This month’s blog post is written by guest author James Owen. Read below to see how James is using the Equifax and Capital One data breaches as an opportunity to survey, secure and strengthen his credit and financial foundation.
Despite my careful privacy moves, I’ve gotten quite the double whammy in the past few days. Not only did I find out that my information was stolen in the Equifax data breach, but I’m also a Capital One customer.
The irony doesn’t stop there. I applied for my Capital One credit card to help build my credit score and lower my credit utilization (the travel miles were just a nice added benefit).
I’m using these incidents as a big wake-up call.
Odds are, one of the breaches affected you, too. If you’re one of the 147 million Americans impacted by Equifax’s data breach or the approximately 100 million Americans who had their information stolen from Capital One, there are some proactive steps you can take.
Both Equifax and Capital One are offering free credit monitoring to affected customers, and I’m going to take advantage of that. However, they are only giving me one tool. Here are some others to start patching holes in our fiscal ship.
First, if you were impacted by the Equifax data breach, take advantage of either the $125 rebate (or less depending on how many people claim it) or the 10 years of free credit monitoring (https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/). Capital One also says it will provide free credit monitoring and identity protection services to affected customers (https://www.capitalone.com/facts2019/).
But don’t stop there. Use this wake-up call as an opportunity to take a few proactive steps toward stronger personal financial security. Here’s my own plan: Survey, Secure, and Strengthen.
First, I’m going to pull my credit report to survey my situation. You can pull your own credit report three times each year – once from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. It’s free. Just visit www.annualcreditreport.com.
You can pull all three at the same time, or pull one every four or so months. I like the second strategy because it gives me the opportunity to get a snapshot of my credit and check for discrepancies more often. If you have a suspicion or have received an alert about your credit, it might be worth it to check all three at once since they may have different information.
If you’d like help with this, stop by any Southern Bancorp branch, where all of our staff are trained to help you check your credit report– free of charge.
While you’re there, another step you can take is to set up an appointment with our credit counselors who can help you secure your assets by fixing – again, for free –any issues you might see.
Once you’ve surveyed the situation and taken steps to secure against the immediate problems, you can start to bail out the water by strengthening your financial foundation. For me, this means cutting my spending and continuing to pay my balances off every month. Or, if your credit report indicates you don’t have a long credit history, you can begin building it up with one of Southern Bancorp’s Credit Builder CDs.
Above all, start the habit of checking in on your fiscal situation regularly. Know how much you’ve saved, how your budget is holding up, and what’s on your credit report.
But first things first, depart on that voyage using the tools offered by the Equifax and Capital One breaches to fix up your finances. Then get to work protecting it against the next data breach that comes your way.
About the Author
James Owen is the inaugural Southern Bancorp Ambassador, a two-year fellowship that addresses organizational and community challenges to building wealth across Arkansas, Mississippi, and the rural South. James recently graduated with a Master of Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government; he also holds a BA in Politics from Hendrix College.