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This month’s blog post is written by guest author James Owen. Read below to see how James used the Equifax and Capital One data breaches as an opportunity to survey, secure and strengthen his credit and financial foundation.

Despite my careful privacy moves, I got quite the double whammy last year. Not only did I find out that my information was stolen in the Equifax data breach, but I’m also a Capital One customer.

The irony doesn’t stop there. I applied for my Capital One credit card to help build my credit score and lower my credit utilization (the travel miles were just a nice added benefit).

Both Equifax and Capital One offered free credit monitoring to affected customers, and I took advantage of both. However, I didn’t stop there. I decided to use this wake-up call as an opportunity to take a few proactive steps toward stronger personal financial security. Here’s my own plan: Survey, Secure, and Strengthen.

First, I pulled my credit report to survey my situation. You can pull your own credit report three times each year – once from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. It’s free. Just visit www.annualcreditreport.com.

You can pull all three at the same time, or pull one every four or so months. I like the second strategy because it gives me the opportunity to get a snapshot of my credit and check for discrepancies more often. If you have a suspicion or have received an alert about your credit, it might be worth it to check all three at once since they may have different information.

Luckily, I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. If I ever do, though, some actions to secure your situation might be to change the passwords at websites that have data breaches or looking into freezing your credit.

Once you’ve surveyed the situation and taken steps to secure against the immediate problems, you can start to bail out the water by strengthening your financial foundation. For me, this means cutting my spending and continuing to pay my balances off every month. Or, if your credit report indicates you don’t have a long credit history, find a credit counselor that can help you navigate the credit building waters. There are many free resources available for credit counseling.

Above all, start the habit of checking in on your fiscal situation regularly. Know how much you’ve saved, how your budget is holding up, and what’s on your credit report.

Also utilize legitimate credit monitoring services to protect against the next data breach that comes your way.

 About the Author

James Owen is the inaugural Southern Bancorp Ambassador, a two-year fellowship that addresses organizational and community challenges to building wealth across Arkansas, Mississippi, and the rural South. James recently graduated with a Master of Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government; he also holds a BA in Politics from Hendrix College.