HOW OFTEN DO I NEED TO REVIEW MY ESTATE PLAN?

Although there’s no hard-and-fast rule about when you should review your estate plan, the following suggestions may be of some help.

  •  You should review your estate plan immediately after a major life event
  • You’ll probably want to do a quick review each year because changes in the economy and in the tax code often occur on a yearly basis
  • You’ll want to do a more thorough review every five years

Reviewing your estate plan will not only give you peace of mind, but will also alert you to any other changes that need to be addressed.

There will be times when you’ll need to make changes to your plan to ensure that it still meets all of your goals. For example, an executor, trustee, or guardian may change his or her mind about serving in that capacity, and you’ll need to name someone else.

Other reasons you should do a periodic review include:

  • There has been a change in your marital status (many states have lass that revoke part of all of your will if you marry of get divorced) or that your children or grandchildren
  • There has been an addition to your family through birth, adoption, or marriage (stepchildren)
  • Your spouse or family member has died, has become ill, or is incapacitated
  • Your spouse, your parents, or other family member has become dependent on you
  • There has been a substantial change in the value of your assets or in your plans for their use
  • You have received a sizable inheritance or gift
  • Your income level or requirements have changed
  •  You are retiring
  •  You have made a change in your estate plan (e.g., you created a trust or executed a codicil to your will)
Source: Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright, 2018

If you would like more information on reviewing or setting up an estate plan, give our office a call at 775-674-2223.

 

ORGANIZING YOUR RESOURCES FOR RETIREMENT

Retirement should provide you the financial freedom to do all the things you’ve always wanted to do in the years after you’ve finished your working life.

However, you’ll need a plan to carefully execute the financial side of things before you can start checking things off of your bucket list.

Retirement lifestyle planning encompasses the non-financial elements of retirement and life, things like traveling, spending time with family, partaking in new hobbies, engaging socially and more.  Carefully setting goals for how you’ll best accomplish this is an important factor to take into consideration when preparing for retirement.

Without the framework of an 8-hour, everyday job to provide structure to your life, you’re going to be left with no choice but to find new ways to spend your time and give yourself purpose, and some retirees will have more trouble accomplishing this than others.

Though, with more information available today than ever on retirement lifestyle options, it’s easier than ever to research and find ways to make your retirement meaningful while also leaving plenty of time to relax and doing all the adventuring you dreamed of during the years of hard work.

Although you can plan years in advance, you likely won’t have a perfect read on things until you actually have reached retirement and become entrenched in that lifestyle. The baby boomer generation tends to have a very hardworking mentality, which makes it difficult for many of them to disassociate with what they’ve done for a living. If you are within this generation and nearing retirement, the very attitude that has likely served you very well throughout your career could now make for an uncomfortable first few months or even years away from work.

Most retirees do not have a sound plan for how they’ll adjust to life with no constant paycheck coming in. The shock from going from the constant flow of income to becoming responsible for transforming their nest egg into a steady stream of money to live off can be a big transition for many. However, just as stressful an issue for retirees may be how they fill their time. Continuing to work, whether you stay at your current job and scale back your hours, or find new work geared more toward something that you have a passion for, can be great ways to ease into

Retirement while generating supplemental income. In fact, many retirees are able to delay accepting their Social Security benefit by  continuing to work after their professional career comes to an end. Doing so will then increase your monthly benefit once you do decide to accept at a later date. In addition, continuing to work can help you remain active and help you stay mentally sharp, and keep you from becoming sedentary.

Exercising has proven to be a great source of mental and physical release, and gives you a multi-pronged approach to improving your retirement lifestyle. Not only will you have something to help fill the hours of your week and give yourself new goals to work toward, but you’ll likely be improving your health and longevity of your life inthe process.

Another great way to fill your time and gain a sense of satisfaction is to volunteer in your community. In reading about retirement planning, we oftentimes talk about filling the income gap from your working life to your non-working life, but these are great ways to bridge the psychological gaps you’ll also face!

Lastly, ask yourself how you want to be remembered. Think about your legacy, not only in terms of your wealth and the inheritance you want to pass on, but what you accomplished in other aspects of life, like family, community, spirituality and other causes. Finding the perfect balance once you reach retirement won’t be as simple as it may seem during your working years, but this is simply the next challenge for you to overcome.

For additional information about this topic or if you have any other questions regarding retirement, please do not hesitate to contact us at 775-674-2223.

What Is The Difference Between A Fixed And A Variable Annuity

An annuity is a contract with an insurance company in which you make one or more payments in exchange for a future income stream in retirement. The funds in an annuity accumulate tax deferred, regardless of which type you select.

 Deferred fixed annuity

A deferred fixed annuity is an insurance-based contract that can be funded either with a lump sum or through regular payments over time. Fixed annuity contracts are issued with guaranteed minimum interest rates. The funds in your fixed annuity are able to build and earn interest during the accumulation phase. You don’t have to pay taxes on interest earned until it is withdrawn. By postponing taxes while your funds accumulate, you keep more of your money working and growing for you instead of paying current taxes. This means an annuity may help you accumulate more over the long term than a taxable investment.

Deferred variable annuity

A variable annuity is a contract that provides fluctuating (variable) rather than fixed returns. The key feature of a variable annuity is that you can control how your premiums are invested by the insurance company. Thus, you decide how much risk you want to take and you also bear the investment risk. Most variable annuity contracts offer a variety of professionally managed portfolios called “subaccounts” (or investment options) that invest in stocks, bonds, and money market instruments, as well as balanced investments. Unlike a fixed annuity, which pays a fixed rate of return, the value of a variable annuity contract is based on the performance of the investment subaccounts that you select. These subaccounts fluctuate in value with market conditions, and the principal may be worth more or less than the original cost when surrendered.

 Variable annuities provide the dual advantages of investment flexibility and the potential for tax deferral. The taxes on all interest, dividends, and capital gains are deferred until withdrawals are made. When you decide to receive income from your annuity, you can choose a lump sum, a fixed payout, or a variable payout.

Annuities have contract limitations, fees, and charges, which can include mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender charges, investment management fees, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits. Annuities are not guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency; they are not deposits of, nor are they guaranteed or endorsed by, any bank or savings association. Any guarantees are contingent on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

For additional information about annuities, CLICK HERE or contact us at 775-674-2223.

DON’T OUTLIVE YOUR INCOME

With the added complexity found across today’s financial topography, there seems to be more questions than ever before for investors and retirees alike when it comes to determining how long their savings will last them.

Whether it’s the rising cost of healthcare, uncertainty in the stock market or skyrocketing consumer and credit card debt, being able to comfortably retire in today’s financial landscape may seem more like a chess match than a relaxing game of checkers.

If each of us knew the exact day in which we would take our last breath, retirement planning would be a breeze. Other than the extreme morbidity of knowing your ultimate expiration date, you’d have the ability to walk your budget backwards, carefully earmarking funds for all the important things you’ll  need money for along the way: vacations, home expenses, groceries, bills and ultimately, your end-of-life expenses.

If this were the case, you’d know exactly how much money you’re left to play with after all of the “must-do” items were checked off the list. None of us have this luxury though, so we’re left to navigate these ever-murky retirement waters. However, the days after you’re finished working should be sunny and optimistic – you’ve simply got some planning to do. Only in recent decades has the accountability for retirement savings shifted – almost completely – from employer to the employee, as pensions have largely gone the way of the dinosaur. With the wealth of information available to us today, the duty now falls squarely on you, the retiree. Below are three areas where you will be best served focusing your efforts to ensure that you don’t outlive your savings in retirement.

 MAKING A REALISTIC BUDGET AND WITHDRAWAL STRATEGY

First, start with your essential expenses such as food, housing, utilities, clothing, baseline healthcare cost and any monthly payments like auto and homeowners insurance. These should be the expenses that you tie to your most reliable sources of income. What you’ll find now is that once you separate your costs between “wants” and “needs,” is that there is also a lot of “want” within your “need” category. Take some extra time to further analyze this list and decide if you can scale back any of these “highly-desired needs.” Once you’ve met your essential costs, now turn your attention to your discretionary spending – things like vacations, entertainment or one-time travel costs. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make in creating your budget is not including something as “essential” when you should’ve included it within the “discretionary” list, which serves only to add confusion to your budgeting practice.

BOOST YOUR RETIREMENT CASH FLOWS

Even once you’ve called it quits with your career work, there are still so many ways retirees can stay busy while producing extra revenue streams to stretch out their savings, in addition to finding something to fill the hours of their new, wide-open schedule. The real retirement winners are those retirees that are able to combine a hobby with a part-time job. For instance, someone who loves gardening being able to work outside as a groundskeeper after years in front of computer screens as an accountant. Oftentimes, part-time employment allows you to maintain some level of employee-sponsored benefits, which could hold the potential of saving you money on healthcare.

 If you have questions about preparing for retirement, call Nevada Senior Advisors at 775-674-2223.

 

MAKING SENSE OF TAXES IN RETIREMENT

During your working years, everyone told you retirement was the easy life. As you near retirement, however, perhaps it’s seeming like a bit more work than you had imagined. After all, correctly positioning your various retirement accounts, honing in on your risk tolerance, determining your income sources, creating a budget, and deciding the age to start accepting your Social Security benefit are all important issues that should be at the forefront of your retirement planning checklist.

But have you given much thought to the role taxes will play in your retirement lifestyle?

Sadly, most retirees have not, and risk detonating the potential ticking tax time bomb in their portfolio that could have been avoided with a little bit of education and a touch of guidance.

Although taxes are imminent to some extent, once you retire you have the distinct advantage of being able to choose what to pay yourself for income each year by withdrawing from your various accounts or accepting a Social Security benefit. Estimate your taxes for the year and see how much additional room you have in your current tax bracket before you reach the upper threshold. “Maximizing your tax bracket” refers to taking additional withdrawals to “fill up” the entire bracket without going into the next one.

Tax planning for retirement seems simple at first glance, however, retirees face a completely different set of challenges than do younger taxpayers. Oftentimes, clients come to a financial services professional (FSP) with a tax situation they weren’t ever expecting to face, and many of them have forgotten to account for taxes altogether when making important calculations. Each year you should carefully plan out you and your spouse’s income to ensure you know which tax bracket you’re going to land in. By developing and utilizing tax-efficient withdrawal sequences for your income, you can delay having to tap into your tax-deferred accounts until later in life. Many people seem to think that taxable income decreases or goes away in retirement, but that is not the case.

In order to pay Uncle Sam as little as possible over the course of your retirement, you must understand how your different modes of income will be taxed. Planning carefully – on both a long-range and an annual basis – in regards to your tax brackets, will help you increase your post-tax income for retirement. Remember that in retirement, you control (to some degree) how much you pay yourself in income each tax year from actualizing the funds from your retirement accounts.

Long-range tax bracket planning entails putting together a snapshot of the amounts you’ll withdraw from your retirement accounts and other financial vehicles through the years, and carefully coordinating it with when you start accepting your Social Security benefit. In doing so, many retirees are able to rearrange their income sources in such a way that delivers them more after-tax income. While long-range planning assists in designing an overall tax and income strategy over the course of retirement, annual planning, or being able to “control your tax bracket” each year provides an opportunity to revisit ways to reduce tax burden by taking full advantage of standard or itemized deductions and personal exemptions.

As our lives evolve and change, so does our tax situation. Just as it is important to revisit your risk tolerance as your financial landscape continues to undergo major life events and changes, it’s also necessary to do so from a tax perspective. As many retirees leave the working world, they drop into a lower tax bracket initially from the time they retire and stop receiving normal paychecks on through their 60s. At age 70½, however, you’ll be required to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your 401(k) or your traditional IRA.

These distributions, along with any other income you’ve still got coming in, has the potential to push you into a higher tax bracket. Some retirees have found success in taking distributions to steadily and carefully draw from their IRA while still in their 60s, and remain in the same tax bracket – many times this helps them avoid getting bumped into a higher bracket.

As most of us know, you’re not able to dismiss taxes altogether. If you are proactively taking measures to be as tax-efficient as possible, however, you will have a leg up on many retirees. It’s always recommended that you work with a tax or financial services professional to help you prepare. With proper tax bracket management, allocation and diversification of your assets, you can be better prepared and help keep as much of your retirement funds as possible.

 If you have any questions, please contact Nevada Senior Advisors at 775-674-2223. 

Thinking About Your Lifestyle in Retirement

If you are nearing retirement age, you may be exploring ways to put your retirement savings to work in creating a reliable income for yourself well beyond your working years. You may have already devoted some time to speaking with someone to help you accomplish this, because let’s face it, retirement is complicated.  Most of the topics surrounding retirement involve money, and rightfully so – it’s the main thing on most American retiree’s minds. Aside from money, however, there are other lifestyle factors that will be key drivers of your retirement success.

Balancing both the management of your finances and your lifestyle in retirement will play large roles in how you’re able to enjoy your new chapter of life.

By exploring the topics listed below, you may gain some insight on ways to make your retirement more comfortable and enjoyable.

1. Downsizing may make a lot of sense

The choice to downsize your home once you enter retirement is a big decision, but, depending on your homeownership costs, it may potentially be one of the best ways to create retirement income by extracting equity from your home to serve you elsewhere in your retirement budget. Many retirees require a larger house and more property to raise their family – commonly in houses with multiple floors and two or more bedrooms and bathrooms. Once the children become adults and move out, retirees often find themselves with too     much space.

In addition, many retirees, as they prepare to grow older, may have a desire to have all of their rooms and utilities located on one floor, eliminating the need to travel up and down stairs to complete daily tasks like laundry, cleaning or cooking. A smaller yard may also mean less upkeep and maintenance. As mentioned, downsizing to something more modest may create immediate equity to help accomplish other retirement goals, and likely will also cost you less in taxes, insurance and utilities. Beware, however, the costs associated with downsizing. Do your homework to ensure real estate and moving costs don’t eat away your newly-recognized equity.

2. Make your physical health a priority and a hobby

The cost of assisted living facilities jumped 14 percent in 2017, to more than $54,0001 per year, so it’s easy to understand why so many Americans have large amounts of their retirement savings wiped away due to the need for some sort of long-term care. A multitude of factors

play into your health in retirement, but staying active and working on building and maintain strength can make a world of difference in preserving your mobility, balance, posture and overall well-being. While we as humans will undoubtedly age, and if we live long enough, may eventually require some form of living assistance, you can help stave off the aches and pains of old age with a healthy diet and regular workout routine. In addition, many retirees are making a hobby out of their fitness activities, and it’s easy to see why – yoga, cycling, water aerobics, dance classes and golf are all great ways to stay fit and meet new friends. In addition, studies show exercise can reduce your chances of a fall, and can boost memory and prevent dementia.2

3. Consider a part-time job to stay active

Many retirees find it difficult going from forty or more hours of work per week down to zero when they retire. With so much more free time, it’s easy to see why. In addition to extra time, many retirees underestimate the socialization aspect of working life. Many Americans are finding that going from full-time employment to an enjoyable part-time job strikes the perfect balance – it allows them to retain some semblance of work-related accomplishment, along with the socialization factor mentioned previously. In addition, the added income from working part time allows you to stretch your retirement budget further or leverage the extra cash for investments. Working  part time may also allow you to delay touching your  tax-deferred dollars, saving them until you absolutely need to withdraw them and they become subject to taxes.

If you have questions about preparing for retirement, call Nevada Senior Advisors at 775-674-2223.

Sources: 1 http://www.richmond.com/business/local/study-shows-cost-of-long-term-care-continues-to-rise/article_1fb90ff2-9a6a-5914-8574-5ba90be7e4ba.html
                2 https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/exercise-older-adults#1

The Costs of Financial Procrastination

Many people are guilty of some form of procrastination, whether that means they put off filing for taxes as long as possible or just have an ever-increasing stack of papers on their desk to sift through. This can be especially true with financial responsibilities, because doing financial paperwork isn’t exactly “fun” for most people.

Mark Twain once said “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

According to a 2016 report from the Insured Retirement Institute, only 55 percent of baby boomers have set aside savings for retirement. That means that the other 45 percent don’t have retirement savings to fall back on.

Whether it’s that they have a significant amount of debt, their finances are tied up in ongoing expenses, or that they hold onto the idea that they will have time to save for retirement down the road, people are always going to have excuses to delay saving for retirement. Putting off saving for retirement by even a few years, however, can mean the difference between the retirement you desire and outliving your money.

How this kind of procrastination might affect your retirement:

Based on calculations, a 25-year-old that saves $100 every month until he retires at age 65, with an annual return of 6.5 percent, would accumulate over $225,000. If he waited until he was 40 years old to start contributing to his retirement account, the balance would be a significantly smaller at $75,000. According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the median amount of savings for many Americans is about $104,000 for households with members between 55 and 64 years old. That figure tells us that many Americans aren’t saving nearly enough for retirement. The amount that you need for retirement varies by each individual as there are several factors to be taken into consideration.

What should someone do if they find themselves behind on the retirement savings spectrum?

One of the most beneficial things you can do for your retirement savings is to sit down and come up with your list of realistic expenses that you think you will face in retirement. This can help you determine how much you will need to save, and help you gauge how far along you are in your retirement savings process.

If you aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to creating a retirement budget, you can start by looking up online what some of the average expenses are in retirement.

This will include factors like:

  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Health care
  • Food

For the most part, a lot of your day-to-day expenses will change dramatically when you retire.

You won’t need to commute to work every single day, for example. You also may have your house paid off by then, so you wouldn’t have to worry about mortgage payments. There are some unpredictable costs in retirement such as health care. Health care costs tend to rise throughout your retirement, and the older you get, the more medical help you will likely need.  It’s important to factor in these unpredictable costs into your plans, so that you can be as prepared as possible.

Your unique situation could look much different, depending on a list of things:

  • Your lifestyle in retirement. Are you someone who hopes to travel a lot during your retirement? Or enjoy a round of golf every day?
  • Your health and life expectancy.
  • Your housing.
  • And many other factors

Source : https://www.protective.com/learning-center/retirement/the-cost-of-procrastination/

 

What You Can Do With a Will

A will is often the cornerstone of an estate plan. Here are five things you may be able to accomplish with a will.

Distribute Property as You Wish

Wills may enable you to leave your property at your death to a surviving spouse, a child, other relatives, friends, a trust, a charity, or anyone you choose. There may be some limits, however, on how you can distribute property using a will. For instance, your spouse may have certain rights with respect to your property, regardless of the provisions of your will.

Transfers through your will usually take the form of specific bequests (e.g., an heirloom, jewelry, furniture, or cash), general bequests (e.g., a percentage of your property), or a residuary bequest of what’s left after your other transfers. It is generally a good practice to name backup beneficiaries just in case they are needed.
Note that certain property may not be transferred by a will. For example, property you hold in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety may pass to the surviving joint owner(s) at your death. Also, certain property in which you have already named a beneficiary may pass to the beneficiary (e.g., life insurance, pension plans, IRAs).

Nominate a Guardian for Your Minor Children

In many states, a will may be your only means of stating who you want to act as legal guardian for your minor children if you die. You may be able to name a personal guardian, who takes personal custody of the children, and a property guardian, who manages the children’s assets. This can be the same person or different people. The probate court may have final approval, but courts will usually approve your choice of guardian unless there are compelling reasons not to.

Nominate an Executor

A will may allow you to designate a person as your executor to act as your legal representative after your death. An executor carries out many estate settlement tasks, including locating your will, collecting your assets, paying legitimate creditor claims, paying any taxes owed by your estate, and distributing any remaining assets to your beneficiaries. As with naming a guardian, the probate court may have final approval but will likely approve whomever you nominate.

Specify How to Pay Estate Taxes and Other Expenses

The way in which estate taxes and other expenses are divided among your heirs is generally determined by state law unless you direct otherwise in your will. To ensure that the specific bequests you make to your beneficiaries are not reduced by taxes and other expenses, you may be able to provide in your will that these costs be paid from your residuary estate. Or, you may be able to specify which assets should be used or sold to pay these costs.

Create a Testamentary Trust or Fund a Living Trust

You may be able to create a trust in your will, known as a testamentary trust, that comes into being when your will is probated. Your will typically sets out the terms of the trust, such as who the trustee is, who the beneficiaries are, how the trust is funded, how the distributions should be made, and when the trust terminates. This can be especially important if you have a spouse or minor children who are unable to manage assets or property themselves.

A living trust is a trust that you create during your lifetime. If you have a living trust, your will may be able to transfer any assets that were not transferred to the trust while you were alive. This is known as a pourover will because the will “pours over” your estate to your living trust.

Caveat

Generally, a will is a written document that must be executed with appropriate formalities. These may include, for example, signing the document in front of at least two witnesses. Though it may not be a legal requirement, a will should generally be drafted by an attorney.

There may be costs or expenses involved with the creation of a will or trust, the probate of a will, and the operation of a trust.

For more information on Wills and Living Trusts, please give us a call at 775-674-2223 and we can put you in touch with our Estate Planning Attorney.

Disclaimer: The above information is not legal advice and you should consult an attorney for legal advice.

 

 

The Health-Wealth Connection

Money is one of the greatest causes of stress, prolonged stress can lead to serious health issues, often resulting in yet more financial struggles. Consider the following statistics:

  1. More than 20% of Americans say they have either considered skipping or skipped going to the doctor due to financial worries. (American Psychological Association, 2015)
  2. More than half of retirees who retired earlier than planned did so because of their own health issues or to care for a family member. (Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2017)
  3. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017)
  4. Chronic conditions make you more likely to need long-term care, which can cost anywhere from $21 per hour for a home health aide to more than $6,000 a month for a nursing home. (Department of Health and Human Services, 2017)
  5.  A 65-year-old married couple on Medicare with median prescription drug costs would need about $265,000 to have a 90% chance of covering their medical expenses in retirement. (Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2017)                              

The recommendations for living a healthy lifestyle are fairly straightforward: eat right, exercise regularly, don’t smoke or engage in other risky behaviors, limit soda and alcohol consumption, get enough sleep (at least seven hours for most adults), and manage stress. Your doctor will benchmark important information such as your current weight and risk factors for developing chronic disease. Other specific tips from the Department of Health and Human Services include:

Nutrition: Current nutritional guidelines call for eating a variety of vegetables and fruits; grains; low-fat dairy; a wide variety of protein sources including lean meats, fish, eggs, legumes, and nuts; and healthy oils. Details can be found at health.gov/dietaryguidelines.

Exercise: Any physical activity is better than none. The ideal target is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity workouts per week. For more information, visit health.gov/paguidelines.

Here are some basic recommendations for living a financially healthy life:

Emergency savings: The amount you need can vary depending on whether you’re single or married, self-employed or work for an organization (and if that organization is a risky startup or an established entity).

Retirement savings: Personal finance commentator Jean Chatzky advocates striving to save 15% of your income toward retirement, including any employer contributions. If this seems like a lofty goal, bear in mind that as with exercise, any activity is better than none — setting aside even a few dollars per pay period can lead to good financial habits.

Health savings accounts: These tax-advantaged accounts are designed to help those with high-deductible health plans set aside money specifically for medical expenses. If you have access to an HSA at work, consider the potential benefits of using it to help save for health expenses.

                      

 

Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Whether they’re snatching your purse, diving into your dumpster, stealing your mail, or hacking into your computer, they’re out to get you. Who are they? Identity thieves.

Identity thieves can empty your bank account, max out your credit cards, open new accounts in your name, and purchase furniture, cars, and even homes on the basis of your credit history. If they give your personal information to the police during an arrest and then don’t show up for a court date, you may be subsequently arrested and jailed.

And what will you get for their efforts? You’ll get the headache and expense of cleaning up the mess they leave behind.

You may never be able to completely prevent your identity from being stolen, but here are some steps you can take to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Check yourself out

It’s important to review your credit report periodically. Check to make sure that all the information contained in it is correct, and be on the lookout for any fraudulent activity.

You may get your credit report for free once a year. To do so, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.

If you need to correct any information or dispute any entries, contact the three national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Secure your number

Your most important personal identifier is your Social Security number (SSN). Guard it carefully. Never carry your Social Security card with you unless you’ll need it. The same goes for other forms of identification (for example, health insurance cards) that display your SSN. If your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, request an alternate number. Don’t have your SSN preprinted on your checks, and don’t let merchants write it on your checks.

Don’t give it out over the phone unless you initiate the call to an organization you trust. Ask the three major credit reporting agencies to truncate it on your credit reports. Try to avoid listing it on employment applications; offer instead to provide it during a job interview.

Don’t leave home with it

Most of us carry our checkbooks and all of our credit cards, debit cards, and telephone cards with us all the time. That’s a bad idea; if your wallet or purse is stolen, the thief will have a treasure chest of new toys to play with.

Carry only the cards and/or checks you’ll need for any one trip. And keep a written record of all your account numbers, credit card expiration dates, and the telephone numbers of the customer service and fraud departments in a secure place–at home.

Keep your receipts

When you make a purchase with a credit or debit card, you’re given a receipt. Don’t throw it away or leave it behind; it may contain your credit or debit card number. And don’t leave it in the shopping bag inside your car while you continue shopping; if your car is broken into and the item you bought is stolen, your identity may be as well.

Save your receipts until you can check them against your monthly credit card and bank statements, and watch your statements for purchases you didn’t make.

When you toss it, shred it

Before you throw out any financial records such as credit or debit card receipts and statements, cancelled checks, or even offers for credit you receive in the mail, shred the documents, preferably with a cross-cut shredder. If you don’t, you may find the panhandler going through your dumpster was looking for more than discarded leftovers.

Keep a low profile

The more your personal information is available to others, the more likely you are to be victimized by identity theft. While you don’t need to become a hermit in a cave, there are steps you can take to help minimize your exposure:

To stop telephone calls from national telemarketers, list your telephone number with the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry by registering online at www.donotcall.gov

  • To remove your name from most national mailing and e-mailing lists, as well as most telemarketing lists register online with the Direct Marketing Association at www.dmachoice.org
  • To remove your name from marketing lists prepared by the three national consumer reporting agencies, register online at www.optoutprescreen.com
  • When given the opportunity to do so by your bank, investment firm, insurance company, and credit card companies, opt out of allowing them to share your financial information with other organizations
  • You may even want to consider having your name and address removed from the telephone book and reverse directories

Take a byte out of crime

Whatever else you may want your computer to do, you don’t want it to inadvertently reveal your personal information to others. Take steps to help assure that this won’t happen.

Install a firewall to prevent hackers from obtaining information from your hard drive or hijacking your computer to use it for committing other crimes. This is especially important if you use a high-speed connection that leaves you continuously connected to the Internet. Moreover, install virus protection software and update it on a regular basis.
Try to avoid storing personal and financial information on a laptop; if it’s stolen, the thief may obtain more than your computer. If you must store such information on your laptop, make things as difficult as possible for a thief by protecting these files with a strong password–one that’s six to eight characters long, and that contains letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols.
“If a stranger calls, don’t answer.” Opening e-mails from people you don’t know, especially if you download attached files or click on hyperlinks within the message, can expose you to viruses, infect your computer with “spyware” that captures information by recording your keystrokes, or lead you to “spoofs” (websites that replicate legitimate business sites) designed to trick you into revealing personal information that can be used to steal your identity.
If you wish to visit a business’s legitimate website, use your stored bookmark or type the URL address directly into the browser. If you provide personal or financial information about yourself over the Internet, do so only at secure websites; to determine if a site is secure, look for a URL that begins with “https” (instead of “http”) or a lock icon on the browser’s status bar.

And when it comes time to upgrade to a new computer, remove all your personal information from the old one before you dispose of it. Using the “delete” function isn’t sufficient to do the job; overwrite the hard drive by using a “wipe” utility program. The minimal cost of investing in this software may save you from being wiped out later by an identity thief.