Protecting Your Financial House

I understand that some people lean heavily toward the idea that we’re headed for some sort of collapse in the very immediate future, so worrying about finances is pointless. That’s great, you do you. This post is for everyone else. There’s no need to argue about it one way or the other.

In the prepper/survival world, we talk a fair amount about security. We invest in items that we feel will protect us, from firearms and knives to surveillance systems and even body armor. We do countless threat assessments, determining our risk factors from natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and more. We strive to remain ever vigilant, with our heads on swivels and our situational awareness honed to Jason Bourne-like precision.

But, what about our finances? What security measures do we employ to protect those assets? Even if you’ve never been a victim of identity theft yourself, I’m betting you know someone who has. It has become incredibly common. My wife had it happen to her a few years ago and my father’s finances were a total mess when he passed, due to a variety of factors including criminal behavior on the part of others.

The first recommendation is to get a copy of your current credit report. The easiest way for most people is to use AnnualCreditReport.com. You are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, Equifax). If you don’t want to do it online, you can call 877-322-8228. Consider ordering your report from just ONE of those agencies. In four months, get your report from the second agency. Then, in another four months, get it from the third agency. Keep this rotation going. This way, you can get updates as you go along, rather than having to wait an entire year for another report.

Go through the report line by line and look for anything amiss, such as credit accounts you didn’t know about. If you find anything awry, report it to the credit bureau immediately. You can also ask for a fraud alert to be put on your credit report. This is free and you only need to request it from one of the credit bureaus. As a courtesy, they will communicate it to the others. A fraud alert means that if you or anyone else applies for credit in your name, there will be additional steps taken to verify identity. There are numerous services, such as LifeLock, that can monitor your credit but if you can’t afford their fees, placing fraud alerts on your credit is a simple DIY approach.

Many credit cards offer some sort of monitoring as well. We have all of our credit accounts set up such that we receive either emails or texts letting us know when they are used. They work damn fast, too. Several times, I’ve placed an order on Amazon and before I’ve gone to another website, my wife is asking what I bought so she can log it if it is a business expense. Call your credit card bank and find out how to sign up for these alerts. If someone does somehow manage to use your card somewhere without authorization, you’ll know right away and you can take action before they do it again.

I don’t like the thought of using a debit card online because if a thief is someone able to gain access to it, they could drain my bank account. While the bank might make it right and help me get it all rectified, that takes time and bills that are set up on auto-pay through that account could bounce, leading to all sorts of other havoc. Instead, consider having a single credit card that’s only used for online purchases. This will make it much easier to spot if something goes awry. Some banks will even let you set up virtual credit card numbers. Essentially, what this does is protect your actual credit card number from getting swiped online. However, this can pose issues if you’re buying something you might need to return to a brick-and-mortar location later, as the number used to make the purchase won’t match the card you have in hand. Talk to your bank for more details to see if they offer this service.

Yes, operating strictly with cash and cash alone will limit your exposure to fraud and other risks. If you’re able to make that work, more power to you. But it isn’t necessarily feasible or practical for everyone. Something else to consider – your credit history and credit score will directly impact a range of things beyond banking, including in many cases your insurance rates. Even if you don’t do much in the way of credit cards and such, it is in your best interests to keep your credit history as clean as possible.

Financial preparedness isn’t nearly as fun as making fires or buying a new pistol. But, it is one of the most important aspects of prepping you will ever tackle. The discussion here just barely scratches the surface of that topic, of course, but is a starting point.

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