A very important part of budgeting is to evaluate the expenses you pay for services and make sure you are not overpaying. Telephone, internet, cable, newspaper and insurance are some services that may be negotiated for a lower rate. By negotiating a better rate, you can save a lot of money over the course of a year. Here are some tips to help you in this process:
- Call your current provider and have a copy of your contract or statement in front of you. Ask the customer service representative to explain every line item on your bill so you understand it.
- Make sure these are services you currently use and need. Document the names of everyone you speak with and the details of the conversation.
- Be friendly and calm when speaking to the representative so they will want to help you.
- Be persistent in your request. The first person you speak with may not have the authority to provide a better rate. Politely ask to speak to their supervisor or someone in their retention department. Sometimes, speaking to several people may actually help you get that reduced rate.
- Research rates from competing companies. Find out if they are offering promotions for new customers, as this may be a bargaining chip in your favor.
- You may need to threaten to leave as a negotiating tactic. This can work in your favor, but if not and you find a reduced rate someplace else, be prepared to move on. For example, I called my local newspaper to change my subscription from seven days a week to weekends only. The representative was so insistent I keep my current service she provided a rate I could not resist. It actually ended up being much less than the amount for weekend-only rate.
- Check your monthly bills to make sure the rate has not increased. If you have automatic bill pay, you may not notice the increase. If you have any doubt or questions, call the provider.
Some obstacles that may prevent someone from negotiating:
- It can be uncomfortable to ask for a discount.
- The wait time to reach a representative can be time consuming and very frustrating.
- It is not on your daily radar to think about reducing rates when you are busy and feeling content with your current service.
Please feel free to contact Files In Order with any concerns or help with negotiating.
One of the many advantages of belonging to the American Association of Daily Money Managers is the informative webinars they provide. The latest one I participated in spoke of identity theft through cyber fraud and ways to prevent it.
As we increasingly depend on electronic data to conduct our daily transactions and with our increasing use of electronic devices, cyber fraud is on the rise.
One method scammers may infect your computer is through “phishing.” A widespread email is sent to many potential victims. The email will tell you that there is a problem with a specific account or credit card, and then ask you to provide your personal information. The scammers will then use this information to commit fraud.
So how can you tell if it’s a scam email? Scam emails often look suspicious, and contain the following:
- A link asking you to provide your personal information
- Spelling or grammatical errors
- A sense of urgency to respond
- The sender, link and details of the email do not match
How can you check if you have been victimized?
- Read your bank and credit card statements as soon as they are available and report any unauthorized debits or changes immediately to that institution.
- Order a credit report from the website annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to one free report annually. (The three credit bureaus that participate are Experion, TransUnion, and Equifax.)
- When you view this report, verify that your personal information is correct. Make sure there are not accounts you did not open, inquiries you did not make or any unexplained debts. Another valuable way to make sure you are covered throughout the year is to select one company for each one-third of the year. For example, obtain a report from Experion, then 4 months later, obtain one From TransUnion, etc.
If you find you have become a victim of cyber fraud, these are actions you should take:
- Place a fraud alert on all your credit reports.
- Contact creditors to close all accounts that have been tampered with.
- File a report with your local police and keep a copy of this report for your records.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov)
- If your bank was targeted, contact them immediately so they can close the account and open a new one.
In the end, prevention is the best defense. Here are some important steps to take:
- Balance your bank and credit card statements regularly – this allows you to catch any errors and report them in a timely manner.
- Do not respond to ANY requests through the internet. If you have any doubt or suspicion, call the financial institution and ask if they requested it
- Update your computer anti-virus software daily
- Use a dedicated computer for banking and financial access only. The cost of an additional laptop may be worth saving thousands of dollars in lost income, as well as the hardship of having your identity stolen.
For more on this subject and any other daily money management services, please let us know. Files In Order is here to help.
Now that your taxes are completed and filed, it’s a perfect time to clean up your paperwork and get organized for this year. By being organized, the task of completing your taxes for 2015 will not be so overwhelming. Here are some suggestions:
1) Make sure your tax returns are in a safe place where you can easily locate and identify them. According to the IRS, all tax returns and documents supporting these returns need to be kept for a minimum of three years. The IRS can audit your return during this period and if they find an error, may audit for six years prior. Accountants will recommend you save your returns, along with the documents that support them for seven years. To reduce clutter, you should shred your returns prior to the seven years.
2) Prepare folders for receipts and statements that support your income and expenses for this tax year. Separate folders for charitable donations,medical and dental bills, prescriptions, investments, bank statements and credit card statements will allow you to easily find them, thereby reducing stress in your life.
3) If you would like to “go paperless,” there are online storage programs where you scan and file your documents into folders using a cloud-based filing system. There are many available that are very secure, easy to use and charge a nominal fee based on your storage needs. These systems allow you to share files with others and access them whenever you want. It’s imperative to have a secure, reliable back-up system for all your computer files. There are many cloud-based programs available which back-up automatically and charge an annual fee. Or you can back-up to an external source. If you choose this method, it should be done daily or weekly and kept in a secure place.
For all of the above and any other daily money management needs, Files In Order is here to help.
Now is the time of year that your personal statements for the tax year ending 2014 are arriving in the mail. These are important documents that your accountant will use to prepare and file your taxes. This is also a prime time for tax scammers who may pose as IRS agents to contact you to committ identity theft.
When someone tries to steal your personal information via the internet it is called “phishing.” This is carried out through an unsolicited email or a fake website. You are asked to click on a link or go to a fradulent website. Please keep in mind that the IRS generally will not contact taxpayers by email to request personal information.
According to the IRS, identity theft is on the rise this time of year. The IRS website lists many ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim. Not carrying your Social Security card, keeping your personal and financial information secure at home and installing firewalls on your computer are just a few precautions you can take to protect yourself.
Criminals who call and impersonate IRS agents top the list of scams at tax time. Over the telephone, they will use threatening or aggressive techniques to steal your personal information. Please note, often the first contact you have with the IRS will be through the mail and they will not ask you for any personal information.
Please visit the IRS website, www.irs.gov. Click on the tab, “News and Events” for the latest information regarding scams and identity theft. You can learn to protect yourself and how to report any attempts at or incidents of scamming.
This past Thanksgiving our family packed brown bags with sandwiches, waters and healthy snacks to hand out to homeless people gathered in the parks of downtown DC. Our young adult children realized how fortunate they are as well as how good it felt to give back to others less fortunate. This brought on a discussion about the importance of living within our means and saving money.
Regardless of your income bracket, you should always know and understand your expenses. A vital part of budgeting and planning is putting money aside into savings. This may be needed for unforeseen “emergency expenses” or used for well deserved vacations.
With 2015 approaching have you started thinking about your goals and resolutions? Is getting a handle on your expenses one of them? Is becoming closer to financial independence another one? Would you like to have a plan that permits you to pay your bills on time to avoid costly late fees and allows you to save money for a vacation or unforeseen emergency?
Files In Order can work with you to track your expenses to see where your money is going and set up a budget for 2015. The New Year will be here soon. Let’s make 2015 financially rewarding and secure.