Homeownership Guidance, Advice and Blogs

As the Director of Affiliate Relations at HomeFree-USA, I’ve always been fascinated with how people handle their money. Like everyone else, I’ve had my financial ups and downs. In fact, it took me 32 months to pay off $32,000 in credit card bills and build up a six-month emergency fund. While that was a very difficult period, I am grateful – and wiser -- for the experience.

Through my personal experiences and working at HomeFree-USA, I’ve gained a ton of insight that I feel compelled to share. You’ll find those lessons here. Feel free to take the thoughts and ideas that resonate with you most and put aside the rest for later. I look forward to sharing my journey.

6 ways to avoid identity theft

Let’s face it: phishing, hacking, or any other term used to describe people seeking your personal information so they can steal and use it, is real.  Although the threat continues to loom regardless of how much we protect ourselves, here are five ways you can mitigate identity theft:

Change passwords on any accounts that have access to your money. Whether it be the bank your money is stored, or an online retailer that holds your credit and debit cards on file. Do this every 3-6 months.

Store your passwords in a protected place and code them in a way to where even if a scammer does find it, it would be tough to figure out which account the password is linked to. One lady stores them in her phone, using a password protected app, and has each account name coded to where only she knows which is which. I print it out and keep a copy at home and work. Again, the sheet (not labeled) is still coded.

Do NOT click on a link when the email is asking you to verify information from a retailer (especially when it’s a company you don’t do business with). Go to the website directly and see if there is a legitimate concern. Even better, call the company.

Check your bank accounts at least twice a week, ideally every day; report any and all charges you are unfamiliar with to your bank, even if it shows it’s from a legitimate retailer. Right now, scammers are charging small amounts (ex. $9.84) on cards just to see if they’re active; once the charge goes through, they will pull all the money out of the account.

Pull your credit at least once every 6 months. This will let you know if your personal information is being used somewhere outside of your bank accounts. Although there are many sites you can visit to access your credit, I highly recommend you see a Homeownership Advisor at HomeFree-USA. Those other sites do not pull a detailed tri-merge report nor do they provide your credit score. To receive both (the same as the one a mortgage or auto lender uses), contact a local nonprofit homeownership or counseling organization. The cost of the report is less than $15 - other sites charge $24.95 or more and do not provide comprehensive information, or your credit score.  Should you not live in one of our areas, vist our affiliate page for a list of 61 other agencies across the country we work with and can verify provides excellent service. Alas, if you’re not in any of those areas, visit HUD's website. for a list of housing counseling agencies.

If you will not need your credit to purchase something for a while, freeze it! You must go to the website of each of the creditors and it will cost around $10 each, but it is worth it! This means that no one will be able to use your credit. If you plan on buying a house or car in the next 6 months, it may not be worth it for you do so but put that freeze on immediately thereafter.

Bonus!: Pull your parent’s, grandparents, elderly person’s and even children’s credit. Knowing that elderly people are not as focused on this as we are, scammers target them very aggressively. Monitor their credit as much as you do your own. Even though children aren’t even supposed to have credit until they’re 18 you’d be surprised at what scammers can do. This is big business and sadly, the U.S. is woefully behind other countries in protecting its citizens from hacking.

There you have it. Remember, insight without action is worthless.

And so it is.