Financial resources to help protect you

Article written by Mary Metten, Health and Well-being Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the financial situation of large chunks of Americans.

Throughout the spring months, millions of people nationwide lost employment and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 14.7% in April 2020.

While many programs to help alleviate some of this burden have emerged during the pandemic, a new host of scammers have been working hard to gain access to people and their information.

Here, Peggy Olive, UW-Madison Financial Capability Specialist, shares information regarding recent changes in federal credit report requests and a resource site outlining common financial needs and programs during this time.

Weekly free credit reports

For over a decade, federal law has given everyone the right to request three free credit reports each year through TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian; however, these three major credit reporting bureaus are now offering free, weekly online credit reports through April 2021. This is so people can manage their credit obligations and keep an eye out for fraud on a regular basis in light of the surge of scam attempts.

The weekly reports can be ordered online at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Free credit reports can also be ordered via phone at 1-877-322-8228. Mail-in process instructions can be found on the website or through calling in.

“For some people, the free weekly credit reports will provide added reassurance during these times,” Olive said. “For others, keeping up with weekly credit reports may sound overwhelming. If you prefer checking your free reports every four months, I’d encourage you to sign up for our reminder emails.”

About those reminders

The Check Your Free Credit Report Campaign from UW-Madison Division of Extension serves to make it easier to remember to order the free credit reports. Anyone can sign up to receive an email reminder three times a year – Feb. 2, June 6 and Oct. 10 – on the campaign’s website: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/creditreport/. This site also provides information regarding reading and understanding your credit report, what contributes to credit scores, how to place a free credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports, and if that is the right decision for you.

Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of people’s stress and confusion about new or previously unneeded financial programs in the wake of the pandemic. Beware of scams that look like emails, texts, or phone calls claiming to be from your credit card company or lender. If you need to reach out to creditors or a financial institution, call the customer service number on the back of your card or monthly bill, use an official app, or visit their website.

Division of Extension Financial Resources

The Extension site, Financial Resources to Help Get Through COVID-19, is a repository of financial information and resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources and information are updated daily to remain current with the quickly evolving programs and resources available to Wisconsin residents.

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