Doc’s note: I’m handing over my daily letter today to my researcher, Amanda Cuocci. Despite working for me for nearly four years, Amanda has an embarrassing confession to make about her finances…
And my guess is, she isn’t alone.
Take her lesson to heart and share it with your children, grandchildren, and anyone else who might need to hear it today.
I (Amanda) am terrible at following my own advice.
I’ve worked for Stansberry Research for a number of years now. I know the lectures Doc’s given… and we’ve written about the importance of knowing about your credit several times in Retirement Millionaire Daily.
But the truth is, I’ve never checked my credit report.
At least, not until the recent Equifax breach made me sit up and pay attention.
I thought I was fine. The bank ran my credit when my husband and I opened our joint account a few years ago. I hadn’t made any big purchases since then. And I checked my FICO score through my credit-card account periodically.
To be honest, financial security makes me anxious – the shaking hands, rapid heartbeat kind of anxious. So I did what a lot of folks do… I ignored it. Even though I knew that some 15 million Americans each year are victims of identity theft… or more than 40,000 Americans per day.
I’m not alone. According to several studies in the past few years by TransUnion and Credit.com, roughly 32% of Americans have never checked their credit report or credit score.
In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that only about 8% of the adult population with credit histories opted in to receive their free credit report. A separate survey by Credit.com found that more than a third of Americans never even thought about checking their reports.
If that doesn’t scare you, it should.
In September, Equifax admitted they’d been hacked back in May. About 145 million Americans had their information exposed.
That’s nearly every American with credit history.
So even if you’re one of the few Americans who are diligent about checking your report, chances are you know someone who isn’t taking care of their financial security.
And based purely on the numbers – 40,000 Americans with their identities stolen each day – the chances are someone receiving this e-mail will be hacked today. I hope it’s not you.
So if you haven’t already, take the following steps today…
First, check your score. Your credit score is a three-digit number. It’s a general gauge of how you’re doing. There’s the FICO score, which is very common, and there’s also something called VantageScore. Both of these scores assess things like your payment history, credit limits, utilization, and more.
Each credit bureau also has a separate score based on the accounts reporting to them. Right now about 90% of lenders use your FICO score, but VantageScore is gaining traction. Your FICO score is typically available through your bank or your credit-card company – and often for free.
But your credit score doesn’t paint the whole picture. Nor does it always signal fraudulent activity.
So next, check your credit reports…
The three main credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – each offer a free report once a year. Your credit report will list out all open lines of credit and debts – all credit cards, mortgages, and loans should be on there.
That’s how you can catch identity theft – you’ll see lines of credit or inquiries you didn’t authorize.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the average loss from identity theft is $1,343 per person, with a total of $15.4 billion in 2014. That doesn’t take into account other problems like drops in your credit score, problems getting a job, and more. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of it.
You can request all three reports at once or spread them out, depending on what works for you. Get all three at once if you want a full picture of your current credit history, or stagger them every few months for regular monitoring.
Keep in mind that if you have a big purchase coming up like a house or a car, you’ll want to get all three to have the full picture of what your credit looks like. That will help with negotiating leases and mortgages.
It’s important to get all three because they don’t all report the same data. That’s right – you might find accounts missing on one of those reports that appear on another. I found this out when I ran my first report and noticed nothing was on there from my bank. A quick call to the bank’s office told me I’d picked the one bureau to which they didn’t report. A second report at another bureau uncovered the accounts.
You can also set “alarms” in your accounts at each bureau that will notify you should anyone try to apply for a loan or line of credit. It’s called a fraud alert, and it’s free to initiate. It’ll remain on your account for 90 days, but you can renew it. This is what I’m planning on doing.
You can go one step further and get a freeze put on your accounts… which will cost you. It’s also a hassle to have to remove them all before a purchase. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the cost.
If you’re considering a protection service like LifeLock, keep in mind that they actually get their services from Equifax. And there’s some concern about giving even more of your information (like a driver’s license) to these companies.
Remember that monitoring your credit regularly is essential to your financial security. Save yourself from losing everything. You won’t regret gaining that peace of mind.
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What We’re Reading…
- In case you missed it: Our take on the breach just after it went public.
- Something different: Were they watching Mister Ed reruns?
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and Amanda Cuocci
October 19, 2017