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Author: Mary Day

Steps for Victims of Identity Theft

Bankruptcy Counseling12 steps to take when you fall victim to identity theft. Identity thieves can max your credit cards, take out loans, file bankruptcy, and any number of other actions using your name and information.

  1. Notify your bank and all creditors. While many banks and creditors may have their own fraud alerts in place, those alerts may not catch everything.
  2. Implement a fraud alert. A 90-day fraud alert will allow creditors to know ahead of time that you have been a victim of identity theft.
  3. Check your credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com for all incorrect activity. 
  4. Consider a credit freeze which will make it difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. Ohio charges a $5 fee per credit reporting bureau.
  5. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357 to report the theft and get personalized information about next steps to take.
  6. Go to your local police to report the theft.
  7. Contact credit reporting agencies to relay new information if any.
  8. Change all your account passwords. While the thieves already have your contact information; changing your passwords is an easy way to combat any additional information from being taken.
  9. Send all creditors a copy of your Identity Theft Report. You will have received a copy of this Report from your local police office.
  10. Call the Social Security fraud hotline at 800-269-0271.
  11. Get a new driver’s license or state ID.
  12. Contact your utility companies to ensure they are aware of the situation and to update any necessary information.

 

General Resources

US Federal Trade Commission, (877) 382-4357
www.ftc.gov

Social Security Fraud Hotline, (800) 269-0271
www.socialsecurity.gov

Identity Theft
www.identitytheft.gov

 

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Phone: (513) 868-9220
Toll-Free: (888) 597-2751

Melissa’s Success

The following story is being told by Melissa, a Financial Counseling and Education client. LifeSpan is so proud of Melissa, her success, dedication and hard work!

 

As a single mom with an 11-year-old, son, I am happy to see the impact my new relationship with money is having on my family. Before meeting with Tiffani, I had a paycheck and ‘poof’ it was gone. I had no idea where it was going. Tiffani gave me strategies I can work with.

Just keeping my receipts helped give me an awareness of what I was spending my money on, so I could decide if it was worth it.

Now I can contribute to household expenses. If an expense comes up, I have a plan! I can picture my spreadsheet in my head, and know what I have available and when. So I have an idea of what flexibility I have on my spending plan.

It gives me more ownership of my money.

I pay private school tuition for my son, and now I can help pay more for household expenses. Even my son understands that purchases have to become part of the spending plan. Last year we even built a vacation into the spending plan.

Before I started meeting with my financial coach I received phone calls and letters from collection companies. They made me feel like my money was their money, and they wanted their money from me. My financial coach empowered me. I was able to say, ‘This is my money. I have a plan and this is what I will pay you’, when I spoke with the debt collection companies, and they accepted this!

The biggest surprise: just how empowered I am with my money.

Since her first meeting with financial coach Tiffani, Melissa has rehabilitated her student loans, avoided seizure of her tax refund, and obtained an affordable loan to purchase a new car. Melissa also recently joined other local professionals on a United Way panel for local high school students, sharing her experience of working with a financial coach.

 

LifeSpan’s certified financial counselors help people develop saving and spending habits that support their financial goals. By teaching proven financial strategies, explaining the financial impact of past decisions, developing a customized action plan, and checking in with our clients on their progress, our financial counselors help people establish routines that support their financial stability and success. Whether it’s paying down debt or saving for unexpected expenses, your work with a financial counselor will help you achieve meaningful results. Our financial counselors can also help you with student loan repayment planning, preparing to purchase a car, and other financial goals.

Completing the FAFSA

2018-2019 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

There have been changes and with the advent of online filing and an earlier filing date (October 1, 2017), and using taxes from two years ago instead of having to estimate (and then correct) the current year’s taxes, it’s not nearly as intimidating a process.

The first step is usually the hardest so we have made the start a little easier.

  1. The 2018-2019 form will be available online beginning October 1, 2017.
  2. Create an FSA ID here. An FSA ID gives you access to Federal Student Aid’s online systems and can serve as your legal signature. You can, however, fill out the FAFSA without the FSA ID.
  3. Parent and child need to create separate FAS ID’s.
  4. Do not delay filing the FAFSA. It may give you, or your student access to a better financial aid packet. For instance some government grants are awarded on a first come, first served basis.
  5. To complete the form you will need:
  • Your Social Security Card
  • Your driver’s license (if any)
  • Your 2016 W-2 forms
  • Your 2016 Federal Income Tax Return
  • Your 2016 untaxed income records
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your parents’ Federal Income Tax Return
  • Your parents’ 2016 W-2 forms
  • Your parents’ bank statements
  • Your parents’ untaxed income records
  • Your parents’ current business and investment records

6. Two advantages to filing online:

  • You may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to automatically import your last year’s tax information into your FAFSA.
  • You can list up to 10 colleges to receive your FAFSA instead of only four if you use paper.

 

Keep in mind:

  1. Mind the deadlines. If there is a chance you’ll receive a better financial aid package if you file early, then it makes sense to file early.
  2. File even if you know you are above income for federal help. Some colleges will include reviewing the FAFSA as part of awarding their academic scholarships.
  3. Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool means fewer mistakes on the FAFSA form.
  4. Fill out the FAFSA form even if you think you are not eligible for financial aid. Some colleges require the form even for academic rewards.
  5. Just because you were not eligible for aid last year does not mean you will not be in the coming year. There are many variables including how many children are attending college at the same time.
  6. Give only the information they ask for in order to gain the most benefit. One common mistake is including retirement accounts as assets. They are not. Parents are not expected to tap into those savings for students’ college education.
  7. Do not lie about your assets or income! Most fraud is caught and the consequences may include fines, jail time or being expelled from school. And for sure – no financial aid.

 

Please do not wait to complete your FAFSA. We are happy to help with any questions you may have.

Medical Bills

A 2014 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 43 million Americans have medical bills in collections.  The number one reason families file for bankruptcy protection is not gross overspending, but unplanned for medical bills.
 
According to Fidelity Investments, couples retiring this year will need $240,000 to cover future medical costs: deductibles, co-payments, premiums for optional coverage, prescription drugs, and other expenses that Medicare does not cover.
 
The best way to avoid a medical bill crisis is, of course, to prepare for it by having an emergency fund in place to cover just these kinds of expenses. Here for some unique ways to save. Should you find yourself in the position of having to find some other way to pay for medical bills following these tips for dealing with medical bills should help.

Steps to paying medical bills:

  1. Gather all your medical bills together. Make sure you are looking at only one bill for each service. A statement is not a bill.
  2. Make sure the billing is correct; including that it was coded properly when it was submitted to your insurer.
  3. When in doubt, call both your care provider and your insurance to confirm that you truly owe the bill being presented.
  4. The most important caveat of all: do not ignore the bill – stay in contact with your provider, even if it is to say, “I do not have the funds right now but I am working on getting them.” Maybe you are expecting a bonus or tax refund that will help.
  5. If you can, make payment arrangements, but only agree to what you can afford to pay. 
  6. Hospitals especially are prepared to work with patients. There are programs in place but you will have to provide paperwork to qualify. Please do not assume you do not qualify because you make too much money; families do not have to be at the poverty level to qualify.
  7. Medical practices are also willing to work with patients. If they have to turn your account over to a collection agency, they will not receive their full payment anyway. Ask to speak to someone in the billing department and see what they have to offer. Be prepared, if their suggested arrangement does not work for you, to counter with an offer that does. If accepted, keep the agreement!

Things to avoid:

  1. Borrowing from any retirement accounts. Retirement accounts are not emergency funds.  It is unlikely you will be paying back the account and even if you do, you will miss its growth during the time the funds are not there.
  2. Paying with a credit card if you cannot pay it off in full in less than three months. This is just passing the buck to someone else. Now you owe a credit card company that will be charging you interest on the money you are borrowing. Deal directly with your healthcare provider and you will probably pay no interest.

If your account should go to collections be prepared:

  1. Record the date, time and who you spoke with.
  2. All promises and arrangements must be confirmed in writing.
  3. Having an account sent to a collection agency is going to be a negative mark on your credit report.  You may be able to redeem your good credit but asking the collection agency to delete your collection account from your credit report when the bill is paid. We have a step by step guide on settling a debt with a bill collector.

 

Learn more about medical debt and how it affects your credit.