Financial Advice

Free credit freezes are here

Free credit freezes and year-long fraud alerts are here, starting Sept. 21, 2018, thanks to a new federal law. Here’s what you should know.

Free credit freezes

Security freezes, also known as credit freezes, restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Starting Sept. 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

How will these freezes work? Contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies—Equifax , Experian , and TransUnion . If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it gets your request. You also can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee.

Don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but locks may have monthly fees. If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then opt for a freeze, not a lock. 

Year-long fraud alerts

A fraud alert tells businesses that check your credit that they should check with you before opening a new account. Starting Sept. 21, 2018, when you place a fraud alert, it will last one year, instead of 90 days. Fraud alerts will still be free and identity theft victims can still get an extended fraud alert for seven years.

Credit freezes and the military

If you’re in the military, you’ll still have access to active duty alerts, which let you place a fraud alert for one year, renewable for the time you’re deployed. The active duty alert also gives you an added benefit: the credit reporting agencies will take your name off their marketing lists for prescreened credit card offers for two years (unless you ask them to add you back on).

You can place a fraud alert or active duty alert by visiting any one of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies—Equifax , Experian , or TransUnion . The one that you contact must notify the other two. You also can find links to their websites at IdentityTheft.gov/CreditBureauContacts .

Issues with a credit freeze

If you think a credit reporting agency is not placing a credit freeze or fraud alert properly, you can submit a complaint online or by calling 855-411-2372. If you think someone stole your identity, visit the FTC’s website, IdentityTheft.gov , to get a personalized recovery plan that walks you through the steps to take.

Gail Hillebrand, Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, Associate
Director, 
Division of Consumer Education and Engagement

Andrew Smith, Federal Trade Commission, Director of Bureau of Consumer Protection

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

$505 million in refunds sent to payday loan customers

If you took out an online payday loan from a company affiliated with AMG Services, you may be getting a check in the mail from the FTC. The $505 million the FTC is returning to consumers makes this the largest refund program the agency has ever administered.

The FTC sued AMG and Scott A. Tucker for deceptive payday lending. When consumers took out loans, AMG said they would charge a one-time finance fee. Instead, AMG made multiple illegal withdrawals from peoples’ bank accounts and charged hidden fees. As a result, people paid far more for the loans than they had agreed to.

In 2016 the FTC won a court case against AMG and Scott Tucker. Then in 2017, a jury convicted Tucker and his attorney of crimes related to the lending scheme. The FTC and Department of Justice are using money obtained in both court actions to give refunds to consumers.

Here are answers to questions about AMG refunds.

Who will get a refund? Checks are being sent to consumers who took out loans between January 2008 and January 2013 from these AMG-related companies: 500FastCash, Advantage Cash Services, Ameriloan, OneClickCash, Star Cash Processing, UnitedCashLoans, and USFastCash.

How many people will get refunds? More than 1.1 million people will get refunds.

How does the FTC know who to send the checks to? The FTC and a refund administrator have used AMG’s business records to identify eligible consumers and calculate their refunds.

I’m eligible for a refund. What do I need to do? If you borrowed from one of the lenders listed above between January 2008 and January 2013, you don’t need to do anything. The checks are being mailed to eligible consumers automatically. There is no application process. If you borrowed from one of those lenders before January 2008, please call 1-866-730-8147.

How can I get more information? Visit the FTC’s AMG refund page or call 1-866-730-8147.

Three tips from the FTC:

  1. If you get a check, deposit or cash it within 60 days.
  2. The FTC never asks people to pay money or give information to cash refund checks. If someone asks you to pay to get a refund from the FTC, it’s a scam.
  3. The FTC has advice if you’re thinking about a payday loan or an online payday loan.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

FTC Settlements Stop Debt Collection Scheme

The operators of an illegal debt collection scheme have agreed to be permanently banned from the debt collection business in order to settle FTC charges that they falsely threatened to have people arrested if their debts were not paid.

The defendants, Gregory MacKinnon, Angela Burdorf, Vantage Point Services LLC and Payment Management Solutions, and Joseph Ciffa and Bonified Payment Solutions Inc., falsely claimed consumers would spend up to 120 days in jail or pay thousands of dollars in bail, according to a complaint filed by the FTC and the New York Attorney General’s Office.

According to the complaint, the defendants also failed to provide information about their identities during phone calls, or information about the supposed debt within five days of a call, as required by law, and illegally added unauthorized amounts to consumer’s debts.

The settlement orders also prohibit these defendants from misrepresenting material facts about financial-related products and services, profiting from customers’ personal information collected as part of the challenged practices, and failing to dispose of such information properly.

The orders impose a judgment of $22.5 million against Gregory MacKinnon, Vantage Point Services LLC, Joseph Ciffa and Bonified Payment Solutions, Inc. The orders impose a judgment of $4.4 million against Angela Burdorf and Payment Management Solutions Inc. The judgment against Ciffa and Bonified Payment Solutions will be suspended due to their inability to pay. The full judgment against Ciffa and Bonified Payment Solutions will become due immediately if they are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

Track your spending with this easy tool

Have you ever looked at your monthly bank statement and found yourself surprised by what you spent your money on? Are you unsure of where your money is really going and find yourself struggling to pay your bills and set aside savings?

Using a spending tracker can help you make decisions that can help meet your goals and give you clarity around your spending habits. Once you’ve got a clear idea of how you spend your money, you’ll be ready to start building a budget .

Budget tool: Spending tracker

Fill out this spending tracker for one week. After that week, take a look at your spending and consider:

  • What expenses surprised you?
  • Are there areas where you spent unnecessarily? 
  • Are you paying for services or subscriptions that you’re not really using?
  • Are you paying service fees on your credit card, subscription service, or other financial service that you could eliminate? 
  • How does your weekday spending differ from what you spend on weekends?  

It’s important to take a look at your obligations and wants to set priorities when it comes to your budget. Obligations typically include things like rent and utilities, as well as any payments like spousal or child support.

Wants may be a little more difficult to identify. A want may be something like a gym membership, cable, or going out for coffee each morning rather than making it at home.

Once you’ve broken down your spending habits, you can analyze them more carefully. Knowing what you owe on a monthly basis, and knowing where you actually spend your money, can help you prioritize so you can pay your bills on time, get control of your debt, and start saving for the future.

Take control of your finances

The Get a Handle on Debt series gives you tools to manage your debt by budgeting smarter, paying your bills on time, tracking your spending, paying down existing debts, and earning extra income. You can also get money management strategies sent directly to your inbox by signing up for our Get a Handle on Debt boot camp.

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

Empower Yourself Against Utility Scams

You get a call saying your electricity or water will be shut off unless you pay a past due bill. You may not think you have a past due bill. But the caller sounds convincing, and you can’t afford to ignore it, especially if you’re running a small business.

Actually, you can’t afford to believe it.

The FTC has been hearing about scammers impersonating utility companies in an effort to get your money. Here are some warning signs of a utility scam:

  • If you know you already paid, stop. Even if the caller insists you have a past due bill. That’s a big red flag.
  • Never give out your banking information by email or phone. Utility companies don’t demand banking information by email or phone. And they won’t force you to pay by phone as your only option.
  • Did the caller demand payment by gift card, cash reload card, wiring money or cryptocurrency? Don’t do it. Legitimate companies don’t demand one specific method of payment. And they don’t generally accept gift cards (like iTunes or Amazon), cash reload cards (like MoneyPak, Vanilla, or Reloadit), or cryptocurrency (like bitcoin).

If you get a call like this, here are some things you can do:

  • Concerned that your bill is past due? Contact the utility company directly using the number on your paper bill or on the company’s website. Don’t call any number the caller gave you.
  • Never give banking information over the phone unless you place the call to a number you know is legitimate.
  • Tell the FTC. Your reports help us fight these scams. And report it to the real utility company. If you already paid, tell the payment provider – such as the wire transfer or gift card company. You may not get your money back, but it’s important to tell them about the scam.

Find out how you can protect yourself and your business from scams.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

FTC Returns more than $10 Million to NetSpend Customers

The Federal Trade Commission is mailing more than 430,000 checks totaling more than $10 million to people who could nit access money deposited to their NetSpend reloadable prepaid debit cards. According to an FTC complaint, many NetSpend customers were unable to access their funds, either because NetSpend denied or delayed activation of their card or because NetSpend blocked them from using it.

To settle the FTC’s charges, NetSpend Corporation agreed to notify and provide refunds to eligible customers who requested them before October 7, 2017. NetSpend also agreed to remit to the FTC any fees collected from NetSpend debit cards that were eligible for refund, but were not paid out during the consumer redress period. The FTC is using this money to send checks to customers who did not receive a refund previously in this case.

Recipients should deposit or cash checks within 60 days, as indicated on the check. The FTC never requires people to pay money or provide account information to cash a refund check.

If consumers have questions about the refund program, they should contact the FTC’s refund administrator, Analytics Consulting LLC, at 888-684-4858.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

Facing a Money Decision? Check Whether You Use the 3 Skills That Stand Out in People With High Financial Well-Being

The study defined financial skills as knowing how to find, process, and act on information when you need it. Here are ways to apply the skills that help you face any money decision.

1. Know when to look for information

The first “how-to” that you need is the ability to recognize when there’s a gap in your knowledge. Maybe you have incomplete information, or maybe your information is one-sided or unbalanced, when you consider the source it came from. 

How to do it: One way to apply this skill is to pause before a financial decision to think and gather new or more reliable information.

2. Know where to find trusted information

Once you recognize your need for information, you need to know where to find it. For example, if you want to speak to a personal financial planner, you need to know how to locate that person and set up a convenient meeting time. Then, you need to understand the sources of the information they have, and the reasons different organizations may offer financial facts. 

How to do it: We provide unbiased financial education to help people take control of their financial lives. Check out our answers to hundreds of financial questions, or browse our guides to financial topics. Other sources for information include schools, libraries, and financial institutions such as banks and lenders. They all offer different perspectives.

3. Know how to act on your decision and stay on track

Once you locate reliable information about a money decision, you need to know how to apply it to your individual situation. 

How to do it: Match the information you have to the opportunities available to you. For example, if you decide to save 10 percent of your pay for retirement, you need to determine what steps to take, considering your situation. The next step may be determining how to enroll in your employer’s retirement plan. But if that’s not an option, the next step is finding an alternative—for example, finding a way to open an individual retirement account and taking the steps needed to move money into the account.

As you develop your skills, you can apply them to a variety of money decisions. The skills are useful and practical whether you’re facing a one-time decision or ongoing choices, whether the decision is straightforward or complex. Here are more resources to help you on the path to financial well-being:

  • If you’re facing a money decision, download the SAVED brochure for help getting started
  • Create an action plan to meet your money goals with our worksheet
  • Find out your financial well-being by answering 10 questions

If you are among the thousands of financial coaches, educators, and others who are helping people manage money, budget, save, and plan, consider how you can help people practice the three skills more frequently and effectively. We offer resources to help:

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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