grown substantially over the past couple of years. In 2017, the median salary for women was less than $40,400, and in 2019, it was greater than $45,700 –marking a two-year growth of 13.39%, 19th-highest in our study.

Relative to men, women in St. Petersburg earn about 8% less on average.

7. Honolulu, HI

Honolulu, Hawaii
MNStudio / Shutterstock.com

Honolulu, Hawaii, ranks in the top third of our study for all four metrics we considered. It has the 38th-highest median earnings for women (about $47,700) and ranks 45th-best for women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings (88.51%).

Between 2017 and 2019, the capital of Hawaii had the 20th-greatest increase in women’s earnings (13.24%) and the 19th-largest change in women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings (almost 7%).

8. Portland, OR

Hiking in Portland, Oregon
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From 2017 to 2019, median earnings for women in Portland, Oregon, increased by 18.40% — the third-highest increase of any city in our top 10 and seventh-largest overall.

With that increase, Portland has the 17th-highest 2019 median earnings for women, at more than $55,200.

9. Baltimore, MD

Port of Baltimore, Maryland tugboat
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Baltimore, Maryland, ranks in the top 20 cities of the study for two metrics: women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings (92.31%) and growth in women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings (6.47%).

Census Bureau data from 2019 shows that the median salary for women in Baltimore is about $47,500, 39th-highest across all 150 cities in our study.

10. Boston, MA

Boston, Massachusetts
f11photo / Shutterstock.com

Boston, Massachusetts, rounds out our list of the top cities for women’s pay. Women’s median salary in Boston is the 11th-highest in our study, at roughly $61,700.

Boston additionally ranks in the top 25 for women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings (91.88%) and the two-year growth in women’s earnings (12.23%).

Data and Methodology

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Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

To find the best cities for women’s pay, SmartAsset looked at the 150 largest cities in the U.S. We compared those cities across four metrics:

  • Median earnings for women. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings. This is median earnings for women divided by median earnings for men. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 one-year American Community Survey.
  • Growth in women’s earnings. This is the change in median earnings for women from 2017 to 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 and 2019 one-year American Community Surveys.
  • Growth in women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings. This is the difference between women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings in 2017 and 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 and 2019 one-year American Community Surveys.

In all cases, earnings figures are for full-time workers 16 years and older.

To determine our final list, we ranked each city in every metric, giving a full weighting to all metrics. We then found each city’s average ranking and used the average to determine a final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of zero.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

What to Know Before Taking Out a Subsidized Loan

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Attending college or university is a dream for a ton of people. Yet higher education can be expensive, seemingly putting that dream out of reach for many students and families.

Tuition at American schools has steadily increased for decades, so it can be hard for your average student to afford it. But it’s not only tuition costs that you need to consider: fees, room and board, off-campus living, meal plans, textbooks, living essentials and other supplies all cost money.

Fortunately, there are many different types of financial aid available to help you meet the total costs of attending school.

Grants, scholarships and government programs can all be used to aid your pursuit of higher education. Student loans, including private and federal loans, are also commonly used to fund college. But taking on debt requires more financial planning than other types of aid.

If you’re ready to find the right loan for you and your unique financial situation, we’ve got you covered. We’ll go over everything and anything we think you need to know about subsidized student loans—the basics, how they’re different from unsubsidized loans and much more. 

Student Loans and Rising Education Costs

Having a plan for how you’ll pay for college is pretty important. That’s mostly because the tuition continues rise: 

  • According to The College Board, tuition and fees for a public four-year institution in the academic year of 1989–90 were $3,510, in 2019 dollars. 
  • For the academic year 2019–2020, those costs exceeded $10,000. In the same time span, tuition and fees for a private four-year institution rose from $17,860 to nearly $37,000. 
  • In the last 10 years alone, tuition and fees for four-year public schools have increased $2,020, while costs for four-year private schools have grown $6,210. 

But as we mentioned, total costs include a lot more than tuition, and these other cost items have shown the same upward trend:

  • Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows college textbooks costs increased 88% from 2006 to 2016.
  • Average dorm costs at all postsecondary institutions were $6,106 in 2017, per data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Boarding costs, including meal plans, were $4,765. A decade earlier those costs, respectively, were $4,777 and $4,009.
  • Costs rose 24% for students living off-campus at public four-year universities between 2000 and 2017, according to The Hechinger Report.

The growth in college costs has occurred rapidly, outpacing wagegrowth. This has made a degree unaffordable for many. That’s where student loans come in.

The biggest source of these loans is the federal government. According to Sallie Mae, more than 90% of student loan debt today is tied to federal student loans. While the government offers several loan types, often based on financial need, private lenders such as banks and credit unions also make student loans available.

What is a Subsidized Loan?

To better understand your loan options, let’s explore the specifics of one of the government’s most popular offers: the subsidized student loan.

Officially, a subsidized loan is a type of federal loan offered through the U.S. Department of Education’s Direct Loan Program and referred to as a Direct Subsidized Loan. They are made exclusively to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need and can be used to pay for college, university or a career school.

Subsidized loans work like most other student loans. They allow college goers to borrow money as they learn, paying the principal and interest back later. Most loans don’t require repayment while you attend school, and provide a grace period of six months after graduation for you to find a job. 

The most notable feature of subsidized loans is that the government pays the interest while you attend school at least part time. This is a quality that’s pretty much unique to federal subsidized loans. 

The government will also pay the interest during the grace period and during periods of loan deferment. You eventually assume responsibility for paying the interest, and principal, once you enter the repayment plan. 

The bottom line for subsidized loans is they carry a lower lifetime cost, because the government pays interest while you’re at school.

Who’s Eligible to Take Out a Subsidized Loan?

Subsidized loans aren’t available to everyone, however. In addition to meeting basic requirements for getting a loan from the federal Direct Loan Program, applicants for subsidized loans must:

  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Be an undergraduate student.
  • Be enrolled at least half time.

Anyone considering a subsidized loan must fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. This is how the government will establish whether you demonstrate financial need that is sufficient for taking out a subsidized loan.

What Else Should You Know?

There are two other main points to discuss about subsidized loans—loan limits and time limits. Ultimately, your school will decide how much you can borrow. But there are annual limits to what you can borrow through subsidized loans, as well as a maximum for the entirety of your college career.

  • In your first undergrad year you can borrow up to $5,500 through federal loan, no more than $3,500 of that amount can be through subsidized loans.
  • In your second year you can borrow up to $6,500, no more than $4,500 through subsidized loans.
  • In your third year you can borrow up to $7,500, no more than $5,500 through subsidized loans.
  • The limits for your third year apply to your fourth year, and any year after that for which you are eligible to borrow through federal subsidized loans.

Factors influencing what you can borrow include what year you are in school and whether you are a dependent or independent student. 

Importantly, you can only receive subsidized loans for 150% of the published time of your degree program. That means if you attend a four-year bachelor’s program, you can only receive a subsidized loan for six years.

What’s the Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans?

Unsubsidized loans are the other type of loan the government offers. While unsubsidized loans and subsidized have some similarities, unsubsidized loans have some major differences.  

Interest rates for both subsidized and unsubsidized loans are controlled and set by Congress. This makes the interest rates for government student loans among the lowest you will be able to find.

While the federal government pays interest on subsidized loans, you’ll be solely responsible for paying interest on unsubsidized loans. You’ll have to pay interest while you’re in school and during the grace/deferment period.  Here are some other key differences:

  • Unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate students, as well as graduate and professional students.
  • Students don’t need to demonstrate financial need to apply for an unsubsidized loan.
  • There is no maximum time limit for how long you can receive unsubsidized loans (compared to the 150% rule for subsidized loans).
  • Annual and aggregate loan limits are generally higher for unsubsidized loans.

Private Loans vs. Federal Student Loans

Interested in how private loans stack up to government loans? In a nutshell:

  • Private loans can have variable interest rates, which may make them lower in some cases than even fixed interest rates on government loans.
  • Annual loan limits don’t apply to private loans, as you and your lender will work out a package that is best for you.
  • Being approved for a private loan means submitting to a credit check, or having a parent as a consigner.
  • Often, private loans require payment while you attend school, and may not have the allowance for forbearance and forgiveness as government loans do.

Taking the Next Steps Toward Taking Out a Student Loan

If you or your child is nearing college age, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll pay for higher education. It’s a good idea to look into a few options, including student loans, scholarships, grants and other sources. 

If you want to get started on applying for a subsidized loan, get started on your FAFSA form. And if you’re taking a closer look at private student loans, you can find help here.

Infographic outlining what to know about subsidized loans, including their structure, requirements, and qualifications.


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75 Personal Finance Rules of Thumb – The Best Interest

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A “rule of thumb” is a mental shortcut. It’s a heuristic. It’s not always true, but it’s usually true. It saves you time and brainpower. Rather than re-inventing the wheel for every money problem you face, personal finance rules of thumb let you apply wisdom from the past to reach quick solutions.

Table of Contents show

I’m going to do my best Buzzfeed impression today and give you a list of 75 personal finance rules of thumb. Some are efficient packets of advice while others are mathematical shortcuts to save brain space. Either way, I bet you’ll learn a thing or two—quickly—from this list.

The Basics

These basic personal finance rules of thumb apply to everybody. They’re simple and universal.

1. The Order of Operations (since this is one of the bedrocks of personal finance, I wrote a PDF explaining all the details. Since you’re a reader here, it’s free.)

2. Insurance protects wealth. It doesn’t build wealth.

3. Cash is good for current expenses and emergencies, but nothing more. Holding too much cash means you’re losing long-term value.

4. Time is money. Wealth is a measure of how much time your money can buy.

5. Set specific financial goals. Specific numbers, specific dates. Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

6. Keep an eye on your credit score. Check-in at least once a year.

7. Converting wages to salary: $1/per hour = $2000 per year.

8. Don’t mess with City Hall. Don’t cheat on your taxes.

9. You can afford anything. You can’t afford everything.

10. Money saved is money earned. When you look at your bottom line, saving a dollar has the equivalent effect as earning a dollar. Saving and earning are equally important.

Budgeting

I love budgeting, but not everyone is as zealous as me. Still, if you’re looking to budget (or even if you’re not), I think these budgeting rules of thumb are worth following.

11. You need a budget. The key to getting your financial life under control is making a budget and sticking to it. That is the first step for every financial decision.

12. The 50-30-20 rule of budgeting. After taxes, 50% of your money should cover needs, 30% should cover wants, and 20% should repay debts or invest.

13. Use “sinking funds” to save for rainy days. You know it’ll rain eventually.

14. Don’t mix savings and checking. One saves, the other spends.

15. Children cost about $10,000 per kid, per year. Family planning = financial planning.

16. Spend less than you earn. You might say, “Duh!” But if you’re not measuring your spending (e.g. with a budget), are you sure you meet this rule?

Investing & Retirement

Basic investing, in my opinion, is a ‘must know’ for future financial success. The following rules of thumb will help you dip your toe in those waters.

17. Don’t handpick stocks. Choose index funds instead. Very simple, very effective.

18. People who invest full-time are smarter than you. You can’t beat them.

19. The Rule of 72 (it’s doctor-approved). An investment annual growth rate multiplied by its doubling time equals (roughly) 72. A 4% investment will double in 18 years (4*18 = 72). A 12% investment will double in 6 years (12*6 = 72).

20. “Don’t do something, just sit there.” -Jack Bogle, on how bad it is to worry about your investments and act on those emotions.

21. Get the employer match. If your employer has a retirement program (e.g. 401k, pension), make sure you get all the free money you can.

22. Balance pre-tax and post-tax investments. It’s hard to know what tax rates will be like when you retire, so balancing between pre-tax and post-tax investing now will also keep your tax bill balanced later.

23. Keep costs low. Investing fees and expense ratios can eat up your profits. So keep those fees as low as possible.

24. Don’t touch your retirement money. It can be tempting to dip into long-term savings for an important current need. But fight that urge. You’ll thank yourself later.

25. Rebalancing should be part of your investing plan. Portfolios that start diversified can become concentrated some one asset does well and others do poorly. Rebalancing helps you rest your diversification and low er your risk.

26. The 4% Rule for retirement. Save enough money for retirement so that your first year of expenses equals 4% (or less) of your total nest egg.

27. Save for your retirement first, your kids’ college second. Retirees don’t get scholarships.

28. $1 invested in stocks today = $10 in 30 years.

29. Inflation is about 3% per year. If you want to be conservative, use 3.5% in your money math.

30. Stocks earn 7% per year, after adjusting for inflation.

31. Own your age in bonds. Or, own 120 minus your age in bonds. The heuristic used to be that a 30-year old should have a portfolio that’s 30% bonds, 40-year old 40% bonds, etc. More recently, the “120 minus your age” rule has become more prevalent. 30-year old should own 10% bonds, 40-year old 20% bonds, etc.

32. Don’t invest in the unknown. Or as Warren Buffett suggests, “Invest in what you know.”

Home & Auto

For many of you, home and car ownership contribute to your everyday finances. The following personal finance rules of thumb will be especially helpful for you.

33. Your house’s sticker price should be less than 3x your family’s combined income. Being “house poor”—or having too expensive of a house compared to your income—is one of the most common financial pitfalls. Avoid it if you can.

34. Broken appliance? Replace it if 1) the appliance is 8+ years old or 2) the repair would cost more than half of a new appliance.

35. Used car or new car? The cost difference isn’t what it used to be. The choice is even.

36. A car’s total lifetime cost is about 3x its sticker price. Choose wisely!

37. 20-4-10 rule of buying a vehicle. Put 20% of the vehicle down in cash, with a loan of 4 years or less, with a monthly payment that is less than 10% of your monthly income.

38. Re-financing a mortgage makes sense once interest rates drop by 1% (or more) from your current rate.

39. Don’t pre-pay your mortgage (unless your other bases are fully covered). Mortgages interest is deductible, and current interest rates are low. While pre-paying your mortgage saves you that little bit of interest, there’s likely a better use for you extra cash.

40. Set aside 1% of your home’s value each year for future maintenance and repairs.

41. The average car costs about 50 cents per mile over the course of its life.

42. Paying interest on a depreciating asset (e.g. a car) is losing twice.

43. Your main home isn’t an investment. You shouldn’t plan on both living in your house forever and selling it for profit. The logic doesn’t work.

44. Pay cash for cars, if you can. Paying interest on a car is a losing move.

45. If you’re buying a fixer-upper, consider the 70% rule to sort out worthy properties.

46. If you’re buying a rental property, the 1% rule easily evaluates if you’ll get a positive cash flow.

Spending & Debt

Do you spend money? (“What kind of question is that?”) Then these personal finance rules of thumb will apply to you.

47. Pay off your credit card every month.

48. In debt? Use psychology to help yourself. Consider the debt snowball or debt avalanche.

49. When making a purchase, consider cost-per-use.

50. Make your spending tangible with a ‘cash diet.’

51. Never pay full price. Shop around and do your research to get the best deals. You can earn cash back when you shop online, score a discount with a coupon code, or a voucher for free shipping.

52. Buying experiences makes you happier than buying things.

53. Shop by yourself. Peer pressure increases spending.

54. Shop with a list, and stick to it. Stores are designed to pull you into purchases you weren’t expecting.

55. Spend on the person you are, not the person you want to be. I love cooking, but I can’t justify $1000 of professional-grade kitchenware.

56. The bigger the purchase, the more time it deserves. Organic vs. normal peanut butter? Don’t spend 10 minutes thinking about it. $100K on a timeshare? Don’t pull the trigger when you’re three margaritas deep.

57. Use less than 30% of your available credit. Credit usage plays a major role in your credit score. Consistently maxing out your credit hurts your credit score. Aim to keep your usage low (paying off every month, preferably).

58. Unexpected windfall? Use 5% or less to treat yourself, but use the rest wisely (e.g. invest for later).

59. Aim to keep your student loans less than one year’s salary in your field.

The Mental Side of Personal Finance

At the end of the day, you are what you do. Psychology and behavior play an essential role in personal finance. That’s why these behavioral rules of thumb are vital.

60. Consider peace of mind. Paying off your mortgage isn’t always the optimum use of extra money. But the peace of mind that comes with eliminating debt—it’s huge.

61. Small habits build up to big impacts. It feels like a baby step now, but give yourself time.

62. Give your brain some time. Humans might rule the animal kingdom, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t impulsive. Give your brain some time to think before making big financial decisions.

63. The 30 Day Rule. Wait 30 days before you make a purchase of a “want” above a certain dollar amount. If you still want it after waiting and you can afford it, then buy it.  

64. Pay yourself first. Put money away (into savings or investment accounts) before you ever have a chance to spend it.

65. As a family, don’t fall into the two-income trap. If you can, try to support your lifestyle off of only one income. Should one spouse lose their job, the family finances will still be stable.

66. Every dollar counts. Money is fungible. There are plenty of ways to supplement your income stream.

67. Savor what you have before buying new stuff. Consider the fulfillment curve.

68. Negotiating your salary can be one of the most important financial moves you make. Increasing your income might be more important than anything else on this list.

69. Direct deposit is the nudge you need. If you don’t see your paycheck, you’re less likely to spend it.

70. Don’t let comparison steal your joy. Instead, use comparisons to set goals. (net worth).

71. Learning is earning. Education is 5x more impactful to work-life earnings than other demographics.

72. If you wouldn’t pay in cash, then don’t pay in credit. Swiping a credit card feels so easy compared to handing over a stack of cash. Don’t let your brain fool itself.

73. Envision a leaky bucket. Water leaking from the bottom is just as consequential as water entering the top. We often ignore financial leaks (e.g. fees), since they’re not as glamorous—but we shouldn’t.

74. Forget the Joneses. Use comparisons to motivate healthier habits, not useless spending.

75. Talk about money! I know it’s sometimes frowned upon (like politics or religion), but you can learn a ton from talking to your peers about money. Unsure where to start? You can talk to me!

The Last Personal Finance Rule of Thumb

Last but not least, an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

Boom! Got ’em again! Ben Franklin streaks in for another meta appearance. Thanks Ben!

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

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15 Reasons to Invest After Retirement

March 16, 2018 &• 6 min read by Josh Smith Comments 0 Comments

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The time has finally come: you’re ready to retire. For many, this means living off savings or social security, but in reality, now that you’re unemployed it’s time you started making real money. Investing after retirement is a great way to continue making income, cover expenses in lieu of a regular paycheck, and stay plugged into the booming American economy.

  1. Social security is drying up

If you plan on retiring any time after the next 20 years, you shouldn’t count on social security funds. A 2014 report estimates that social security will no longer be able to pay full benefits after 2033. This means that those that retire after this demarcation point should expect to supplement federal aid with individual income — such as investments.

  1. Life expectancy is increasing

Clean living, improved healthcare resources, increased social awareness, and many other factors have all contributed to a steady increase in life expectancy over the years. Today, being young at heart means more than ever — retirees can expect to live an additional 15 – 20 years into their twilight years. The average life expectancy today is 80, which is almost a decade older than the to 71 year life expectancy of 1960.

  1. Investing is fun

Many retirees will take up new hobbies to fill the time previously occupied by professional obligations. Why not make your daytime hobby making money? Day trading stocks is the perfect retiree activity because it’s just as complicated as you want it to be. You can trade casually, and pick up some minor gains here or there. Or, go in full bore and make it your new job. After all, investments provide extra money, so have some fun with it.

  1. Delaying social security payments boosts your benefits

Let’s say your investments are performing exceptionally well, and maybe you don’t necessarily need social security yet. Your social security payout increases by 8 percent for every year you delay payments. So if you’ve held off on social security, and it has come time to cash out investments, your federal retirement benefits will be worth far more than usual.

  1. Moving

Want to spend the next chapter of your life in Myrtle Beach? Naples, Florida? Now that you’re retired, you’re free to live anywhere you want — unfettered by professional constraints, the world is your oyster. But there’s one problem: how will you afford it? Your savings account should be preserved for medical expenses, and you already checked the couch cushions for loose change. Well, investments with high yield interest rates or dividend payments are a good way to boost your income and gain a little extra cash.

  1. You earned it

What has decades of penny pinching amounted to if you can’t spend your savings during retirement? Part of the reason you budgeted so carefully in your professional years is to ensure security as you grow old. Well, here you are, and it’s time to tap that sacred savings account. As you assess your finances in old age, consider how much savings you’re willing to gamble on the market — what do you have to lose?

  1. There’s no better time to invest than now

This is not to say that the market is particularly ripe for new investors right now — although 2017 saw record high economic numbers — but more so that anytime is a good time to invest. You can guarantee the market will fluctuate in your 15+ years of retirement, but that’s not the point. As long as you build a portfolio that can bear a bear market, you will be in good shape to weather market slumps. As they say, “don’t play with scared money.”

  1. Grandchildren

Your kids are all grown up, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. As a retired grandparent, you’re in charge of vacations, dinners out, movie nights, and other fun activities with the grandkids. And, you guessed it, one of the best ways to bankroll fun money is through thriving investments. In fact, while it might not be the most exciting prospect for the kid, a safe, slow-maturing investment is a great grandkid birthday gift.

  1. Jumpstart a startup

Are you passionate about the future of tech? Small philanthropies? Artisan dog treats? Whatever your calling may be, there is likely a startup that you can help get off the ground. One study found that 100 million startups try to get off the ground every year, and they need your help. Invest in a cause you care about, and in the process make someone’s entrepreneurial dreams come true.

  1. Broaden your horizons

Now that you’re retired it’s time to read those books you never got around to, learn a new skill, travel the world, and, most importantly, diversify your portfolio. Financial experts suggest that retirees pursue many different types of assets to help offsite potential market volatility.

  1. Travel

For most, vacation tops the list of most anticipated retirement activities. It’s easy to get swept up in fantasies of cold beer and catching rays on the beach, but you you need a way to pay for it. Investments are a good way to compound your savings, and make a little extra vacation money.

  1. Health

Studies show that retirees require upwards of $260,000 to cover medical expenses as they age. Maybe, thanks to years of frugality, you have this kind of money in savings, but it never hurts to stash away a little extra cash. The population nearing retirement needs to be able to expect the unexpected, so use the stock market as an opportunity to compound your emergency fund in case of expensive medical bills.

  1. Taxes

Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you can avoid the taxman — after all, according to Benjamin Franklin, alongside death, taxes are one of the two certainties in life. While you no longer have to pay payroll taxes, you will still pay taxes on social security benefits. Plus, you are required to pay taxes on IRA withdrawals. Tax season can feel extra overwhelming if you are without a reliable source of income, so avoid the April financial crunch and tap investment gains to pay taxes during retirement.

  1. Support a company you care about

If you’re on the verge of retirement you probably had a long, prosperous career. Maybe you jumped around to different positions, or maybe you logged a couple decades at one company. Either way, chances are there is a company you want to be involved with that you never got a chance to work at. Investing in a company is a good way to gain a sense of belonging, and do your part to support a company dear to your heart — even if you never actually worked there.

  1. Stay sharp on market trends

All of the financial benefits of investments aside, investing in the market gives you a reason to care. One of the scariest prospects of retirement is the threat of complacency, so fend off apathy by giving yourself a reason to stay up-to-date. You are far more likely to take a keen interest in economic trends when you have a little skin in the game.
If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.

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What is Umbrella Insurance?

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An umbrella insurance policy is defined as an additional level of liability insurance coverage that exceeds the limit of the insured’s house, car or watercraft. Umbrella insurance adds an extra layer of security to people who find themselves at risk of being sued for damages caused to others in an accident or damages done to property. This insurance also provides protection against defamation, damage, invasion of privacy and slander.

Umbrella insurance policies add additional value when the insured is sued and the monetary limit of the policy has been exceeded. The extra protection offered by the insurance is very useful to those who own a lot of assets and are at risk of being sued.

Why Get Umbrella Insurance if I Have Liability Insurance?

Umbrella insurance is not a core form of insurance. This means it requires the main policy to pay initially pay out on a claim before the umbrella liability coverage can become active.

What Sort of Protection Does Umbrella Insurance Offer?

With umbrella liability insurance, you are protected from:

  • Lawsuits as a result of property damage and injury
  • Additional legal defense costs as a result of a lawsuit relating to an injury inflicted upon others and damages done to the property.

Why Do I Need Umbrella Insurance?

Today, the news is filled with tales of multiple lawsuits and record-breaking sums of money being awarded out.

As a home and automobile owner, there are limits to the liability insurance you can purchase. Liability insurance is defined as the part of a homeowner’s home or auto policy that covers expenses like an injured person’s medical bills including therapy and wages lost due to negligence.

In your insurance policy, the liability section covers the cost of a legal defense representative if said negligence causes the individual at fault to be called to court. Also, after summing up all the medical fees for the injured and the legal fees of the negligent party, standard liability coverage is not usually enough.

Umbrella insurance provides that extra layer of protection so that taking care of the bills arising from issues like turn out to be less of a hassle.

What is the Cost Implication of Having Umbrella Insurance?

It is possible to procure a personal liability umbrella insurance policy without having to break the bank. It all depends on how much umbrella liability coverage you choose to purchase. It could go for prices as low as $150 for a year to over a million dollars for coverage and increase yearly depending on existing coverage.

To procure additional liability insurance is not expensive especially when compared to the value of the coverage being purchased. Paying $150 – $200 for coverage worth $250,000 could be the best deal you will ever make.

How Much Umbrella Insurance is Enough?

Umbrella insurance isn’t too expensive, but it is an added cost. In order to determine how much coverage you need, and how much you’re willing to pay for it, you need to go over your own financial situation.

Important Questions You Need to Ask about Umbrella Liability and Risk

  • What is the value of my assets?
  • What is the potential loss of future income?
  • What risks could I face?

Possible Beneficiaries of Umbrella Insurance

Beneficiaries of umbrella insurance could be just about anyone. But the group of people who are likely to have umbrella insurance are individuals who have assets they wish to protect. This is because people like them have a higher chance of losing huge chunks of money in a lawsuit.

Getting sued could cause you to lose assets you may have worked hard to get. These include investments and the entirety of your savings.

Can I Purchase Umbrella Liability Without Money or Assets?

If you do end up getting sued, the court will award benefits to the plaintiff should you be held accountable for damages. And if you have no assets, you could be forced to pay for the damages with money you haven’t even earned yet. A student working towards a degree and planning to pay off his or her student loans with his earnings may need to go back to the drawing board if found guilty in a case like this.

How Much Coverage Does Default Umbrella Insurance Have?

When purchasing umbrella insurance, you get the choice to choose the amount of coverage you would like to have. The policy underwriting changes with each insurance company and coverage could vary from a million dollars to tens of millions of dollars. The difference here is simply you and your budget.

Some companies could also double, triple or quadruple the coverage from a million dollars to two, three or four but would not do the same for the cost of the coverage. Because of this, consider getting quotes from multiple companies before making your final decision.

Are There Any Conditions for Owning an Umbrella Policy?

For an umbrella policy to begin paying coverages, there must be a primary liability policy that must have hit the maximum threshold on payments. A lot of umbrella insurance policies need a minimum underlying insurance. Most insurance companies set the underwriting terms for an umbrella policy. The wording will then state the minimum amount of liability needed before one can qualify for an umbrella policy.

Are There Any Limitations on Umbrella Policies?

Yes, there are. And these limitations usually vary from insurance company to company. For some companies, you may be required to ensure all your properties with them before umbrella coverage can be offered to you. Some even go on to add umbrella coverage as an add-on to an existing policy.

Other companies may attempt to offer you an umbrella policy as a separate policy and this is why you should peruse the market before making any decisions. The more assets you own, the greater the need for you to protect yourself. To get this done, you could consider working with a specialized insurer to get the most value for your money.

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Identity Thieves Bought a New Car in Her Name—Here’s How She’s Fighting It

September 25, 2017 &• 6 min read by Kat Tretina Comments 0 Comments

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Jen* is one of the few people that opens and reads every piece of mail they receive. It’s a quirk that has paid off: A piece of junk mail is how Jen found out someone had stolen her identity.

“I opened a letter from Macy’s, which I thought was weird,” she said. “I haven’t shopped there in years. But the letter was a rejection of a credit card application.”

Jen took immediate action, placing a credit freeze on her accounts. She thought it was all resolved then, but her identity theft nightmare was just beginning.

The Depth of the Identity Theft Problem

Jen checks her free credit report every four months. After finding the Macy’s rejection letter, she immediately checked her report again.

There were several credit inquiries for loans and credit cards that she had not made. Banks and lenders had rejected all of them. However, there was one item on the report that had been approved: a car loan for a $30,000 vehicle.

“The thief applied for a loan through an online company, which is much easier than applying for a loan in someone’s name in person,” Jen said. “She picked up a used Lexus the next day. She used my Social Security number but didn’t use my actual last name. The company still didn’t bat an eye.”

The thief even took out a car insurance policy in Jen’s name. Again, the thief applied for an account online for easier approval.

Beyond Credit—How Theft Affects You

“There were about a dozen inquiries on my credit report besides the car loan, all of which hurt my credit score,” said Jen. “And, the thief didn’t make payments on the insurance or the car, which could have hurt my credit too. I had to take action right away.”

Jen then filed a police report. An officer came to her home, and she handed over copies of her credit report with all of the fraudulent inquiries. Because it was a financial matter, the officer handed the case off to a different department.

Once Jen had a copy of the police report, she took action rather than waiting for the police to work it out. Luckily, her employer offered a free identity protection service through InfoArmor. She called the company, and representatives assigned her a case manager. Together, Jen and the case manager made a list of every false inquiry on Jen’s report and started contacting the companies one by one to have them removed.

“There were inquiries for store credit cards, phone companies, furniture stores, and car loans,” said Jen. “All of them were at places in California, and I’m thousands of miles away from there.”

The process couldn’t be completed in one day. The thief had taken information from Jen’s LinkedIn profile to verify employment dates on applications, and the person’s actions changed her security questions on the credit bureau sites as well.

Jen’s credit report now showed the thief’s address and other information instead of her own, so she couldn’t dispute the charges online. Instead, she had to call each business herself and prove her identity.

Most of the companies’ customer service departments were available only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., when Jen was at work. “I had to squeeze in calls on my lunch break and every spare minute I had,” she said.

Over the course of two months, Jen spent over 80 hours on the phone to dispute charges and inquiries. There were times when she was on the phone for five hours straight. Despite the long hours, she values the identity protection service for helping her handle it.

“[The case manager] was on the phone with me for the full time,” she said. “He helped me keep it together and work through the list of companies.”

Other Financial Ramifications of Identity Theft

Although the phone calls were tedious and incredibly time consuming, there were larger issues that Jen hadn’t even considered. Her InfoArmor case manager helped her navigate those problems as well.

“I could never have thought of it all on my own,” she said. “But he told me I needed to alert my 401(k) company, my mortgage lender, and my credit union account so [the thief] couldn’t access those accounts too.”

Worst of all, the problem still isn’t over. The car loan has been removed from her credit report, but other inquiries remain. Jen also worries about future issues, such as the thief filing a fraudulent tax return in her name to get a tax refund.

“I’m worried about my taxes,” she said. “It’s a real stressor. I contacted the IRS, but I’m still concerned.”

She has every reason to worry. Despite now having the thief’s full name and address, the police have not yet arrested or charged the individual. Instead, the investigation is ongoing thousands of miles away.

Advice for Dealing with ID Theft

Thanks to Jen’s hard work, her credit score has recovered since the identity theft. She notes that not everyone could handle identity theft as quickly as she did, nor does everyone have the means.

“It was time consuming and tedious, but it was also expensive,” she said. “I had to pay to FedEx documents across the country, to put a credit freeze on my account, and to have access to a fax machine—most of the documents couldn’t be emailed because of security concerns, so faxing them was the only way.”

In addition, Jen said that her employer and coworkers were understanding as she navigated the process. In many workplaces, taking personal calls during work wouldn’t be possible. Other people might have had to take time off from work to deal with identity theft, hurting their paycheck.

For those who face a similar situation, Jen recommends you do the following:

  • Take diligent notes and keep them nearby. Every credit inquiry Jen disputed had its own case number, and because she sometimes had to wait days for a response, Jen had to move quickly when she did get a response. Keeping a notebook handy with every case number, the date and time of each call, and who she spoke to last helped her stay on top of the issue.
  • Check your credit report. Jen caught the problem early, which saved her credit and finances. It’s a smart idea to check your credit report every four months for red flags.
  • Consider hiring a service. While Jen was able to get identity protection for free, she says she would have willingly paid for it. Her case manager helped her through every phone call and identified other actions she needed to take to protect herself.
  • Give yourself a break. Dealing with endless phone calls and the stress of identity theft can be hard on your nerves and well-being. Jen advises giving yourself a break every now and again and indulge in some self-care.

Moving Forward after Theft

Jen doesn’t know how the thief got her Social Security number or name, especially because she’s diligent about protecting sensitive information. However, she suspects it’s from medical forms from her frequent doctor appointments, as they all required her to enter her Social Security number, address, birthday, and other identifying information—making her an easy target for identity theft.

“Unfortunately—and the police said the same thing—people take those forms and sell them on the black market for others to use,” she said. “It’s made me much more conscious of what I put out there.”

Jen’s story isn’t an anomaly. A whopping 41 million Americans have experienced identity theft. That’s why it’s so important to continually and regularly check your credit report.

“You have to stay on it to prevent your name and credit report from being ruined,” Jen said. “Be diligent.”

*Because the investigation into this situation is ongoing, the individual featured asked that we not use her real name.

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