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Joanne Bernardini's Blog

By Joanne Bernardini | Agent in Ocean City, NJ
  • Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

    Posted Under: Crime & Safety, How To..., Credit Score  |  December 3, 2011 7:45 AM  |  942 views  |  3 comments

    Over nine million people every year join the ranks of those who have had their identities stolen. Like you, each of them thought it probably wouldn't happen to them. Unfortunately they were wrong!

    Untangling the mess after it happens is an expensive nightmare. Lost hours from work, attorney fees, lost sleep and major inconvenience make it worse. Here is a great example of where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! There are definite things you can do to significantly reduce the chances of having your identity stolen. The initial effort you'll expend is far less than it takes to straighten out the mess. 

    Guard your Social Security Number 

    It is the single most valuable piece of information you have. NEVER carry you SSN card in your wallet or purse! We all have to carry our driver’s license and insurance cards with us. Think about this. If you lose your wallet and it has your SSN card your drivers license and insurance cards in it, you have now given the identity thief your Social Security number along with your name, address, age, and other personal identifying information to allow him/her to accurately establish a whole new identity! With this information alone they can open credit card accounts, buy a car or take out a loan in your name. If they change the address to a new one you won't even know it because the bills for the new loans will go to a different address! Additionally they can give your drivers license if they are in a car accident! After which a routine traffic stop may land you in jail for an outstanding warrant issued in your name! It will be your responsibility to prove that you aren't the person they are looking for!

    Monitor your Accounts

    Each month carefully review your statements to make sure there are no suspicious withdrawals made on your bank accounts or charges to your credit cards. Check to see if your bank or credit card companies offers fraud alerts, or programs that call you if there is suspicious activity on your account as it happens. Why wait for the statement to come before you know your account has been compromised? Ideally, contact the three credit bureaus and set up a FREEZE on your accounts. No one, including you, will be able to set up new credit cards, or take out a loan for a big purchase like a car or house in your name unless you remove the freeze by supplying the necessary pin number, social security number and answering key security questions that have been set up in advance. It is the ultimate protection. The freezes are usually free to establish but carry a small fee to temporarily lift when you need to. When you consider the thousands of dollars and lost time from work it can cost after your identity is stolen this is peanuts!

    Check Your Credit Report

    Once a year ask for a free copy of your credit report. It is not uncommon to find an error. Correct these errors immediately. If you are planning on buying a car or home this is critical to help you get the highest credit score and lowest loan rates. You are entitled to one free report from each of the three agencies per year. To achieve the best protection stagger your requests over the year so that you get one report every four months from one of the agencies.

    Experian       experian.com        888-397-3742

    Transunion   transunion.com     877-322-8228

    Equifax         equifax.com          800-685-1111


    Guard Your  Mail

    Empty you mailbox daily. If you are going to be away even for a few days, have the mail stopped and restated on your return. Get a mailbox that locks or a post office box. This is a necessity if you live in a dangerous area! Don't leave outgoing mail in your mailbox that contains checks or bills with account numbers on them. Take the extra effort and walk it to the post box or post office. Stop unwanted pre-approved credit card offers from being intercepted by would be thieves. The Consumer Credit agency offers an opt-out feature-use it! To set this up call 888-567-8688 or go to optoutprescreen.com

    Use A Shredder

    A crosscut shredder and shred all mail that has any potential damaging financial or personal information. This list includes among others: pre-approved credit card offers and checks if you haven't opted out of receiving them, bank account statements, receipts, old financial records, old drivers licenses or photo id's.

    Email Smarts

    If you use the Internet be careful of emails you receive that look like they came from the Social Security Administration, the IRS or other government agencies. These logos are easy to counterfeit and make look official. This advice is true of emails that appear to come from your bank or telephone or cable companies too. Phony emails will request information that legitimate organizations would never ask request. Information like account numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers etc. If you are paying for something online double check the address line at the top to make sure it is a secure page and that you haven't been routed to a phony page. Check at the top for the" https" which means it is a secure page before entering your credit card number. Check out onguardonline.gov for tips on preventing online scams.

    If you're a Victim of Identity Theft

    Don't waste a minute! Immediately call your credit card companies and financial institutions and alert them. Report unauthorized charges, loans and close accounts that have been breached! Have your credit cards issued with new account numbers. Place Fraud Alerts or Freezes on your accounts. File a report with the police department and the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 877-438-4338. If your driver’s license has been stolen keep a copy of the police report with you to show an officer who may try to arrest you for a warrant issued in your name.

  • Understanding the Short Sale Process

    Posted Under: General Area, Home Selling, Credit Score  |  August 9, 2011 7:31 AM  |  563 views  |  5 comments

    Most people have heard the real estate phrase "Short Sale" but don't understand what it means. Simply put a short sale occurs when an owner sells his home for less than what they owe the bank on the mortgage.

    The bank must be contacted and arrangements made in advance for the bank to accept the sale proceeds as payment in full for the debt owed by the seller. You must prove to the bank you can no longer afford to pay your mortgage. Common causes are loss of employment and medical catastrophes. Not all banks forgive the total amount that the seller is "short". That is why it is imperative for the seller to surround themselves throughout the process with knowledgeable people to help them understand this process and avoid the pitfalls.

    With proper help and negotiation, the seller may be totally relieved of their liability by the bank. The trend to “short sell" homes is on the rise as owners who have been caught in the crunch of falling home values struggle to keep their homes out of foreclosure.

    Selling a home through the short sale process takes longer than a traditional sale and at times can be very frustrating for both the seller and those attempting to buy the property. Although new rules have streamlined the process, it still can take 3 to 6months to complete. Even though the seller may accept an offer to purchase their home, ultimately it will be the bank that has the final approval over which offer it will accept.

    In the long run patience can pay off for both. The buyer gets a bargain on their purchase and the seller gets relief from the burden of supporting a home he can no longer afford. The seller will take a hit to their credit score with a short sale but not nearly as large a hit if their home is lost in a foreclosure.

    In a short sale the seller may be able to repair his damaged credit in as little as two years and be back in the housing market again. In a foreclosure it can take more than seven years. Since credit scores are used to judge a person's ability to pay their bills in everything from mobile phones purchases to home and car insurance rates, it is important to repair your score as quickly as possible.

  • What is Insurance Scoring and Why is it Important?

    Posted Under: Home Buying in New Jersey, Home Insurance in New Jersey, Credit Score in New Jersey  |  June 16, 2011 9:03 AM  |  464 views  |  No comments
    An insurance Score is a snapshot of your credit at a point in time. Your credit report is put through a scoring model that assigns weights to various factors to determine a three-digit number ranging from 100 to 999. This number is your insurance score. While models vary, a higher score usually indicates that an individual is a member of a group that is historically less likely to have future insurance claims. A lower score generally indicates that an individual is a member of a group that is more likely to have future claims.

    The insurance companies use this information to help them establish the premium they will charge you for your insurance policy. The lower your score the higher the chance  you will file a claim and the higher your insurance premiums will be to cover their potential costs. This information is used for more than just insurance policies. It  also affects your ability to:

    • Apply for home or auto loans
    • Get a cell phone
    • Apply for a credit card
    • Establish cable or utility service
    • Rent an apartment or house
    • Apply for a job
    There are a number of factors that affect your insurance score. The most common factors are also those that affect your credit score namely:
    • bankruptcy

    • collection

    • foreclosures

    • liens

    • number and frequency of late payments

    • length of credit history

    • number of credit inquiries (such as applying for a mortgage loan or credit card)

    • number and extent of open credit lines

    • type of credit card use

    If you are looking for a way to save money each month by lowering the costs  you pay for the big ticket items in your life, begin now to raise your credit score! The money you save on insurances premiums for your home and car, deposits on utilities and cell phones, and monthly car loan payments, and credit card interest rates could easily equate to the money you'd earn by taking a second part time job!.

    For more information on insurance scores see the NJ Dept. of Banking and Insurance Website


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