Target's credit card gaffe
Stay focused if you did any holiday shopping at Target, said Gregory Wallace at CNN. The big box retailer suffered a pre-Christmas hacking scandal in which credit and debit card data from 40 million accounts was stolen from its computers. The purloined data includes names, card numbers, expiration dates, security codes, and encrypted PINs for millions of customers who shopped between November 27 and December 15. If that could be you, look for a notice from Target, which is offering compromised customers free credit monitoring, a telephone hotline, and storewide discounts. Monitor your statements vigilantly for unauthorized transactions, and call Target, your bank, and your credit card company if you see any. In the meantime, "request a replacement card — if one isn't already on the way — and change your PIN."
Tips for preparing your 2013 return
Tax season is approaching quickly, said Beth Braverman at The Fiscal Times. The IRS will begin accepting 2013 tax returns at the end of January, so "now's the time to start thinking about and preparing" your annual paperwork. To avoid costly tax mistakes, start by putting down the pen and paper. The roughly 20 percent of filers who still fill out their returns the old-fashioned way are "much more likely to introduce math errors or simple mistakes." If you hire a tax preparer, "look for someone who's either a certified public accountant (CPA) or an enrolled agent (EA)." And don't drag your heels if you're eager for your tax refund. "Early filers get their refunds more quickly than laggards; plus, starting early gives you a time cushion if you discover missing documents or need to verify information."
Cleaning up your credit score
A bad credit score can cost you, said Kelley Holland at CNBC. Experts say that a poor credit rating can cause a consumer's interest rates to soar, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of mortgages and other big loans. In fact, "a truly low score can make it impossible for you to obtain credit at any rate." Insurance companies can refuse to issue policies, and employers still use credit scores to evaluate job applicants. To clean up your score, start by obtaining a copy of your own credit report. Write to the credit bureaus to correct any errors, and improve your financial habits. Pay bills on time, don't carry a balance, and use no more than 30 percent of your available credit.