Another week, another awareness campaign.
Seven days ago, I wrote about America Saves Week. That’s annually (and naturally) followed by National Consumer Protection Week. For the past 17 years, a wide array of government agencies — from the FTC to the FBI — have joined forces with private-sector groups like AARP and the Better Business Bureau. Their week-long goal: Teach Americans about “credit, debt, identity theft, fraud, technology, and more.”
That’s a tall order in just one week, and of course, their efforts don’t stop this Sunday. Since National Consumer Protection Week covers so much territory, I’ll hit the highlights for busy Americans like you. In other words, if you can focus on just one lesson per topic, here’s what I suggest will earn you the most bang for your buck…
When it comes to credit cards, I hired a Debt.com expert I sometimes disagree with. Jason Steele is a noted credit card reporter who maintains you should own a half-dozen credit cards to earn the maximum possible in rewards points. Meanwhile, I wrote in my last book, Power Up, “Learning to live without a credit card is an integral part of financial empowerment.”
Who’s right? We both are. If you have discipline and no debt, take Jason’s advice and acquire one of the best cash-back cards or best reward cards currently on the market. However, if credit cards have ruined your credit rating and your life, you need to stop now.
Jason and I do agree on the following advice, which I implore you to take:
After mortgages, the biggest debt in this country is not credit cards. It’s student loans — more than $1.2 trillion worth. Each week, I answer questions directly from Debt.com readers, and I’ve noticed a marked uptick in student loan-related questions, from the general (What is the average student loan debt?) to the specific (How do I get out student loan debt?).
Here’s what you really need to know: The federal government responded to this crisis with five programs for student loan relief. You can read about them in our Education section called Student Loan Debt Resources, or you can call one of our debt experts at 1-888-472-0365 and have them explain those options to you. It is, after all, the government, and like your taxes, the details aren’t always clear.
Finally, you may want to check out 10 student loan questions you never thought to ask but might need to know someday.
I also get asked many questions like this: How can I protect myself from identity theft? One of Debt.com’s writers had her Social Security number stolen, and she fought back — and won. Here’s how to avoid becoming an identity theft victim yourself.
This is such a huge problem that we interviewed an IBM security expert last month who had himself been a victim of identity theft. He got hit with what’s known as medical ID theft. Here’s how to prevent the most sickening ID theft out there.
Wherever there’s a way to make or save money, there’s fraud to go along with it. For instance, those federal student loan programs I mentioned above? Unscrupulous companies are trying to take advantage of your problem. We wrote about how to avoid the latest student loan scams, but the best advice is also the oldest: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
I presume many new fraud tactics will emerge in 2015, but for now, I suggest you familiarize yourself with last year’s ripoffs.
There’s no shortage of hardware and software aimed at helping you manage your money. My favorite was just last month, when Debt.com interviewed a 15-year-old Arizona teen named Antonio Ferris. He wrote a very simple but helpful credit card debt app. Meet this whiz kid and perhaps download it yourself — it’s free.
This being only a few weeks till tax time, let me close with some advice that will save you money on your income taxes. First, if you qualify, here are 14 places to get your taxes prepared for free.and an easy way to save up to $2,000 on those taxes with something called the saver’s credit.
Have a happy and lucrative week!
Howard Dvorkin is a CPA and chairman of Debt.com, an educational resource for those who want to conquer all forms of debt in their lives.
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