An important part of planning is to ensure that you think ahead and prepare: for the unexpected, for eventualities and for silly mistakes you’re sure you’ll never make, until you do!
Like what, you ask?
- A sudden flood, loss of power, fire; car breaks down on a dark road, on vacation, in the middle of the night (this one recently happened to me.)
- The household bill-payer becomes sick or hurt, or is away for an extended period of time.
- Someone stole your identity to receive medical care and now you owe $10k to a hospital.
- You accidentally spilled coffee all over your desk, destroying your laptop.
Ways to Think Ahead and Be Prepared
Take Advantage of Technology
Consider using a cloud-based password app (like LastPass) that stores and enters your private login information. Typically, you can access this secure app from any device and it serves as a back-up, because it’s not saved on your personal device. Its best to NOT save passwords to the most sensitive data within your browser.
Why use this kind of service? A best practice is to have unique login IDs and strong passwords for each and every website that you access. Patterns only serve hackers. Use complicated passwords that have numbers and symbols and are not actual words. This makes it more difficult for hacking programs to guess your password. For this reason, we need help tracking our login info.
Also consider have digital copies of all of your legal and financial documents. There are encrypted cloud-based vaults where you can store and share your important files.
For hard-copy original documents, consider a fire and water-proof lockable box. This is where you can put your certificates of birth/marriage/divorce, property titles, medical records and a copy of emergency contact info.
- Enable 2-factor authentication on all sensitive websites (such as medical or bank sites). This second step may take an extra few seconds, but it greatly reduces risk of fraud because a hacker would need to access not one, but two of your personal devices. Most financial websites now require this.
- Choose a household device for important digital files. Don’t use email or browse the web on this dedicated device. Email and internet have the highest risk of hacking.
- Change passwords often, close out website profiles you no longer use and periodically sign-in and check sites that you use infrequently. This is called “digital hygiene.”
- Avoid using free, unsecure Wi-Fi.
- Got hacked? Freeze your credit files. See below.
Have a Plan and Keep Your Information Updated
When I say “plan”, most people must assume I’m talking about something formal and complicated. A good plan is no such thing. My definition of a plan has more to do with the process and less to do with the final result. The idea is to sit down with the decision makers in your life and talk out strategies for those situations when you don’t have the luxury of time. It could be a simple as getting on the same page with your spouse and/or children about what to do in various emergencies; where to find help.
Yes, you can also write down important information like emergency phone numbers or the location of supplies. As an example, if your spouse is in the hospital, do you know how to reach their employer to let them know what’s happening? Does everyone know where cash and supplies are being kept ready to go? Are these items still usable? Are your back up batteries fresh and chargers charged?
Going through this process essentially serves as practice so you know what to do, quickly.
Complete a Periodic Credit Check
Some emergencies are of the financial variety. Your credit history is one of the best ways to watch for identity theft, because it’s a summary of your public records, borrowing and payment history, and credit inquiries. If someone uses your information to open a financial account or falsify an address, for example, that would soon show up in your records.
I advise everyone to check these records a few times a year, or immediately when they suspect they've been victimized by fraud. There are three major credit bureaus in the United States. Each is required by federal law to provide one free credit report annually to the consumer. This is required by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.
The resources below contain links to the websites of each credit bureau. There you will find instructions on how to freeze your credit. This can be done in advance as a security measure. The only down-side is that you’ll need to un-freeze your credit files if you have a legitimate need to access them, such as opening a new bank account or applying for a loan.
Have questions? Schedule a complimentary consultation! https://calendly.com/planningforgood/complimentary-initial-consultation-website
Please note that this information is provided by me, Karen Melo Ticas, CFP®, strictly as general advice based solely on my personal education and years of experience in the financial services industry, unless otherwise noted. When making decisions, consider working with a professional that is well informed about your individual circumstances. The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek guidance from your own tax or legal professional before making any decisions. © 2021 Karen Melo Ticas. All rights reserved.
- Last Pass: https://www.lastpass.com/
- gov: https://www.ready.gov/
- American Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.html
- Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/ and https://www.identitytheft.gov
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a U.S. government agency: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/credit-reports-and-scores/
- Annual Credit Report.com: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/securityFreezeBasics.action
Contact information for the three major credit bureaus:
Equifax Credit Information Services Inc.
PO Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department
PO Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
PO Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013