September 26, 2017

The Cobbler’s Children Have Shoes!

Credit: Gualberto107 at
As you have probably heard, Equifax, one of the national credit bureaus, had a major data breach back in May – July of this year. Over 143,000,000 Americans’ sensitive personal information may have been exposed. This information included names, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. In addition, credit card numbers of approximately 209,000 people may have also been exposed. Since this massive breach recently became public, consumers have been flooded with information and suggestions from different banks, financial institutions, and the media, so today I wanted to throw in my two cents.

I must admit, at first, I did not want to do anything. I found myself thinking “I’m busy, I’m tired, and it’s probably not my data anyway… but wait, did they say 143 million?!” Due to moving in the last couple of years and having to swap out family cars for smaller cars, I had not frozen my credit so I could avoid the hassle of “thawing” (unfreezing your credit) and then having to refreeze. I’m also a little embarrassed to admit I had never formally signed up for any identity theft monitoring or protection despite my discussing this topic with many of my friends, family members, and clients. Rational thinking returned, motivation coursed through my veins, and my thinking became “143 million? Yeah, I’m probably one of them. What am I waiting for? I help people with their personal finances for crying out loud! It’s time for the cobbler’s children to have shoes! It’s high time for me to review my family’s annual credit reports, freeze my family’s credit, and sign up for some identity theft monitoring and protection.” Well, I’m pleased to report to you I did, and here’s what I experienced in the process.

Before I froze my credit, I decided I would make sure all was well. I used my right under Federal Law to run a free, annual credit report for myself and my wife with all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). I got three different looking reports for both my wife and me, but everything appeared to be in order. All data was right, all lines of credit (credit cards, mortgages, etc.) were known to me and were correct, and we had no outstanding, unpaid bills. This was what I expected, but it offered peace of mind to confirm. If you find something that does not look right, dig in. At best it’s a mistake you can correct and potentially boost your credit score, and at worst it can be a fraudulent line of credit tied to you that could be hurting your credit score or be a sign of a successful fraud or identity theft against your good name.

I then went to Experian to freeze my credit, and after proving I was me by answering a few questions, it was taken care of. Equifax was next and they were even easier to freeze my credit with. They did give me a painfully long PIN to keep up with, but other than that, no complaints. TransUnion was last, and again, no real troubles. I will warn you, they do require unique usernames, so I did have to get a little creative. All this said, be prepared to answer trivia questions about your telephone numbers, mortgage holders, banks, previous addresses, mortgage amounts, monthly mortgage payments, credit card companies, and student loans. Be prepared to write down or record all of your new usernames, passwords, PINs, and login information, so that one day you can smoothly thaw your credit if need be. Also be aware that depending on what state you live in, this process may cost you a few bucks (it was $3 per credit freeze per credit bureau in Georgia). Finally, with the angry and scared hoard of consumers trying to freeze their credit like you, I would suggest you freeze your credit online (not over the phone) and late at night when there is less traffic to make this as painless of a process as possible for you.

With frostbitten fingers after all of the credit freezing that had gone down I turned to finding some identity theft monitoring and protection. There are an ever growing list of companies providing various versions of this service out there, and I recommend you research several providers to determine what level of service monitoring, what level of identity theft restoration coverage, and what price point is appropriate for you. I will say that I think some type of monitoring and protection is probably a good idea, but I would not necessarily hurt the family budget with your selection, either. Either way, the LifeLock coverage I decided to go with did instantly identify that my LinkedIn login information may have been sold on the dark web back in 2016. Lovely! LinkedIn notified me about the breach and I changed my password back then, so I think I’m good, but that is the type of warning certainly good to receive, particularly if you are the kind of person who likes to use the same password for everything!

If you have already reviewed your credit reports, frozen your credit with all three credit bureaus, and have some sort of identity theft monitoring and protection in place, my hat is off to you. If you have not, I would suggest you make time to do so in the very near future to make sure your financial house is as protected as it can be.

I’ve heard it said there are two types of people out there: those that have been hacked and those that don’t know they have been hacked. I sincerely hope that’s not the case, but sadly I don’t think any of us can afford to take that chance!


September 18, 2017

A Daddy's Financial Tips

Hello. Hello. I know it’s been a while, but it has been for good reason. I’m excited to announce my wife and I welcomed our second child into the world a couple of weeks ago, and Daddy has been busy! Well I’m back, and since I’ve now gone through this miraculous process twice, I thought I would kick things back off by sharing a few financial tips when it comes to having a baby.
  • Be prepared before your due date! This isn’t just a financial tip, and as I can now attest with our second child coming two weeks earlier than originally expected, it is critical. Have the nursery ready, have some essential supplies purchased, and have some clothes bought. Have the car seat properly installed and your personal and professional calendar winding down. It’s truly awesome to welcome a little one, but it’s also hectic, overwhelming, and exhausting. You don’t need unnecessary stress that can be avoided, and financially, you don’t want to be in the position of having to buy and pay for things out of necessity without careful consideration and without the opportunity to thriftily shop around.
  • If your income will be impacted due to maternity leave or paternity leave via unpaid time off or disability insurance versus your typical salary, budget for this before the baby! I would suggest you work towards boosting your cash reserve so that your lifestyle can remain the same even though your income will be reduced. Frankly, I might even suggest that you save up more than you think you’ll need to offset your lower income because having a baby is an expensive time between all the medical expenses, all the necessary purchases, and the one-off’s that become needed, but weren’t originally expected.
  • If you’re buying nursery furniture that can be converted as the child gets older, do you really intend on utilizing that feature? If so, you may want to consider going ahead and buying the additional pieces before they become discontinued and you end up getting stuck with the typically pricier, convertible furniture you didn’t use or couldn’t convert.
  • Similarly, before you buy the car seat, consider the car seat’s life expectancy. When does it expire (yes, most have expiration dates)? How big of a child is it made for? Will it last until the child can face forwards, will it last until the child no longer needs a car seat, or is it just for the first couple of years? We ended up purchasing two car seats the first time around, and I’m glad that we did, but as an inexperienced dad-to-be, I can tell you I didn’t know I’d need more than one car seat for one kid when we bought the first car seat.
  • This is a little opposite to my message of urging you to be prepared, but don’t be over prepared for the first few months of life. By that I mean don’t go crazy buying insane amounts of newborn diapers and 0 – 3 months’ clothes. Your child will likely need a size 1 diaper at some point, and then size 2, and then size 3, and so on. Your child will also need clothes for the rest of their life, not just the first three months, and they grow quickly! All I’m saying is that those newborn diapers and super tiny outfits may not be useful for very long, and they are not free!
  • Realize that all baby outfits likely face the same fate: spit-up or worse. There are some latest and greatest name brand baby outfits out there that cost quite a lot, and if you want a few, or you can afford lots of them, then go for it. That said, there are a lot of very reasonably priced very nice looking outfits that aren’t nearly as expensive and will share the same fate of being at the mercy of stain-removers and the washer and dryer. Dress your baby how you want to dress your baby, but don’t let their fashion derail your finances!
  • I don’t often recommend specific companies or services, but get Amazon Prime. The ability to order extra baby mittens, diapers, wipes, formula, a baby scale, or an outfit for your favorite team’s game and get it without leaving your house in a day or two is unbelievable. They cannot be making money on my family right now with all the shipping fees that are free through Amazon Prime, and don’t worry, we do recycle our cardboard!
  • Take care of the new baby’s business. This starts with the application for a Social Security Number and a birth certificate in the hospital, but your homework is not done. You need to get your baby added to your health insurance, dental insurance (if you have it), and vision insurance (if you have it), and most of the time this has to be done within 30 days of the birth and requires a Social Security Number and a proof of birth. The forms are long and the interactions with these government agencies and insurance carriers is not particularly fun, but it must be done correctly and in a timely manner.
  • If you don’t have wills, power of attorneys, and health care directives, now is the time (your will is how you name a guardian for your children). If you do already have these documents, go back through them and examine your retirement plan and insurance beneficiary designations to make sure your wishes would be fulfilled and your child would receive what you would intend them to. If, like us, you now have more than one kiddo, make sure you have the proper wording in your documents and beneficiary designations to not accidentally exclude any of your children!
  • Finally, be careful with unnecessary extras. “Unnecessary” can be a matter of opinion, but with all the digital sharing of everyone’s baby’s everything and all the “super cute” products available for purchase out there, be careful. I would suggest you not order anything after 9 PM to make sure you’re not sleep-buying and anything terribly pricey without talking to the other parent to keep the peace.
Having a baby is one of life’s most amazing experiences, but without careful preparation, thoughtful consideration, and prudent restraint, it can be financially challenging. Certainly, get your precious baby what they need, and splurge and get them a few things that are just neat or fun to have to celebrate the occasion, but be sensible. Remember, your new baby is going to need you for at least 18 more years, and anything you don’t spend now can go towards their car, their college, or their wedding!
I’ve got to run. Someone’s awake and it’s my turn!