When I was in college, I got a bill for past due income tax with penalties for $696 from the State of California. Upon investigation, I discovered my social security number had been used by someone named “A. Ramirez,” and I was being held responsible for the taxes due on their earnings. Since my first initial is A, I was told no red flags were raised by the differing last names, as it was assumed I got married. (Don’t get me started on how irritating that was!) I never figured out if it was a case of someone purposefully using my social security number or if it was simply a transposed digit on a tax form. It was a headache beyond belief, without a great outcome, and showed up on my credit report as an unsatisfied lien for a long time until I finally made enough noise to get it removed.
When making sure your financial house is in order, a great place to start is by checking your credit report for errors. More than 40 percent of Georgians surveyed by Georgia Credit Union Affiliates said they haven’t checked their credit reports in the past year, so not enough people do it. You can request one free copy per year by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. Don’t be shocked if you find some unpleasant surprises, as the Federal Trade Commission reports one in five people have errors on at least one of their credit reports.
Also, check your children’s credit reports. The Georgia state legislature passed a bill awaiting Gov. Deal’s signature allowing parents to block their children’s social security numbers so no one can apply for credit in that child’s name. Yes, people really do this, and it can wreak havoc on your kid’s credit rating later.
It’s a good time to review those quarterly retirement account statements that get dumped into a file (I can’t be the ONLY one who does this), so you know how your investments are performing and whether you need to make some changes.
Take an inventory of your valuables and get in touch with your insurance agent to make sure you’re adequately covered if something awful should happen (this goes for renters too…get renters’ insurance!)
Create a comprehensive list of financial information including all accounts, passwords, property deeds, insurance policies, estate plan and living will and make sure someone you trust knows where to access the records if the need arises.
There are so many things in life we can’t control. But, armed with knowledge and diligence, you can make sure your financial house is standing on solid ground.
Tips for Putting Your Financial House in Order
1. Check your credit report carefully for any errors. You can request a free copy of your credit report by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.
2. Reassess your retirement plan and monitor retirement accounts.
3. Examine your loans for refinancing opportunities. You may be able to lower your monthly payment or pay the loan off sooner.
4. Update your will as needed.
5. Take a video tour of your house for insurance documentation and store it in a safe deposit box.
6. Make sure your personal information is up to date with all financial vendors.
7. Update the beneficiaries for all your accounts and insurance policies.
8. Review your insurance coverage and make necessary adjustments.
9. Go through financial files and toss what you don’t need. Keep tax returns forever, but throw away supporting documents after six years.
Angi Christensen Harben is the Director of Communications for Georgia Credit Union Affiliates and the harried mother of an amazing 15-year-old son who is way too smart for his mom’s own good.