New List Identifies More Ways to Access Credit Scores—for Free

Did you know that checking your credit scores and credit reports is one of the first steps toward learning more about your credit history?

You can request your credit reports for free every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting companies. However, credit reports currently do not include free credit scores.

The good news is that over the last few years, many financial institutions have started to offer consumers free access to one of their credit scores. 

Check out the updated list of companies and organizations that said they offer free credit scores to learn about your options for accessing one of your credit scores free of charge.

Why do I have different credit scores?

You might find that you have access to credit scores from more than one company and that these scores are slightly different. That’s okay. Keep in mind that you don’t have just one credit score—many credit scores are calculated and available to you, as well as to lenders.

Your credit scores vary based on the scoring model, the date when they are computed, the type of loan product, and the credit reporting company data used to calculate them. 

The initial credit score you obtain from a company may or may not be different from the one that company, and other businesses, later use to make credit decisions about you. Check out the infographic to see more.

Where can I turn to see one of my credit scores free of charge?

A few types of organizations responded that they offer free credit scores. 

  1. Credit card issuers provide some of their customers free access to one of their credit scores. If your credit card company is on the list, you may have access to free credit scores. Check your online account portal or mobile app to see if you already receive free access. If your company is not on the list, check the company’s website to see if they offer this service.
  2. Financial institutions have also started to provide access to free credit scores to customers who use financial products besides credit cards. If your financial institution is on the this list, you may have access to free credit scores. Check your online account portal or mobile app for your deposit or checking account, loan, or mortgage to see if you already receive free access.
  3. Nonprofit credit and financial counseling providers are now able to offer free credit scores to the people they serve. Check out the list or reach out to a local nonprofit credit and financial counseling provider in your community to see if they offer this service.
  4. Other companies offer this service to the general public. See the list of companies that said they offer this service. 

Why is the list being released?

Credit scores can provide a helpful benchmark for understanding your credit health. The purpose of the list is to make it easier for people to understand how they can access and use their credit scores to help manage their financial lives. 

In November 2017, a notice was published on the Federal Register’s public website asking companies to state if they want to be included in the update to a list of companies that responded and said they offer consumers free access to credit scores. The updated list is based on voluntary responses to this notice.   

The accuracy of third-party information is not guaranteed and listing a company does not constitute an endorsement. There may be other resources that also serve your needs.

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


Writing a Craigslist Ad That Sells

Craigslist is by far the easiest (and cheapest) way to sell all that junk cluttering your house. It’s as simple as posting a listing for the item(s) you are trying to sell, and then waiting for the responses to come flooding in. The hardest part for new users is figuring out how to write the post.

Most people don’t realize that to get the most out of your ad, you must think like a buyer when you write your ad. If you were looking to buy this item, what would you want to know about it before taking the time to email the owner? If you were a buyer, would you even take the time to reply to an ad that didn’t tell you anything about the item?

It’s very important to include at minimum, the following in your ad:

1. Price

Buyers want to know how much you are asking for your item before they take the time to email you, or even open your ad, because if you’re asking too much, they don’t want to waste their time with you. Make sure that you have the price clearly listed in the ad as well as on the space near the top, where you are allowed to share your price next to your listing title.

2. Condition

Your potential customers want to make sure that they are getting what they want and need. If you have a pretty beat up iPhone, describe its condition as well as possible. For electronics, make sure that you note any problems it may have. By doing this, you’ll find the right buyer that will not want to return the item after purchase.

3. Model # (if applicable)

Having a model number in your listing is super important if your item does have a model number. Some people may be searching for that exact model to replace or repair their own. Maybe they want it to add to a collection. There are also re-sellers on craigslist. They want to know the item model number so that they can check it out online to see if they can make a profit off it.

4. Brand

Whether you’re selling clothes, phones, shoes, or furniture, brand is always important to have in your listing. Brand-picky people will pay extra for items if they are a name brand, even if there’s another item just like it for less. If you have a nice brand name item, tell the brand name in the title as well as the listing.

5. Location

Craigslist gives you a textbox to write your location, so use it. Say your city, not the region. People want to make sure that you’re not too far away before they contact you about something. In your ad, try to be descriptive with your location without giving away your address. Maybe give a zip code or a local landmark?

6. Description

This one is especially important. Buyers want to know what they are buying before they buy it. Tell as much as you can about the item, including color, style, etc.

7. Pictures

If you’re listing DVDs or something like that, you don’t usually need pictures. For most everything else, pictures are a necessity. It can show buyers more about your item than words can. Some people only search listings with pictures, so having a picture increases your chances of being seen.

This article by Brittney Walker first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Things My Dad Taught Me About Money

Some of the fondest moments memories in my life are of helping my Dad around the house and listening to him explain why he did and didn’t do things. Although I didn’t know it at the time, he was building a foundation for a frugal lifestyle. We talked about how to fix things. How and when to buy. When not to buy. Now I’m older and he’s gone. But I think it’s important to share the same types of things with my kids. Most of them aren’t earthshaking. Some are old-fashioned. But taken together, they make the difference between controlling your finances or having your finances control you.

Wait before you buy. If you’re like me, every once in awhile, ‘buying fever’ strikes. Whether it’s a book, a DVD player or a new laptop, the urge to BUY NOW is almost overwhelming. Sometimes I’m amazed at how much I want this thing. When I was a boy Dad would make me wait a few days before buying that new baseball glove. I used to chafe under the restriction. But, there were times that the buying fever went down and I found that I no longer wanted to make the purchase. As I’ve grown older I recognize that there are a certain percentage of purchases that I won’t make if I’m just willing to wait a few days. And if I buy something after waiting awhile, the joy of ownership is that much sweeter.

Shop before you buy. When you do decide that you want something take the time to shop around. Don’t buy at the first store that carries the product. By shopping around you’ll make sure you get the best price, best service and best warranty. You’ll avoid the mental anguish of finding the item at a lower price just after purchasing it.

Consider floor models/demos/etc. While you’re shopping ask the salesman about floor models, demonstrators and discontinued models. Anything that might cause an item to be sold at an unusual discount. I’ve seen TV’s sold at significant price reductions just because they’re last year’s model. It made no difference in the usefulness of the TV, but the retailer wanted to clear out the old inventory.

Ask for discounts. It never hurts to ask for a discount. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no. It helps if you have a reason, but it’s not necessary. Sometimes the dealer won’t give a discount, but they’ll throw in something to ‘sweeten’ the deal — free delivery, an extra battery for a cell phone, cables for your printer. Things like free delivery don’t cost the seller much, but reduce the cost you pay. You get more than they give up.

Pay cash. To my Father, paying cash was a firm rule. In fact, I had to talk him into getting his first credit card in his 60’s. His reason for paying cash was simple. If you didn’t have the cash to pay for something you couldn’t afford it. If you follow his rule you’ll never have debt problems. Yes, there are some exceptions. Today, it’s very difficult to buy a first house for cash. But for everything else it can be done. Sure, they’ll be some things that you don’t buy. But if you can’t afford to pay cash today, what makes you think that you can afford to pay the principal AND the interest tomorrow?

Don’t borrow money. Regardless of what the marketers say, consumer debt is probably the worst thing that has happened to this country financially in the last 50 years. It wasn’t until people started widespread buying on credit that they even tried to play ‘keep up with the Jones’. That pressure to put on a prosperous front has strained many a marriage. How many people do you know who are under tremendous stress because of the money they owe? The problem isn’t limited to families, either. Our Federal government is a prime example of the tyranny of debt. If we didn’t have to pay the interest on the Federal debt, the annual budget would be in balance. The taxes we pay today are enough to pay for today’s services. But they’re not enough to pay for today’s needs and yesterday’s overindulgence.

Save 10% of what you make. Even as a boy, I was expected to save part of my allowance and then later my earnings. In those days you ‘saved something for a rainy day’. The funny thing was that I didn’t realize that I was developing a lifelong habit. By only spending 90% of the money that was available I was always living a little bit below my means. Your wants (if you’re in control of the situation) are based on how much money you have available. As your income increases you’ll still feel more prosperous, just at a slightly lower level. The result is that you’ll never be stretching the envelope of your budget.

Do you own something already that can do the job? Before you go buy something new, is there something that you already own that can accomplish the task? Recovering an old chair could be a far better option than buying a new one. If you can do the job yourself it’s particularly frugal.

Perform routine maintenance. Neglecting your possessions is a sure way to see that they deteriorate before their time. If you mistreat your car you’ll cut it’s life in half. It’s true of most everything you own from your carpet to your roof. In fact, the time that’s needed to care for your possessions is a good reason not to buy too many things. The more you own, the more you need to care for.

Learn to do basic repairs. Most basic repairs can be done successfully by an informed homeowner. When I was a boy Dad had me hand him tools as he performed these tasks. Although I didn’t know it at the time I benefited more than he. Even though my young mind wandered and often he would remind me to aim the light where he was working, I was learning by watching. Over the course of my boyhood I would ‘help’ him with most of the common projects that the typical family faces. When I had a home of my own those lessons were enough to get me started on my own repairs.

My children are still small. But when I’m working around the house I encourage them to ‘help Dad’. Sure there are times that it would be faster to just reach for the screwdriver. But we’re spending time together and they’re learning. Someday I’m sure that these little lessons will pay dividends when they’re on their own.

This article by Gary Foreman first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


4 Tips for Eating Healthy While Still Saving Money

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that maintaining your health was more important than saving money. While retaining insurance is one example of that, the same concept can often apply to the foods we buy and what we consume. One unfortunate irony these days is that some of the least expensive foods are also the least healthy for us. As a result, anyone who’s ever made a real effort to adopt a healthier diet may have been turned off by the heightened costs of doing so.

Now I’m not suggesting that you should never indulge in the occasional fast food meal or enjoy some “guilty pleasures” from the grocery store. However, if you are looking to make some healthy changes but don’t want to spend a fortune on food, there are a few ways I’ve found to make that possible. With that, here are four tips for saving money while still eating healthy.

Plan your meals and buy in bulk

Buying fresh produce and meats can be great in terms of eating healthy but the problem is that they won’t stay fresh for very long. Because of this, if you don’t plan ahead, you could end up letting good food go to waste. That’s why it’s a good idea to put more time into creating your shopping list and have a meal plan in place so that you can make full use of your fresh items.

Of course, in some cases, you may also be able to stock up on certain items and freeze them for later. In fact, according to the USDA, many types of meat can be frozen for up to four months, while the freezer life of poultry can be even longer. As a result, don’t feel like you need to buy processed or preservative-rich items in order to enjoy the benefits of buying in bulk.

Shop sales and specials

Another disadvantage to shopping for healthy items is that you’re far less likely to find coupons for things like produce than you are for sweets and fatty foods. That said you may still be able to score some good deals. For example many stores will have good sales on select in-season produce you can take advantage of by featuring those items more heavily in your meal plans for a time. Similarly holidays often bring upon various meat sales that you can use to restock your freezer at a great price.

Something else to be on the lookout for are “manager specials.” In most cases, these specials offer discounted prices on produce, meats, and other items that are approaching their expiration date. That fact might be a turn off for some but keep in mind that these items are still perfectly safe to eat as long as you use them in a timely manner.

Drink more water

One easy way to lower your grocery budget and make a positive health change is to opt for water instead of things like soda. Even if you do end up buying bottled water or utilizing a filtering system like Britta, the cost if often far lower than most other beverage options.

As for those like myself who might need a little more than just plain water to wash down their meals, I’ve found sparkling waters to be a great alternative to sodas. While name-brand seltzers like La Croix can actually be even pricier than Coke or Pepsi, the popularity of sparkling water has brought a number of generic options to stores like Aldi. Personally, that’s where I’ve been stocking up on calorie-free beverages, lowering both the amount of money we spend at the grocery store and the amount of sugary soda I consume.

Make “healthy” junk food

Finally, if you don’t want to completely bid adieu to some of your fatty favorites, there may be a way for you to at least craft a healthier version of it. Something in this vein that my wife and I love to do is make our own pizzas. Not only does this allow us to customize the ingredients in an effort to cut calories but it can also allow us to cut costs. Of course this is just one example and, thanks to the Internet, there’s no shortage of creative recipes you can find that could help you find a new frugal and healthy favorite.


As a trip to your local Whole Foods will tell you, shopping for healthy foods is rarely a cheap endeavor. However there are still a few changes you can make to your shopping list and diet that could be a step in the right direction for your health while still not causing a major hit to your wallet. By planning ahead, seeking out sales, and making other adjustments, you may just be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

This article by Kyle Burbank first appeared on Dyer News and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Work-at-Home Scams Lead to Business Coaching Schemes

In the business world, “leads” refer to the contact information of potential customers. In the scam world, it means the same thing. While scammers find their targets in all kinds of ways, one method is to go to people who have already been victims of a related scheme.

For example, let’s say a company gets you to pay for a work-at-home program, promising that you’ll make a lot of money by starting a new online business. That company may then sell your contact information to a second company. Company #2 then might offer to sell you, say, coaching services that they promise will make your new business a success. In fact, they may just make your wallet even lighter – by thousands of dollars.

The FTC has sued lots of scammers who have sold these kinds of bogus programs and services. In the latest example, earlier this week the FTC announced a lawsuit against Vision Solution Marketing, and others. According to the FTC, these companies fooled people into thinking they would get useful business information to help them make thousands a month working from home. The FTC says these defendants – who took in millions of dollars bought leads, as described above, from a company that had sold a work-at-home program. (In fact, the FTC settled a case earlier this year against another company, Internet Teaching and Training Specialists, LLC (ITT), the sellers of one of those programs.) In this case, according to the FTC, people on that work-at-home lead list were offered the chance to pay up to $13,995 for a coaching program that would supposedly give them one-on-one guidance about building their new business. But what they got instead was usually just information freely available online. Most people ended up with no functional online business, earned little or no money, and wound up heavily in debt.

The FTC’s lawsuit stops this scheme in its tracks, but the best way to protect yourself from illegal schemes is to learn about how to spot them. You can start by checking out the FTC’s information on work-at-home related scams. And whenever you think you’ve spotted one, tell the FTC.

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

Compound Interest for Poor People

Please don’t tell me that if I had $1,000 and invested it for 10 years at 10% interest I’d have a big pile of money. I don’t have $1,000 and paying next month’s bills is my biggest problem.
Still Poor

We’ve all seen articles on the wonders of compound interest. But most of us don’t have large sums of money just lying around waiting to be invested wisely. So we’re going to see how us ‘poor folks’ can apply compound interest to make a difference in our lives.

First, we do need to make sure everyone understands compound interest. Stated simply, it’s when you earn interest today on the interest that you earned yesterday. Suppose you banked $1.00 yesterday and earned one cent interest. Today you’ll be earning interest on $1.01. The interest that you earn on that one cent is called compound interest.

Unlike some financial deals, you don’t need to be a wizard to use compound interest. There are a few simple rules that apply in all cases. If you apply them you’ll improve your financial lot.

It’s always better to compound more frequently. Daily compounding is better than monthly or quarterly. You’ll begin earning interest on interest on the second day, not the second month. So you want to always choose the shortest compounding period offered to you.

More time magnifies the effects of compounding. Let’s say you put some money away today at 5% interest. That money will double in about 14 years. If you left the interest in the account you’d have twice as much money earning interest in years 15 through 28. It’s like you were getting 10% interest on your original savings. By year 29 you’ll be earning 20% interest on your original savings! The rest of the account will earn less depending upon how long it’s been in the account.

Time and compound interest, however, are a double edged sword. That 14% interest you’re paying on your credit card debt is actually much higher if you figure in compound interest.

OK, now let’s get down to how us poor folks can take advantage of compound interest. Could you find a way to save $5 per month? Maybe skip lunch at McDonalds or rent fewer movies each month. If you drive a lot you might save 2 gallons of gas by getting rid of the extra weight in the trunk of your car. Maybe send a couple of handwritten notes instead of greeting cards. If you look (and you really want to) you’ll probably find some way to save that $5 each month.

“But, at that rate it’ll take forever to save anything.” Well, let’s see. If we save $5 per month, earn 5% interest compounded monthly and continue to do that for 10 years what’ll we save? Well, we’ll have saved $600 (120 x 5). But the account will be worth $776. That’s enough for a purchase or repair bill.

“You don’t understand. I have credit card debts. I can’t save money.” Oh, but you’re wrong, my plastic using friend! Let’s suppose you take that $5 per month and add it to your credit card payment. You’ll actually do better than the saver. Let’s assume that your credit card interest rate is 14% annually. After ten years you’ll have paid off an additional $1,315 in credit card balance.

Maybe you could do a little better. How about saving $5 per week? That’s about $21.50 each month. You might be able to save that much by adjusting your thermostat by one degree. Take a brown bag lunch to work one day a week. One less dinner out each month. Drop a premium cable channel or two. Maybe a combination of smaller savings.

What would that do for you? Well, if you just put $5 a week away at 5% interest you’d have saved $2,600 over 10 years. But your account would be worth $3,371. That’s a fair amount of money. A nice down payment for a car. Or you could remodel a bathroom. Or maybe you just want to spend the interest that will be earned on the $3,371 each year. You could spend about $168 every year forever and never touch your principal. Wouldn’t it be nice to know you’ll always have money for Christmas presents? Or to have a good start on your vacation each year?

Where can you earn 5% on your money? We don’t make specific investment recommendations, but the stock market has averaged just about 10% over any given 10 year period in it’s history. So you’ll be able to find mutual funds that will be able to get that type of return for you.

Some mutual funds have a minimum initial purchase of $500 or $1,000. Until you reach that level, you can use a savings account or online bank.

But, maybe you’re deeper in debt and just can’t see your way out. You owe thousands of dollars on your credit cards. Short of Aunt Harriet leaving you an inheritance, those cards will never be paid off. Well, you could apply your $5 per week to those cards. At 14% interest you’d wipe out $5,633 in credit card debt in 10 years!

So now you have a choice to make. You can say that all that fancy compound interest stuff is just for the wealthy. Or you can recognize that the same principles work for smaller amounts. And begin to act on that knowledge. Would you give up two Big Burger meals each month to have $1,000 in ten years? Now that you know the facts, it’s up to you.

This article by Gary Foreman first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


A Management Tool for Expenses

Dear Dollar Stretcher,

I want to make a grocery budget but I am not sure what to include on that list. Do you include your household items such as light bulbs and laundry needs? Regular household needs such as bath tissue and paper towels? My husband and I would like to reduce our grocery bill but as it stands everything for the house comes from our grocery budget.
Kathy

Kathy asks a good question. According to the federal government the average family spends about 14% of their after tax income on food and another 1% on household supplies. So keeping track of these expenses is important.

She’s on the right track. Her budget should be a management tool. It’s purpose is to help you quickly identify problems and possible solutions.

You ‘read’ a budget just like a management report. Begin at the bottom and work your way up. You’ll start with the bottom line totals. Then check the subtotals. Finally, if necessary, you’ll look at the detailed part of the budget.

Start by finding out two things. Was your income near the expected level? And were your expenses close to the budgeted amount? If both totals were close to what you expect you can be pretty sure that things are under control and you don’t need to spend a lot of time looking for problems.

Next you want to look at the subtotals. That’s how you find what category is the source of any unexpected mismatch. Most managers will start with the groups that include the biggest expenditures. For families that would be housing, autos and food.

If your actual and budgeted subtotals match in a category you can pretty much skip the details that make up the subtotal. It’s taken just a moment to verify that everything is fine. An efficient use of your time.

If you find a difference between the actual and expected subtotals you’ll want to look at the individual expenses that make up the total. Again you’re looking for actual expenses that are much different from what you expected.

In most cases by going from the totals to the subtotals to the individual line items it’s easy to find any problems. That’s because you’ve narrowed the search to a reasonable area. And once you’ve found those problems you can decide what changes are required to get things back into line again.

Consider Kathy’s food/household products situation. By combining the categories she has found it difficult to determine what’s causing them to spend more than they want. So until they can get that area under control they’ll want to split out household from grocery items. And even that might not be enough. They may even need to separate meats from vegetables and canned goods. Or any other division that will help her understand the problem.

Once she’s brought the offending expense back into line they can combine the two categories. It only saves a few minutes when she enters the data, but her time is valuable.

Another thing to remember is that you don’t always have to do things the same way. For instance, Kathy may combine the category without problems for a year and then suddenly begin to have troubles. She has two choices. She can go back to her receipts and split the category for the last month or two. Or, if it’s not a crisis, she can beginning splitting into two categories this month.

The same thing is true for other categories. For instance, if your entertainment category is growing you may need to separate DVD rentals and movie tickets from dining out. Whatever will help you easily identify where your money is going.

The key to remember is that you only want to collect as much information as you’ll need to find problems when they occur. Information overload can make budgeting time-consuming and set you up for failure. The trick is to not waste time collecting info you won’t use, but to still have enough data when you need to find a problem. That means that there is no one right answer to Kathy’s question. It all depends on how much info you need at the time.

This article by Gary Foreman first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


FTC Action Halts Deceptive Robocalls Aimed at Small Business Owners

The Federal Trade Commission has charged a Florida-based scheme with deceiving small business owners by falsely claiming to represent Google, falsely threatening businesses with removal from Google search results, and falsely promising first-place or first-page placement in Google search results.

According to the FTC, the Point Break defendants have no relationship with Google, and yet they barrage consumers with robocalls threatening that Google will label their business “permanently closed” unless they “press one” to speak with a “Google specialist.” Telemarketers tell those who respond that, for a purported one-time fee ranging from $300 to $700, they can “claim and verify” their Google listing and have unique “keywords” so their business will appear prominently when people search for their products or services.

Consumers who pay receive a follow-up call from the defendants’ telemarketers, pitching a second program that the defendants falsely claim can guarantee top search result placements for a one-time payment of $949.99 and recurring monthly payments of $169.99 or $99.99.

According to the FTC’s complaint, in October 2017, the defendants temporarily lost the ability to accept payments by credit card due to high chargeback rates (when consumers dispute credit card transactions).  As a result, they took money, usually $100, from at least 250 of their customers’ checking accounts without the customers’ advance knowledge, consent, or authorization, and with no apparent reason or justification.

The defendants, who are charged with violating the FTC Act, are Pointbreak Media, LLC, also d/b/a Point Break Media, Point Break Solutions and Kivanni Marketing; DCP Marketing, LLC, also d/b/a Point Break; Modern Spotlight LLC; Modern Spotlight Group LLC, also d/b/a Modern Spotlight; Modern Internet Marketing LLC; Modern Source Media, LLC, also d/b/a Modern Source; Perfect Image Online LLC; Dustin Pillonato; Justin Ramsey; Aaron Michael Jones, also known as Michael Aaron Jones and Mike Jones; Ricardo Diaz; Michael Pocker; and Steffan Molina.

The court has appointed a temporary receiver over the operation and has frozen the defendants’ assets during litigation. The FTC seeks to end the alleged illegal practices and obtain money for return to consumers.

The Commission vote approving the complaint was 2-0. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida entered a temporary restraining order against the defendants on May 8, 2018.

The FTC acknowledges the assistance of Google during the investigation of this case. 

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

Estate Planning in the Digital Age

Complete Estate Planning Guide In The Digital Age

An important note: This Estate Planning article highlights many legal elements and is not meant to offer advice. See disclosure. It is important to talk with a lawyer when it comes to planning out your estate documents. This article is meant to give a high-level view of what a complete estate plan should consist of given the nature of today’s digital age.

What would happen to everything you own if you were to pass away tomorrow? Do any of your family members or loved ones know where your online passwords are for everything? Do they have access to your Facebook account or to your bank account? Or would they be left scrambling to piece everything together? Given the nature of our digital world, today, as well as the privacy, security and identity theft precautions you must take, you might not want to simply just have a notepad in a drawer somewhere. What would happen if it was taken or copied? Or, if your home were to burn down?

Contents

1 Why Everyone Needs An Estate Plan
2 High Level Look At The Estate Planning Documents You Need
2.1 Living Will
2.2 Power of Attorney
2.3 HIPAA Release
2.4 Last Will (Also Known As A Pour-Over Will)
2.5 Trust
3 A Word On Trust ID Numbers
4 Have A Legacy Binder or Safe (Central Location For All Documents)
5 Digital Estate Planning Tools & Steps To Follow
6 The Process That I Am Using
7 Hold An Annual Meeting & Stick To It
8 Take These Steps Today

Why Everyone Needs An Estate Plan

The purpose of this article is to not only lay out the basics of an Estate plan and make you aware of why everyone needs an estate plan but also to provide you with some valuable digital options when it comes to your assets. Today, there are solutions that exist to make it simple for you to handoff your assets when you pass in a secure and seamless manner.

Today, 55% of people die without a will or a trust. What this means is that when you die your loved ones have little to no say over how what you own and have saved is managed upon your passing. You will want to have a plan in place for when you pass. In many ways, there is no better way to say I love you to your loved ones than to have a plan in place for when you pass away.

High Level Look At The Estate Planning Documents You Need

Living Will

A living will is a document that outlines whether or not you would like to be kept on artificial life support if you fall into a state whereby you cannot be kept alive on your own. A living will is also sometimes referred to as a Health Care Directive.

Power of Attorney

Powers of Attorney give someone the ability to make decisions on your behalf. Sometimes you might hear a Power of Attorney as durable or non-durable. A Durable Power of Attorney is for a single reason such as a Power of Attorney for Health Care or a Finance whereas a simple Power of Attorney has much broader jurisdiction.

HIPAA Release

A HIPAA release also sometimes known as a HIPAA release and authorization form is a simple form that states how you would like your health data treated and handled.

Last Will (Also Known As A Pour-Over Will)

A Will is an absolute must for anyone. It’s important to remember that a Last Will or Pour Over Will is different from a Living Will. A Will outlines what it is that you want to happen to your assets when you pass. A Will can be overturned in certain circumstances. I can’t stress this enough…almost everyone should have a will, regardless of the amount of your assets. A will can be a very effective means of directing how your property will pass after your death.

Trust

A Trust can be viewed as a higher level Last Will which gives you greater protections when it comes to protecting your assets against a probate court. Trusts are a bit more complicated and are more expensive to set up than a Will but in many states are needed. This is because if the value of assets exceeds certain thresholds in certain states your assets would be forced to go through probate even if you have a Will in place. With a Trust, you are the Trustee of the Trust until you become incapacitated or pass. Once you become incapacitated or pass away whoever you name as successor trustee/executor takes over. This is usually a spouse or family loved one who is competent enough to manage the assets. A Trust also avoids having all of your assets become public record.

There are a couple of very important things to note when it comes to a Trust. First, after you establish a Trust you must fund the trust. What this means is that your assets need to be retitled into the name of the trust. This could include naming the trust as the beneficiary of your assets. This is a helpful article outlining the steps to find a trust if you are a Fidelity, Vanguard or Merrill Edge customer.

Important note, an individual retirement account (IRA) of any kind including but not limited to Roth, Traditional, 401k, etc cannot be owned by a trust. Therefore, when it comes to an IRA a Trust should stay away! This includes the fact that you never want to name your Trust as the beneficiary of an IRA. The bottom line…when it comes to retirement accounts (Roth, SEP, Traditional, Etc) the owner should never be listed as the Trust AND…the beneficiary should never be listed as the trust unless the beneficiary is children under the age of 18. Always put the owner of a retirement account and beneficiary of a retirement account as people, not the trust!

If you own a business make sure that your Trust owns your business and (as stated above) that you are the trustee of the Trust.

Overall, there are many benefits to establishing a Trust. A great book that goes over Trusts in greater detail that I recommend is “The Bogleheads’ Guide to Retirement Planning”

There is also what is known as a revocable living trust and an irrevocable living trust. I won’t go into the details here but if you are interested this is a great article on the differences between a revocable and irrevocable trust.

Be sure to talk with an estate planning attorney. In my experience, there is a great advantage of utilizing an estate planning attorney instead of a lawyer that handles a wide range of legal topics. The website: gyst.com (short for Get Your Shit Together) has a number of helpful links including one on finding an estate planning attorney in your area. There are many other factors that go into utilizing the full benefit and details of a trust and if it is right for you Fidelity has listed 6 reasons you should consider a Trust. If you want to learn in greater depths the reasons you should consider a Trust a great book I recommend is “Living Trusts For Everyone”

A Word On Trust ID Numbers

Trusts are issued ID Numbers when created but don’t get overwhelmed by this. Normally, the Trust ID is either a Social Security Number of one of the trustees or an EIN number issued by the IRS. If there is a realty trust or an irrevocable trust, then you would most likely get an EIN number.

Have A Legacy Binder or Safe (Central Location For All Documents)

Once you have established your Estate Planning documents it is important to have one location where all important documents are maintained and are accessible by your trustee. This central location can come in the form of a safe at your home or simply a binder stored in a safe place. The following is just a sample of the documents created by Fidsafe (more to come on FidSafe below) that should be contained in your safe/legacy binder.

Legal

Last Will
Living Will
Durable Power of Attorney (Healthcare, Financial, Real Estate, etc)
HIPAA Release Form
Marriage License
Child Support Documents
Alimony Documents
Divorce Decree
Adoption Papers
Trust Documents
Identification & Licenses

Birth Certificate
Driver’s License
Passport
Social Security Card
Marriage License
Immigration Documents
Military ID
Death Certificate
Other Licenses
People & Places

List of Safety Deposit Boxes
Key Contacts
Finances

List of Financial/Bank Accounts (Including IRAs, Pensions, etc)
Account Statements
Additional Financial Documents
Credit Report
Vehicle Titles
Taxes

Annual Income Tax Records
Property Tax Statements
Insurance & Property

Life Insurance Policy
Health Insurance Card
Home Insurance Policy
Auto Insurance Policies
Vehicle Title
House /Land Deeds
Cemetery Deeds
Medical

Family medical history
Other

List of usernames and passwords
Transcripts
Degree(s)
Licenses to practice
Organization Membership Cards
Military Discharge Papers

Digital Estate Planning Tools & Steps To Follow

Today and on into the future more and more of our time and possessions will be housed online. If there is anything you can take away from this article let it be this – you absolutely must have a digital plan for upon your passing that is simple to follow and that two of your loved ones/trustees fully understand and are aware of. Don’t have just one person who knows everything. By having two people aware of everything you are much more likely to have your wishes carried out when you pass.

Today, you might be using tools such as Dropbox, 1Password, Last Pass, Google Drive/Docs, and many more. How many people have access to any or all of your online passwords? Thankfully, there are free tools you can use to make access to all of your critically important documents easier to access.

One great tool designed for managing the digital estate planning process is FidSafe. FidSafe is a free service to anyone. It is provided by Fidelity Investments but it is not required that you are a Fidelity customer to use the service. FidSafe gives you a free and secure way to store all of your documents, notes, and passwords in one place. It is very customizable and allows you to assign a designee if anything happens to you. FidSafe has also provided this excellent resource to get organized.

The Process That I Am Using

This process might not be the best for everyone but I wanted to share because I believe it could work for most people and to also leave it for my loved ones to have should anything happen to me. First, I utilize a secure physical safe at home that three loved ones have access to. In the safe, I have all original copies of important documents. These documents are the same documents listed above in the legacy binder/safe. In addition, I have an envelope that contains three passwords. One password is my computer password. This password is essential. The second is my login and password to my 1Password account. Finally, the login and password to my FidSafe account. I have it set so that my 1Password account is saved in my FidSafe account and my FidSafe account is saved in my 1Password so really only one of these two is necessary. Once my loved ones have access to this envelope in the safe they then have access to my 1Password account which contains all 800+ online and digital accounts. You might not believe you have this many but as you begin to use a password manager you will be surprised at just how many accounts you have out there. I recommend that everyone use a password manager such as 1Password or LastPass. LifeHacker has a selection of other great password managers to choose from.

Hold An Annual Meeting & Stick To It

Do a reading of your Estate Plan because it will save a lot of time, money and heartache after you pass on. Just like public companies hold quarterly meetings for their stock you should make it a point to hold at the very least an annual meeting on your estate. In my opinion, there is no better way to show how much you love your family than to do this. In fact, depending on the nature of your family dynamics you might even consider having your estate planning attorney conduct the meeting on your behalf. By doing this there is absolutely no way that arguments can arise upon your passing on the steps that will be taken when that day comes.

You might think that taking this step is overkill but trust me when I say it is not. Too often families can be torn apart upon a family members passing. Here are just some variables that can take place.

Older estate planning docs such as a Will or Power of Attorney could be floating around. Whenever you update your estate planning documents you want to make sure that you destroy any documents that came before the documents that you have just updated. It is hard to imagine but think of the possible confusion that could arise among family when one has one version of your Will and someone else has a newer or older version.

Estate planning laws change from state to state so you want to keep them updated especially if a major change has taken place in your life.

In some states, it takes a court order to open your safe deposit box, so it would be better in those cases to keep an original copy of your will — and any other documents that might require immediate access — with your attorney, at home in a fireproof safe, etc.

Take These Steps Today

I would argue it is difficult to come up with many things that are more important than protecting your family and loved ones. Having a complete estate plan in place has never been more important given the increased digital nature of our lives.

This article by Jeff McLean first appeared on FinTech Freedom and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Update for Amazing Wealth System

The FTC recently sued the companies and individuals responsible for the Amazing Wealth System — also known as Amazon Wealth Systems, FBA Stores, AWS, Insider Online Secrets, Online Auction Learning Center, and Online Seller — which ran ads and held live workshops promoting a business opportunity scheme. The company claimed people could use its system and “Get started on Amazon and Make $5,000-$10,000 in the next 30 days. . . even if you have never sold anything online before.” The FTC said those earnings claims are false and that the defendants had no basis for making those claims. At the FTC’s request, a court froze the defendants’ assets and appointed a temporary receiver.

Since the FTC filed the case, many people who paid Amazing Wealth System and the related companies have asked how to get involved in the case, what to do with their paperwork, and if they will get a refund. Here are answers to those questions and a few more:

I paid for Amazing Wealth System workshop. How do I add my name to the FTC case?

Report your experience to FTC.gov/complaint. Include as much personal information as you choose. The information you give will go into a secure database that the FTC and other law enforcement agencies use for investigations. When you go to FTC.gov/complaint, click on:

  • Education, Jobs, and Making Money, then
  • Business Opportunities, Work-at-Home-Plans, Franchise or Distributorships, then
  • Business Opportunity or Work-at-Home Plan.

I saved my receipts and other paperwork. What should I do with them?

Keep the originals and copies of:

  • payment records, including invoices, bank statements, credit card statements and cancelled checks;
  • postal mail, email and material that you received from the defendants, including messages about your account, marketing material and handouts you received at workshops; and
  • other documents, postal mail or email that refers to your Amazon account or business with Amazing Wealth System or the related companies.

Will I get my money back?

The FTC works to return as much money as possible to each affected person. The amount the FTC returns depends on how much the defendants are able to pay, how much the court orders for refunds, how many people were affected and other facts. Sometimes the FTC can’t return any money.

How long will it take to get my money back?

The FTC must complete the legal action before it can determine whether it will be able to give refunds. The case against the defendants was filed in March 2018, and could take several months to resolve.

I paid for services and products offered by one of the companies the FTC sued. Can I get those services and products now?

According to Robb Evans & Associates LLC, the court-appointed temporary receiver, the defendants’ business operations will not be re-started. If you think you have products stored at the defendants’ premises, please send an email to the temporary receiver at fba@robbevans.com. Include a detailed list of your inventory. The temporary receiver will take steps to return inventory to people in the near future.

I saw another business that looked like Amazing Wealth System.

Please report what you saw to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.

Where can I get more information about the case?

You can read our blog from March 23, 2018, the press release announcing the case, or the legal documents. The temporary receiver also has information on this Case Page.

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