Fraud Alerts, Hacks, and Insider Trading

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You’d have to be under a rock to not have heard of the Equifax hack that exposed the personal information of millions of customers (143 millions to be exact) that amount to essentially 1/2 of the entire U.S. population. It’s alarming and frustrating because the nature of their organization does not allow us to opt out of their business model. If a hack of that magnitude occurred at my financial institution, I would simply take my business elsewhere. But, the way our credit system works, we do not get a say as consumers. If you have a pulse and you have any credit history, at least one, if not all three credit bureaus, will have a lot of personal information about you.

If you ever looked at your credit report, you’ll see that almost everything except your medical history is included (past and current addresses, employers, account balances, payment history, phone numbers, etc.) If you think that’s alarming, I’ve got news for you that should make it worse: honestly, there is nothing you can do about those organizations having your information other than living off the grid like those crazy cult people (who may be on to something) who shun the use of credit, social security numbers, and civilization altogether.

While you can’t keep the information from getting out, you can prevent someone from using it for nefarious purposes. After thinking it over, I decided that the 7 year credit freeze was overkill and instead opted for a 90-day fraud alert. The fraud alert allows me to block any attempt at applying for credit without the potential lender first calling me on the phone to verify that I am indeed the one applying. It is free, fast and convenient to do, and best of all, you only have to contact one of the three agencies as they are required to notify the other three. The alert lasts 90 days and you can keep renewing it every 3 months. You can do it over the phone or on any of the three reporting bureaus’ website (phone numbers and links below).

See below for their contact information and good luck! If you’re concerned about your information being in the hands of criminals, just think of it that way, at least you have it better than the three Equifax executives who will probably end up in jail for insider trading. I hear prison food is terrible.

TransUnion
1-800-680-7289

Experian
1-888-397-3742

Equifax
1-888-766-0008

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Savers Rejoice!

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Your time has come. After nearly a decade, long suffering frugal people are on track to be rolling in the though again. Not exactly, but pretty much. Sorta… Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Federal Reserve raised interest rate by another 0.25%. Just to be clear, the FRB does not set interest rates. However, their rates drive consumer rates because Fed rates are often used as a benchmark for overall market interest rates. Although rates on deposit accounts are not going to go up as quickly as borrowing rates, us savers are one step closer to escaping the 0% interest rate of money market accounts.

In case you were thinking that 0.25% is small, I’m going to put this in perspective for you. The first rate hike since 2007 was in 2015. The next one was in 2016 and this hike is following 3 months later. This could potentially be setting the ground work for 2 more rate increases this year. The interval between hikes is shortening.

For those of you who are still borrowing, especially those who still have ARM on their balance sheet, be careful to not get caught with your pants down…

Demanding Due Dilligence is NOT Victim Blaming

By now most of you have heard of the 10-month old who died (likely a painful and horrible death) after being sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. If you haven’t heard yet, you will soon. Everyone is angry and rightly so. This male creature, as I dare not call him a man, is evidently a sick person, with no conscience, and probably can’t even be rehabilitated. I may not be a health care provider but I am not stupid and anyone who would ever commit such a despicable act has to be beyond redemption. How many people with healthy brains and  true humanity would ever do something as deplorable and sickening as sexually violating a baby and leaving her to die? But this is not about him. This is about little Emmaleigh and other victims like her. So we are going to talk about that a bit.

I know this is going to be an unpopular opinion because keyboard activists are misguided and have misaligned priorities. However, this is not about your feelings. The lives of the murdered and raped children supersede your sensibilities.

I feel for the baby’s mother. She waited 9 months to meet her baby, nurtured her for 10-months only to watch her die at the hands of a man that she brought into her life. However, I have to ask: where was the mother in all of this? Why did she leave her baby with this man unsupervised? While she couldn’t have possibly known he would rape her, there are a multitude of stories out there that report on men killing, beating or abusing children, particularly  children that their girlfriends had from previous relationships. Knowing those facts, a wise woman would take extra precautions to protect her flesh and blood. Mothers have a responsibility to screen and vet all of their partners to an extent they normally wouldn’t if they were child free. Why? Because your kids don’t have a choice in who they frequent and since you make that decision for them, the least you can do is take steps to ensure their safety. As a woman, you can’t let your desire for penis overrule your protective instincts. Your children are vulnerable until they can make their own choices. As long as you’re making decisions for them, they are going to suffer the consequences of your actions.

I’m sure some of the belligerents will accuse me of victim blaming, in which case I will be pointing out that the mother is not dead or a rape victim. Unless they can point to where I blame Emmaleigh for her own abuse, they’d be better off not wasting their energy on false accusations.

Others might point out that biological fathers also kill. Of course they do, but that’s not the topic at hand is it? That’s nothing more than a straw man argument. I don’t care for anecdotal evidence of great step dads and terrible biological dads, because none of those negate this tragedy. No matter how good of a step father you are or your mom’s husband was, that won’t bring back this little girl, and it will not restore the broken little girls who have been raped. They also don’t change the statistics. Regardless of what we think biological fathers might do, we still have a responsibility to create a safe environment for those we bring into the world. Not that this is the point I’m trying to make, but maybe we shouldn’t be procreating with losers either.

We understand statiscal relevance in all aspects in life, except when it’s time to establish true accountability. People die in car accidents and people die in shark attacks. When you drive to the beach, you wear your seatbelt but you rarely thing of a shark unless you see one. That’s because you know that dying in a car accident is infinitely more likely to happen, so you protect yourself. A shark attack is not impossible, yet it is so unlikely it doesn’t stop you from enjoying the ocean. So how is it different?

I refuse to let my sympathy for her pain blind me to her missteps. She might have suffered loss, but she can rebuild. That will never be an option for her daughter.

Screen your mates (before and after motherhood). Give your children a chance.

You’re on Notice

 

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It wasn’t too long ago that I talked about the importance of never getting comfortable with your level or source(s) of income. I’m a big promoter of always seeking different income streams as well as seeing how you can get raises. Your ultimate goal should be to be in control of an amount of income that covers your cost of living. That’s true financial independence. That way, if you continue to work, you are working because you want to and you can stop at any time. Most importantly, if you’re involuntarily out of work, you’re not likely to be homeless in 3 months.

I also talked about my experience using a Bank of America ATM with a remote teller (Teller Asssist), and the potential threat they pose to many retail banking jobs.

Here it is: CNN is reporting that within the next 10 years, 30% of bank jobs could be obsolete. Very alarming.

These are routine repetitive jobs that we could anticipate being replaced. They are customer service jobs that provide an experience as well as a service. Well, I used one of these machines, and I got the experience. The woman on the screen was sufficiently pleasant and helpful for me to not care that we were interacting on camera rather than in person.

Technology has done it: using machines to provide services that could only be delivered in person. If you have a lower skilled job, this should be your wake up call. Save, invest and set yourself free from the bondage of debt. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a negative net worth an no income.

What Is Middle Class?

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I love election season. It’s the time of year that the middle class gets the most attention. We finally get to be the belles of the ball! The rest of the time, billionaires are being pampered with corporate subsidies and the poor are trying to access government resources to close the financial gaps preventing them from getting basics necessities. We, on the other hand, get the typical middle child treatment of abandonment. But at election time? Oh-wee! Everyone is talking about us.

So it wasn’t surprising to me when I saw a New York Times article telling Hillary that she was wrong about the middle class. “$250k a year is not middle class”, the article said. So I decided to do some googling.

A Pew research website shows that people (or households) in that income bracket are in the top 21% of earners in this country. That’s 5 times the median income. But before we take the Pew’s statistics as irrefutable evidence that the Ed Op piece is correct, we need to go beneath the surface.

As someone who encourages people to be frugal and ains to maximize her own wealth by shifting towards a more efficient lifestyle, I would never consider someone (or a family) in a $250k income bracket “struggling”. However, stating they’re a “top income earner” is misleading and doesn’t account for some very important factors.

Being richER than someone else doesn’t actually make you rich. If you’re on food stamps and are living with a family of 4 in a 700 square foot studio on one income, are you rich? The homeless guy down the street might think so because you have a place to live at all, but that doesn’t make it true. But it might seem that way if we categorize rich and poor by splitting them into 2 groups of “homeless vs. a roof over your head.”

That’s one of the flaws of the Pew’s tiered system of assessing class based on income levels. Saying that I’m in the “upper 21% of earners” puts me in the same category as Donald Trump despite the fact that I do not have the same access to the all (or even most of) luxuries and benefits that being in that class offers. For example, I can afford an Über, but not a full time chauffeur. I can afford a gun, but not a body guard. I can afford a few meals out, but not a cook.

Furthermore, while 250k a year will give any sensible person a good quality of life, we all know that $250k in NYC is not the same as $250k in OKC. Someone earning $250k a year in Oklahoma might be one of the wealthier residents in the neighborhood. But how far would that money take you in D.C.? Or even in Boston? In a nice part of town in my state, anything less than a million won’t get you a mansion. An 1,800 square foot house in Wellesley (a desirable suburb of Boston) went on the market for over $800k, with property taxes being over $8k a year. A 2-bedroom apartment with access to the city (not IN the city, meaning a 20 minute train ride) and close to public transportation, averages out to $2,000 a month. That’s just my state, which is pretty moderate. Because, who knows what’s going on out in San Francisco.

These factors are why I think we should formally get away from the three-tier system of upper, middle and lower classes. I’ve been lower class, but I’ve never been hungry or homeless. And I think people who have would resent me saying that I “identify with the struggle”, just like I resent being lumped with 7-figure earners who charter private jets to Vegas. While I don’t expect the Pew to adjust their stratification by adjusting for local economic factors, they should consider revamping their calculations to split the three major groups into subcategories.

Don’t get me wrong, I could live on $250,000 anywhere. I would live, and I would live well. But, my location would be the determining factor of which income class I consider myself to be a member.

Say ‘No’ to Celebrity Worship

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#LEMONADE

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Beyonce fan or not, you know that this past weekend she released a new album. Whether or not you watched the accompanying video, you know that it was on HBO, you know it was star-studded and that it was the height of artistry. After all, it is Beyonce. Everyone is talking about it. She’s incredibly talented, brilliant and hardworking. She managed to transform herself from a Houston girl’s group lead singer to a half-billion dollar entity. She’s such a shrewd businesswoman that her public image is more of a brand than just a person. If you have any doubt about her appeal, say something negative about her and watch her fans destroy you.

While I’m no stan, I like Bey. You see her work ethic and you think “hastag, life goals”. She routinely position herself to capitalize on everything happening in our world. She’s incredibly raw and honest in her artistic expressions, willing to step away, even if momentarily, from the “all is well” rhetoric so prevalent in the media today. She has managed to keep her privacy while still showing pain and realism in her art. Bey is somehow both “King” and relatable. Out of this world and one of us. All at the same time. Her enormous success has granted her the power to control her image and access to her in general. But today, I’m not here to talk about Beyonce. Because she already has it figured out. I’m here to talk about those who haven’t figured out their own lives, but are busy on a witch hunt for Becky with the good hair.

Although it has not been confirmed that she’s even speaking about a specific incident, there has been a lot of speculation. For the sake of this argument, I’m going along with that, and dismissing the possibility that she’s speaking in general terms on behalf of other women.

I’m starting to realize that some people love these celebrities more than they love themselves. Here’s a woman who has a healthy and lucrative outlet for pain, speaking her truth.  She’s calling out the cheater. She loves herself enough to let him know she’s over the BS. In other words, she’s handling it and doing it well. How many of the women who have no vested interest in the relationship have the courage to confront their own abusers or their own cheating partners with the same gusto they’re attacking the alleged homewrecker? How much better would their lives be if they dedicated a fraction of their “stanning” efforts to self-improvements? How many of them are in healthy relationships if they’re paired up at all?

When you are so busy worshiping people that it interferes with your ability to love yourself, you don’t have time to appreciate their substance and learn from them. So say no to celebrity worship. Your time is better spent admiring them, studying them and attempting to replicate their success. Work on yourself. Live your own truth. Take back your power. Bey’s got it covered.