Personal Finance Archive

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Chase’s affiliate exposed my personal information, now what?

I just received a letter in the mail stating that my name, address, and account number of a now-defunct account was posted online and accessed by a non-Chase employee before it was taken down.

In response, they’re offering me a year’s free membership in their Chase Identity Protection program.  I simply have to submit my Social Security number with signature and all the previously leaked personal information to them by mail or fax.  [Skeptical me says: really? so I can make sure that my personal information is disseminated again?]

The benefits of the program include:

  • Continuous Credit Monitoring: Any changes in any of the three major reporting agencies will be monitored daily and I’ll be notified of any changes.
  • Credit reports and scores: I’ll have access to my Experian credit report and score and the 3-in-1 credit report from all three agencies and their scores.
  • Personal assistance: The program will take responsibility for disputing inaccuracies in my files, and they’ll also provide a Fraud Specialist in case my identity is stolen.
  • Reimbursement Coverage: Subject to underwriting clauses, you may be reimbursed for up to $100,000 in eligible identity theft related expenses.

You’ll notice the most weasel language in the last and possibly most valuable almost-promise they make there.  It’s unfortunate that you’re not guaranteed coverage, nor are you guaranteed blanket eligibility to all the financial damage that can be done by the potential fraud, they just might help you out.

Nevertheless, continuous monitoring and protection in this instance will be helpful, in addition to placing a 90-day fraud alert on my files.

If you need to place a fraud alert on your credit files, you only need to contact one agency and they’ll forward your information to the other two agencies.  A fraud alert means that anyone trying to open credit in your name will have to verify their identity.

If things are more serious and you need to place a security freeze on your account, it’s free for any acknowledged identity theft victim in the state of California; there is a fee if you’re not considered a victim (by police report, usually).  Check here for all other states.

It may also be a good idea to opt-out of all information-sharing with affiliates that the major companies you do business with frequently participate in; it’s good for them but just another risk for you.

In the meantime, I’ll be checking my credit report for any new suspicious activity.  Be careful and be alert, folks, identity theft can be truly destructive if it’s not nipped in the bud.

[You can find my everyday writing over at A Gai Shan Life.]

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Starting classes? Save money!

Aside from tuition and fees, the worst money drain I remember from college was the textbooks. My school was on the quarter system and we had to fork over an astounding amount of money every twelve weeks for a set of textbooks that the bookstore would buy back after finals for pennies on the dollar.

Even back then, before I was heavily into personal finance, I didn’t like that ROI. Education’s fine and dandy, but when you’re working 20 hours of overtime a week, it’s more than slightly galling to hand it all over to use a book for a season.

I adopted a rather convoluted and time-consuming approach to saving money on books, and reveled in every penny saved. It’s been years since I needed it, but a good old table comparing the prices of each book by venue reminded me how much money you can save when you bargain hunt for a textbook.

1. Library: I checked our school and local libraries for every textbook, many of which were literature books. If the books weren’t in high demand, I could either check out the book for the duration of the quarter (with renewals along the way) or tailor the checkout period to my syllabus. ie: if we were slated to read the book in Week 6, I’d make a note in my planner to start checking on the book’s status in Week 3. If it was checked out already, then I could enter a request for the book. This meant the previous reader had to return the book without renewing.

2. Paperback Swap: Once in a while, you’ll get lucky and get a shipping-only book from the Swap.

3. Amazon, Alibris, other internet book sellers: This is a dicier proposition as you have to factor in shipping time vs. cost. If you went with Super Saver Shipping, you ran the risk of receiving the books too late. If you ordered them really early to compensate, there was the risk of finding out that the professor had decided to skip that book and wasting your money on an unneeded book. But this is a great way to get a really cheap copy of an older edition literature classic that you could donate to your local library afterward or sell to a friend.

4. Which brings me to a great resource: friends and fellow students! If you network even a little, you can find out which classes your peers have taken and buy their old books for a fair selling/buying price, or even plan to pass along books to people who are taking the class after you. This is probably the best option: you pay much less without having to worry about shipping, they get real money instead of foreign pennies. Win-win!

5. Renting books from Chegg.com: the newest addition to the textbook game, Chegg offers you the chance to rent your textbook at a reasonable price for a specific time frame. Unless they’re offering a free shipping code or promo, you’ll usually be charged a shipping fee but they pay for the return of their books so you’re only paying on the front end. I’ve tried this service once before, and my experience was about a 3/5.

The lower score was partly my fault: I didn’t pay attention to shipping dates so I missed the optimal shipping dates, and got my books a week after I needed them. You do have to watch those ship dates very carefully because sometimes they don’t have the books you ordered – which I wish was something that was clearly stated on the site when you’re placing the order – and then you’re left scrambling when the “Sorry, it’s not in stock!” email arrives. Again, this is something easily remedied if you simply order your books two weeks in advance.

They also have a 30 day guarantee which allows you to return the book within 30 days and pay nothing, just in case you didn’t need the book after all.

I’m testing it again this semester, and have received one of the two ordered books so far. If I get both books in good order, I’ll have saved about $200 off the two books, bought new. (They’re not available used anywhere.) If you’d like to try it, you can use my affiliate code to get 5% off your order: CC107691. I think I get some sort of credit if you order using the code, but I’m not sure of the details, it’s still new to me.

6. Last resort, the student bookstore: If the book is specialized enough that no one carries it, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and buy it directly from the school. I hate that, but it happens. Again, timing is important here – go early enough to grab a used version because buying new from the bookstore is doubly painful. At least it is for me.

With a bit of searching, a combination of the above methods can help you save that hard-earned cash and keep you a little more debt free!

[You can find my everyday writing over at A Gai Shan Life.]

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Frugal or just cheap?

How do you know when you’ve crossed the line from being frugal and pennywise to just plain cheap? When you’re shopping, that is.

Having just ordered a box of business cards for myself, the logical thing to do would be to carry the cards with me. Most business cards in my wallet tend to shift around and rub against one another enough to leave that awful pencil or charcoal rubbed look on the face of the card, though, and that’s not something I want to hand out to a prospective client or employer.

In search of a business card carrying case, I want something that’s good quality. I’m looking for something that’s not flimsy or chintzy/faddish looking, but I’m not willing to pay the prices I’m seeing, for example, on Etsy. There are some excellent cases, sturdy looking and whatnot, but priced at $40 and $50 each. To my mind, that’s way too much. I would only be willing to pay around $10 or less for a card case because that’s the amount I personally value such an item.

That notion stopped me dead in my tracks for a minute, though. Is that the kind of mentality that gives rise to our disposable, consumerist society? We’re not actually willing to pay for quality so what we get are cheap, Made-in-probably-China items that will either fall apart in a year or less?

When are our pricing expectations artificially low? Or does that not matter so long as the market can provide the goods at a certain price? Or am I just making a mountain out of a molehill because people will buy what they want, eventually, so long as the price comes close to their expectations?

[You can find my everyday writing over at A Gai Shan Life.]