April is Financial Literacy Month, and now is a great time to learn or review the basics of budgeting, saving, investing, responsibly using credit cards, managing your credit rating and protecting yourself from identity theft.
There are an abundance of useful resources to help make sense out of the sometimes complicated financial products we use in our everyday lives and make sure we are doing what is necessary to ensure a financially healthy future. Organizations such as the Financial Literacy Education Commission’s website at www.mymoney.gov offer tips for planning to buy a home, living within your means, eliminating debt and planning for your retirement.
Establishing simple and sound financial habits, such as balancing your check book, monitoring your credit report and creating a monthly budget, will lead to a better financial future for your family. These good habits also contribute to your children’s financial literacy and ability to make smart choices as they get older. Ensuring you and your family are financially literate now will help to eliminate potential bumps down the road.
One of the most important habits to develop is checking your credit report regularly. Congress passed a law in 2003 that entitles everyone to a free credit report every year from each of the three top credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. The credit report will include your outstanding debt, available credit and payment history; these and other factors determine your credit score. The higher your credit score, the more likely you will be to get a better interest rate on a credit card or home loan.
Additionally, if you review your credit report and believe something is inaccurate, you should dispute it with the credit reporting agencies. For more information on how to obtain your credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call (877) 322-8228 or write to the Annual Credit Report Request Service at P.0. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can also stagger the time at which you request your report from each agency in order to continuously monitor any changes every four months or so.
Keeping track of your credit reports, credit cards, and checking account balance will not only help you plan for a stable financial future, it can help you prevent identity theft and fraud by spotting problems early. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has produced a multimedia presentation that provides information on steps you should take to secure your computer and protect yourself from identity theft, as well as actions you can take if you become a victim. To view the presentation, visit the FDIC’s website at: www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/guard/index.html. You can learn more about how to protect yourself from identity theft visit www.fdic.gov/consumers/theft/.
When it comes to your personal finances, ignorance is not bliss. By taking the necessary steps to understand and take responsibility for your finances now, you can protect your family’s future.