A recent complaint on social media about Evil Equifax brought up the old blues lyrics, “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.” Equifax paid one fine this year from a favorite conservative whipping boy, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). On my birthday, Jan. 3, the CFPB ordered Equifax and TransUnion to fork over $17 million in restitution to consumers then busted the two with a $5.5 million fine. Wailing on Facebook about Equifax while not appreciating the CFPB is like a chicken supporting Colonel Sanders. The CFPB is the sole watchdog for credit reporting services, period. Consumers have one friend in this fight, the CFPB.
Consumer advocates recommend putting on a credit freeze, but understand a credit freeze is not appropriate for everyone. While a credit freeze can be temporarily lifted (thawed), the process can take three to five days. If you are in the market for a home, either to rent or to buy, a delay in lifting a freeze could be the difference in the contract being accepted. Employers often require a credit report for a new hire; any wait in the process could negatively affect job prospects. Some states allow insurance companies to use your credit score for auto insurance.
Retirees are prime candidates for a credit freeze; they are less likely to relocate and often have little need for additional credit. More importantly, they are targets of opportunity for identity theft. Older Americans tend to have more assets and may not be aware of modern scams.
Setting up a credit freeze is not difficult; it took me less than 30 minutes to set up freezes with TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. In response to the data breach, Equifax offers a free credit monitoring service. I am agnostic regarding their offer, but if you sign up, setting up a credit freeze with them takes an additional step. Go to each agency, establish a freeze on the web, by phone or snail mail, take your pick. Clark Howard’s page, clark.com has links to all three. Credit monitoring is essential as well; I use Credit Karma’s free credit monitoring service at CreditKarma.com.
Married couples will need to freeze each spouse’s credit individually. Floridians over age 65 can have a no-charge credit freeze. Experian and TransUnion charge ten bucks each. Equifax has graciously waived all fees to set up a freeze, mighty big of them. Temporarily lifting a freeze (thawing) has a nominal cost but Floridians can remove a freeze completely with no charge.
Living in the Information Age means consumers have to protect their sensitive data. There should be Congressional hearings and consumer-friendly legislation, but today we have the complete opposite. If draining the swamp sounds good, start with the credit agencies, and those oppose the CFPB.
You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.