I Paid a Credit Repair Place to Remove My Student Loans But They Are Coming After Me

Question:

Dear Steve,

I took out student loans 2000-2005 and began paying them after graduation until I lost my job. The loan holders would not offer me a lower rate so I stopped paying and haven’t paid since about 2007. I worked with a credit counselor to clear my credit report, this is what he said:

“When we challenged any and all items on your credit report that affected your scores, we referenced the FCRA laws (Fair Credit Reporting Act). The credit reporting agencies are required to give each creditor a 30-day window to verify the debt, the accuracy, and the reporting. If the 30 days pass, and the creditor has not done all 3 things, then the credit bureau MUST remove the item permanently and it can NEVER be added to the credit report again. No company would ever be foolish enough to remove and item disputed by Federal laws governing FCRA, then add it back on to the report. There are serious fines for every infraction that would occur. Know and feel comfortable Christina that those items should never come back again. I hope that helps.”

I have had a Federal Tax Return Garnish for a few years, last year I had a random wage garnishment that stopped after a few months and now I received a letter from MOHELA for 3 loans that I owe totaling $38000 principal + interest. I looked up my Federal Loans on NSLDS and they did not appear on there so I think they are private and may be beyond the statute of limitations.

What can I do here? A) How do I clear this up if the credit counselor guy was right and the statute of limitations apply? B) How do I negotiate a lower amount (remove interest, etc) if needed? C) IF I begin paying MOHELA, will other outstanding loans find out and come after me?

Christina

Answer:

Dear Christina,

Removing an item from a credit report has no impact on if the debt is collectible or not. And as far as if a debt removed could be relisted that person you hired was what I like to call WRONG.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act 15 U.S. Code § 1681i – Procedure in case of disputed accuracy any creditor can report a removed item again. “Information may not be reinserted in the file by the consumer reporting agency unless the person who furnishes the information certifies that the information is complete and accurate.” So all they have to do is certify the accuracy and relist it.

As far as the Statute of Limitations goes, it does not prevent you from being sued, it’s something you can raise in your defense about why the suit should be dropped.

On your garnishments, it sounds like what you need is more information. Typically, for non-federal student loans, the credit report is a good place to go and see who is reporting they have your loans. But those seem to have been removed.

If you are being garnished for non-federal student loan debt you would have had to have been sued first, lost, and then the garnishment issued.

Frankly, it sounds like you can use some help to sort all of this out. Looking for a debt coach who can help dig to the bottom of this and develop a plan of action based on the reality of the situation would be a smart move.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Time’s Up for Florida Operation That Pitched Worthless Timeshare Resale Scheme

Defendants permanently banned from selling timeshare resale or rental services, telmarketing

Along with being permanently banned from timeshare resale services and telemarketing, the Florida-based operators behind a deceptive timeshare resale scheme have agreed to surrender approximately $3.4 million worth of assets including homes, vehicles, a Rolex watch, silver coins, and a diamond ring to settle the Federal Trade Commission’s charges against them.

The principals behind the operation and their company, Pro Timeshare Resales, LLC, also are prohibited from making a range of misrepresentations during the sale of any other goods or services, are barred from collecting on outstanding customer accounts, and are prohibited from misusing the consumer information they’ve collected.

According to the FTC’s complaint, between November 2011 and December 2016 the defendants called timeshare property owners, falsely claiming that they had a buyer or renter ready and willing to buy or rent their properties for a specified price, or making false promises to sell the timeshares quickly, sometimes within a specified time period.

The defendants charged property owners up to $2,500 in advance but failed to deliver on their promises, the FTC alleged. The FTC noted in the complaint that the defendants strung some timeshare owners along with additional false claims, such as that they would soon receive money from a sale or rental, and often convinced them to pay for additional purported closing costs or other fees. Consumers’ requests for refunds were typically denied or ignored, according to the complaint.

After filing the lawsuit in December 2016, FTC staff obtained a temporary restraining order and, later, a stipulated preliminary injunction in the case. Through these orders the court halted the operation, froze the defendants’ assets, and appointed a receiver to oversee those assets, among other things.

The court order settling the FTC’s charges will ensure that the defendants do not engage in illegal conduct similar to what was alleged in the complaint. First, it permanently bans the defendants from marketing or selling timeshare resale services, or from assisting anyone else to do so. Next, it bans them from participating in telemarketing, either directly or through an intermediary.

The order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting any material fact regarding the sale of any other goods or services, including making deceptive claims regarding the total cost of a good or service, the terms of a refund policy, or a product’s performance or efficacy.

The order also prohibits the defendants from collecting money from consumers who bought their timeshare resale services, and it prohibits them from selling or otherwise benefitting from the customer information they collected from consumers.

Finally, the order imposes an $18.7 million judgment against the defendants, which will be suspended once they have surrendered assets totaling approximately $3.4 million to the Commission. These assets include $1.84 million in cash currently held by the court-appointed receiver, real property worth approximately $600,000 owned by defendant Jess Kinmont, along with his Range Rover, Ferrari, Bayliner boat, and a Rolex watch.

Defendant John P. Wenz will surrender, among other things, $215,000 in brokerage and bank accounts, two homes, two trucks, silver coins, and a diamond ring. The defendants also are subject to standard monitoring and compliance provisions.

The Commission vote approving the stipulated final order was 2-0. The FTC filed the proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, and it has now been signed by the judge. The order settles the FTC’s charges against defendants Jess Kinmont; John P. Wenz, Jr.; Pro Timeshare Resales of Flagler Beach LLC; Pro Timeshare Resales, LLC; and J. William Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Pro Timeshare Resales.

The FTC thanks the Florida Attorney General’s Office, the Florida Department of Agricultural & Consumer Services, and the Better Business Bureau of Central Florida for their contributions to this case.

NOTE: Stipulated final orders or injunctions, etc. have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

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

I Can’t Help You If You Can’t Help Yourself

Question:

Dear Steve,

I am in debt and need to find a way out

Is your company rated by the Better Business Bureau?

Owens

Answer:

Dear Owens,

Your question landed in my inbox at a time I was very frustrated with the inability of people to help themselves. So forgive me in advance for the ride you are about to take on my rant.

Consumers become the victims of scams for a number of reasons. Some scams are clever and tough to see the deception. Other scams are hidden in plain sight and make magical claims which people fall for. Others yet get scammed because they assign all responsibility to others and then surprise when the end result sucks.

Your question lets me know two things. The first is you are concerned about your debt. The second is you appear to want to transfer responsibility to the BBB for any action you are about to take.

The BBB is Not Perfect

The Better Business Bureau is not perfect and there is a long history of examples where the BBB has given problematic companies ratings that did not seem to reflect their current performance. And while I often cite the BBB public information in posts the BBB rating information is one indication of a data point and not an ultimate truth to count on or discredit. In the absence of an alternative, a BBB report can provide some information.

A single BBB rating on a company contains additional information that helps to paint a more comprehensive picture. Does the company have complaints? How does the company respond to complaints? Who are the people behind the company? Did you Google them?

I became alarmed by your question because I don’t sell services. My information and advice on the site are free. So when you proclaim you need to find a way out of debt and want to know if myself or the site is BBB rated that indicates to me you are not paying attention.

Stressing out about debt can lead you to make impulsive decisions that could come back to bite you. For example, you might just call any company, love what the salesperson has to say, and leap if you like their BBB rating.

But the more pressing question here is if the debt relief solution they are pitching is even right for you in your situation.

Rather than just be frustrated with your question and ranting on. Here are some free guides to help you evaluate whoever you decide to purchase services from for debt relief help. As I’ve said, I don’t sell services so that can’t be me.

And for help determining what general debt solution might be more suited for your situation, here is my free online Get Out of Debt Calculator.

Before you leap at repaying your past debt, here is my online calculator that can show you what it may cost you in lost retirement funds.

If you’ve been running all over the internet and jumping at multiple offers to help you get out of debt, you should expect your inbox and telephone to explode with offers from salespeople who want to sell you debt relief services.

At the end of the day, you and you alone are the sole person who can weigh if the solution is right for you. There is no safety net for you making the wrong choice on dealing with your debt. And if you find yourself tangled up with false promises and working with a scam company, it is unlikely you will ever receive a full refund or be made whole again.

Don’t assign the responsibility of what is best for your future. You must invest time and energy to make the right choices for you.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

7 Non-Obvious Ways to Save on a Kitchen Remodel

Have you been diligently planning what a new kitchen would look like? You’ve probably saved dozens of images from Houzz and Pinterest and even been dreaming about how a new kitchen would bring value to your daily life. Then it all comes to a screeching halt after you get sticker shock from your contractor. It’s way more than you thought it would be and you’re not a DIYer. You don’t have to give up on that kitchen renovation just yet. I’ve got seven not-so-obvious ways you can save some money on your remodel without sacrificing what you want, and there’s no DIY involved.

1. Buy Your Hardware from eBay

Hardware is expensive, and it’s one of those little details that you can’t cheap out on. Those finishing touches bring all the colors and textiles together in a kitchen to make it complete. The good news is that you can get the same expensive hardware that you’ve been eyeing up at a reduced price, just by purchasing it on eBay. I know because I’ve done it before, and you don’t have to compromise anything.

I just priced one and found the same exact brand name handle that costs $7.74 at a big box store compared to $3.50 on eBay. The seller had over 13,000 sales and 100% feedback. You might even be able to get this cheaper if you’re buying in bulk, and it’s not unusual to buy between 30-50 handles for a new kitchen. If you want to save even more money, try searching for the size and finish you want and don’t get stuck on a particular brand. You’ll often find the same hardware in unlabeled bags for even less money.

2. Buy Grade/Level 1 or 2 Granite

If you can choose a color that goes with your cabinets and floors in the grade 1 or 2 category, you can save yourself more than $1,000 than if you buy grade 5 or 6 granite. Just the other day I priced level 1 granite for a 30-square-foot kitchen counter. The cost was $1,800 compared to $3,000 for the level 6. The customer was thrilled with the grade 1 color, their new granite top, and the amount of money they saved.

So keep in mind, the higher the grade, the more you’ll be paying. Also, shop the fabricators. They each price granite differently and they may also have different colors available for each grade. One company might put one color granite as grade 1, and another might rate that same color as a grade 2. It’s worth shopping around to reap the benefits.

3. Do Not Pay an Upcharge for All Plywood Constructed Cabinets

New cabinets are going to be one of your biggest expenses. To cut costs here, only pay for plywood or wood veneer on the ends of the cabinets that are going to be exposed or get a finished end panel or real wood skin for these areas. Most of your cabinets will touch each other, and you won’t appreciate the extra money you spent getting all plywood. The amount you save will vary depending on your supplier and the cabinet maker. A typical saving is around 15%. This is another example in which you won’t even notice any difference in the appearance of your kitchen, but you’ll appreciate the savings.

4. Skip The Pantry Cabinet and Build a Pantry Closet Instead

If you’re having a contractor install your kitchen, then adding a pantry closet around 24″ x 36″ could add about another $750 to your costs. This same size pantry in a cabinet might cost you three to five times that amount. Pantry closets are a great space to stockpile all your canned goods, snacks, candy, and cereals. You might even be able to make a larger pantry than you would’ve been able to afford with all the money you’re saving by not buying the pantry cabinet.

5. Price The Species and Finish Options On Your Cabinets.

Some of the different species are similar in appearance and durability but not so much in price. For example, Cherry is similar in color to Select Alder, but you’ll pay 4%-5% more for it. Taking notice of these details will get you the cabinets you want while still saving you money.

6. Minimize Your Gingerbread Cabinet Options

Roll out trash cans, lights when you open the drawer, and soft touch drawers are all nice accessories, but many of them are considered upgrade options. Don’t get sucked into these because they’ll quickly add a lot of extra costs. For example, just one single roll-out shelf can easily add $100 to your cost. First, find out what accessories your cabinets come with and then consider if the convenience of the upgrade is worth the price and choose wisely. Also, keep in mind that some of these options can be bought at your local hardware store and installed by you for a fraction of the price.

7. Check with The Manufacturer for Current or Upcoming Promotions

The manufacturers often run promotions. Their promos might include free upgrades, free modifications, a free sink base, or even discounts off certain cabinet lines and finishes. Make sure you call them or have your designer call to see what promotion is currently running, when it will end, and what promotions are coming up. If you find a promotion that you don’t want to miss out on then, you’ll have to place your order before it ends. This is just like coupon clipping for your cabinets.

Kitchen renovations can be expensive, but they’re doable even for non-DIYers that are on tight budgets. I hope you use the tips above to throw out those old laminate tops, update your 80s cabinets, say goodbye to that brass hardware, and get the kitchen you’ve been planning.

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


Why Can’t I Trust My CreditKarma Credit Scores With a Good Sam RV Loan?

Question:

Dear Steve,

A few years ago, I signed up with Credit Karma and have watched my credit reports ever since. I applied for an RV loan, thinking my scores were in the mid-700’s as is reflected in my Transunion and Equifax reports on Credit Karma.

Was told that they only use Experian (which Credit Karma does not) and that my score showed way below their threshold of 640!! I joined Experian and it showed the score as 675, and the Transunion and Equifax scores in the high 600’s!

There is no way to contact Credit Karma by phone or email. I also am confused by the discrepancy in the Experian score that I got yesterday and the one that the lender used by Good Sam showed. How can I make sense of all this?

Thanks for whatever you can do to enlighten me.

Mary Louise

Answer:

Dear Mary Louise,

I agree it is confusing.

Personally, I enjoy the free credit score service and credit score calculator at CreditKarma.com.

Your issues have less to do with Credit Karma specifically than about credit scores in general.

Credit Scores Are Fluid

Depending on what day of the month the data to calculate your credit score was dumped, it can impact the number you see when you look.

But to make the issue even more confusing, there are two major credit score formulas known as FICO and Vantage. Each of these is really nothing more than mathematical formula lenders have confidence in.

But even within one formula, like FICO the score calculated for an auto or RV loan can be different than your general consumer credit score. This is the result of a FICO Auto Score being calculated differently.

As FICO says, “Industry-specific FICO® Scores incorporate the predictive power of base FICO® Scores while also providing lenders a further-refined credit risk assessment tailored to the type of credit the consumer is seeking. For example, auto lenders and credit card issuers may use FICO® Auto Score or a FICO® Bankcard Score, respectively, instead of base FICO® Scores.”

I’m assuming the lender elected to use the FICO Auto Score model but we really don’t know what model they actually used or if they created their own proprietary calculation for RV loans.

CreditKarma has guidance about this. They say, “FICO and VantageScore also provide their scoring models to lenders, who frequently tweak the algorithms to serve their own needs. So, in addition to the dozens of scores calculated by credit bureaus, many lenders have their own individual scoring methods.”

The purpose of a credit score is NOT to grade how well you manage your money. It is actually to determine the risk lender’s face if they lend you money for a specific purpose. On any given day you can actually have a variety of different credit scores from the same score source.

All is not lost here. Using the free Credit Karma Credit Score Simulator you can get a general idea about what you need to do to increase your general score.

Typically the easiest ways to quickly increase your scores are to pay down balances or satisfy accounts in collection. But using the credit score simulator you can get a better idea of exactly what moves you can make to increase your score.

I’m hoping Good Sam may have given you a clue about what specific score version their lender used but if not, see if you can find out. The Good Sam site says they use FICO but I’m not sure if that’s exactly what they calculated for your request.

They also say they require a minimum score of 690 and that “The following situations, in addition to other factors, may negatively affect a loan decision: a high debt to income ratio, unverifiable income, a credit score below 690, bankruptcy, outstanding collections, delinquent payment history, limited installment loan history, insufficient collateral value (LTV).”

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How I Got Rid of 6 Figures of Student Loan Debt in 5 Years

In the winter of 2011, I learned that the love of my life had over six figures of student loan debt. She was starting her MBA holding a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in engineering and entering the professional workforce. Both degrees came at a price. In the process of earning her degrees, she had racked up nearly $120,000 in student loan debt by the age of twenty-three. Fortunately for us, I graduated with identical credentials and had only accumulated a mere $10,000 of student loan debt, mostly due to scholarships. While we both earned our MBAs, our interest continued to accrue and our total burden of debt peaked in May 2013 to almost $150,000 – essentially the average American mortgage loan, without the house!

Not so shockingly, my now wife joined the growing echelons of students saddled with enormous debts after earning their degrees. Our story of student loan debt is not unique. In 2016, 70% of college graduates exited school with student debt – totaling 43 million student loan borrowers in the United States. All of this debt in the U.S. totals $1.4 trillion dollars in loans, and it is growing at a rate of about $3,000 per second! The average 2017 graduate will leave school with over $37,000 in debt and an average payment of almost $400 per month! Of the students that graduate with secondary or professional degrees (such as doctors), more than half have over $100,000 in student loan debt and more than 30% have over $200,000 in debt. Year-after-year, these statistics continue to rise, making a frightening situation for most young professionals trying to start their careers. It is no wonder in the recent Princeton Hopes & Worry survey, for the fifth year and a row, parents and student say debt is their biggest concern about going to college. (https://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings/college-hopes-worries)

Fast forward 5 years and as of May of 2018, we are now debt free and decided to share our story in a book with the world! When I first found out about my wife’s debt issues, I went into full on panic mode and started drilling her with questions. After about fifteen minutes, it was obvious she had her head in the sand about her loan situation. This is by far the most important step to getting your situation under control – figure out your state of affairs.

The first thing we did was spend an entire weekend combing through her eight different loans to figure out loan sources, principle and unpaid interest, interest rates, fixed vs. variable loans, and general repayments terms. Only with this knowledge were we able to assess the situation and create a plan.

The second thing that we did was to create an old fashioned budget. Except in this version of a budget, there was one ginormous line item under expenses labeled ‘minimum student loan payment.’ This served two purposes: it forced us to look hard at our spending habits and it showed how much money we had at the end of each month after all expenses including student loan minimums. This magic number was the amount of money we could pay extra each month to aggressively crush our student loan problem.

The third part of our strategy was to set a goal. One that was tough, but realistic. For us, that meant eliminating nearly $150,000 in less than 5 years while getting married, buying a house, and living our lives the way we want. This was an extremely lofty goal, but one that we were fortunate to accomplish by following these steps.

Using publicly available calculator tools (or ours http://student.byeloandebt.com/calculators), you can determine the monthly payments required to meet your goals. This is called an amortization table. Before executing on this plan, you have to tilt the odds in your favor by any means possible. The main way to do this is through a beautiful tool called loan consolidation. Once you have graduated and have a job, showing an income and having credit will do amazing things towards your loan terms. For public loans, you can automatically consolidate all loans into a monthly automatic payment and get a 0.25% reduction on interest. For private borrowers, showing your income and credit could dramatically reduce your interest rates. My wife had some private loans that were over 10% and she was paying $10,000 a year in interest alone. After graduating and consolidating her loans through Wells Fargo, we reduced this interest rate to 5%, a huge savings. Lastly, you can even re-consolidate some public loans into private loans at a lower interest rate. We used a company called SOFI to take my wife’s 6.5% public loans down to 5.1%. These changes might not sound huge, but it means the difference of paying thousands less in interest every year. It could be the difference between meeting your goal and not.

The last part of our plan was to take action. Once you have determined your loan and budget situation, reduced your interest rates as low as possible, created a budget, and determined how much extra you can pay a month, you finally are able to execute on a plan. If the monthly payment goal you established creates a mismatch from the net income your budget allows, you have four choices: 1) You can increase your income (side hustle) 2) cut expenses 3) reset your goals to be in line with your situation or 4) employ alternative solutions.

The last option includes forbearance, flexible repayment plans, or forgiveness options, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSFL) plan. Depending on your life choices, there are numerous options to employ to lessen or eliminate your loan burden. My sister for example, is a pathologist who is employing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSFL) program. This program will forgive all public student loans for those doctors that work for a qualified employer (most non-private practice facilities). Since she will be spending 6 years in residency and fellowship, she just has to be sure to commit to being employed by a hospital, rather than private practice, for her first four years of practice. In addition, by pairing this strategy with the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) program, it allows lower income workers to cap their loan payments at just 10% of their discretionary income and never more than the minimum 10 year repayment plan. This is generally a fraction of the overall payment for high debt borrowers. Most residents will qualify for this program if they have significant debt levels. After 10 years of very low payments relative to the borrowers overall debt burden, the remaining loan balance will be completely forgiven! This is one of many forbearance, flexible repayment plans, or forgiveness options that can be employed to lessen or eliminate your loan burden. If you are yet to complete your degree, alternative schooling options, scholarship opportunities, and a host of other methods can also help you avoid debt before you get into it in the first place!

While student loans can be a significant burden for many graduates, if you understand your goals and your entire loan situation you have numerous options at your disposal. Eliminating this burden will allow you to live your life that you sacrificed years to have!

This article by Daniel J. Mendelson first appeared on BYE Student Loan Debt and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Guard Your New Medicare ID Card to Avoid Fraud

Medicare ID fraud happens when someone uses your Medicare card to get your personal information, like your Social Security or Medicare ID number. A fraudster could steal your identity to open new credit cards or bank accounts using your name and credit. They also could use your Medicare ID card information to file fake claims for healthcare you did not receive—like billing for a motorized scooter that you don’t need. Medicare fraud wastes a lot of money each year and results in higher health care costs for everyone.  

Follow these tips to guard your Medicare ID card:

  • Keep your Medicare and Social Security cards secure.
  • Don’t share your numbers with anyone other than your health care team.
  • If someone calls and asks for your Medicare information, hang up. Medicare will only call you if you’ve called and left a message or if a representative said that someone will call you back.
  • Check your statements carefully and log into MyMedicare.gov to spot possible fraud and billing mistakes. 
  • Report suspicious activities by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

New Medicare cards

If you are a Medicare recipient, you might have heard that new Medicare cards are on their way to your mailbox. The new cards will have a unique Medicare ID number instead of your Social Security number. The new Medicare ID cards are good news for everyone, except fraudsters who use Social Security numbers to steal people’s identity and commit Medicare fraud. You will receive your new Medicare ID card by April 2019. 

Free placemat on Medicare ID fraud

To celebrate Older Americans month this May, we created a new Medicare-themed placemat. The Medicare ID fraud placemat includes information to help older adults spot and avoid fraud. 

The placemat is part of a series of consumer education placemats that meal service providers deliver to homebound seniors and senior meal sites. The placemats are free to download or order in bulk. This placemat also shares valuable information on the rollout of the new Medicare cards. 

Spot Medicare ID fraud and report it

  • Order our Medicare ID fraud prevention and awareness placemats and share with people in your community. You can use the placemats year-round to help educate older adults and others about how to protect themselves against fraudsters. 
  • Report any suspected fraud to your law enforcement’s non-emergency number. If you suspect that someone is a victim of elder abuse or financial exploitation, also report it to Adult Protective Services (APS). Find your local APS at eldercare.acl.gov. If you think the person’s safety may be at risk, call 911.
  • Report Medicare fraud by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or report online through the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services.

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


Change Your Twitter Password. Now.

You may have heard the recent news that Twitter discovered a bug that stored passwords “unmasked” in an internal log. What does this mean? If you are a Twitter user, your password could be exposed. Twitter says that there are no signs of a breach or misuse by anyone currently, but it’s still a good idea to change your password. Did you use the same password for other accounts? Change those, too.

Here are some tips on creating passwords:

  • Make your password long, strong and complex. That means at least twelve characters, with upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid common words, phrases or information.
  • Don’t reuse passwords used on other accounts. Use different passwords for different accounts so that, if a hacker compromises one account, he can’t access other accounts.
  • Use multi-factor authentication, when available. For accounts that support it, two-factor authentication requires both your password and an additional piece of information to log in. The second piece could be a code sent to your phone, or a random number generated by an app or token. This protects your account even if your password is compromised.
  • Consider a password manager. Most people have trouble keeping track of all their passwords. Consider storing your passwords and security questions in a reputable password manager, an easy-to-access application that stores all your password information. Use a strong password to secure the information in your password manager.
  • Select security questions only you know the answer to. Many security questions ask for answers to information available in public records or online, like your zip code, mother’s maiden name, and birth place. That is information a motivated attacker can get. And don’t use questions with a limited number of responses that attackers can easily guess – like the color of your first car.
  • Change passwords quickly if there’s a breach. If you get a notification from a company about a possible breach, change the password for that account right away, and any other account that uses a similar password.

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

Railroad Retirement Income Is Less Than My Husband Estimated Before He Passed

Question:

Dear Steve,

Dec. 19, 2016 my husband died after a 6 year battle with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. Railroad Retirement did not pay anything close to what my husband told me to expect and since he was so sure it was so good he never considered an Insurance Policy, as he also insisted he would “live to be 110 years old – give or take 10 years.”

Upon his passing “our Family Income” (just me left) dropped by over $3000/mo. When it looked like I would not be able to keep up with all the debt, I went in to speak with my bank, Wells Fargo, about a Debt Consolidation Loan – they were sorry, but the “Board” would not approve the loan, same for Discover. Regardless of what Banks would or would not do I had to sell our 12 yr old home/property in Florida for huge loss, but I was offered to move to my sister and brother-in-law’s property in Tennessee, which I did.

It had taken 5 months to get the house ready and sold, not to mention all the “You MUST Repair this or that – and several projects the Buyers ‘Home Inspector’ said had to be done were found to be erroneous (turns out he was from ALASKA and had not researched “foundations” in FLORIDA) and he was insisting on “corrections” to the foundations of the Deck and Handicap Ramp, which I had already had repaired.

I rented the largest U-Haul truck in March, April and May along with “loaders” and “unloaders” each time. It was trying and outrageously expensive – turns out a Professional Mover would have only cost just over half and all the damage, if any by Professionals, would have been covered.

I knew I would need some time to get settled and planned to get a job to start to whittle down the debts beginning Spring 2018. I recently paid off the last of Virlyn’s few Dr’s Bills and was paying more than the minimum to each creditor, but on August 17th, 2017 I had a fall at home which stopped preparations on the property here. I thought it was only going to be a few weeks, but it was Dec 2017 and after seeing several Drs, it was determined to be an impinged nerve in my neck.

Was told one or two Cortico-Steroid shots into the Cervical Vertebrae would probably fix me up for several years and I would be able to have additional shots in the future if necessary. My daughter took me to the first one on Jan. 17th, as I had been told I would be unable to drive for at least 24 hours, and 22 minutes after leaving the Dr’s Offices we were rear-ended by an 18-wheeler at a light coming off the I-40 in Cookeville, TN.

After the ER, Exam and Xrays, I was sent home with pain relievers and muscle relaxers. The Dr tried another shot 2 weeks later, which did not do any good. The accident had further damaged the neck and moved bone spurs leaving the only alternative ACDF Cervical Surgery on March 6th.

In surgery Dr Cruz found the spurs had changed position, the vertebrae were soft, and the Titanium plate necessary to keep the two cadaver bones in place would be fragile as the screws could be displaced by a fall, sharp knock to my head or back, etc. which would allow movement of the cadaver bones replacing the damaged discs that could sever my spinal column.

I now knew I would not be able to go back to work as I was restricted from being on ladders, needed to use steps as little as possible, stay off uneven ground and avoid walking around obstacles or into anything and not lift or carry more than 20 pounds. No company was going to hire me now as the Liability would not be acceptable. Lowe’s where I had been a Cabinet Project Designer in FL, found me loading In-Stock Cabinets and Counter-tops, even using what we called a “Cherry Picker” to go up and “pull Stock”, which would weigh anywhere from 20 to well over 90 pounds. So, even a job I had loved and would likely have been able to get at one of the stores within 60 miles of Spencer, Tennessee would no longer be one I can do.

I continued to pay more than the minimum on the debts by using the Credit Cards to live on and my income to pay the cards, occasionally taking funds from what little I had in savings. In late January I looked into Bankruptcy, spoke with an attorney who recommended Chapter 7 due to my age and the amount of debt.

I again looked into Debt-Consolidation Loan Companies who wanted instead to do Debt Reduction that would then be impossible to do. I have $973.94 a month to spend on groceries, prescriptions, toiletries, fuel, vehicle maintenance, phone and computer maintenance as needed, plus a little to put away for any emergency, and form my Shih Tzu – food, Vet, medicines, etc., and Salvation Funding ONLY wanted me to pay $721.19/mo. for 52 months to “resolve my debts.” I had to quit paying on the cards in February as I had maxed them out and there was nothing to live on if I continued to pay even the minimum payments.

The Interest Rates are near 30% and that was even when I was paying more and consistently on time – Wells Fargo was the first and worst after telling me originally I could have 0% for 12 months and 12.4% there after – they changed the interest rate to over twice that at the end of the 0% period and raised it again -while I was still under the Credit Line and on time with over the min payments.

I am past due on non-secured debts in excess of $54,000. As a Widow of a Railroader my only income is Railroad Retirement/Social Security plus $32/mo from my husband’s BNSF RR Pension. After paying Rent, Utilities, Health, Life and Auto Insurance, etc., I have blessed little left.

I should be receiving a settlement from a vehicle accident, but it may take 7 to 13 months or more, can I offer to split up to 50% of that with them and have them leave me alone until I receive the payout or just tell them to sue me – who has nothing more than my 2012 car, which I have to keep as my Dr is 65 minutes away, and I live in a rural area where the nearest store, pharmacy, bank, etc. are all 40 plus minutes away? I truly do not know what to do.

K-Lee

Answer:

Dear K-Lee,

Salvation Funding again. Salvation Funding appears to be offering debt consolidation loans but their site is a little light on details. – Source

From everything you’ve described, I would be hard-pressed to recommend any other solution other than bankruptcy. It seems on face value to be the most logical solution given your unfortunate set of misfortunes and circumstances.

Logically the path at this point would be to reset your debt, by eliminating it, and then regroup your finances to fit within your current income. It sounds as if your income would be protected from garnishment because it is benefit income but let’s explore closing the door on the old debt so you can focus on a less stressful future.

You can find a good local bankruptcy attorney and have a free discussion about what bankruptcy would mean for you. Bankruptcy is the fastest way to get a fresh start for the least amount of money.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

I’m Disabled and Being Sued About Past Due Credit Card Debt

Question:

Dear Steve,

I am being sued over a $2600 debt with CC company. I am fully disabled. My income comes from two sources, SSDI and private disability insurance.

I know that SSDI is not garnishable, however, it’s unclear whether my private disability insurance is garnishable. Wisconsin statues regarding this matter at best are extremely vague or nonexistent.

John

Answer:

Dear John,

I asked for feedback from Eric Olsen, the Executive Director at the nonprofit law firm HELPS.

Here is what he had to say about your situation, “Almost every state has laws that protect private disability from garnishment. Because of that and for other reasons a consumer judgment creditor, including a credit card judgment holder, will never take steps to garnish private disability. Even in a state where the law is questionable.

Furthermore, twice the amount of social security electronically deposited into a bank account is protected from garnishment under federal banking regulations, no matter the source of the funds in the account at the time of a garnishment. So, if you receive $1000 each month in SS, then $2000 is protected automatically no matter where the money came from, including private disability, that is in the bank at the time of the garnishment. So if you keep the checking balance below that number, any garnishment would be disregarded by the bank.”

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.