Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Gena Bigler: Stay on top of your money, open
mail, watch fees and credit score – be savvy
A free rewards card almost cost me $350 and a lot more. Not long after my daughter was born, in anticipation of plentiful purchases, I signed up for several store ‘rewards cards’ at store I knew I would frequent. I promptly forgot all about them.
About two months later, I received a letter from ‘pay it later’ company warning that if I didn’t pay $350 my account was going into collection and would be reported on my credit report. Perfectly reasonable request if I had actually made the purchase. After several phone calls I discovered that someone had used my information to make a purchase online and chosen the ‘pay it later’ option. After reviewing everything in detail with a company representative, we determined that the information used for transaction was exactly the information I used on one of the rewards cards.
The pay it later company was very quick to fix the problem, so quick that I wonder how often it happens. I am glad they sent a bill to my correct address. I am also glad I opened it. Thinking it was a solicitation, I had tossed the first bill in the trash. I was very lucky; most identity theft is much more devastating. I have friends that are still recovering years after the initial theft. The lingering credit dings can be difficult to repair.
Now, I am much more cautious about my mail and my bills. I am striving to be more vigilant about all of the financial tools my family uses. Recently my husband and I reviewed our banking habits and compared the fees and interest rates at our banks. We discovered that consolidating some of our accounts would save a significant amount. Bank fees can add up quickly and many banks offer competitive rates, shop around and see what plan matches your banking style.
Awareness is the key to saving money. Both saving and spending benefit from a watchful eye. No one will care about your money as much as you do. A watchful eye can catch wasteful spending, elusive fees and unexpected or inappropriate charges.
Read the statements you receive. From credit card statements to medical bills, read them all. I’ve discovered simple mistakes that could’ve cost me quite a bit. A few mistakes wouldn’t have cost me anything directly but would’ve charged my health insurance.
After noticing two months of odd charges, I always read the cell phone bill line by line. I called my phone company and Googled the name noted on the bill. I found out the charges were a monthly ‘membership fee’ for a discount service I’d never heard of. It wasn’t hard to cancel, but I still have no idea how it was added to the account in the first place. It was a small amount, but pennies make dollars.
Keeping on top of our money requires vigilance. Review your credit report regularly. It’s not uncommon for mistakes to linger on there for years unnoticed; often only popping up to cause trouble when you are planning a financial change.
By law, you are entitled to one free copy annually. There are several websites that can offer access to all three reporting agencies. One of the sites www.annualcreditreport.com . Several sites will give you access to your credit score for a fee.
Pay attention to the fees and penalties your financial tools charge. Do you know what your regular banking fees are? Does your credit card have an annual fee? What is the annual percentage rate on your credit cards (especially store specific cards)? Bargain shopping isn’t productive I you shop with an inflated interest rate. Oozing money with every overlooked bill or bank statement can undo a lot of frugal living. Review your financial life annually. Be vigilant, it saves you money.
Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of a Kentucky business and serves on the board of the Kentucky RiverKeeper. Gena would be happy to hear from you at email@example.com.