Monday, November 3, 2014

What Happens To Your Internet Accounts When You Die [Community Resources]

Data of the deadSo you want to deal with this now, before you die and leave your family a mess of locked-down digital assets. There are three key things you need to do, says Evan Carroll, co-author of Your Digital Afterlife.
  1. Make an inventory of all your digital assets. That includes the documents on your computer, the photos on your phone, any data stored on thumb drives or backup disks, and every online account, including the ones you no longer use. It’s a big job, but you don’t have to do it all at once, Carroll says. Start with the most important things and work your way down the list. Odds are your primary email account will be number one, since that’s typically where online accounts send password resets. Keep reading for advice on where to store this data.
  2. Figure out what you want to happen to all of this stuff after you’re gone. Do you want your family to have access to all your emails? How about photos? Videos and other material you’ve downloaded? There may be some things you don’t want your loved ones to see. Decide now, and make your wishes known to those you care about.
  3. Assign someone to be your digital executor. Be explicit in your will about what you want to happen to your assets. Don’t assume your survivors automatically have a right to it all, because the law varies greatly from state to state, Carroll says. On his blog, The Digital Beyond, he offers some sample power-of-attorney language to include in your will.
And if like more than half of all Americans you don’t have a will, it’s time to whip one up. Will-making software starts around $30, and some extremely simple last-will-and-testament templates are available online for free.
Things to do on Google when you’re deadYou also want to take a look at your online accounts. Of all the major online service providers, only Google lets you plan for the inevitable ahead of time. Using the innocuously named “Inactive Account Manager,” you can designate a beneficiary who will inherit access to any or all of your Google accounts after a specified period of inactivity (the default is three months).
Google account screenshot

The beneficiary will then have an additional three months to download your data before it gets pulled offline for good. You can even set up an auto-responder from the grave, so to speak, to alert emailers of your passing.

Facebook is probably the next best at this, though your options are more limited. Once a family member has passed, you can ask the network to either delete the account or “memorialize” it, essentially freezing it in time but removing it from features like birthday reminders or People You May Know. You’ll have to provide proof of death via certificate or a published obituary, however. And if you want to download content from the account, you’ll need to obtain a court order.

As for the other main social accounts, some allow you to request that a deceased person’s account be closed, once you provide proof of their demise. Others are totally silent on the matter. LinkedIn makes it pretty easy to delete a dead member’s profile; you can fill out a DocuSign form, digitally sign it, and email it in. There’s no way to preserve any blog posts or other material your loved one has shared, however.

You can ask Twitter to close the account of a deceased family member, but you’ll have to mail it paper copies of your ID, the death certificate, a copy of the obituary (if you have one), and proof that the account actually belongs to the decedent if his Twitter handle doesn’t match his legal name. If you want to remove images of your loved one posted by others, you can request that by emailing (but Twitter makes no guarantees it will honor every request).
Sadly, Yahoo’s death policy is rather stark. It will delete the account upon request and presentation of the death certificate. There are no options to download your loved one’s email, blog posts, or photos, nor can you create a memorial. According to Yahoo’s official policy statement, this is an effort to honor the original privacy choices of the deceased. 

Still, that’s better than Amazon or Apple, which offer no way to officially close an account post mortem. (An Amazon spokesperson says you can close the account of a deceased family member by contacting Amazon customer support.) Worse, you can’t bequeath any of the music, videos, ebooks, and other digital materials a deceased customer paid for. That’s because you don’t actually buy these things, you license them; your right to them expires when you do.

Grave matters
As a practical matter, the best way to ensure that your digital assets pass into the right hands is to share them and your login data before you shuffle off this mortal coil.
(This may violate some terms of service agreements, but why should you care? You’ll be dead.)
Don’t insert login information into your will, advises Carroll; those documents usually become part of the public record, allowing any stranger to gain access to your accounts. Instead, indicate a secure place where your digital executor can find them, like a safe deposit box or an encrypted file in a service like SecureSafe.
PasswordBox screenshot

PasswordBox’s Legacy Locker offers another option. This password manager lets you designate a “digital heir” who will inherit access to your Password Box account — and, by extension, all the logins contained in it. It can also store your credit card, driver’s license, and membership card data and let you securely share your logins before you kick. The advantage here is that if your passwords change or you add accounts, your information is always up to date.
What happens if PasswordBox goes belly-up before you do? The company has secured enough funding and cloud storage to maintain users’ account data “for years to come,” a company spokesperson says.
Whatever you choose to do, start doing it now. Because you never know if your next log-in will be your last.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Importance Of Credit Rating [Community Resources]

People have become increasingly dependent on credit. Therefore, it's crucial that you understand personal credit reports and your credit rating (or score). Here we'll explore what a credit score is, how it is determined, why it is important and, finally, some tips to acquire and maintain good credit.
SEE: 3 Ways To Improve Your Credit Score
What Is A Credit Rating?
When you use credit, you are borrowing money that you promise to pay back within a specified period of time. A credit score is a statistical method to determine the likelihood of an individual paying back the money he or she has borrowed.

The credit bureaus that issue these scores have different evaluation systems, each based on different factors. Some may take into consideration only the information contained in your credit report, which we look at below. The primary factors used to calculate an individual's credit score are his or her credit payment history, current debts, time length of credit history, credit type mix and frequency of applications for new credit. Because the scoring systems are based on different criteria which are weighted differently, the three major credit bureaus in the U.S. (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) may issue differing scores for an individual, even though the scores are based on the same credit report information.

You may hear the term FICO score in reference to your credit score - the terms are essentially synonymous. FICO is an acronym for the Fair Isaacs Corporation, the creator of the software used to calculate credit scores.
Scores range between 350 (extremely high risk) and 850 (extremely low risk). Here is a breakdown of the distribution of scores for the American population in 2003:
What About A Credit Rating?

In addition to using credit (FICO) scores, most countries (including the U.S. and Canada) use a scale of 0-9 to rate your personal credit. On this scale, each number is preceded by one of two letters: "I" signifies installment credit (like home or auto financing), and "R" stands for revolving credit (such as a credit card).

SEE: How Credit Cards Affect Your Credit Rating
Each creditor will issue its own rating for individuals. For example, you may have an R1 rating with Visa (the highest level of credit rating), but you might simultaneously have an R5 from MasterCard if you've neglected to pay your MasterCard bill for many months. Although the "R" and "I" systems are still in use, the prevailing trend is to move away from this multiple rating scale toward the single digit FICO score. Nevertheless, here is how the scale breaks down:
Rating Description
R0 or I0 You are new to the credit world, and you have an insufficient credit history for making an accurate judgment of your future risk.
R1 or I1 You pay your credit back in 1 month.
R2 or I2 You pay your credit back in 2 months.
R3 or I3 You pay your credit back in 3 months.
R4 or I4 You pay your credit back in 4 months.
R5 or I5 You have not repaid in four months, but you are not a "9" yet.
R7 or I7 Your debt payments are made under consolidation.
R8 or I8 Debt was cleared by selling the item (repossession).
R9 or I9 You officially have bad debt (default), which usually means it is uncollectible.

What Makes Up Your Credit Score? 

When you borrow money, your lender sends information to a credit bureau which details, in the form of a credit report, how well you handled your debt. From the information in the credit report, the bureau determines a credit score based on five major factors: 1) previous credit performance, 2) current level of indebtedness, 3) time credit has been in use, 4) types of credit available, and 5) pursuit of new credit.
Although all these factors are included in credit score calculations, they are not given equal weighting. Here is how the weighting breaks down:

As you can see by the pie graph, your credit rating is most affected by your historical propensity for paying off your debt. Although there are many ways you can improve your credit score, the factor that can boost your credit rating the most is having a past that shows you pay off your debts fairly quickly. Additionally, maintaining low levels of indebtedness (or not keeping huge balances on your credit cards or other lines of credit), having a long credit history, and refraining from constantly applying for additional credit will all help your credit score.
Although we would love to explain the exact formula for calculating the credit score, the Federal Trade Commission has a secretive approach to this formula.

Why Your Credit Rating Is Important
When you apply for a credit card, mortgage or even a phone hookup, your credit rating is checked. Credit reporting makes it possible for stores to accept checks, for banks to issue credit or debit cards and for corporations to manage their operations. Depending on your credit score, lenders will determine what risk you pose to them.

According to financial theory, increased credit risk means that a risk premium must be added to the price at which money is borrowed. Basically, if you have a poor credit score, lenders will not shun you (unless it is utterly awful); instead, they'll lend you money at a higher rate than the one paid by someone with a better credit score. The table below shows how individuals with varying credit scores will pay dramatically different interest rates on similar mortgage amounts - the difference in interest, in turn, has a large impact on the monthly payments (which pay off both interest and principal). As you can see, your credit score can affect your mortgage in many ways:

Credit Is a Fragile Thing

Being aware of your credit and your credit score is very important, especially since you can harm your credit without even being aware of it. Here's a true story of what can happen:
Paul applied for a travel reward miles card, but never received any response from the credit card company. Since it was a high-limit travel card, Paul just assumed that he'd been declined and never thought about it again. More than a year later, Paul goes to the bank to inquire about a mortgage. The people at the bank pull up Paul's credit report and find a bad debt from the credit card company. According to the credit report, the company tried to collect for a year but recently wrote it off as a bad debt, reporting it as an R9, the worst score you can get. Of course, all this is news to Paul.
Well, it turns out there was a clerical error, and Paul's apartment suite number was missing from the address the credit card company had on file. Paul had been approved for the card but never actually received it, and any subsequent correspondence didn't get through either.
So the credit card company still charged Paul the annual fee, which he didn't pay, because he didn't know the debt existed. The annual fee collected interest for a year until the credit card company wrote it off. In the end, after jumping though several fiery hoops, Paul was able to get the problem rectified, and the card company admitted fault and notified the credit-reporting agency.
The point is, even though it was a small balance due (about $150), the administration error almost got in the way of Paul getting a mortgage. Nowadays, since all data goes through computers, incorrect information can easily get onto your credit report.
SEE: Check Your Credit Report

Tips to Improve or Maintain a High Credit Score:
  • Make loan payments on time and for the correct amount.
  • Avoid overextending your credit. Unsolicited credit cards that arrive by mail may be tempting to use, but they won't help your credit score.
  • Never ignore overdue bills. If you encounter any problems repaying your debt, call your creditor to make repayment arrangements. If you tell them you are having difficulty, they may be flexible.
  • Be aware of what type of credit you have. Credit from financing companies can negatively affect your score.
  • Keep your outstanding debt as low as you can. Continually extending your credit close to your limit is viewed poorly.
  • Limit your number of credit applications. When your credit report is looked at, or "hit," it is viewed as a bad thing. Not all hits are viewed negatively (such as those for monitoring of accounts, or prescreens), but most are.
  • Credit is not built overnight. It's better to provide creditors with a longer historical time frame to review: a longer history of good credit is favored over a shorter period of good history.
SEE: Check out our credit card comparison tool and find out which credit card is right for you.

The Bottom Line

The importance of credit today is significant; overlooking this fact can be very detrimental to your financial health. Being aware of how your credit score is calculated is essential. By following the tips we have laid out for you, you should be able to either maintain or improve your credit score. Now that you understand the importance of your credit score, here are some of the major sites you can visit to check your credit rating:

How To Over Come Fear And Succeed [Community Resources]

Fear is the greatest obstacle to any entrepreneur. Success requires you to conquer it. Here is how the greats did it.
This country has a great admiration for entrepreneurs. Many people hold up leaders like Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg as heroes, maybe even gods. Some believe them to be invincible superheroes. But, every entrepreneur is human. And each has to battle their fears everyday in order to reach success. And for each fear they conquer, the better the entrepreneur they become.

1. Fear of Failure Failure is the most obvious fear for an entrepreneur. Successful entrepreneurs never lose this fear but rather harness its energy to drive harder, faster and better. And the best know that a bad failure means a great lesson.

2. Fear of Inadequacy Many wonder if they are good enough and smart enough to accomplish greatness. Successful entrepreneurs become great learners so they can fill gaps in their education. They also become masters of recruitment to fill gaps in their capabilities.

3. Fear of the Market Catching the market just right can be like surfing a giant wave all the way to the beach. But just like the ocean, if you miscalculate the wave's trajectory, it will slam you into the sand headfirst and crush you. Successful entrepreneurs show a healthy respect for market forces and study the dynamics so they can capitalize.

4. Fear of Fraud There are few who gain success without some sort of exaggeration of capability or connections. Successful entrepreneurs are careful not to stretch the truth far beyond reality. Even an inkling of legitimacy allows them to maintain credibility.

5. Fear of Selling Although the practice of sales is a necessary requirement for success, most people detest trying to push something on someone else. Successful entrepreneurs want their product or service to be the obvious choice. And they effectively use marketing to attract customers so fewer sales pitches are required.

6. Fear of Public Speaking Not every entrepreneur is a natural evangelist. Some have great ideas yet struggle to articulate them in front of a group of people. Successful entrepreneurs share their vision clearly, powerfully and succinctly. They know that they must be confident on the podium to inspire others to follow the vision.

7. Fear of Leadership Being a leader is a choice that weighs much heavier than just being a boss or starting a company. Successful entrepreneurs know that leadership is their number one priority. They study, listen and sacrifice to make sure the people that follow are continuously inspired, motivated and rewarded for their efforts.

8. Fear of Competition The bigger you get, the more likely someone will come gunning for you. So many people ignore or dismiss potential competitors only to be later surprised and sometimes killed in the battle. Successful entrepreneurs respect and study their competition. They create long-term strategies to differentiate in ways competitors can't follow easily.

9. Fear of Time Entrepreneurs like to be in control, and time is one of the few elements they can't impact one way or another. Successful entrepreneurs understand time is a constant and learn how to harness its power through productivity and efficiency.

10. Fear of Embarrassment Entrepreneurs are proud people and they hate to be shamed in public. Successful entrepreneurs know that showing a healthy amount of humility is the surest way to maintain the respect they crave.

11. Fear of People Many entrepreneurs would do it all themselves if they could. But they can't. Successful entrepreneurs understand that scalability requires the attraction, development and retention of great people. They make sure there are systems and culture in place that make the people the priority in the organization.

12. Fear of Futility No one works this hard or long just to be forgotten. Successful entrepreneurs know they need to make an impact to ever be considered a significant benefactor to society. They take society into consideration in all their work and design for their vision of the greater good.

13. Fear of Self Everyone knows his or her own demons best. Successful entrepreneurs commit time and effort to know and improve themselves. For they loathe to be the one who stands in the way of their own greatness.