Can I Close My Bank Account to Avoid Repaying a Payday Loan?

First, let’s be clear: Payday loans are illegal in the State of New Jersey. NJ state laws prohibit interest rates above 30% (which is exceptionally high already) and payday loan interest rates are much higher. Additionally, New Jersey banking laws prohibit the concept of advancing money based on a post-dated check.

What is a payday loan?

A payday loan is a very dangerous undertaking. It is process that is only entered into by those who find themselves in extremely dire financial straits.

The payday “lender” provides the borrower with a relatively small loan (usually less than $1,000). This cash loan is due to be paid back in full to the lender within a very short window of time – often when the borrower next receives a paycheck.

Those who are desperate for immediate money and don’t want to have their credit checked can often be fooled into thinking that a payday loan is the perfect solution to their problem. Borrowers who take out payday loans typically say that they don’t want to borrow money from friends or family, and their credit scores are usually already suffering, so taking out a proper bank loan isn’t on their radar.

Why do payday loans get such a bad rap?

In theory only, the concept of a payday loan is perfectly fine:

“You need rent money and your landlord is breathing down your neck about it. Due to unforeseen expenses this month, you’re short a few hundred dollars. If only you could simply borrow $400 to keep your landlord happy; you’ll have NO problem paying it back the next time you get paid.”

Sounds ok, right? The inherent problem with payday loans is this: if you are even a day late in repaying it, interest starts to accrue at an astronomical (up to 400%) rate. This, combined with the fact that by the time someone considers a payday loan, they are already having money trouble, leads the borrower down a path that can only end badly.

All payday loan borrowers talk themselves into believing that they’ll have the money to repay the loan on time. Most of them, however, arrive at their loan’s due date confounded and overwhelmed. Although they let themselves think their next paycheck would be enough to cover the cost of the loan plus their usual expenses, this is almost never the case.

Therefore, the average payday loan borrower ends up late in repaying their loan, either partially or in full. As soon as that interest starts building, their amount due climbs FAST. What started out as a $400 loan can end up as thousands of dollars in debt, leaving the borrower unable to even begin to make good on their promise to repay.

How can I get out from under a rapidly rising debt?

It can be an extremely scary feeling to know that your debt is rising higher and higher day by day at a rate that you can’t really even determine how much you owe. Drastic measures, like trying to close your bank account or moving away from the payday lender – will not solve your problem. Creditors can garnish your wages (up to a certain percent) until they get their money back, and unless you plan to leave the country and change your identity (not recommended) – they’ll go the distance needed to find you.

Although payday loans are illegal in New Jersey, that doesn’t mean that NJ borrowers aren’t taking out payday loans in neighboring states. If you’ve found yourself indebted to a payday lender, or if you are right now considering taking out a payday loan, you should consider filing for bankruptcy instead. Not only will this wipe out the money you owe to the payday lender, but many of your other debts can also discharged – giving you an opportunity to take stock of your money management with a clean(er) slate.

 

How to Invest in Your Future When You’re Broke

If you find yourself “barely” living paycheck to paycheck, the worry of not having any money saved can eat away at you. The concept of planning for future events like sending your kid(s) to college, helping them get married, and enjoying your own retirement can feel impossible when you can hardly afford your current lifestyle.

Although it may seem completely unimaginable, you can make a plan for your future; in fact, strategic financial planning may be the one thing that also helps you live better now as well.

The main reason most people don’t have a real savings plan in place is because they simply feel they don’t have enough money to do so. The change that needs to happen isn’t in making more money (although that is obviously not a bad thing) but in getting a new mindset.

The first step in getting a new money mindset is to change your inner dialogue from “I’m broke! I can barely even pay my bills!” to “Let’s see if I can find ways to improve how I spend money.”

While you may feel that you are barely able to meet the financial demands of your life, most people find that they’re spending too much in at least one area that can be cut back. Take a good, hard look at where all of your money goes for at least one complete month. Write down each and every cent that’s spent, organized into three categories:

  •  Necessary/survival: Housing (mortgage payment or rent), utility bills (electric, gas, water/sewer, trash removal), all forms of necessary insurance (homeowners/renters, car, health, life), food (for eat-at-home meals only), vehicle payment(s), vehicle maintenance, gas.
  • Debt: College/student loans, credit cards, personal loans, and any other forms of debt.
  • Luxury: These are things that, while dearly beloved by many of us, can be eradicated without causing you extreme hardship. Examples include: cable/satellite tv packages, streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Now), high speed internet connection, Xbox Live membership, restaurant meals, magazine/newspaper subscriptions, cell phone(s) and their service plans, gym memberships, satellite radio, hair/nail services, frivolous (unnecessary) purchases like new electronics, expensive clothing/shoes, and other items that you simply don’t need.

Once you have a clear picture of exactly what you’re spending all of your money on, you will be able to create a plan to start saving money – it’s that simple!

Your mindset must remain steadfastly dedicated to saving money in order for this to work, however. See that list of luxury items? You are going to have to decide which of them you can either cut out entirely, or scale back. You will likely be surprised at how many companies will be happy to work with you to lower your monthly bill when you explain your situation. They’d rather keep your business at a lower profit than lose you altogether.

Instead of having your nails painted professionally, invest in the supplies needed to do your nails at home. Listen to the (free) radio in your car or pop in a CD rather than paying for satellite radio. Cut out your cable tv and keep your streaming services. Cancel your gym membership and get outside to exercise or start an indoor workout program – there are a multitude of free exercise videos on Youtube.

Even something as simple as not stopping before work to get a coffee and breakfast on-the-go can make a difference. If you spend $5 every day for a breakfast to-go, you can put that money directly into your savings account by eating breakfast at home. This habit can save you over $1,000 a year!

Another potential way to save money every month is to negotiate your interest rates with any lenders or credit card companies. You may also qualify for a loan modification (even for your mortgage loan) wherein the terms of your loan would be adjusted in order to make your monthly payments lower.

After you have found several good ways to save money each month – be sure to put the money saved into the right place! The best way to make sure this happens is to put a set amount into your savings account before you pay any bills or spend any money. That way you will train yourself to live on the money you have left after you’ve already invested in your future.

 

5 Expert Recommended Methods to Raise Your Credit Score

If you are researching how to raise your credit score, regardless of the reason, we give you major kudos. Perhaps you are trying to repair a credit report that was damaged due to years of poor financial choices. On the other hand, maybe your credit score is fair and you’re getting ready to make a big change in your life that will be much easier with good to excellent credit, like buying a new house or starting a family.

You should always strive to have the best credit score possible, but many people experience dips in their credit score just as we experience ups and downs in life. Such is the nature of the beast. In order to raise your credit score effectively, we’ve gathered some expert-recommended tips that can make a significant difference in your overall credit report and number.

Before making any changes, you’ll want to make sure you pull your own credit report and have a good look over everything listed on it. Comb through each credit report from the three main credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) very carefully to check for any mistakes that may have been made like debt that is being reported that doesn’t actually belong to you.

You can contact the reporting agency about any errors on your own or you can work with a New Jersey credit repair attorney to help you make the contact and clear up any errors that may be unnecessarily dragging your credit score down.

After you have determined that there are no errors currently weighing down your score, take the following expert-recommended steps to boost your score higher than ever before:

Pay monthly credit card bills before their closing dates

Even if you are managing to pay your credit card bills in full each month, you may be paying after your lender has already reported your balance to the credit bureaus. This will make it seem that your balance is high every month. What you must do is contact your credit card company or lender and ask when they make their monthly credit bureau reports. Henceforth, make your monthly payment well in advance of that credit card company’s closing date so that your balance will be reported to the bureaus as zero.

Create a debt paydown strategy

In order to optimize your credit utilization ratio (which means keeping it lower than 30% but optimally under 10%), work hard to pay down the balances on your card(s) that have the highest balances first.

Pay your debts every time you get paid

Most people pay their bills once a month, but there is a better way! Since it is common practice for most employers in the US to pay their workers on a biweekly basis, make it your new practice to make two payments on your credit card debt per month. Pay your monthly minimum as soon as you receive your first paycheck of the month, and then pay a little bit more with your second paycheck of the month. This will nudge your balance down much more quickly than only making one payment per month.

Lower your credit utilization ratio by requesting a higher credit limit

Although this is something that should not be attempted if you don’t trust yourself to stay within your own self-imposed spending limits, requesting a higher credit limit from your credit card company can lower your overall credit utilization ratio. Naturally, this will only work as long as you refrain from racking up anymore debt.

Consolidate multiple credit cards from the same issuer

With the ultimate goal of keeping your total credit limit the same, if you have more than one credit card with the same institution, consider requesting a consolidation of those cards. The goal of this is to increase the average age of your overall revolving credit, so request that your newer card be combined into the older card. This will eventually eliminate that newer card from your credit history and your debt will have an older overall age, which will help improve your credit score.

 

Image: “5” by Steve Bowbrick – licensed under CC by 2.0

Financial Consequences of a NJ Divorce from Bed and Board

New Jersey couples who want to separate but not completely divorce have the option of choosing a legal process called divorce from bed and board. This is New Jersey’s version of a legal separation.

Why not just sever all ties and get divorced?

While there are many reasons why a married couple may not be ready to commit to a final divorce (irony noted), for the purpose of our finance-focused blog, we’re going to, as usual, hone in on MONEY.

Most spouses who are interested in a bed and board divorce are generally still amiable and see the benefit of working together to end their marriage in the best financial way possible for both parties.

Health Insurance Benefits

Probably the biggest money-saving reason to consider a divorce from bed and board is so that the dependent spouse can retain health insurance benefits even after the couple separates. Oftentimes, married couples have one insurance policy through one spouse’s employer. A bed and board divorce is especially applicable in cases wherein one spouse was a stay-at-home-parent or was otherwise unemployed in the capacity that would allow them to acquire health insurance of their own.

Private health insurance coverage is expensive. Divorcing couples in New Jersey in which the dependent spouse needs access to healthcare on a regular basis (ie. those dealing with a chronic illness) can choose the limited (b&b) divorce option, allowing the dependent spouse to remain covered under their working spouse’s policy until such time that he or she is able to obtain independent coverage.

Tax benefits

New Jersey homeowners who are joint owners due to marriage may be unsure how they want to divide the marital home. Moving from one household into two is, as you can imagine, enormously expensive.

Some married couples who no longer wish to be married recognize that it is wise for them to temporarily continue owning property together. This may mean that both spouses remain living in the marital home until both parties have a better hold on their independent personal finances. Additionally, continuing joint ownership of the marital home helps couples avoid property tax repercussions because the IRS views a divorce from bed and board as identical to a legal separation.

Retaining joint home ownership also gives couples who want it the time they need to transfer the title from both spouses to one spouse. This is because there are generally no time limits on property transfers between spouses who are divorced from bed and board in New Jersey.

Survivor benefits

A limited divorce from bed and board allows survivor benefits on many pension plans to remain unchanged. This is also true of many federal and social security retirement benefits. This can be very important for older couples who are nearing retirement age as well as younger couples who have children.

Although it is true that a divorce from bed and board offers many financial advantages, it is important to work with a family law attorney who has experience in this arena. It is crucial to be sure of the language in your specific benefit package(s) before making any decisions. If your personal finances are keeping you from getting the final divorce you want and need in order to move on and be happy, you may also want to consider filing for NJ bankruptcy.

 

 

Image: “Marriage Rings” by Robert Cheaib is licensed under CC by 2.0

Bankruptcy Law and Family Law: How They’re Connected

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Anyone who has been through a divorce knows that, second only to your love life, your finances are often the hardest hit area during a split. Many people continue to have financial difficulties long after their divorce is finalized, as well. Family lawyers who handle divorce cases know from experience that financial strife can be a huge contention between divorcing couples.

While your family law attorney will assist you in creating a Property Settlement Agreement that settles some of your money troubles (you may begin receiving child support or alimony payments after the divorce is finalized), oftentimes divorced couples will struggle with things like losing their family home to foreclosure, credit card debt, and potential bankruptcy.

As much as your divorce attorney may want to assist you with all of the above money matters, they have to focus their attention on everything within their own wheelhouse to ensure that you (and their other clients) achieve the desired outcome from your divorce. Their duties are many, and include drafting your PSA, attending court dates, negotiating and corresponding with counsel for your soon-to-be ex-spouse, handling domestic violence matters, and much more.

Frequently, family law attorneys find it very beneficial to work in tandem with an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy, real estate and/or debt relief. Because financial strain is a given in most divorces, it can be helpful for everyone involved to work as a team. Your divorce (family law) attorney will walk you through all of the steps of your divorce. With your permission, ideally he would then discuss your case with his tandem bankruptcy attorney, whom you would then work with to clean up your finances.

Of course, family law attorneys attend to matters other than divorce, like name changes, parenting time, grandparents’ rights, pre-nuptial agreements, child custody (unrelated to divorce), adoption, restraining orders, and domestic violence. Some of these matters can also be made easier by working with an attorney who specializes in finances. For example, the financial aspect of adoption matters can be quite intense. While your family law attorney will handle much of the adoption paperwork, he can refer you to a financial specialist like Veitengruber Law if you need more help organizing the necessary finances.

Every attorney has a lot on their plate every single day, regardless of their practice area(s). The best attorneys limit their focus to a limited number of practice areas so as not to get overwhelmed and spread too thin. If your family law attorney attempts to do it all himself, you may find that he’s too busy to set aside time to keep you updated on your case. On the other hand, a smart divorce lawyer will say, “Hey, while I’m working on negotiating your child visitation schedule, why don’t you go see George Veitengruber to start sorting out the fact that you can’t afford your mortgage payment?”

When attorneys work together, their clients always have a better result. Mutually beneficial relationships between experienced professionals give clients a well-rounded experience and optimal outcome. Veitengruber Law welcomes family lawyers in New Jersey (Monmouth, Ocean, Mercer, Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties) to reach out to our firm if and when your clients need our services. We will gladly return the favor so that our mutual clients are well-cared for and happy with our services.

Image credit: Kamaljith KV

I Received a NJ Bankruptcy Discharge: Now What?

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Having all or many of your debts erased in a New Jersey chapter 7 bankruptcy is referred to as a bankruptcy discharge. Most people filing for chapter 7 feel a great relief when their discharge is granted.

While you are deeply immersed in the bankruptcy process, it can be easy to view your discharge as the finish line. However, once you’ve passed that finish line, you’ll have new goals to reach for, and achieving these goals will be the true measure of your future financial success.

After bankruptcy, you’ll be aiming for repairing your credit score, which will take a hit when your bankruptcy is reported. Lenders will want to see that your credit score is slowly rising post-bankruptcy. While this isn’t always easy to do, it’s definitely not impossible. You can:

Apply for a secured credit card – While significantly different from a traditional credit card, secured cards are backed-up by money you pay up front. While few banks will see you as an ideal borrower right after bankruptcy, some offer secured card programs to borrowers who need help rebuilding their credit. This is a temporary solution that you should only use until your score rises enough to make you eligible for a traditional credit card.

Apply for a secured loan – This type of loan typically involves a credit union or a local community bank. You can either “borrow” from funds that you supply to your own loan account, or borrow money wherein you must make certain necessary payments before any funds will be released to you. While not a typical loan, these baby steps help your credit score because your loan activity will appear on your credit report, helping other lenders to see that you’re moving in the right direction.

Ask a family member to co-sign a loan or credit card – It’s true that we typically do not advise our clients to co-sign loans for friends or family members. A co-signer is putting a lot of faith into you, because they are essentially letting you “borrow” their good credit. The only times we recommend considering co-signing is after bankruptcy and when you truly have zero other options.

Request to be an authorized user – An alternative to finding someone to co-sign a loan or credit card is to request to be listed as an authorized user on a family member’s credit card. This is probably the option that will have the least positive effect on your credit score, but it can help a little bit. However, ensure that the lender in question reports all payment activity to credit bureaus for all authorized users, not just the main account holder.

As you begin your journey post-bankruptcy, the most important thing you do will be to make every single payment you owe to anyone ON TIME. This includes the aforementioned secured loans as well as utility bills and any other monthly expenses. Bankruptcy discharge should have given you a huge break from significant debts, leaving you with enough money to pay for your living expenses with a little bit left over each month. This means there are no more excuses for late payments.

When we work with a bankruptcy client, we also offer credit repair assistance after your discharge. If you’ve received your NJ bankruptcy discharge and you’re still struggling, we’re here to help you figure it all out.

Image credit: John Eisenschenk

When to Break Up With Your Financial Advisor

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An important indicator of your overall financial wellness is how well you balance spending with saving and investing. You should always keep the end game (retirement) in view while simultaneously being able to enjoy life while saving for your children’s college education, if applicable. In order to coordinate all of the pieces of your financial puzzle most effectively, many people choose to work with a financial advisor.

Unlike many other professional partnerships you may form, your relationship with your financial advisor or financial planner can become more like a friendship. Because many people stay with the same financial planner for years, you can easily feel connected on more than a professional level. This feeling increases if you are also in the same circle of friends or live in the same town.

No matter how much you enjoy the company of your financial planner, if your needs simply aren’t being met, you have some decisions to make. You’ll either have to explain to your advisor exactly how he’s letting you down and what he can change to retain your business, or you can start looking around for someone new.

Reasons to consider leaving your financial planner:

  • Distrust – Being able to trust your financial advisor with your money is extremely important. If you’re asking questions and not getting answers that feel authentic, that’s a red flag.
  • Poor communication – While it’s true that financial planners are often very busy, if your phone calls and emails go unanswered for lengthy time periods, you’re paying for a service that’s sub-par.
  • Unclear expectations – The best financial advisors will lay out a plan when you first team up with them. The plan should include input from you regarding your specific goals for your assets and what you’d like to see happen. If your advisor never created an investment policy statement for you – it could signal that he’s skimping on his other duties as well.
  • No contract – As with any professional who provides you with a service that you will be paying for, your financial planner should present you with a clear contract at the beginning of your relationship that outlines his duties to you and what he needs from you as well. Without a contract, you have no way of knowing what to expect.
  • Distance – If you’ve been working with a financial advisor from afar and have recently decided to take a more active role in your finances, letting go may be your only option.
  • No fiduciary standard of care – In other words, if your advisor (or his firm) doesn’t put your interests ahead of their own, you have a very good reason for finding a new firm.
  • Fees – If you’re currently unhappy with your advisor’s fee structure and this is set by his firm, you may not be able to get the arrangement you’re looking for without finding someone new.
  • Additional services – Many people today are interested in working with a financial advisor who goes above and beyond making sound investments for them. Tax planning and basic budgeting advice are two services cited by clients who were unhappy with their current financial planning firm.

At Veitengruber Law, we pride ourselves on our vast network of professionals and we attend networking meetings every month to stay immersed in the financial, legal and real estate markets. We are more than happy to assist you in finding the NJ financial advisor that meets your needs. Give us a quick call [(732) 852-7295], or fill out the contact request form on our website. We’re always here to help!

Image credit: Nicolas Raymond

Legal Help for NJ Veterans Facing Foreclosure

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As we honor those who served our country this Veteran’s Day, it’s important to know that there are thousands of homeless veterans in our country. Furthermore, there are over a million veterans who are in danger of facing foreclosure in the near future.

Why are so many veterans homeless?

This question is a good one, because many people in New Jersey and across the nation simply do not understand that so many veterans are struggling. The reason most homeless veterans lose their homes is due to a lack of affordable resources. Those veterans who are struggling financially need legal assistance to save their homes.

Sometimes, a veteran may face a seemingly smaller legal issue like the loss of a driver’s license. Studies show that veterans who lose their driver’s license end up with snowballing financial problems due to difficulty navigating the legal system in order to get their licenses restored. This leads to job loss due to the veteran not having a reliable way to get to work, which then in turn often leads to the loss of their home via foreclosure.

What assistance is available to struggling or homeless New Jersey veterans?

Across New Jersey, people are taking action to help homeless NJ vets. In South Jersey, a project entitled Operation Safehouse has volunteers building 60 cabin-like homes where veterans can live for up to two years while they are also given access to mental health assistance and work skill training so that they can eventually support themselves and move into their own permanent homes.

A similar program in Central Jersey, Community Hope, has been providing veterans with temporary housing for over a decade now, with an outreach program (Supportive Services for Veteran Families [SSVF]) in 15 NJ counties. Even though Community Hope helped over 750 veterans avoid homelessness last year and other programs like Operation Safehouse are popping up throughout the state, the number of  NJ veterans who are struggling continues to rise.

Veterans who fought the war on terror after 9/11 are feeling the effects of their time in combat and are dealing with severe PTSD that is preventing many of them from staying gainfully employed. Additionally, many post-9/11 vets living in New Jersey were so traumatized by their time on the front lines that they even struggle with keeping friendships and families together.

While the community organizations like Operation Safehouse and Community Hope are doing all that they can to support the emotional and physical needs of veterans, there is still a need for legal assistance that many NJ veterans simply can’t afford.

Are there any government programs or special considerations for veterans at risk?

If you are a veteran and you are at risk of losing your home to foreclosure, take the time to reach out to NJ foreclosure defense attorneys who are ready and willing to help you. Also, do your research on the special rules and exemptions you may qualify for as a US veteran.

You may be able to save your home from foreclosure if you’ve been able to maintain your employment but are still struggling with heavy debts that you simply can’t keep up with. In New Jersey, your VA benefits are exempt from the bankruptcy means test. This gives veterans a leg up when applying for bankruptcy in NJ.

In fact, in New Jersey, many disabled veterans are excused from even taking the means test. Filing for bankruptcy will push the pause button on your foreclosure, if you’re dealing with one, giving you time to formulate a plan that works for your current financial situation.

Image credit: S. AR University

 

You’ve Lost Your Wallet: What to do First

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If you’ve ever lost your wallet or even “just” a credit (or debit) card, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the ice-cold fear that runs through your body when you first realize what has happened. With identity theft and credit card fraud running rampant in society today, there’s no telling what might happen to your personal information, money and credit score when your wallet goes missing.

As soon as you discover that your wallet or purse has been misplaced or stolen, the absolute most important thing that you must do is: ACT QUICKLY. Do everything on the following list, and do it now. Whether you’re at work or up to your ears in finger paint at home with the kids – stop what you’re doing immediately, and:

  • Call your bank:  If you have a debit card (and who doesn’t these days?), the most time-sensitive thing you must do is alert your bank. You have your hard-earned money sitting in your account just waiting to be spent by the person who finds (or has stolen) your wallet. The faster you act, the better the end result will be for you. Most banks won’t hold you responsible for any transactions that occur after you report your debit card as stolen or lost – as long as you make that call right away. If you wait a day or two, you may end up liable for money you didn’t spend. Your debit card will have to be cancelled and you’ll be sent a new one with a new debit number, however it will still be routed to your bank account. The difference will be that the original debit card will no longer work, so no one will be able to use it.
  • Report your credit cards as stolen/lost: It used to be common practice to immediately cancel any and all credit cards that you’ve lost or have had stolen. Now we know that there is a better option – one that won’t wreak havoc on your credit rating. Make phone contact with all of your credit card companies, but instead of cancelling your card(s), explain that your wallet was stolen or lost. Credit card companies are able to freeze any activity on your cards without actually cancelling your accounts, which would send the wrong message to credit reporting agencies and potentially lower your credit score. Request that new cards be sent out to you. They’ll have completely different card numbers, making the original cards unusable, but your account will not be reported as closed or cancelled.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit report file: Make a call to all three of the major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union – and let them know that your wallet was stolen or lost. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your personal file. This will cause a chain reaction (a good one) that will prevent anyone other than you from opening a new credit card or taking out a loan using your personal information. This step is especially important if your wallet contained your driver’s license or other personal identification information that may result in identity theft. If your social security card was lost or stolen, you’ll also need to alert the Social Security Administration and begin the process of getting a new card.
  • File a report with your local police: Although this may make you feel like you’re being overly dramatic, reporting a stolen wallet to the police isn’t done so that they can open a case to look for the thief. Naturally, (most) police officers simply don’t have time for that. The purpose of reporting a stolen wallet or credit card to local law enforcement is to create a paper trail of your loss. A police report is a solid piece of evidence you can use regarding any fraudulent charges on your stolen card(s) or identity theft.
  • Learn from your mistakes: Keep your credit cards in a safe place at home and only carry one with you when you need to use it. NEVER keep your social security card in your wallet. In order to avoid your debit card from going missing, always keep it safely inside your wallet in the same place. Tossing it in your purse or keeping it in a pocket is a good way to lose track of it quickly.

 

Image credit: Ryan Loos