Predict ‘surprise’ bills, no crystal ball needed

It doesn’t take much to upend many Americans’ finances. A car that won’t start, a furnace that dies or a trip to the hospital can leave households struggling to make ends meet.

According to the Federal Reserve, 44 percent of U.S. adults say they would have trouble coming up with $400 to cover an unexpected expense. Even families who have more in the bank can flounder. Surveys by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that 51 percent of families with at least $2,000 in savings reported trouble paying the bills after a financial shock.

Yet it is hardly a shock if an appliance wears out or a car breaks down.

It’s time to rethink what we mean by unexpected expenses. In my latest for the Associated Press, how to predict surprise bills without a crystal ball.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Lock down your data right now after Equifax breach.Also in the news: Health insurers ease rules for Harvey Victims, protecting critical documents from disaster with a bug-out bag, and the credit move than can bump your score in 30 days.

Lock Down Your Data After Equifax Breach — Right Now
Immediately.

Health Insurers Ease Rules for Harvey Victims
Checking your options.

Protect Critical Documents From Disaster With a ‘Bug-Out Bag’
Be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The credit move that can bump up your score in 30 days
Pay your bill early.

Outrage after outrage

Yesterday Equifax broke the news hackers gained access to the Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information for 143 million Americans (a group that apparently includes me, my husband, our daughter and probably you).

Because that wasn’t enough, today the outrages just continued:

  • The breach was discovered at the end of July. What was Equifax doing in the meantime? Well, its executives sold about $2 million worth of company shares,  The Washington Post reports.
  • The same day the breach was announced, Congress scheduled a hearing on a bill to shield the bureaus from full accountability from their actions.
  • Equifax offered free credit monitoring for a year, but didn’t make clear whether its usual binding arbitration language applied. So were people waiving their right to sue over the breach? Equifax wouldn’t say, until the New York Attorney General demanded and got an answer: the binding arbitration clause applies to the monitoring product, not the breach. Just in case, after signing up I sent this letter using Equifax’s opt out clause to (hopefully) preserve our right to sue.
  • Credit monitoring doesn’t prevent anything; it just notifies you after you’ve been victimized. Equifax is also offering free credit freezes, which prevent others from opening accounts in your name. Well, it was supposed to be free; some journalists reported they were charged $3.
  • Experian and TransUnion aren’t offering free anything. To shut down your credit, you need freezes at all three bureaus. The others are charging $3 to $10 each, plus additional fees if you need to temporarily lift the freeze to apply for credit, a job, insurance, cell phone service, utilities, an apartment, etc. Oh, and freezes won’t help with other types of crime, such as medical and criminal ID theft or blackmail. (The hack is a potential national security threat, according to experts quoted by the New York Times.)
  • Oh, and when victims try to enroll in credit monitoring, Equifax tells them to come back in a few days. Because, apparently, they’re kind of busy.
  • In fact, all three bureaus’ Web sites were having trouble under the deluge of requests. Sites were freezing and offering error messages; people were getting busy signals or being kicked off calls.

There was no way to make this breach better, but clearly there were plenty of ways to make it worse.

 

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Americans favor debit over credit for their go-to card. Also in the news: How to choose a cash-back credit card, how to get an SBA disaster loan for your business, and the costly mistake people make when using debit cards.

Americans Favor Debit Over Credit for Their Go-To Card
The results are in.

How to Choose a Cash-Back Credit Card
What you should look for.

How to Get an SBA Disaster Loan for Your Business
Help after Harvey.

One-quarter of people make this costly mistake when using debit cards
Are you one of them?

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 10-word answers to your biggest hurricane insurance questions. Also in the news: How to prepare before a hurricane hits, ditching debt when you’re newly single, and how to bring up money for the first time.

10-Word Answers to Your Biggest Hurricane Insurance Questions
What you need to know.

How to Prepare Before a Hurricane Hits
Essential tips.

How I Ditched Debt: Newly Single, ‘I Knew I Had to Help Myself’
Protecting yourself first.

How to Bring Up Money for the First Time in a Relationship
Making the first move.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 things debt collectors can’t do – and 5 they can. Also in the news: The pros and cons of dropshipping, protecting intellectual property, and how to choose a rewards credit card.

5 Things Debt Collectors Can’t Do — and 5 They Can
Learn the limits.

Dropshipping Cuts Your Inventory — and Control
The pros and cons.

Protecting Intellectual Property: A Guide for Entrepreneurs

How to choose a rewards credit card
Optimizing your rewards.

Credit bureaus ease medical debt pain for a few

Too many Americans have bad credit because of unpaid medical bills. That’s not likely to change anytime soon, despite two reforms in how those bills will be reported to the credit bureaus.

Starting Sept. 15:

—There will be a 180-day waiting period before unpaid medical debts can show up on people’s credit reports.

—Medical collections will be deleted from credit reports if they’re paid by health insurers.

Credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion agreed to the new standards as part of two settlements with state attorneys general in 2015. The changes in medical debt reporting were designed to help people whose bills fell through the cracks between their health care providers and their insurance companies, says Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

In my latest for the Associated Press, find out who these changes are expected to help.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Wells Fargo reveals wider abuses. Are you owed money? Also in the news: How to handle credit card bills in an emergency, how much cash do you carry, and a student is accidentally given $1M in financial aid, spends thousands.

Wells Fargo Reveals Wider Abuses: Are You Owed Money?
The scandal widens.

How to Handle Credit Card Bills During an Emergency
What you need to know.

How Much Cash Do You Carry? See How You Compare
A wallet full of cash? Or cards only?

Student accidentally given $1M in financial aid, spends thousands
What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: NerdWallet’s best credit card tips for September. Also in the news: The pros and cons of adjustable rate mortgages, how to start working odd jobs at TaskRabbit, and watching out for penalty APRs if you miss a credit card payment.

NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for September 2017
Finding the best offers.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages: The Pros and Cons
Know what you’re getting into.

How to Start Working Odd Jobs at TaskRabbit
Starting a side hustle.

Watch Out for Penalty APRs If You Miss a Credit Card Payment
Your interest rate can increase dramatically.

Wednesday’s need to know money news

Today’s top story: How insurers are mobilizing to help Hurricane Harvey victims. Also in the news: How to get relief from college costs after Hurricane Harvey, how small businesses can cope post-Harvey, and how to get a tax break for going back to school.

How Insurers Are Mobilizing to Help Harvey Victims
Covered losses are expected to be more than $1 billion dollars.

How to Get Relief From College Costs After Hurricane Harvey
What current students and student loan holders can do.

Your Small Business’s Post-Harvey Return Starts Now
Steps you can take to start the recovery process.

How to get a tax break for going back to school
Save on taxes while getting an education.