Special Alert About the Equifax Data Breach

The Equifax Data Breach:
All You Need To Know

The Equifax Data Breach – What Should You Do

The recent data breach at Equifax has sparked a lot of discussion about how vulnerable the personal information of all Americans may be to theft.  Is there anything you can do to protect yourself in our computer-driven society?  While the Equifax hack was by far the largest in history, it’s not the first and will not be the last.  In 2017 alone, Verizon, Blue Cross Blue Shield/Anthem, Dun and Bradstreet, Chipotle, Washington State University, and even the IRS have discovered that they’ve been hacked – exposing the personal information of millions of Americans to thieves.  The breach at Equifax was so far-reaching that several corporate officers have retired, and many on Capitol Hill are calling for a complete investigation.  With over 143 million Americans at risk of being involved in this massive breach, you could very easily be affected.

What You Can Do If Your Information Has Been Compromised

So what can you do to protect yourself?  You probably know that Equifax has set up a website where you can check to see if your number has been exposed.  If your information was exposed in the breach, you can get free credit monitoring for one year.   In my opinion, that’s like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.  They’re happy to let you know that someone has opened up a fraudulent account in your name, but it’s still up to you to clean up the mess if they do!  And what happens when your year of free credit monitoring is over?  If you don’t pay for credit monitoring every year for the rest of your life, you may never know if someone is using your identity at some point down the road.

What Does Freezing Your Credit Report Do?

Some experts are recommending that you place a freeze on your credit files.  A freeze prevents lenders from even accessing your credit report.  The advantage to freezing your file is that, if they do not know your credit history, lenders will not offer credit to a thief who is trying to use your identity.   What are the disadvantages of freezing your credit files?  First, it’s not an easy process.  There are three major credit reporting bureaus, and you will have to place three separate freezes.  You can do so by using these links:

Equifax freeze

Transunion freeze

Experian freeze

If you are a Pennsylvania resident, the law permits the credit bureau to charge you $10 to freeze your file.  Equifax has agreed to waive their fee, but only after public pressure.

Unfortunately, the data breach at Equifax has caused all three credit reporting agencies to be overwhelmed with requests to freeze accounts.  Many consumers are complaining that they can’t even get into the websites or if they do get in, that the site crashes after they fill out the application form.  If you have not already frozen your account, you may have a better chance of getting through if you try before 7:00 a.m., or after 11:00 p.m.  Another disadvantage of freezing your credit files is that if you need to apply for credit yourself – for a car loan, a home equity loan or even a medical credit card – you must first remove the freeze from your files.  You will need a PIN number to remove the freeze and, if you lose your PIN number, you will be facing a time-consuming and difficult process to get another one.

The Equifax Data Breach and Your Tax Return

Opening phony credit accounts in your name, unfortunately, could be just the tip of the iceberg.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which has issued more than $20 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the past few years, could be plundered unless there is intervention by Congress.  By law, the IRS must process your tax return within a specified period – generally 45 days – or they have to pay you interest on your refund.  To meet those guidelines, they’ve adopted a “pay first, ask questions later” philosophy.  In our practice, it’s not uncommon to see a client get a tax refund check and then an audit notice a year later! The IRS’s system requires little more than a name, date of birth and Social Security number to process tax returns – information which was exposed in the Equifax data breach – and they accept returns as soon as January 1st.   On the other hand, employers aren’t required to submit updated employment information to the IRS until March.  By that time, about half of all of the refund checks have already been issued!

Protecting Yourself After the Equifax Hack

So what can you do to protect yourself?  If you don’t want to freeze your credit files, then you should be checking your credit reports regularly for fraudulent activity.  Most of the major credit card companies allow you to request that you be notified if a charge is processed on your account that exceeds a certain dollar amount.  You should consider placing an alert for an amount that exceeds your normal spending threshold.   If you are traditionally a procrastinator when it comes to filing your tax return, don’t wait – get it filed as soon as possible.  Even if you owe, you don’t have to pay the IRS until April 15th.  If you have any credit card debt, get it paid off.  Financial institutions that fall victim to fraudsters because of the Equifax data breach will have to pass the cost of their losses on to their customers – and you don’t want to be one of the unlucky ones footing the bill.

Last but not least – whatever you do to protect yourself, make sure that you do the same for those who might not, including children and elderly parents!

Stay safe out there!

Jim

 

4 Reasons Why We’re Excited that Retire Secure! is Interactive on the Web!

If you haven’t made your way to www.langeretirementbook.com yet, now is the time!

Here at the Lange Financial Group, LLC, we are very excited to bring you an interactive version of Retire Secure! A Guide to Getting the Most Out of What You’ve Got.

Reason #1 – The entire book is on this website. Yes, all 420 pages of the book, including the front and back covers, all about the best strategies for retirement and estate planning.

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Reason #2 – The book is divided into chapters for ease of reading. Meaning, you don’t have to flip through 400-some pages to get to Chapter 11 – The Best Ways to Transfer Wealth and Cut Taxes for the Next Generation.

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Reason #3 – We honestly haven’t seen anything like this before. Granted, I’ve read magazines on viewers where you can flip the pages as you read. But not a website for a book that includes a viewer, as well as a forum where readers can engage with each other.

The comments are moderated by the Lange Financial Group, LLC staff and myself. One of us will reply to your comment as soon as we can. To leave a comment, all you need to do is connect with your Amazon, Facebook, or LinkedIn account. This measure is for your protection, as well as ours. We don’t want spammers posting comments or incorrect information about such an important topic.

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Reason #4 – We are hoping this interactive website encourages you to purchase the book! Retire Secure! is available from Amazon and JamesLange.com. Once you’ve read the book, feel free to return to LangeRetirementBook.com to ask questions, as well as Amazon and Goodreads to review the book for the benefit of others.

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(7/16/2014) Tonight’s Radio Show: The View of Pittsburgh from the Mayor’s Office

The View of Pittsburgh from the Mayor’s Office

Join us tonight at 7:05 pm on KQV 1410 AM. Program also streams live at www.kqv.com. Encore presentations air EVERY SUNDAY at 9:05 am.

Tune in KQV 1410 AM tonight at 7:05 p.m. as The Lange Money Hour welcomes a very special guest, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

After serving three terms on City Council representing the East End, he was elected Pittsburgh’s 60th mayor last November capturing 84 percent of the vote. Inaugurated on January 6th, he has just completed his first six months in office.

A self-described progressive Democrat, Mayor Peduto has been a consistent voice for fiscal discipline in Pittsburgh. As a councilman, he was the only city politician to call for Act 47 state protection; a controversial step in addressing decades of financial mismanagement that left Pittsburgh with the highest debt ratio and the lowest pension funding in the nation. Despite some improvement in the fiscal situation, he feels the city needs to remain under financial oversight to take care of its long-term problems such as pensions, debt, and need for capital improvements. After only six months in office, Mayor Peduto has already taken active positions on a broad range of issues from same-sex marriage, achieving sustainable revenue by establishing relationships with major non-profits, and technology and efficiency, to dedicated bike lanes and supporting ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber.

These are just a few of the subjects on tonight’s agenda, and listeners, since our show will be live, you can join the conversation by calling KQV at 412-333-9385 after 7:05 p.m. You can also email questions in advance of the show by clicking here.

If you can’t tune in tonight, KQV will rebroadcast the show this Sunday, July 20th at 9:05 a.m. The audio will also be archived on our web site at www.paytaxeslater.com/radioshow.php, along with a written transcript.

Finally, please join us on Wednesday, August 6th at 7:05 p.m., when we’ll welcome another financial industry giant, Dr. Roger Ibbotson, to the next edition of The Lange Money Hour.

www.paytaxeslater.com 800 387-1129 or 412 521-2732 admin@paytaxeslater.com

Numbers to Know: COLA for 2014

The Social Security Administration has announced new cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, numbers for 2014.  The cost-of-living adjustment is decided by comparing consumer prices in July, August, and September of each year to the prior year’s numbers.  Since 1975, Social Security increases have averaged around 4%—less than 2%, only six times.  This year we will see one of the smallest COLAs since the program was adopted, just 1.5%.

Advocates for seniors say the 2013 Consumer Price Index measurements aren’t entirely fair.  While gasoline and electronics prices were down significantly in 2013, the cost of food increased slightly, and housing, medical, and utility costs rose dramatically.  Unfortunately, seniors generally spend more on healthcare goods and services, so they are facing dramatic increases in their spending.

‘‘This (cost-of-living adjustment) is not enough to keep up with inflation, as it affects seniors,’’ said Max Richtman, who heads the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.  ‘‘There are some things that become cheaper, but they are not things that seniors buy.  Laptop computers have gone down dramatically, but how many people at age 70 are buying laptop computers?’’  Nearly 58 million Americans receive Social Security benefits of some kind. This 1.5% COLA will add an average of only $17 to the typical American’s monthly benefit.

Obamacare

“Obamacare” is the most ambitious shake-up of America’s health care system since the 1960s. There are an estimated 55 million, or 1 in 7, people in the United States without health insurance. Starting January 1, 2014, these people will be required to buy insurance or pay a fine. Those who cannot afford it will receive subsidies; part of a big expansion of coverage to the sick and the poor.

The success or failure of this program in the coming months will be influenced by people signing up for health care exchanges, the types of plans they select, and their actual health experience. Democrats believe “Obamacare” can move the country toward universal coverage while keeping costs down. However, Republicans argue that you cannot extend health insurance coverage to 55 million additional people while simultaneously improving the quality of care and lowering costs. They view it as unaffordable, socialized medicine.

One of the biggest problems with America’s system is that insurers have long charged extremely high rates to the sick, or refused to cover them at all in many circumstances. Starting in January, this practice will be banned. Since insurers would soon go bankrupt if they sold only cheap plans to sick patients needing expensive treatment, “Obamacare” pushes the young and fit to buy insurance, too. This will give insurers revenue from cheap, healthy patients to offset the cost of insuring sick ones.

The cost of insurance will vary significantly and requires insurers to cover a minimum set of services. In most states, the simplest plans will become more comprehensive. Because there are many variables, “Obamacare” will have dramatically different effects from place to place and person to person. The law will raise health costs for some and lower them for others. For example, a 27 year old will pay $130 a month for a basic plan in Kansas, compared with $286 in Wyoming (see chart.) (Source: The Economist, October 5, 2013)

Overhauling America’s $2.7 trillion health sector is no easy task. America spends 18% of GDP on healthcare. The people of Britain, Norway, and Sweden, to name a few, spend half as much but actually live longer. Health spending is growing faster than wages, and is set to hit 20% of GDP by 2022, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO states health costs remain the biggest long-term threat to America’s finances.

Public support is fragile—only 39% of Americans support “Obamacare”, while 51% disapprove, according to a recent poll by the New York Times and CBS. However, 56% would rather try to make the law work than stop it by stripping it of cash. Whether we eventually judge “Obamacare” a success or a catastrophe, only time will tell. (Source: The Economist, October 5, 2013)

Government Shutdown a Concern for Investors, but No Need to Panic

A partial government shutdown began today, leaving plenty of federal employees out of work and unpaid. National Parks are closed, FAA safety inspectors are out of work, NASA is all but closed, even The Smithsonian Museums are shut down. Many Americans worry during this time how the shutdown will effect them, their taxes, and the economy as a whole. @MacroScope Reuters tweeted an interesting chart this morning on the performance of the S&P 500 prior to, during, and after the previous government shutdowns.

While we could be facing a bumpy time during the shutdown and immediately after, it looks alike in most cases the S&P 500 didn’t fair so badly in shutdown situations. The shutdown is going to be an aggrevation, but there is no need to start panicking about investments. Contact your advisor before making any hasty buying/selling decisions during this time. An over-reaction could end up costing you!

3 Myths About Social Security

Myth #1: By the time I retire, Social Security will be broke.

If you believe this, you are not alone. More and more Americans have become convinced that the Social Security system won’t be there when they need it. In an AARP survey released last year, only 35 percent of adults said they were very or somewhat confident about Social Security’s future.

It’s true that Social Security’s finances need work, because over the long term there will not be enough money to fully cover promised benefits. But radical changes aren’t needed. In 2010 a number of different proposals were put forward that, taken in combination, would put the program back on firm financial ground for the future, including changes such as raising the amount of wages subject to the payroll tax (now capped at $106,800) and benefit changes based on longer life expectancy.

Myth #2: The Social Security Trust Fund Assets are Worthless.

Any surplus payroll taxes not used for current benefits are used to purchase special-issue, interest-paying Treasury bonds. In other words, the surplus in the Social Security trust fund has been loaned to the federal government for its general use — the reserve of $2.6 trillion is not a heap of cash sitting in a vault. These bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government, just as they are for other Treasury bondholders. However, Treasury will soon need to pay back these bonds. This will put pressure on the federal budget, according to Social Security’s board of trustees. Even without any changes, Social Security can continue paying full benefits through 2037. After that, the revenue from payroll taxes will still cover about 75 percent of promised benefits.

Myth #3: I Could Invest Better on My Own.

Maybe you could, and maybe you couldn’t. But the point of Social Security isn’t to maximize the return on the payroll taxes you’ve contributed. Social Security is designed to be the one guaranteed part of your retirement income that can’t be outlived or lost in the stock market. It’s a secure base of income throughout your working life and retirement. And for many, it’s a lifeline. Social Security provides the majority of income for at least half of Americans over age 65; it is 90 percent or more of income for 43 percent of singles and 22 percent of married couples. You can, and should, invest in a retirement fund like a 401(k) or an individual retirement account. Maybe you’ll enjoy strong returns and avoid the market turmoil we have seen during the past decade. If not, you’ll still have Social Security to fall back on.

Three Financial Pioneers Create the Power of Index Investing

The Conception of Index Investing

In 1974 John Bogle founded and created The Vanguard Group – now one the world’s largest mutual fund companies offering 120 different mutual funds holding over $1 trillion.  In 1975, Mr. Bogle championed the first low-cost, index fund which transformed the mutual fund industry crediting him with the title “Father of Index Investing”.    His investment philosophy was simple; it advocated capturing market returns by investing in broad-based index mutual funds that are characterized as no-load, low-cost, low-turnover and passively managed.

Bogle felt that indexing was a logically compelling method of investing. “In the world of investing, there are very, very few sure things. But the closest thing to a sure thing is that the Wilshire 5000 index will outperform actively-managed funds by 1.5 to 2 percentage points a year over a sustained period. The logic behind this startling fact is as follows:  all mutual fund managers together provide average investment performance, but in fact, investing in an index fund that matches the average market return can be your best chance of getting an above average return compared to other non-indexing investors.

His theory was supported by three crucial points: superior diversification/allocation, lower annual operating expenses and lower taxes.  Bogle felt that indexers had the advantage of these three things plus steady, cumulative power of broad diversification and lower expenses, not just short pockets of strong investment performance such as in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

 

People Begin to Take Notice

After 3 years of excellent performance, two the world’s most respected financial experts took notice and began to research Bogle’s theories – they wanted to take an acadeic approach to proving his theories.  Rex Sinquefield and Roger Ibbotson sought out to create strong theoretical support for indexing and they did just that. In 1979 they published Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation (SSBI) which is now updated annually and serves as the standard reference for informaiton on investment market returns.  Together Sinquefield and Ibbotson executed a large volume of academic studies examining the performances of mutual funds under actual market conditions establishing, very convincingly, that the ‘beat the market’ efforts of investors who pick stocks and time markets are impressively and overwhelmingly negative. In contrast, they found that indexing stands on solid theoretical grounds, has enormous empirical support and works very well for investors. The message ofindexing is therefore unmistakably obvious: they found that the only consistent superior performer is the market itself and the only way to capture that superior consistency is to invest in a properly diversified portfolio of index funds.

After publishing their study, Sinquefield became the co-chairman for Dimentional Fund Advisors, an index mutual fund manager that began in 1981 – a company that now holds $227.6 billion in assets.  Roger Ibbotson, who was already a professor at Yale, founded Ibbotson and Associates which continued to focus on bridging the gap between academic knowledge and industry practice on asset allocation.  For over 30 years Roger Ibbotson has been committed to delivering innovative asset allocation solutions, helping investors reach their financial goals and providing asset allocation thought leadership to money managers, mutual fund companies and other investors all over the globe.  Still today, Ibbotson supports his roots and is a Board Member, one of 9 “Academic Leaders”, which advises Dimentional Fund Avisors – the world’s leading index mutual fund manager.

You owe it to yourself to check out the benefits of index investing…

Turning Children Into Financially Responsible Adults

A huge thanks to Neale S. Godfrey, best-selling author and founder of The Children’s Financial Network, for sharing her incredible ideas for raising financially responsible children on the July 29th edition of The Lange Money Hour. Neale was a great guest — full of tips for parents and grandparents on how to make sure that children are financially fluent.

A couple of her strategies are particularly timely given the economy and the time of the year.  For instance, many parents and grandparents are busy doing back-to-school shopping right now and we all know that shopping with tweens and teens can get ugly.  Neale offered a practical solution to avoid arguments and overspending.  For kids age eleven and up, Neale suggests giving them a budget and letting them make their own decisions.  You can set up a bank account or give them pre-paid debit cards, but in the end, putting them in control of their finances forces them to make budgetary choices.

The recession has also forced a lot of adult children to fly back to the nest and Neale recommends hammering out the details of the arrangement before they move back in.  How long do you expect them to stay?  What financial obligations do you want them to take care of?  Having these discussions in advance avoids problems later.  Neale even suggests taking the extra step of drawing up a lease with all of the terms defined.

In addition to setting up a trust, one of Jim Lange’s chief concerns when it comes to minors is the naming of a guardian.  Neale agreed that naming a guardian for your children is absolutely critical and she also recommends sharing the details of the arrangement with your children.

Notice, though, that the key element in all of these situations is communication — full disclosure of the family’s finances.  The problem for many families is that money is a taboo topic.  If this is the case in your family, one of Neale’s books might help.

Her #1 New York Times best-seller, Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children is an excellent choice for adults and Ultimate Kids Money Book is perfect for elementary school age children.  Both are available on Neale’s website www.childrensfinancialnetwork.com.

$250 Recovery Checks

The check is in the mail. This time it’s coming from the federal government in the form of $250 economic recovery payments. Back in February, President Obama signed into law The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The idea is to jumpstart the stalled economy and save jobs by putting more than $13 billion into the hands of more than 50 million Americans.

Vice President Joe Biden said, “These are checks that will make a big difference in the lives of older Americans and people with disabilities — many of whom have been hit especially hard by the economic crisis that has swept across the country.”

So, who will be getting checks? You qualify if you receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) with the exception of those receiving Medicaid in care facilities. The legislation also provides for a one-time payment to Veterans Affairs (VA) and Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) beneficiaries.

If you fall into one of these categories, it’s possible that you already have your check, since the first checks were mailed on May 7th. If you haven’t received your payment yet — don’t worry. They are being sent on a staggered basis throughout the month of May.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to do anything to receive your $250 payment. Checks are being mailed automatically and will be sent separately from your regular monthly payment. The Social Security Administration is advising that you don’t contact them unless you have not received your payment by June 4, 2009.

If you still have questions about your economic recovery payment, feel free to contact one of the professionals on the Lange team. Our toll-free number is 800-387-1129. You can also get answers online at www.socialsecurity.gov/payment.

Have fun stimulating the economy!