We certainly live in peculiar and complex times. Today’s column offers two money tips. One involves a huge consumer privacy breach and the other involves the inexplicable plunge in interest rates.

Remember the highly publicized Equifax privacy breach back in late 2017? Equifax failed to protect the personal data of nearly 150 million people. To put the number into perspective, that represents about half of the population of the United States. For a credit bureau entrusted with personal data on almost every consumer around, it’s safe to say it was a big deal.

Now almost two years later, Equifax has reached a settlement with both the federal government and all 50 states. As part of the settlement, Equifax has agreed to provide multiple benefits to affected people.

The most attractive benefit of the settlement is the offer to provide — for free — up to 10 years of credit monitoring. This is equivalent to about $1,200 to $1,800 of value. The government forced Equifax to pay its competitor, Experian, to provide the monitoring service for the first four years. And, among other offered benefits, those affected by the breach will also qualify for free identity theft insurance protection of $1 million.

To find out if you are eligible, go to EquifaxBreachSettlement.com. It takes mere seconds to check and only a few more minutes to file a claim for your benefits.

Speaking of free money, this brings me to my second tip.

Have you noticed what has happened to interest rates lately? If you haven’t, now is the time to take notice of today’s rock-bottom mortgage rates. It might make financial sense to consider refinancing. This is especially the case for those who bought their home around 2010, 2013 and even in late 2017 when mortgage rates were much higher.

Here’s an easy example of the possible merits of today’s refinancing opportunity. Imagine you originally took out a $200,000 mortgage back in 2010 with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage of 5%. In this case, your monthly principal and interest payment is about $1,075.

After diligently making the last 10 years of mortgage payments, you’d still owe about $165,000 with 20 years left to pay. That’s just the perverse math of a mortgage during the early years. Fortunately, the principal paydown really accelerates in the later years.

Now, with the very recent plunge in interest rates, it’s possible you could be offered a new 20-year mortgage rate of close to 3.5%. At this lower level, you could reset your mortgage payment to around $950 per month and save about $1,500 per year.

Keep in mind that banks won’t refinance a mortgage for free. The closing costs need to be closely reviewed and evaluated against your expected savings. Of course, be sure to shop around. And, remember the longer you plan to stay in your home the more compelling a refinancing becomes.

Jason P. Tank, CFA is both the owner of Front Street Wealth Management, a purely fee-only advisory firm and the founder of the Money Series, a non-profit program committed to providing open-access to financial education, for all. Contact him at (231) 947-3775, by email at Jason@FrontStreet.com and at www.FrontStreet.com.

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