Focus on financial literacy critical in tough economy

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By The Staff

In these challenging times, it is more important than ever to understand and monitor our family budgets and personal finances.  Americans are facing a lot of uncertainty these days, so it is vital to educate yourself on the best ways to save and protect your finances for the future.  Since April is Financial Literacy Month, I wanted to share some tools that will help individuals and families better manage personal finances, assist those who may be having trouble with mortgage, and protect against identity theft and scammers.

In 2003, Congress passed a law that entitled everyone to a free credit report every year from each of the three top credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.  Credit reports detail outstanding debt, available credit and payment history; these and other factors determine an individual’s credit score.  Credit scores are used by lenders and credit card companies to determine eligibility for credit and associated interest rates.  For more information on how to obtain your credit report, visit http://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.  If you believe your credit report is inaccurate, dispute it with the credit reporting agencies immediately.  

While most Americans continue making their mortgage payments, the troubled economy and increasing unemployment have forced some to face the prospect of foreclosure.  If you are having difficulty meeting your mortgage payments, it is critical to seek help as soon as possible.  The sooner you take action, the better the chance that you may be eligible for a loan workout or modified payment plan to help you stay in your home.  You should contact the Kentucky Homeownership Protection Center to obtain information on the foreclosure process by visiting http://www.kyhousing.org/protect/ or calling (866) 830-7868.  The HOPE NOW Alliance is a similar national organization that provides free assistance from HUD-approved counselors who are experts in foreclosure prevention.  For more information, please call (888) 995-HOPE or visit http://www.hopenow.org.

Fraud and identity theft have been on the rise in recent months, particularly through use of the Internet.  Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid becoming a victim.  The Internet Crime Complaint Center, in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, has developed a list of tips to protect consumers from a variety of internet crime schemes.  Through the website http://www.ic3.gov, you can learn about the scams that have been reported and determine the best ways to protect your personal information.  The Federal Trade Commission’s Facts for Consumers website (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre42.shtm) is another resource that can help consumers avoid common foreclosure scams.  

Everyone benefits individually and collectively if we are each attentive stewards of our personal finances.  Now is the time to be proactive about monitoring your credit report, learning to make smart investments and ensuring your money is protected in the future.  The U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission’s website, http://www.mymoney.gov, is a great starter resource.  The website offers information about health and benefits after job loss, advice on how to safely invest your money during the recession, and a comprehensive list of resources for retirement planning.  By taking the time to educate yourself about financial decisions and their consequences, you can better protect your hard-earned money.  

Congressman Geoff Davis