Whether you have a little or a lot of financial assets, it is important to monitor your accounts, your outstanding credit balances and your credit score for any suspicious behavior. This can be even more difficult if you suddenly find yourself in charge of your financial situation because of the loss of a spouse. While this can seem like a hard priority when dealing with a loss, becoming aware of your financial picture may be even more important at a time like this.
Financial “surprises” can have huge effects on one’s future.
Take this situation for example:
“John and Sue” sold their business a couple of years ago and began retirement. Not long after, John died of a rare form of cancer. Sue started getting her hands around the family finances, since John had handled them most of their marriage.
Within about 18 months, Sue noticed that her credit score continued to decline but she didn’t know why. She was paying off the balances of her credit cards each month and paid all debts off when she and her husband sold their business. So, Sue came to Global View for help and we pulled her credit report for her to see where the problem was.
Sue realized that there were eight other credit cards in her name, totaling $49,000 in balances. She had no clue about these cards. We called the county sheriff’s office to inquire about taking the actions necessary to clear her from these debts and options on filing a report.
The next day, Sue was going to file a police report. She spoke with her son that evening and told him what had happened and that she would be filing a report and pressing charges on whoever did this. Unexpectedly, Sue’s son confessed to using her identity to open the credit cards. He had always been a poor manager of money and was always asking for help. He said that he would be receiving a work injury settlement that would cover the debt. He pleaded with her to wait until the settlement and he would pay if all off.
Sue’s credit is severely damaged. Her son had stolen $50,000 from his own mother. The mother’s trust has been lost. Tremendous tension had been created within the family. We were scheduled to update all of Sue’s estate planning documents in the next few weeks, but Sue was reconsidering if funds should be left to her son at all, or at least a smaller amount left to him.
Does she pay off the debt to clean up her credit or should she just let the creditors know that these were opened without her permission? Should she let the law enforcement follow standard procedures for a case like this? This is her son, so should it be handled differently than if it were a stranger? Will it take her son hitting a hard bottom to learn the lesson? All of these questions were on the table and needed to be addressed.
Global View’s team went to work. We spoke with the sheriff’s office and three different attorneys to help us advise our client on what to do next. We had many hours of discussion with our client.
This is a difficult decision for any mom to make, but Sue decided to let her son pay off the debt. He did receive a settlement from a work injury that paid for about 70 percent of the balance. He is making payments on the remainder.
She doesn’t know yet if this was a good decision or not. He has been making payments but has had to ask for additional time for some payments.
There is an underlying issue that has not been addressed here. It could be tied to addiction, gambling or hiding other bad decisions. These are just symptoms to a much greater issue that will either be addressed soon or there will be more problems in his future.
While the bigger issue has not yet been solved, our team helped Sue discover a financial problem she was unaware of and start taking actions to correct it. If it had gone unnoticed for much longer, Sue’s finances could have been affected for many more years.
Actions – Monitor Your Finances
This story is an important reminder of what can happen if you’re not on top of your finances. Here are some suggestions for staying abreast of your accounts and any suspicious behavior:
- Check your credit regularly. You can use one of these free services: www.creditkarma.com, www.savvymoney.com or www.annualcreditreport.com. For a higher level of monitoring, you can go to www.lifelock.com or www.experian.com. A “soft pull” of your credit record does not impact your credit score.
- Review bank accounts and credit card accounts regularly.
- Keep bank records and credit card information in a secure location.
- When sending your personal identification information, bank account numbers or credit card numbers via fax, email or other electronic means, make sure it is through a secure system.
Working with a financial advisor can help you stay on top of your financial situation better. Being aware of your finances can be difficult, especially if you suddenly find yourself in charge of your accounts after losing a spouse. If you live in South Carolina and are looking for Greenville financial advisors, contact Global View to see how we can help.