The Broke Professional - Optimize Your Financial Life

Equifax Hack and the Botched Response

Equifax, one of the big three credit reporting companies in the country, was recently hacked.  The company states that 143 million people were affected.  Which means a lot more people were most likely affected since they are probably reporting a conservatively low number.  They are a business after all.

The population of the US is a little over 300 million.  Meaning almost half of the citizens in the country had their vital information compromised.  What type of information was stolen exactly?

According to Equifax, your name, birthday, address, social security numbers, drivers license numbers and credit card numbers were all compromised.  So essentially all the information a hacker would need to sign up for any type of account.

I miss the days of hackers targeting Home Depot.

So what should we do?  The first thing we should NOT do is listen to Equifax.  Here are 2 reasons why:

1.  They set up a bogus help website that only helps themselves.

Soon after the hack was made public, Equifax set up a pretty crude looking website called equifaxsecurity2017.  That just looks like a fake URL off the bat.

On the site you can check if you’re “potentially impacted” by entering the last 6 digits of your SSN and your last name. Yes, you can check if your information has been compromised by entering even more information.

Once you enter that info, it will say you have been potentially affected.  No matter what you enter, it will say you are potentially affected.  Which means they have no idea if you are potentially affected.

But wait, there’s more!  If you’ve been affected, you get a free trial of TrustedID Premier, the credit monitoring service offered by Equifax.  You’ll get a free trial for a year and then be charged after that if you want to keep it.

So not only did they set up a dubious looking website to get even more of our information, they are trying to take our money after a massive data breach.

Please do NOT sign up for this service.  There are many ways to monitor your credit that are free and easy that I will mention at the end of the article.

As far as the second reason we shouldn’t listen to Equifax:

2.  Equifax execs sold their company stock before the hack was made public.

Like something out of Wolf of Wall Street, three Equifax executives sold their stock in the company before the hack was publicly disclosed.  The official company line was that they had no idea the data breach had occurred.

While I’m a cynic by nature, any rational person could see that is a bald faced lie.  How any executive of any company could not know that their company was exposed in the biggest data breach known to man makes no sense.  Let alone three executives.

While some conciliatory reasons were given such as they didn’t know, and they didn’t sell ALL of their stock (aka these guys are a lot richer than we can imagine), the fact is that this deceptive action did occur.

Because of this, I will have nothing to do with this company or their “TrustedID” program.  And if there ever is a class action lawsuit that I can be a part of, I will be sure to sign right up.

What You Should Do

So what steps should we take to ensure we don’t become victims of identity theft?  Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent ID theft.  These hackers are much smarter than us or any company out there.  Like a good defense in football, we need to prepare the best we can and react accordingly:

1.  Monitor your credit reports.  This can be done essentially for free through services like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame.  They will send you an alert whenever there is a change on your credit report.

The best thing we should all do is look at our credit reports.  Go to annualcreditreport.com and request a report from all 3 bureaus (yes, even Equifax).

2.  Submit an initial fraud alert.  This tells any business to take some extra steps to identify you in case there is an application submitted in your name.  This usually means you have to talk to someone when you apply for a credit card or bank account.

Some people say submit a credit freeze, but I don’t think this is necessary since hackers tend to sit on this information for a long time before they act on it.  You won’t be able to apply for any new accounts during that time either, so that’s your call.

3.  Submit your taxes early!!!  Most Americans are procrastinators when it comes to filing taxes.  Many even file extensions because they don’t want to do it by April.

Don’t do that next year.

Tax filing fraud is on the rise, and with this data breach it could potentially be a huge problem for the 2018 tax filing season.  We get most of the forms we need by February.  Once you get the necessary paperwork, just go ahead and file.  Especially if you’re expecting a refund.  Don’t let the government hold on to your money interest free!

Be vigilant about your credit and identity!

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Sweat the Big Things. Part 2: Transportation

This is Part 2 of my three part series about housing, transportation and taxes.  These are the three things which I believe can make or break your finances.

Part 1 discussed buying a house.  This post will talk about the costs associated with transportation.

Don’t do it. Just don’t.

In my last post about buying a home the smart way, I mentioned that buying a house will most likely be the most expensive transaction of your life.  Coming up in second place is buying a car.

Buying a certain type of home can be a status symbol.  A sign that you’ve “made it.”  That you’re finally a grown up and don’t have to be ashamed about inviting your friends over anymore.

But I would argue that a car can be more of a status symbol.  If you drive through a nice neighborhood, you will be admiring the homes but you’ll also be looking at what’s parked in the driveway.  You’ll be thinking about the guy with the Tesla in a much different light than the guy with the old Civic.

And this is why cars can potentially destroy your finances.  There is such an emotional attachment to certain cars that it can cloud the judgement of even the most savvy and cost conscious consumer.  Someone coming in the car buying experience with eyes wide open can easily be led astray by an experienced salesman.

They’ll come in for a slightly used Toyota and leave with a brand new Lexus.  Along with a large shiny monthly payment.

There are two principal ways cars can wreck your finances.  Cost and time.  Let’s look at both of these and find out how you can minimize both.

You’re Not Paying For Just a Car

Whether buying or leasing a car (which is another discussion altogether), everyone looks at the monthly payment as the cost of the car.  We live in a paycheck to paycheck society where monthly payments are the barometer of affordability, so this makes sense.

Unfortunately, cars cost more than the monthly payment.  Just like buying a house comes with extra costs, so does buying a car.  Those extra costs come in the form of gas, maintenance, repairs, insurance premiums, parking and tolls.

The average monthly car payment has risen to $509.  With the associated costs that becomes over $700 per month.  The average price of a car sold in the US is over $30,000.  There are car loans that stretch to 7 years nowadays.  This is insanity and will keep you from accumulating wealth for a very long time.

And let’s not forget the almost immediate depreciation you get with a car.  At least homes generally go up in value at the rate of inflation.  Cars lose value as soon as you sign on the dotted line, and they keep going down after that.

So you have a hefty down payment along with a monthly payment.  And add ongoing associated costs to that.  AND the vehicle is losing value over time.  Sounds like a huge money sink to me.

But lots of people really need cars.  If you’re one of those people, like me, you need to do as much as you can to minimize all of these outlays.

Get the cheapest and safest car for your needs that is reliable and gets great gas mileage.  As long as you stay away form luxury cars and getting a bigger car than you need, you’ll be better off than the majority of Americans.

If you want to be wealthy, an expensive car will be a huge obstacle in that journey.

Death by Commute

Another overlooked part of driving is the cost of commuting.  And I’m not talking just about money.  Your health and your time, and sometimes your soul, can all be taken from you because of your commute.  Commuting can literally kill you.

I can attest to this personally.  At my first employer I was commuting less than 10 minutes each way.  I filled up the tank twice a month.  I could go home and see the family for lunch if I wanted.  Life was good.

Then I got a “promotion” which had me driving 35-40 minutes each way.  Sometimes in heavy traffic.  Life was not so good all of a sudden.  I could physically feel myself getting more stressed and I started to have more neck pain.  I had to wake up earlier than before and had less time to spend with my family.

And car maintenance issues started to crop up.  The AC randomly stopped working.  I was hearing strange new sounds coming from the engine.  And all this in just a couple of weeks of my new commute.  I was also definitely less happy at work than I was before.

The only plus was that I could listen to podcasts more often.  But it’s not really a plus since I could have just woken up earlier and listened to them before.  So pretty much nothing but negatives with this longer commute.

The new commute actually compelled me to look for a new job.  And thank goodness I did since I found a new position at a different company for more pay and a commute similar to my original short one.  I noticed the differences almost immediately.  The job was more fun, the neck pain disappeared and driving was kind of enjoyable again.

Finding a new job is one way to reduce the negative aspects of commuting, but there are others.  Public transportation, telecommuting and carpooling are some other ways.  Get creative and find what works with your current situation.

I really appreciate my short commute and it’s going to take a lot for me to give it up!

Conclusion

In my last post about housing I mentioned the Latte Factor.  It showed how you can cut out your morning coffee and invest those savings to grow some money.  Applying this to car buying really makes the Latte Factor not worth the effort.

Kelley Blue Book allows you to look up the 5 year cost of ownership of any car.  This takes into account the car’s price and along with registration, insurance and maintenance.  It’s a great apples to apples comparison to see how much cars really cost.

A 2017 Lexus ES 350 has a 5 year cost of ownership of $54,071.  A 2017 Toyota Corolla comes in at $34,286.  That $20,000 difference can send your investment accounts skyrocketing.  Both cars seat 5 people and are reliable.  And the Corolla owner can keep getting his lattes everyday.

This is a real and significant difference that can make or break your finances.  The Lexus might turn a few more heads, but the Corolla owner will be wealthier.  And if he invests his money wisely, he will be FAR wealthier.  Don’t let your ego get in the way of being rich.

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