MaineStream Finance

Posts by Chris Linder

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MaineStream Turns 20 in 2020!

It’s hard to believe that MaineStream Finance (MSF) turns 20 this year! MaineStream Finance was actually incorporated by Penquis in 2000 and became a fully-certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in 2001. MSF existed even before 2000, when housing counseling and a small business loan fund began in the mid-1990s. Since that time, MaineStream Finance has grown into three primary categories of services and financial products:

  • Home Ownership with housing counseling and home lending
  • Small Business with advisory, workshops and loans
  • Personal Finance with FDA savings accounts and financial coaching

Originally, pre-COVID-19, we were going to hold a 20th anniversary bash to celebrate, but that will not be happening. We will be providing updates and outreach on our website and with Penquis’ website over the next few months. In the meantime, check out our website’s MaineStream Finance history and timeline and reach out to some of the great staff members below to say congratulations to MaineStream Finance in attaining organizational adulthood. Happy Birthday, MaineStream Finance, and thank you so much to Penquis and staff for such great support and making us part of the family 20 years ago!

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Not Your 1970s Mobile Home Anymore – MaineStream Launches a Manufactured Home Loan Product

An affordable and livable alternative to the housing affordability crisis

MaineStream Finance would often have clients come through our doors asking if we could finance manufactured housing/ mobile homes. Because of our funding source requirements, we always had to say no. There were enough clients and partners asking that we investigated whether we should create a specific product and funding source to finance manufactured housing. Manufactured Housing (fka mobile homes) has greatly improved
over the years with extensive oversight by HUD at the manufacturing facility and now often retain their value like stickbuilt homes, as long as general maintenance is kept. Manufactured homes can often cost less than $100,000, which is often a maximum price point that low income clients have that they can afford. Right now throughout Maine, there is a lack of supply of homes for sale and very high demand – and many low income homebuyers are being priced out of owning their own home despite rates being historically low.


MaineStream Finance believes manufactured homes can be a good alternative for an affordable and livable home for low income families. and we have now launched a new manufactured home/mobile home loan! Some highlights of our new manufactured home loan product are:

  • Our loans can finance manufactured homes on owned land or in residentowned-communities (ROCs).
  • Can be up to 30 years for full maturity.
  • Our rates are typically much lower than some of the major, national lenders with rates that can well exceed 10%.
  • Much lower down payments and closing costs requirements as well.
  • No minimum credit score – we will work with clients on issues to address.

Give our loan officer, Roberta Teeto, a shout if you know someone who might be interested in this new type of home and financing at MSFInfo@penquis.org and visit the new Manufactured Home Loan page!

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Penquis launches Rental Counseling and Eviction Intervention Services

The Penquis Housing Counseling team announce the offering of rental counseling services for Eastern Maine. We and other service providers are deeply concerned there may be significant evictions starting in August and beyond once the courts open up, moratoriums are lifted and certain relief funds, including unemployment, end. We are on weekly calls with other CAP agencies, Pine Tree Legal and the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection (BCCP) to monitor the situation.

Our rental counseling services will include:
-Understanding tenants’ rights and responsibilities and good rental practices
– Understanding rental leases and deposit requirements
– Maintaining a good relationship with landlords and resolving tenant-landlord disputes
– Budgeting and credit skills of tenants and assisting in the creation and negotiation of payment plans
– Navigating the formal eviction process in the courts
– Resolving Fair Housing issues related to possible discrimination

Check out our new webpage for rental counseling and to contact the team if you have any further questions or if you would like us to speak to your team about this and other housing counseling services.

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Identity Theft Part II—Identity Theft Monitoring Services

I think I may need to do something more than just checking my credit report for free once a year – what do I do now?

In the June blog, we covered the basic steps of what to do immediately if you find out your credit card, social security number, or other forms of identity or financial accounts have been stolen, particularly for unemployment insurance fraud.  In the case of a stolen credit card number, your bank can just issue you a new card with a new number.  If your social security number is stolen, like in the case of many who are victims of unemployment insurance fraud, your social security number may be out there in the “dark web” forever.  So what to do for the long-term if something about your identity or financial situation has been stolen and you can’t change it? 

Check with groups you are with now.  First check what is being offered by your bank or credit card companies, like Capital One, or affiliations with groups like AARP or AAA.  If you are a Costco member, they offer a service too.  Some of the free or low cost services they are offering do more than credit monitoring for free, like identity theft/social security theft monitoring.

Check with companies who had their systems breached and if you were a customer of theirs. Also if your identity was compromised because a company like Capital One, Home Depot or Dunkin Donuts did not keep your information safe and there was a breach – sometimes they will offer you a free service (here are all known major breaches for the last 20 years).  In the last five years, my name has been part of at least 3-4 breaches and each time, they have offered free monitoring for at least two years (sometimes up to seven).

Paid services for identity theft. Consumer Reports states that it does not think it is worth paying extra for monitoring services, but if you do need that extra peace of mind, you can pay for services that will be actively looking at changes in your credit but also flag any cases in which your data is being passed around or shared in fraudulent ways for sale on the “dark web”.  These services generally can cost between $8 to $35 per month or between $100 to $400 per year. 

You have probably heard of Lifelock – it has the highest profile but is not necessarily the best.  Foolishly, the CEO shared his social security number openly at one point to show how good they are, and fraud was committed (though they have gotten better).  After looking at about 12 different articles from reputable sources that rated the services, we’ve put together the services that were mentioned the most as the top providers (in the order of most mentions – fees are annual for their most basic service).  One of the services below is actually free: Credit Sesame – though the service level is very minimal as you can imagine. 

  1. Identity Force ($100)
  2. Privacy Guard ($120) OR Experian Identity Works ($108) (2-way tie)
  3. MyFICO ($240), Lifelock ($108) OR Identity Guard ($80) (3-way tie)
  4. Credit Sesame (Free) OR Transunion ($300) (2-way tie)

You can probably do well with any of the ones listed above so it may boil down ultimately to the cost and the specific features.  Things to consider, depending on your needs, are:

  • Does it monitor all three credit bureaus or just one? 
  • Can it monitor other family members like kids, spouses, etc.?
  • Will they help me recover from identity fraud if my identity is stolen?
  • How much in identity theft insurance do they offer?  (many offer at least $1 million)
  • How often do I get alerts? (daily, weekly, monthly)
  • Where and what does it monitor?
    • Social Security Numbers
    • Social Media
    • Dark Web where hackers and fraudsters operate

Many experts recommend you NOT use one of the 3 big credit reporting agencies, like Equifax, Experian or Transunion because there can be a conflict of them providing the information being monitored. They especially recommend not Equifax because they are the reason half of Americans (over 160 million) had their credit profiles hacked in 2017.  To learn more on these types of services, here are some of the top articles we found on the topic that we referred to for this article:

Chris Linder, CEO, MaineStream Finance

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To Buy or Refi Right Now? Really?

Many would say it would be a crazy time to buy a home or refi your home with all that is going on around us right now.  However, if home buying or refinancing your mortgage has been on your mind for a while, and you have the time to explore, it may be a perfect time to do so.  In honor of NeighborWorks Week, a 240+-member organization promoting affordable housing for all, and June being Homeownership Month, Penquis and MaineStream Finance provide some general tips and questions to ask as you assess whether to move forward or not on buying or ‘refi’ing’. 

Should I Buy?

  • Positives for buying a home:
    • Home prices are slightly lower than prior to March
    • Interest rates are very low
    • Many folks have the time to think through the process, get to closing, and move in
    • There are lots of good lending programs through MaineHousing, VA, FHA to make closing and borrowing affordable.
    • Sometimes the cost of the home can actually be less than renting and you can have the home you want. 

  • Potential Pitfalls when buying:
    • The inventory for homes for sale inventory is down.  Many would-be sellers have decided to pull their home off the market and wait. 
    • The process can be logistically difficult for home showings, virtual closings, etc. Realtors and Banking are essential businesses and are open – closings are happening.  Talk through with your realtor and lender how the process will work and what to expect in terms of how much slower it may be. 
    • Some of the larger banks and mortgage companies are raising credit scores and down payment requirements. 

Should I Refi?

  • Positives for refinancing your mortgage:
    • Rates are historically low and cannot go much lower
    • Do not generally need an appraisal
    • Can lower payments with a lower interest rate and/or a longer loan period
    • Lenders are generally more open to refinancing now than financing new home purchases right now. 

  • Things to pause on:
    • If you are in deferment or forbearance with your existing mortgage, it may be more difficult to refinance, esp. with a new lender.  If you are currently unemployed or furloughed, it may be difficult in general to be refinanced at all. 
    • Be very careful of aggressive marketing tactics to refinance through phone calls, letters in the mail, and email/texts.  Look at your existing bank’s offerings first.  If you go with an online lender, go to a reputable lending hub like LendingTree or BankRate.com so that you are in the driver’s seat of the process– not being pushed into something.
    • Be careful of refinancing for cash out – much of the 2008 crisis was caused due to too much equity being removed by homeowners prior to the crisis. 

–Chris Linder

June 15, 2020

To find out more about housing issues (rental, mortgages, etc) during COVID – check out our Housing Resources page. To find out more about Personal Finances during COVID-19, go here.

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Fair Housing and Equal Housing Lending in the Time of COVID-19 and Racial Equity Protests

Constant reminders and being aware are one of the keys to making racial equity principles in housing truly work – we can all do better!

In honor of NeighborWorks, a 240+-member organization promoting affordable housing for all, and June being Homeownership Month, Penquis and MaineStream Finance are covering key affordable housing topics.  NeighborWorks Week this year has the theme, Building Strong Communities Together, and to show solidarity with our sister NeighborWorks agencies across the US dealing with both COVID and racial tensions much more than Maine, we will cover racial equity in housing. 

In this time when racial equity is in the forefront of our minds, it is important to note we have many industry standards and laws to ensure equity in housing and lending, regardless of sex, race, disability, family status, and religion – particularly the Fair Housing Act and Equal Housing Lender principles.  All REALTORS® must uphold a code of ethics and standards of practice as well.  Maine also has laws protecting citizens from discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identify. 

However, it is key for us all to recognize that we’re not perfect, and it is even more important to make sure these standards and laws are actually implemented.  Even subtle, subconscious and implicit biases can creep into how we conduct ourselves without doing it on purpose for many of us.  This is a very real problem, even today (2016): “Study: Whites treated better by Battle Creek [MI] real estate agents” with findings such as “Agents were more likely to follow up with white testers, and black testers had to try five times harder to receive correspondence.”

We must all pay more attention and do better. Overall, we as Greater Bangor and Maine need to be more welcoming to more diverse populations and perhaps do away with the term “From Away” altogether. 

Here is what real estate and lending professionals, like MaineStream Finance, must do as a minimum and ALL renting and home-buying clients have a right to:

  • Do not steer clients away from certain homes, neighborhoods, or loan products with your advertising, flyers/forms, or when speaking to clients. Best approach is to offer all home choices and loan products available and let the client choose how to narrow the list down (i.e. don’t pre-screen homes or loan products for the clients or anticipate their needs.) Avoid using code words like “safe” or “exclusive”. 
  • Use the exact same, consistent script and process in terms of how a home is presented and how a loan product and eligibility criteria are described.  Do not offer one term to one client and a different term to another for the same home or loan product, e.g. different price, lower down payment, higher rates, etc. 
  • Use the exact same criteria for assessing a homeowner’s ability to purchase a home using objective, easily verifiable criteria like income, existing debt, and credit scores. 
  • Really pay attention/be hyper-aware of how you address each and every client –particularly prospective clients. We can all fall back into auto-mode and not realize how we are treating people.  

Here are some sadly very real examples of home-buyer discrimination (from Consumer Action.org):

  • not telling a prospective minority buyer who can afford a $200,000 property about a property listed for $195,000 in a predominantly white neighborhood.
  • rescheduling the appointment to show a minority family a particular home in a predominantly white neighborhood because the real estate agent knows that a white buyer will be making an offer on the house within a week or so.
  • showing a minority buyer only homes in a particular, segregated neighborhood rather than showing homes in all neighborhoods that fit the buyer’s budget and criteria, or telling the buyer that you don’t think s/he should view properties in a certain area because s/he wouldn’t “feel at home” there (in other words, s/he does not fit in with the current population).
  • “blockbusting” to scare homeowners into selling their homes or getting tenants to vacate their rentals by telling them that members of a protected class are moving into the area.
  • requiring three years of tax returns for one borrower and only two for another, or judging work history with current employer as being insufficient even though it may only be one or two months shorter than another applicant’s work history.
  • a mortgage lender reviews two home loan applications. One is from a Hispanic couple purchasing a home in a neighborhood that has a large Hispanic population. The other is from a white couple purchasing a home in a predominantly white neighborhood. Both couples have approximately the same average credit scores, have similar incomes, are equally creditworthy, are borrowing roughly the same amount and are applying for the same type of 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Both couples are approved for their loans. However, the Hispanic couple is quoted a rate of 5.75%, while the white couple is quoted 5%.
  • an African American couple inquires in person to buy a single-family home. The real estate agent tells them the unit is not available anymore, but the couple continues to see new ads for the home for six more weeks.
  • a woman with a Chinese accent calls regarding a home for sale in a predominantly white neighborhood. She leaves three messages but her call is never returned. Her niece, who was born in the U.S. and has no accent, calls and hears back from the real estate agent within 24 hours.
  • a Native American family puts in a full-price bid on a home in a predominantly white neighborhood. The real estate agent reveals that the seller is motivated, and there are no other bids on the property. The next day, the real estate agent informs the buyers that the seller has rejected their offer. The seller provides no reason and does not make a counter-offer.
  • an African American couple visits an insurance agent’s office to request a premium quote for homeowners insurance. The agent tells the applicants that she cannot provide a quote until she inspects the home, and that she needs the mortgage lender’s name and phone number so she can call and get information on the property. White neighbors, who referred the couple to the agent, said they were not required to have a home inspection and received a quote while still in the agent’s office.

We can all do better to ensure Equity in Housing – we’re happy to have the conversation with our partners on how we can all do better. If you or someone you know feels that they have not been fairly treated, you can call us at Penquis (973-3500), Pine Tree Legal (942-8241), or US Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) Complaints Office in Boston (617-994-8300).

-Chris Linder

To find out more about housing issues (rental, mortgages, etc) during COVID – check out our Housing Resources page. To find out more about Personal Finances during COVID-19, go here.

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A Call to All Bankers: we know the self-employed and neediest were not served by PPP. Let’s do what is right – not what is best for us next time.

As of Apr 15/16, the SBA PPP forgivable loan program was fully allocated despite thousands of loan applications still in process. BDN reports 1/10 small businesses received support. Top recipients: restaurants, hotels, law offices, and auto repair shops in Maine. A new allocation of $250 billion to $350 billion for PPP is in the works in Congress.

If you look at the average US PPP loan size, $239,152 per PYMNTS.com, the self-employed/sole proprietors did not fare well. That is roughly a business of $1.4 million in annual payroll costs – not counting other operating costs like costs of goods, etc. – and not your average self-employed. Maine banks and credit unions were fairer to all businesses with an average loan size of $157,000 or a company with annual payroll costs of $942,000 – but still not the self-employed (on average).

For this next PPP round or whatever it is called, let’s as the financial industry quit pretending we are out there doing this purely from the goodness of our hearts and for our concern for our communities. I am not attacking any one bank, or the SBA or Treasury, or our legislators – we love you all since we partner with so many of you and receive financial support from you (truth be told). The time that SBA and the banks had to implement was crazy – I applaud you in many ways and feel for you as you lost sleep and weekends. There are even some banks and CUs out there who did the right thing – who did not play favoritism or focus on the big “small businesses”. But please, please all of you (or most of you) do the right thing next time – please. We can do better.

The numbers don’t lie – we know what happened for the banking industry overall:

  1. Bigger, existing “small businesses” were served more because they are the ones you want to keep happy and not go under with bad debt. Punto. Period. Even if banks were not paid the fees they received by SBA (see below), who would they focus on? The ones with large loans that could go bad, with large investment accounts, sweep accounts, payroll services for hundreds of employees OR Joe Smith, the lobsterman (I’m in Maine.) with a $5,000-limit credit card he does not use and a checking account with an average balance of $200?
  2. You were paid handsomely for larger loans. We know you had the choice of being paid 5% on a $349,000 loan (fee of $17,450) and 5% on a $10,000 loan (fee of $500) – which loan did you do first? Please don’t cover it up or showcase your 1-2 $10,000 loans – you know what you did. Admit it now – do better next time.

I don’t understand why community lenders like us who are US Treasury certified and SBA microlenders are left out – not able to serve PPP loans. (News flash: PPP is just a type of PRI. PPP is not special or complicated or new. Nonprofits can take on PPP, i.e. a type of PRI, in our sleep with two arms tied behind our backs. Don’t know what a PRI is? A program-related investment, or PRI, is a “loan” that is forgiven if you hit certain donor/lender requirements or performance measures…sound familiar?) I’ll just assume lenders like us won’t be included and simply ask that for PPP or P3 or “Triple P” 2.0, we hope Congress, the SBA, and the US Treasury consider (and our banks and CUS ask for) the following:

  • carve out a significant portion only for the self employed in the new allocation. I did not run any numbers, but $50 billion of the $250 billion seems fair – 20% of the new allocation or 8.3% of the total (by the way – who chose $349 billion – was that one extra billion to go to $350B just too much?)
  • change/improve/increase the financial incentives to banks and credit unions to want to serve the self-employed and serve non-clients more (pssst – the banks aren’t really doing it for free…we just don’t see it)
  • improve on some of the PPP requirements that don’t work for non-service sole proprietors like fishermen and truckers with heavy fixed costs, e.g. not allowing those with Schedule C tax return losses to apply.
  • add time for self-employed and smaller financial institutions who truly serve the self-employed to apply and disburse the funds through July and August and truly help those FIs who serve self-employed to get set-up, find partnerships, etc.
  • assess and run the numbers on who “took care of their own”, i.e. served much bigger businesses who were long-standing clients, for P3 v.1 and those who truly focused on smaller loans/self-employed and new clients. For P3 v.2, reward those financial institutions who served the neediest more – pay them more, give them more allocation availability, and give them more liquidity.  Provide them technical support and match them up with tech companies who can make the process easier. Break P3 v.1 results down by bank, by bank/CU type and size, median loan size, by industry, by employee total, by race, by gender of the owner, by average employee salary, by organization type, and by geography – state and rural/urban, and, US Treasury and our friendly bank regulators, by census tract and average incomes by census tract….
  • reduce the overall friction to applying and accessing. Many things were done right by allowing businesses to attest to the truthfulness of the information, not requiring collateral, holding banks harmless for incorrect reporting, and allowing banks to make decisions quickly. But boy, was it complicated and confusing, especially for the self-employed. Now is not the time to get cute about trying to slip up the cheaters or those who misstate (though I guarantee you there are cheaters all around who took PPP loans – big, small, and tiny. They will get their due – we will find them out.)

Per the US Department of Labor, Maine is the second highest state with a high proportion of the self-employed (Montana is first). BDN has been sounding this alarm since early April here and here. Minorities and immigrants tend to be more self-employed. We at MaineStream work with low-income business owners (Yes! There are low-income business owners!) Whether you want to serve them or not, losing them to destitution and closure will hurt the overall Maine economy – this is a fact (Study: Maine has most vulnerable economy.) Do what is right – make it so – we can all do better. Give me a call or email me – I’d be happy to talk it through and on how to improve access regardless of the next “interim final” (my favorite term out of all of this) rule. We can do better – come on Mainers (who happen to be bankers/lenders).

Chris Linder, CEO, MaineStream Finance, Bangor, Maine

Originally published April 17, 2020

To find out more about Small Business issues during COVID-19, including financing, go here.

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Ran out of Federal/SBA Funds or Never Accessed Them? Here are some options for Small Businesses.

What can you do for funding in between Federal (SBA) and State (FAME) programs being available, when unemployment runs out, or when you re-open and not all your customers are bak?  It’s not all bleak and below are a few options that we have found over the last few weeks.  Do be careful– these are moving targets, funds are running out fast and must be replenished, and scammers are looking for you.  We at MaineStream and partners like SBDC and SCORE are here to help guide you through these issues along the way.

Grants (more are on our COVID-19 Small Business website in the “industry-specific” or “donations” sections)

Loans (lower cost and/or some other type of relief).  Please note, loans still must be paid back–carefully pause before borrowing and skip loans altogether if you don’t think you will pay it back. 

-Chris Linder

Portions published in the MaineBiz article, “Maine small-biz funding roundup: more loans, fintech and options for self-employed” on April 22, 2020.

To find out more about Small Business issues during COVID-19, including financing, go here.

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Help – I may have been a Victim of Fraud or Identity Theft – What do I do?

Many Mainers have experienced identity theft for unemployment fraud – here is what can be done

You have probably seen the news about thousands of Mainers being victims to scammers falsely filing for unemployment under their names (BDN, May 28, “Maine probing scores of claims as fraudsters target stressed unemployment system”).  This is extremely scary and an awful time to have to deal with it.  Maine does seem to be on top of it more quickly than other states.  Unfortunately, I personally have been part of at least 4 security breaches in the last five years, mostly for my credit card at big box stores, like Home Depot.  The worst part was when my personal information, including my social security number, was stolen when I worked for the Federal Government way back in the 1990s.  Credit card numbers and passwords can be changed, social security numbers cannot (generally). 

First Level – Immediate Steps: If you are notified of being a victim of unemployment fraud or if you find out via a phone call or letter that you are now receiving unemployment and you shouldn’t be, here is what is recommended:

  1. Call at least one of the 3 credit bureaus to report the fraud – I would suggest you call all 3.  At the same time, you can also ask them to put a freeze on your credit so that no new accounts can be opened in your name – usually is frozen for two years until you request to unfreeze them. Equifax: 1-888-766-0008 / Experian: 1-888-397-3742 / TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
  2. Let your bank know to look out for suspicious transactions on your bank accounts and credit cards.  You may want to ask for a new credit or debit card if you think those numbers have been compromised.   The more you communicate with your bank on what is happening, the more they will want to help you and make things right.  They are on your side in these cases. 
  3. Report the incident at the US Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov or 1-877-438-4338. 
  4.  Notify the Maine Department of Labor for unemployment fraud.  It may not be worth waiting on line for a phone call so you might want to do it online: www.maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft.  Unfortunately, you could typically call the Maine Attorney General’s office but there are reports that they are not taking any new complaints right now. 
  5. Report the incident to your local police department.  While there is not much they can do, this protects you legally that you did your best when you make a claim for lost funds or to not pay a debt incurred. 

Second Level – Ongoing Steps

  1. Change your passwords on critical accounts like banking and your primary email accounts.  I may use a generic password for silly website requirements to register and access something, but when it comes to financial websites or personal email, each account has its own separate password with lots of letters, numbers and punctuation marks that do not spell out any words in the English language – example – instead of “ILoveMickeyMouse” – do “1L0v3M1ckeyM0u53!” It can be a pain but is worth it. 
  2. Be really careful of what personal info you share online and on social media– are you sure you want to share your address and your exact birthday on Facebook? It’s nice to get birthday wishes.  But Facebook does not need to know your exact birthday for you to get birthday wishes.   I always put in a fake year on social media – 1910 is usually my go to – they don’t need to know my exact birthday – just that I am over 18 years old. 
  3. Hold back info when they really don’t need it.  When I know someone like my son’s daycare already has the information or they just don’t need it, I leave it blank – do they really need my social security number for the 4th time?  The more paper with your information out there – the more the chance is that it will get misplaced.  If they really need it or want something like my social security number, I do not email it or write it down, I tell them verbally in person or over the phone. 
  4. Shred the paper you get from financial institutions.  The best, low cost trick is to shred by hand into two different waste baskets and empty them on different weeks.
  5. Check your credit report three times a year for free.  Each credit reporting agency is required to provide you with a credit report once a year by law for free – you can get it at ww.annualcreditreport.com.  I like to spread this out over the year – so for example, request one in January, one in May and one in September.  Check and make sure the debt accounts are correct but also that your previous addresses and employers are correct.
  6. Don’t click or talk to them – go to the original source!  When you get an email or call from a sensitive source like the government or bank that you were not expecting, don’t click on anything or talk to the person on the other end.  Look up the website or phone number of the institution and contact them that way directly.  When you google a company, be careful not to click on the top 2-3 links – those are paid ads that may not be the company you are looking for.  Scroll down a few lines until you find the precise website of the company you are looking for. 
  7. Be careful where you use your debit card.  Many financial advisors suggest you use debit cards so you are not accruing debt on your credit card.  I rarely use my debit card to be honest.  If you can, you can pay off your credit cards each month.  The reason for this is that credit card funds is OPM – other people’s money.  Debit cards are your money – most banks will return the funds to your bank account – BUT – there are a lot more protections on credit cards that if you suspect fraud and you report it in a timely manner, then you will not have to pay those funds.  I would be very careful of using debit cards at places like gas station pumps, other easily accessible payment locations, like vending machines, and stores you do not frequent or when you travel in new, unknown places.  Never use your debit card for online purchases if you can swing it.  Get a low-balance credit card of $500 – $1000 to make online purchases and pay it off at the end of the month. 

Third Level – High  Security Concerns.  In general, Consumer Reports suggests following the low-cost ways above.  But in my case, I know that my social security number was stolen and it will likely be out in the “Dark Web” for the rest of my life and beyond.  If you think that someone has stolen extremely sensitive information beyond credit card numbers or passwords, you may want to take on a monitoring service that sends you monthly updates and immediate alerts if there are any major changes.  But it can cost up to $15 a month.  These services can monitor not only credit cards but emails, bank accounts, social security numbers for your family, home address, driver’s license number, and passport number.  Here are some possible options if you have concerns:

  1. Check out your bank or credit card company’s website first.  My credit union offers free credit monitoring now.
  2. Did your credit or debit card get compromised at one of these security breaches?  If it did, the company should be offering you free monitoring for at least a year if not 2-3 years.  In 2019 alone, Marriott, Capital One, T Mobile, and Dunkin Donuts had breaches! And that is only the big names and less than  5% of what happened.  Here is a list since the 2000s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_data_breaches
  3. All three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion, offer monitoring services – this will cost between $10-$15 a month. 
  4. There are services like Lifelock that monitor much more than credit such as your social security number and bank accounts.  These also will cost money on a monthly basis. 

For more information on what you can do when there is a problem or how to protect yourself, here are some more sites to visit:

-Chris Linder

Originally published June 1, 2020.

To find out more about Personal Finance issues during COVID-19, go here.

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Loss of Employment and Health Insurance – What do I do Now?

I once did consulting for a German company and my contact was completely baffled why I insisted on purchasing temporary health evacuation insurance when working in Haiti – it was the sheer terror of knowing a health evac can cost $100,000+ one-way.  Health costs are terrifying for all Americans – we’re all one car crash or cancer diagnosis from financial hardship, even for those of us who have saved for many years and have decent health coverage.   I saw this first-hand when working with community health centers for many years across the US.  We at MaineStream constantly see health related debt in collections on credit reports, and health costs are the #1 reason for bankruptcy in the US.  Right now thousands of Americans and Mainers could potentially lose their health insurance families in the coming months not just for them but their entire family if they are laid-off. 

There is hope – below are some options and resources to contact if your clients risk losing health coverage during this tough time when we all need health insurance most.  Also, the Governor has ordered that MaineCare will cover all COVID-19 testing (if other plans cannot) regardless of status of the person. Right now, the Maine Equal Justice Program is suggesting you check if you are eligible for MaineCare if you have lost your job – the criteria have been relaxed significantly.

  • CoverMe.gov: The Governor and State of Maine just launched CoverME.gov (or 800-965-7476) to help Mainers find the best option for them through MaineCare/Medicaid, ACA Health Exchange, and others.
  • US ACA Marketplace Health Insurance Coverage at Healthcare.gov for those without coverage with their employer.  A loss of unemployment is an eligible event to enroll outside of the normal period.  Anthem Blue, Harvard Pilgrim, and Community Health Options all provide plans under ACA. 
  • COBRA: Laid-off workers can also go to the COBRA Continuation Coverage website to see if they are eligible to continue coverage from their former employer’s plan for up to 9 months but you will have to pay most of the cost yourself, including the employer’s portion. You might be able to negoitate that portion with your severance. Your employer should offer this to you in most involuntary departure cases. 
  • There are organizations locally out there who can help you figure this out:  
    • Penquis has a Healthcare Navigator, Theresa Cucinotti. Visit the Penquis Healthcare Navigator page or call 207-973-3500.
    • Most Maine Community Health Centers (CHCs), like Penobscot Community Health Center (PCHC,) have Health Navigators, particularly to help with ACA coverage. Health centers also provide reduced price care based on an income-based sliding scale if you are uninsured (I.e. you don’t have to go to the emergency room for non-emergency care).  Most hospitals will also provide healthcare navigators if you ask.

-Chris Linder

Originally published May 18, 2020

To find out more about Personal Finance issues during COVID-19, go here.