Tag: credit

Will your credit survive a disaster?

ATM machine

Assume a major storm, hurricane or earthquake. Communications are disrupted. What happens to your bills – and your credit rating?

Today we went to the bank to set up a new account. We’ve been planning recently about how to promote building a savings account specifically for emergencies, so we figured we’d do some actual background research.

Setting up the account took a lot longer than I expected. It felt as though the “Know your customer” (KYC) regulations, set up after 9/11 to combat fraud, have been integrated into every step of the account opening process!

This exercise brought me back for another look at an earlier Advisory about what happens when a disaster interrupts your regularly-scheduled bill paying. It’s clearly time for an update!

Do you receive bills, and pay them, via the US Postal Service?

Yes, online transactions are more popular than ever, but still, did you know that 4 out of all 10 bills are still paid using a paper check? So let’s start with them.

If you like the control of paper bills and checks, do you have a record of when your various bills come due and where the payments go? Would you be able to write and send at least a minimum payment if the actual paper bills didn’t arrive? (As we have seen, this isn’t fantasy. Over the course of the summer 2020 delivery times for the U.S. mail were severely impacted.)

You can be sure that just because the mail truck couldn’t make it through the flooded creek, your creditors will be looking for their expected payment. When that payment doesn’t arrive, your account will be automatically charged with a late fee.

Do you receive bills and pay them online by going to your creditors’ websites or by using the bill pay functions offered by your bank?

In a disaster, your bank’s website will continue to be open for business – but if your computer or smartphone isn’t able to access the internet, you may not be able to get to that website to pay the bills that are coming due every day!

What can you do starting now to protect your credit rating?

Even if you’re used to paying bills online, and using ATM machines for convenient transactions, there are three things you should do starting now to protect your credit BEFORE an emergency strikes.

Step One: Pay your bills immediately.

Pay your bills as soon after you receive them as possible. If you wait until the last minute, you may end up weeks behind because of the emergency and you run the risk of late charges and damage to your credit rating if your payments didn’t get there on time.

Step Two: Have payment slips prepared.

If you pay by check, take time now to make two hard copies each of the payment slips that have the account numbers, barcodes and amount/s due imprinted on them. Following a major even you can use these to make minimum payments by hand until things get back to normal.

Step Three: Set up automatic bill-paying BY COMPUTER.

Paying online is faster, less expensive (no stamps) and the chances are good that you will be able to get back to operating on line more quickly than by mail following a major disaster event. Setting up accounts to be paid automatically each month simplifies things even more.

Of course, monthly automatic bill pay assumes that you will have an automatic deposit made each month! You’ll want to find out just if and how you will be paid if an emergency interrupts your work.

How will creditors react?  

We’re often asked, “Won’t the creditors give me leeway in a major emergency?”

 Yes . . . there’s a concept called “disaster forbearance” that may apply — but usually only if you are in a federally-declared disaster area. And that declaration may take some time — or never happen. (We have witnessed a “forebearance” policy from some banks as the result of COVID-19 — but that period came and went . . .)

In any case, creditors will be happier to work with you if you contact them before your next bill is due! If you are lucky, you may be able to avoid late fees and extra interest payments.

But be ready to jump through all sorts of hoops to correct the records. Once you get put sideways into their (and the credit reporting agencies’) computers, you go through hell trying to straighten them out. Multiply this times the number of creditors and you have a monster of a problem to look forward to at a time when you will have plenty of other problems to be solving!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Oh, and getting back to that “emergency savings account?” Like every other good idea for saving money, the simplest approach is to set up an automatic “payment” to yourself, designed to go directly into a separate account.  Since the average American who says they have put money aside for emergencies has actually saved less than $400 (!), it would be a good idea to set that up now!

Personal Information Databases and Your Privacy

Privacy - Image of person being examined by magnifying glass

My shocking personal information story

Last weekend I got a text message from my daughter. She had been online and had found one of the personal information databases that had my name in it.

There are a couple dozen popular sites like the one she checked. They all offer background and personal information about anyone, usually including phone number, address (and past addresses), email address, relatives, pictures, social connections, court records, etc. While you usually can get one or two pieces of information just by typing in someone’s name, for a fee you can get all the records.

Well, my daughter got my whole record and sent it to me. IT WAS SO, SO INACCURATE!  Wrong birth date. Unknown foreign “friends.” Places I’d never been to! When I got to the (false) court records I shut the phone in horror!

(Now my daughter being who she is, she sent me specific instructions of how to cancel the account, which I was able to do within 24 hours. At no charge.)

Still, it was a shock. While I spend a lot of time online, I simply don’t use personal information databases and have never looked myself up.

But since we talk about cyber-security a lot here at Emergency Plan Guide, it seemed important to share more about it today. These personal information databases are legal. They have found information about you without breaking any laws. There have been no “leaks.”

But your privacy is certainly threatened by them.

The Big-Daddy Personal Information Databases in all our lives – the Credit Bureaus

Most everyone is familiar with the credit bureaus that track 9 of every 10 adult Americans: Experian, Transunion and Equifax. A fourth seems to have been added to this list: Innovis.

While we often speak of “your credit rating,” or your “credit score,” you really have one from each company.  

But each credit report will be different. Why?

All four companies track money that you owe: mortgages, bank loans, car loans, student loans, and credit card debt. Credit bureaus also get information from public records, like property tax rolls or court records.

But businesses are not required to report the loans they make to you, so many businesses report to only one or two of the credit bureaus. That explains the variations in the reports

Action item: Check your credit reports.

If you haven’t checked your credit scores lately, you may want to. According to the Federal Trade Commission “You’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order online from annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports, or call 1-877-322-8228. You will need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth to verify your identity.”

According to the Innovis website, they offer a free credit report, too.

I have checked my own records in the past. Every time I found errors. Once it was a misspelling that dropped someone else’s debt into my file. If you see debts you don’t recognize, or other strange information, you can work with the credit bureaus to get your report cleaned up.

The “people-finder” sites track even more personal information.

Wikipedia says there are close to 4,000 “information brokerages.” This probably includes the credit bureaus. All of these companies are for-profit organizations that make money by charging for certain services and by selling your personal information to marketers – and to each other.

The people-finder sites are giant personal information databases. They start with names and aliases. They list addresses where you have lived and currently live. Some have reverse directories – enter an email and they’ll give you a phone number to go with it, or enter a phone number and you’ll get an address.

That is just the start. You may find lists of your children. Other relatives and ex-relatives. Lists of friends. Where you’ve traveled. Property you own. If you’ve been in trouble with the law or owe taxes. If you are a sex offender. Have declared bankruptcy. You may find photos of yourself!

How much of this information do you want to be available to anyone willing to shell out a few dollars? What if there are errors in the data? How can you protect your privacy?

When I found out about being on one of these sites, I immediately jumped into action to find out more.

How the people-finder information databases work:

  • You usually can’t get a complete look at your people-finder record  — or the record of someone else — without paying at least $1 for a “trial.” If you sign up for a trial, read the fine print. Trials typically turn into a “regular monthly subscription” unless you cancel within the specified time, which may be just a few days.
  • If you want to update or clean up your record at the people-finder site, you will run into challenges. They get your information by scraping the web – that is, by finding publicly available info. Obviously, you can’t “change” public information, although you can delete some of it. (Looks as though you can’t delete court records that aren’t officially expunged.)
  • Once the site is updated, you will be offered the option to subscribe for a monthly fee to monitor your account to keep it clean and also to be able to search for other people. Subscription prices seem to vary starting at as little as $5/month (for a multiple-month contract) but most are more in the $20-30/month range, with an extra fee for what has been termed the “juicy stuff” – criminal records, tax records.
  • Like me, you may want to close the account and remove all the information. Every site’s requirements for opting-out of the site are different – but from what I am reading, it is possible but your patience will be tried. You should not have to pay anything to get off the site but you may have to jump through hoops.
  • Even after you are successful at having the account closed, it may reappear again in the future when they “find” new information . . .

Here are some of the sites I came across in my research.

 I used an old email to check on a couple of them and found myself in every one I looked at. My photo was there, too! I am not recommending any of these sites — they are just to help you get started on your own research!

  • Peoplefinder
  • Beenverified
  • Mylife
  • Instant CheckMate
  • Spokeo
  • Anywho
  • Truthfinder
  • Whitepages
  • People
  • Peoplesmart
  • Intelius
  • US Search
  • Radaris
  • SeekVerify
  • Pipl

Can you remove yourself from these online databases?

How to get off the credit bureaus. The only way to get off them entirely is to become one of the 26 million or so people in the U.S. that have no debt profile. That means they have no credit cards. No mortgage. No car payment.

Most of us couldn’t function without at least some of these. So the best thing to do is to be sure your credit report is at least accurate.

How to get yourself off the people-finders. It looks to me as though getting totally off is impossible. You would need to have no online banking accounts. No social media accounts. No websites. You’d have to avoid using public wi-fi, and if you went online, use a Do Not Track browser. (Apparently Google does have a Removal Tool but it sounds as though they make it tough to use.)

Best thing to do here? Go to as many of the people-finder sites you can and ask that your information be deleted. Go there regularly. This is a lot of work.

Hire a “reputation manager” to help?  You can hire a “reputation manager” company that will search out negative info on your behalf, then remove or suppress it. Some of these companies specialize in business reputation management, others work for individuals. Fees for their services depend on the complexity of your situation, but customized plans seem to start at around $400 – 500/month.

“Privacy is dead. Get over it.”

You have probably heard this quote. It is attributed to the co-founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems, Scott McNealy – and he said it way back in 1999!

Obviously, the more we rely on digital communications to run our lives – essentially everything on the Internet of Things — the less privacy we will be able to maintain. Is there an answer – or is the genie out of the bottle, never to be returned?  I’m afraid the genie is dancing in triumph right now!

But in being conscious of what data you’re making available by participating in the digital society, you can at least be better prepared for what might come!

You Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I am not an expert in this topic. If it interests you, YOU need to become your own expert. If you already have stories to tell, please share them with us by leaving a comment below!

P.P.S. We have written pretty regularly about security and privacy. Here’s an earlier Advisory that talks about why home electronic devices are so vulnerable to hacking.

Don’t Double Down on Disaster


You made it through alive, but . . .

ATM signIt’s bad enough to weather a storm or ride out an earthquake that leaves you with many thousands of dollars in damage. But, if local power is out, roads are obstructed and you can’t get to your money in the bank, chances are you have bills that are going to go unpaid for some period of time . . . long enough to incur late charges and even serious damage to your credit rating.

That’s compounding the damage! So what’s the remedy?

One solution – and a simple one — is to pay your bills as early and as automatically as possible.

The benefits:

  • First, if payments are transferred automatically, even if YOUR power is out and you can’t access your computer, the transfer will be made timely.
  • Even if you haven’t set your accounts up for automatic transfer, having a history of prompt and up-to-date payment gives you more options in contacting creditors and asking for relief. If your history includes being behind, and perhaps having black marks on your credit, even when you get through in a panic to your creditors (“Just went through the storm, couldn’t get to you until now!”) you are not likely to receive a hearty welcome.

Of course, if your paycheck stops because of the disaster, ultimately your bank account will empty. That’s another problem to be addressed another time.

An Interesting Parallel?

We don’t really have scientific evidence that people who take preventive measures to prepare for emergencies are more likely to pay their bills earlier than others, but anecdotal evidence would seem to indicate a parallel approach.

People who act responsibly on matters of self-protection are more certainly more likely to survive an emergency. Those that take a step further, looking out for their neighbors’ welfare as well as their own, can mean the difference between preservation of our society and its social values and allowing it to regress into chaos!

The question is, “Are you willing to help persuade your neighbors to take responsible preventive measures to protect themselves and their neighbors . . . or are you resigned to meet them at your front door with a shotgun when they are thirsty?”

Something to think about . . .

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team