Worried about if the pandemic is affecting your credit? Here’s good news to help you monitor your credit status: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the three major credit rating bureaus, are now offering free weekly online reports through April 2021. Normally, you are entitled to one report per year for free, so this is a great tool and it’s important that you take advantage of it.
Your credit report is a historical record of your credit activity and loan paying history. Lenders use this information when you look to open a credit card, borrow money to buy a house or a car, or take a loan for other purposes. Credit reports may affect your mortgage rates, credit card approvals, apartment requests, or even your job application. In some states, they can be a factor in your insurance premium. Reviewing your credit report helps you ensure that its accurate and may help you spot signs of identity theft early.
It’s particularly important that you review your reports now if the pandemic has caused any disruption in your finances or if you took advantage of any financial aid through the CARES Act, which allowed postponement of some federally backed mortgages and federal student loans through September 30. Your credit should not be affected by this, but Consumer Reports says that some people are experiencing problems. See: How to Protect Your Credit Score During the Coronavirus Pandemic
It’s not yet clear when stay-at-home restrictions might be lifted – they’ll vary by state. NPR maintains a handy state-by-state list of How Each State Is Responding To COVID-19 that talks about various restrictions. But one thing is clear – until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, we won’t be going back to life as we knew it in the foreseeable future. It’s likely that restrictions on public places will be lifted gradually and that we will still be practicing advanced hygiene, and social distancing. And more and more of us will be wearing face masks or face coverings in public places to protect ourselves and others. The CDC has recommended this practice, and many communities and states are requiring them in all or some public places.
Whether they are required or not, many health experts point to the advantages in a pandemic. We know that the people can have coronavirus for a period of time before they show symptoms; in fact, the CDC says that up to 25% of people with coronavirus may not show any symptoms at all, but they can still be shedding the virus when they cough or sneeze. A face mask protects others against this. Plus, although face coverings aren’t a replacement for other protections, they offer an additional measure of safety for the wearer, particularly in places and situations where it may be difficult to maintain 6 feet of distance.
The New York Times has a handy User’s Guide to Face Masks (They are making coronavirus-related content freely available to all). The guide has many useful tips about the various types of masks, ideas for how to make masks and where to find patterns, and a brief video of how to make an easy no-cost, no-sew reusable face mask out of an old t-shirt. They also offer tips for how to put a mask on, how take it off, and how to clean it. It pretty much covers any questions you might have and offers links to other resources.
We’ve summarized some of their best-practice mask tips as well as tips from the CDC:
Wear a mask at all times in public spaces
Unless you have a health condition requiring it, don’t use a surgical mask or PPE intended for healthcare workers
Wash your hands before putting on a face mask and after taking it off
When removing it, avoid touching the front of the mask
A mask should cover your nose and mouth, going from near the bridge of your nose to down under your chin and stretch about halfway or more toward your ears.
Avoid touching your face while you are wearing the mask
Continue maintaining 6-feet of social distancing between you and others
Wash the mask after use
Children and masks
Your young children may be afraid to see their parents, loved ones – indeed, everyone, suddenly all covering their faces. Masks could provoke fear, sadness or just general anxiety about a stressful time. The New York Times talks about children who fear masks, noting that “One reason children may find masks disconcerting is that the ability to recognize — and read — faces is much weaker in young children than it will be by adolescence.” Children start developing facial identification skills around age 6, but it’s not until about age 14 that they have fully developed this skill. The article offers ideas for how to help children acclimate to face masks by explaining how they help others. Among their suggestions are to make the association between masks and superheroes.
The CDC says that children under 2 years of age should not wear masks. Should kids above that age wear masks? While children are less likely to become seriously ill from coronavirus, they still might be infected and therefore potentially infecting others. The New York Times talks about the issue of young children wearing face makes, noting that:
Masks are most useful in public places where your child is likely to come within six feet of another person (for example in a grocery store or pharmacy) and in areas where the virus has been spreading quickly, the C.D.C. said.
They offer tips for parents about when masks are advisable and ideas for how to persuade your children to use them.
If you are one of the millions who are confined to home during the Coronavirus outbreak, we have scoured the web for some of the best advice, tips and tools to help you make the most of things .. from working at home, keeping safe, stocking up, keeping kids safe and amused and dealing with anxiety and boredom.
Working from home
8 Tips To Make Working From Home Work For You – “Never before have workers telecommuted on such a broad scale. Millions of people are trying to work from home — if they can, of course. NPR’s Life Kit wants to help WFH work for you, especially if you’re doing so for the first time.”
Anxiety can be a general feeling of apprehension, fear, nervousness, or worry. It can also be a sudden attack of panicky feelings, or fear of a certain situation or object. Learn more about anxiety disorders and treatment options from Medline.
Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.
The coronavirus, also known as COVID19, originated in China, and has spread to at many other countries – the New York Times has an updated coronavirus tracking map where you can follow the outbreak across the globe. As of today, there are 60 identified cases in the U.S. – check the map for state breakdowns. We don’t yet know how we will be affected in the U.S. – we can only see that it spreads rapidly and viruses don’t respect borders.
As with many emerging illnesses, there’s a lot of fear about the potential impact. There’s also quite a bit of misinformation and many myths are circulating already. Fear and over-reaction create many additional problems. In times of health emergencies, it’s important to rely on trusted and authorized sources of information. Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has a dedicated coronavirus site with information for the public about how the illness spreads, symptoms, testing, FAQs, fact sheets and more. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, web resources from the World Health Organization (WHO), includes helpful, reputable information. Be careful about any information that you see posted on social media – make sure you know your source.
It’s important to keep perspective. From what we know now, coronavirus has high contagion but relatively low number of deaths in proportion to cases. Like influenza, it is of most concern to elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Remember, our usual flu season is still in progress, and the CDC estimates that between Oct. 1 and Feb. 15, seasonal influenza, aka “the flu.” has claimed the lives of 16,000 people.
This 10-minute video interviews two pathologists about the most common myths about the coronavirus, while presenting many facts about the disease and offering sensible advice for self protection.
CDC Coronavirus Prevention Guidance
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus, but the best way to prevent the disease includes the everyday prevention methods that help spread of respiratory diseases, influenza and other viruses. The CDC says:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.: CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
Travel issues and travel insurance
One big issue that people are questioning is whether it’s safe to travel. Right now, the countries on highest alert for travel are China and South Korea. The CDC is also warning travelers to Italy, Iran, and Japan to “practice enhanced precautions.” Check the CDC travel health advisories and the State Department’s travel advisories for the current status of countries you may be planning to visit. For more information, see CDC Travel.
The next question people have is if they should reschedule travel, and whether travel insurance will cover them if they have to cancel or have travel disrupted due to coronavirus. The bad news is, not always – it depends. It’s important to know the extent of your travel coverage and understand what is and what isn’t covered. PropertyCasualty360 addresses this in their article: Will travel insurance cover coronavirus?
“Tour operators and travel insurance brokers are reporting an increasing number of requests from customers asking to change their travel plans. Meanwhile, many U.S. airlines, including United, America and Delta, have canceled several flights to China.
Consumers may be surprised to learn that in either situation, their travel policy probably wouldn’t cover them.”
Most travel insurance is designed to protect you in case you need to cancel a trip, lose belongings, or require medical attention. But for cancellations related to coronavirus, only certain reasons qualify.”
They discuss the various scenarios in which a traveler may be covered, and those in which the traveler would not be. If you are planning a trip, it’s worth reading.
Additional coronavirus resources
Here are a few other resources that we’ve found helpful:
Right now, Santa is checking his lists, but don’t leave it all up to him. If you are a parent or give gifts to kids, we encourage you to learn about common toy hazards so that you can sort out the naughty from the nice when it comes to toys. In 2018, injuries related to toys sent an estimated 226,000 kids to hospital emergency rooms, according to data recently issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. While stronger safety standards have significantly reduced the number of dangerous toys for sale over recent years, there are still problem toys that can hurt kids. If you are shopping for children’s holiday gifts, it’s important to be aware of the risks – particularly when shopping online.
The 34th-annual Trouble in Toyland report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund helps identify dangerous products and provides tips for parents and gift-givers. These annual reports have led to more than 150 recalls of unsafe toys, inspired legislation to strengthen toy safety and empowered parents to take key actions to ensure toys are safe. We’re offering safety tips from the report but encourage you to visit the site at the link above and to download and read the full report. Also, check for toy recalls and follow Safety Alerts issued by the US Consumer Protection Safety Commission
Here are “What to watch for” tips from the Trouble in Toyland Report
Toys with sound – If a toy is too loud for you, it could be loud enough to damage your child’s hearing. Turn off the sound, remove the batteries or return the toy.
Slime – Some slimes contain high levels of toxic boron. Consider making homemade alternatives without borax, or monitor your children at all times. If your child ingests a slime product, call Poison Control.
Fidget spinners and toys marketed to adults – Some products, such as fidget spinners or children’s makeup, are not classified as toys and avoid certain safety standards. These products could contain higher levels of lead, choking risks and other hidden dangers. Avoid these “toys,” or watch your kids closely while they play.
Toys with small parts – Toys marketed to ages six and older may contain small parts that are choking hazards for younger children. Parents should check all toys for age guidelines. Before your child plays with a toy for the first time, see if smaller parts fit through a toilet paper roll — indicating they pose a choking hazard. Watch our video to learn how.
“Hatching” toys – Toys with break-apart packaging can become choking hazards for small children. Monitor your child while they open the packaging and promptly dispose of the pieces.
Balloons – Never let a child under three play with balloons, and monitor any child under 8, as balloons are the number one choking hazard for children.
Smart toys – Sites, apps, games and smart toys may be collecting private data from your child and exposing their information to hackers. Consider running these smart toys without connections to the internet, evaluating privacy policies when you first activate them, and monitoring your child’s use. Check out this guide for more info.
Makeup – We found asbestos in Claire’s makeup last year. Makeup lacks necessary safety standards, which is why we recommend avoiding these products for children, or at a minimum purchasing alternatives without talc, as it can be a source of asbestos.
Toys with small magnets -Swallowed magnets can cause serious internal damage by bunching together. Keep away from young children and monitor older children when they are playing with toys containing magnets.
Toy jewelry with toxic metals – Cadmium is a toxic metal that can be used as a substitute for precious metals in inexpensive jewelry, including dress-up jewelry marketed to young children. If your child is under six, watch them carefully to confirm that they don’t swallow a piece of jewelry, chew on the item, or put it in their mouths. Also, consider avoiding cheaper, metallic jewelry that is imported.
Recalled toys sold secondhand – Before using an old or pre-owned toy from an online marketplace, garage sale or passed down from a family member, parents should confirm that the product has not been recalled by visiting www.SaferProducts.gov.
Toys already in your home, school, or childcare facility – A survey earlier this year by U.S. PIRG Education Fund found 1 in 10 surveyed childcare facilities still using recalled inclined sleepers, despite a heavily publicized recall. The same problem exists in the toy market, potentially to a greater extent, since many recalls receive less attention in the media, regardless of their risk.
2019 Worst Toy Nominees
The World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.) recently released its 2019 Nominees for the 10 Worst Toys – check out the report for photos and descriptions so you can recognize the toys, some of which would definitely have appeal. The W.A.T.C.H. report also cautions about chopping online, which it has likened to the Wild West when it comes to outlawed toys.
Toys Marketed On The Internet, with product descriptions that may omit warnings and cautions or provide incomplete or misleading information
Battery Operated Toys For Children Under 8 Years Of Age since batteries may leak, overheat and explode.
Toys With “Fur” Or “Hair”, including dolls and stuffed animals, that can be ingested and aspirated by oral age children.
Toys With Small Removable Attachments at the end of laces and strings (e.g., bells, knobs, etc.).
Projectile Toys, including dart guns, sling shots, and pea-shooters which shoot objects and can cause eye injuries or blindness
Toys With Pointed Tips, And Blunt Or Sharp Edges that could crush, cut or puncture children’s skin.
Toys With Strings Longer Than 6 Inches which could strangle small children.
Any Crib Or Playpen Toys which are to be strung across cribs or playpens. This type of toy has resulted in strangulation deaths and injuries.
Toys Marketed With Other Product Lines, such as food, clothing, books, cassettes and videos which could have dangerous designs and are often sold with no warnings, instructions or age recommendations.
Toys Composed Of Flammable Material which will readily ignite when exposed to heat or flame.
Realistic Looking Toy Weapons including guns, dart guns, Ninja weaponry, swords, toy cleavers, knives, and crossbows which promote violence.
Toys Which Require Electricity to function and do not have step-down transformers to reduce risk of shock and electrocution.
Toys With Small Parts that can be swallowed or aspirated, causing choking.
Long Handled Toys For Children Up To 4 Years Of Age due to a tendency of such children to place these toys in their mouths and choke.
Toys With Toxic Surfaces Or Components that have the potential to be ingested or cause skin irritations (e.g., some children’s’ play makeup kits have components which contain ferrocyanide, a known poison).
Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.
Fast on the heels of Thanksgiving Thursday comes Frenetic Friday, better known as Black Friday – the busiest retail shopping day of the year. If throwing yourself into the fray is how you choose to work off your Thanksgiving calories, we have some tips to make the best of it (below), as well as a few shopping safety reminders. But if you’d rather pull out your fingernails one by one than brave the bargain-hunting hordes, you can choose to celebrate the day as Buy Nothing Day. Whether you choose to buy nothing out of conviction or laziness, it’s a good day to practice the fine art of relaxation with friends and family.
But Friday is just the start. What began as a single shopping day has spawned a series of themed days.
Saturday is the 10th annual Small Business Saturday – and we really like that idea. It’s less crowded and crazy and it focuses on small local businesses in your home community. Small businesses are the lifeblood and personality of every community so we encourage you to get out and support your neighbors. Find a Small Business near you.
Cyber Monday is a huge online shopping day. A little know alternate name for the day is Low Productivity Monday because employees everywhere are surreptitiously shopping for deals at their desks.
Our favorite day is Giving Tuesday, December 03, 2019, a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world on December 3, 2019 and every day. It was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good, and since its founding, it has raised more than $1 billion in online donations in the U.S. alone. If you’d like to give something back after all that shopping, search for an organization near you to help you find organizations, events, and ways to give back in your own community. The Better Business Bureau has some Giving Tuesday tips to ensure you don’t fall for fake charities:
If you plan to shop online or off over the holiday weekend, here are a few pointers for getting the most out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Were you affected by the 2017 Equifax data breach? You might have been because 147 million records in the US alone were exposed. If you’d like a refresher on the event, we talked about it in a blog post, along with the remedies available at the time Equifax Data Breach:
Before you dismiss this as ancient history, check this out: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that Equifax has agreed to a global settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and 50 U.S. states and territories. The settlement includes up to $425 million to help people affected by the data breach.
If you were affected, you might be eligible for
Up to 10 years of free credit monitoring
A cash payment of $125 in lieu of credit monitoring
Payment for time, expenses or losses related to the breach (capped at $20,000)
If your data was exposed, you must file a claim by January 22, 2020. You can file a claim online, or see instructions for filing a hard copy. It’s a fairly easy process. Here are FAQs if you want to learn more.
Prepaid debit cards are more and more common in our daily lives. They’ve become the standard for gift cards. Parents find them a convenient way to send a child off to college with a stipend of credit to use for spending and emergencies. Some employers even use them to pay their workers. And, increasingly, instead of issuing a check for a refund, more and more companies are issuing prepaid credit cards. A report in the LA Times talks about some of the problems that practice can create for consumers: More refunds are being made with prepaid debit cards. Is that a good thing for consumers?
Just a few of these problems include:
You become fair game for marketing from the financial firm that issues the card
The card may have a finance charge if it is unused for a period of time, eating into the value
Prepaid cards are often forgotten and go unused
Some cards have limitations on where they can be spent
New consumer protections now in effect
Starting on April 1 of this year, consumers will have more protection when they opt for prepaid debit cards, thanks to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – but to activate that protection, users must register the cards on the card issuer’s website. Consumer Reports explains: New Prepaid Card Rule Goes Into Effect.
Prepaid cards issued on April 1 and thereafter will have clear disclosures of key fees on the outside packaging so that consumers can compare cards before they buy.
Consumers who use these cards will also be protected from liability in cases of unauthorized transactions or fraud, as users of debit cards have long been.
The rule applies not only to the plastic you buy in brick-and-mortar stores but also to payroll cards, cards for government benefits such as Social Security. It also applies to funds held in dedicated “stored value” accounts on mobile person-to-person payment services like Venmo and Cash.
Among the protections that the article explains in detail:
Protection from unauthorized errors and charges
Disclosure if the card has no FDIC insurance coverage
Basic account information at no charge
Limits on how overdrafts are handled
Prepaid cards are popular for a variety of reasons. They’re more secure than cash and they work much like a debit card, but they don’t require pre-approved credit. But until now, consumer protections have been limited.
As with most financial vehicles, if pays to be a savvy consumer. US News featured a good overview, including the pros and cons, in an article about how prepaid credit cards work. It talks about the types of cards, offers alternative payment options, and compares the benefits to those of secured credit cards and debit cards. Be an informed consumer!
Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.