Everything You Need To Know About The Equifax Breach

In a recently revealed breach, the scope of which the country has never before seen, 143 million Americans may have had their personal information exposed.

Equifax, one the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, reported a massive data breach that lasted from mid-May through the end of July. Hackers were able to access people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and even some driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers of approximately 209,000 people and dispute documents containing personally identifying information of 182,000 people. It wasn’t just Americans who were targeted – the hackers also got their hands on personal information of some UK and Canadian consumers.

Right now, the situation is still developing and there are many more questions than answers. Researchers are seeking explanations for the site’s outdated security system, an accurate number of those affected and the impact this will have on the future of credit reporting.

Meanwhile, though, people are wondering if they’ve been affected and what they can do about it. If you have any type of credit product such as a credit card, mortgage, or auto loan, there’s a chance your personal information may have been compromised. Instead of panicking, though, it’s best to learn all you can about this data breach and then take the proper and practical steps toward protecting yourself against future damage.

If this sounds daunting, take heart – Mutual CU is here to help! We’ll walk you through some suggested steps and clear instructions for what you can do now.

1.) Find out if your information was exposed

You can do this by visiting an Equifax created website for sharing information about this issue, equifaxsecurity2017.com. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name along with the last six digits of your Social Security number. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by the Equifax breach.

Since your SSN is sensitive information, be sure to complete this step only on a secure computer that uses an encrypted network connection. Once you’re visiting the Equifax informational site, you’ll also find easy access to frequently asked questions about the breach. In addition, Equifax has set up a call center to assist consumers. The call center’s hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily (weekends included), Eastern Time. That number is (866) 447-7559.

2.) Sign up for free protective services

Whether your information was exposed or not, U.S. consumers are being offered a full year of complimentary credit monitoring and other services through Equifax’s TrustedID product. The site will provide you with a date to return and sign up for these services. Be sure to follow up on the designated date because the last day for enrollment is Nov. 21, 2017.

The protective program includes the following features: Equifax credit report copies; three-bureau credit file monitoring, providing automated alerts of any major changes in your credit reports; Equifax credit report lock, preventing third parties from accessing your Equifax report; Social Security number monitoring, which performs online searches of suspicious websites that may list your Social Security number; and $1 million identity theft insurance, which covers some expenses in the event of a stolen identity.

3.) Place a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your files

If your information has been exposed, consider placing a credit freeze on your credit bureaus. This will make it more difficult for someone to open a new account in your name, though it won’t stop a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.

Instead of a credit freeze, you can choose to place a fraud alert on your files. This will warn creditors that you may have been victimized by identity theft, alerting them to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you.

Even if the Equifax site did not tell you you’ve been exposed, it’s always a good idea to closely monitor your credit card and financial accounts for charges you don’t recognize.

4.) File your taxes early

Tax identity theft is more common than you think. If your SSN was accessed in this breach, it’s best to file your taxes as soon as you have all the necessary tax information. Don’t let a scammer use your SSN to get their hands on your tax refund. Also, be sure to respond immediately to any letters you receive from the IRS, though be suspicious of any emails or phone calls claiming to be from the IRS, as the IRS will not initially notify you using such means.

The Equifax breach may be one of the worst the US has ever seen, but by taking the proper steps toward protecting yourself, you can minimize any potential damage.

Your Turn: Have you been victimized by the massive Equifax security breach? Share your experience with us in the comments!


Auto Loans: Credit Unions Vs. Banks

Need a car but can’t pay cash? You have three choices: Borrow from the dealer or manufacturer’s financing company, borrow from a bank, or borrow from a credit union (unless Uncle Bob is willing to finance you, but who wants the “strings” that go along with that?). Each method has advantages and disadvantages – but if you can qualify, the way to go is usually with a credit union.

Interest rates are still near historic lows. If you are going to borrow money for a car, there’s never been a better time.

 Structural advantages of credit unions

Credit unions are known for having lower fees and interest rates than banks and other finance companies. The advantage is in the ownership structure: The owners of banks and the majority of consumer finance companies are stockholders – not you. That means every product or service they provide has but one real objective: to make money for their shareholders, while not alienating you so much that you take your deposits and future business somewhere else.

The owners of credit unions, on the other hand, are members, not shareholders. That means profits are distributed among its members in the form of dividends and in the form of lower fees. Every dime that would have gone to Wall Street, in the case of a credit union car loan, stays with credit union members. And you, as the borrower, get to keep a chunk of it in the form of lower interest rates and fees.

 Advantage to the consumer

With traditional stock ownership, there is always an adversarial relationship between the bank and the customer. Banks serve the stockholders. The credit union exists, however, to serve members. Think of it: If the credit union didn’t serve member interests, the members could simply replace the management team until they found managers who are more responsive to the needs of the membership.

 Advantages of banks

Credit unions tend to be smaller than banks, with a limited membership. You have to meet the criteria for membership to be able to join and get a loan. Luckily, it’s easy to become a member of Mutual CU. (If you live, work, worship, attend school or volunteer in one of our seven covered counties, you’re already qualified!) sometimes, banks have more up to date ways to access loans and banking products. Luckily, Mutual CU has a full suite of digital products like online banking and a mobile app so Mutual CU goes wherever you do!

 Disadvantages of banks

As mentioned, banks have a substantial cost of overhead, in the form of their many branches, expansive operations and, of course, investor profits. Some very large banks have good economies of scale and can minimize the impact of their overhead on consumer fees. But no bank is going to want to cut into shareholder profits if they can help it.

 Dealer financing

The last option is, of course, dealer financing. These deals can be excellent on new cars (0% or 1%  financing is tough to beat), but the picture isn’t as rosy for older cars, or for those who have less-than-stellar credit.

If you go the dealer financing route, take a look at the fine print: You need a car loan with no prepayment penalty. This means you are free to pay off the loan balance at any time, without any added fees or interest tacked on. The higher the interest rate, the more important this is.

Also be on the lookout for dealer add-ons that cost more there than at the credit union where you can get the same types of warranties, gap and other insurance for substantially less.

 The lease option

The final option, of course, is leasing rather than buying. A lease is essentially a contract to rent the car for a period of time and to turn the car back in at the end of that contract (the lease). Lease payments tend to be lower than loan payments because when a loan is paid, you keep the car! The loan is buying the whole car, and not just the depreciation it has during the first few years.

In the long run, the consumer is almost always better off buying a car outright, rather than leasing. With a car loan, the pain of payments is over in one to four years, but you can be driving the car for 10 years or more! With a car lease, though, your payments never stop, and you never own the car.

Still not sure what to do? Contact us to request your free car buying guide; and when you’re ready, we can get you pre-approved to shop for your new set of wheels!

Grilling On A Budget: A Blow-Out BBQ That Won’t Break The Bank

Hosting a cookout on Labor Day weekend is an excellent way to celebrate our strong workforce. Like any other party, though, hosting a cookout can get expensive. With summer vacations and college tuition payments memories lingering, it’s an important time to save as much as possible. Here are some handy tips to make your cookout the best it can be, on a budget.
1.) Bakery outlet shopping
There are lots of great deals at a clothes outlet. Garments that are out of season or slightly imperfect find their way to discount racks to be had for pennies on the dollar. It might seem ridiculous, but there’s a system just like that for baked goods.
Commercial bakeries make the same amount of bread every day whether it sells at the supermarket or not. This leaves grocery shelves overcrowded with buns, breads, and desserts. These baked goods are perfectly fine, especially if you plan to use them in a day or two. Still, they’re pulled from grocery store shelves to make way for a fresh supply.
The “old” baked goods are often taken to a day-old bakery, where they’re sold at a significant discount. If you need a lot of hot dog buns for your cookout, this can be an excellent place to save. Don’t forget to pick up mini doughnuts and other desserts while you’re there!
2.) Plan the meal for savings
If you’re buying meat for the whole family, the costs can add up quickly. Fortunately, there are a few ways to knock the cost down a little bit. Get your family to try some new things!
If you have a very large gathering – 50 people or so – consider getting beef by the side. Prices for this vary from region to region, but costs are usually between $4 and $6 per pound. Sides usually contain about 200 pounds of meat. That will include several premium cuts of steak as well as enough hamburger to feed an army!
Alternately, you can veggie up your cookout. Asparagus, zucchini, and potatoes all do well on the grill with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. They’ll absorb some of the cooked meat juices for extra flavor. Veggies are cheap, nutritious, and filling. Plus, it’ll be something new to talk about!
You can even go a step further and offer some veggie alternatives to cookout classics. Meatless patties made of beans, spices, and rice cost half of what a similar-sized beef patty would. These are healthier, cheaper, more filling, and don’t have the same dangers of undercooking.
3.) Mix your own drinks
One of the biggest cookout expenses can be the drinks, especially if you buy individual bottles and cans. Doing so also leaves you with the unpleasant task of picking up dozens of half-empty soda and beer cans. Try this instead:
Large plastic pitchers can be used to store homemade drink concoctions. Loaded with ice and kept in a shady spot, those pitchers will keep your drinks cool for hours. Be sure to label your pitchers with their contents so no one ends up with “grown-up punch” by mistake! This is a great chance to be creative. Mix iced tea and lemonade for a big batch of Arnold Palmer, a wonderfully refreshing summer drink!
Not only will you save on costs, you’ll also save the planet. Using washable plastic cups instead of disposable Styrofoam will reduce your waste and make cleanup easier! Be the host with the most fun, not the most expenses!