October 27, 2008

Tips for Safeguarding Your Personal Assets

In the midst of the current economic crisis, most people have become concerned about the safety of their financial assets. Although it's not always possible to predict how the market will behave, there are some steps you can take to help protect what you own. Here are a few valuable tips to help you navigate the current storm:

-- DO monitor your credit history regularly. You are entitled to receive a free credit report from each of the big three credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) once per year, which you can order from the official credit reporting Web site at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you see any loans or addresses you don't recognize, contact the lender and credit bureau immediately for more information.

-- DO take steps to protect your identity. In tough economic times, many experts predict a rise in identity theft - already the fastest growing crime in America, impacting approximately 15 million Americans every year. Avoid giving out your Social Security Number if it's not absolutely necessary. Shred mail that contains account information or new credit card offers before throwing it in the garbage, and avoid carrying bills, your Social Security Card, or other personal information with you, especially if you are traveling. For comprehensive protection, consider signing up for an identity theft protection service such as TrustedID (https://www.trustedid.com/). According to a recent study by research firm Javelin Research, people who monitor their own credit reports are nearly twice as likely to experience new accounts fraud in comparison with users of TrustedID's proactive service, which includes the ability for customers to "freeze" their credit files to unauthorized parties and extends protection services to entire household families. TrustedID also is backed by a $1,000,000 limited warranty.

-- DO make sure that you have adequate insurance coverage. Check your homeowner's, renter's, automobile, personal property and life insurance policies to make sure that the amounts are adequate. Have valuable items appraised and update policies if and when there have been any changes.

-- DO have sufficient cash reserves on hand. If necessary, reduce spending in unnecessary areas to reduce your reliance on credit and ease the burden on your investment assets.

-- DO make sure that you have a valid will and estate plan in place. Make sure that you have the proper amount of witnesses for the state in which you live, and only one current version. AARP.org offers a free online worksheet on will preparation at http://www.aarp.org/ families/end_life/a2003-12-04-endoflife-will.html. (Due to its length, this URL may need to be copied/pasted into your Internet browser's address field. Remove the extra space if one exists.)

-- Once you've completed your will, make sure to have a lawyer or notary authorize it for you. Don't keep your will in your safe deposit box because, in many states, safe deposits are sealed upon the owner's death, and a court order may be required to open it.

People have more reason than ever to be concerned about their personal assets during the current financial meltdown. Fortunately, by taking these few simple precautions, you can ensure that you are not exposing yourself to unnecessary risks.