Dear Mary: My father has been the victim of elder abuse. His sister, who was his caregiver, has charged $21,000 on his credit cards. We are trying to determine what accounts he has open and take action to close all of the accounts. What should we do? Thank you for all that you teach us. You help us in hundreds of ways. — Veronica E., email
Dear Veronica: First, you need to call every one of his accounts and report the cards as lost or stolen. Do not close the accounts! The card companies will cancel the numbers and send him new cards. When they arrive, make sure Ms. Abuser is not picking up the mail, and put the new cards into a vault. This will allow you to keep the accounts open, but she will no longer have the correct information to use them. If she tries to use the cards, they will be denied. If he wants to use them, you'll have to call the 800 number to activate them first.
Next, get all three of his credit reports ASAP. You can access them on the Annual Credit Report website and put a fraud alert on each of the reports. Also, if he will cooperate, you need to file a dispute against every single charge she has made. The credit card companies will have to reverse all the charges if he signs an affidavit stating that he did not authorize those charges and she did this without his permission. Be warned: They will come after her with criminal charges, and they should.
Dear Mary: With all the economic turmoil, many name-brand stores are closing, and people have credit cards from these stores. What happens to your credit rating if one of these stores goes under and you have a credit card with them? What happens with the cards that still have balances?
Do people have to pay the total balance before the store closes? I'm sure there are many people, such as myself, who would like to know. — Stephanie K., New Jersey
Dear Stephanie: I checked with my colleague and credit score expert Liz Pulliam Weston (author of "Your Credit Score: How to Improve the 3-Digit Number That Shapes Your Financial Future"), and she said: "In credit scoring terms, it doesn't matter who closes the account: you or the issuer. Some people incorrectly think it's a bigger black mark if the lender shuts it down, but that isn't true. The leading FICO scoring formula doesn't differentiate." Liz went on to say that closing a credit card account reduces your available credit. That's a negative for your credit score. How big a negative depends on a variety of factors, but if you have other cards and lots of available credit, it shouldn't be a big concern.
As for carrying a balance on a credit card from a store that files for bankruptcy, your account will be managed by a court-appointed receiver. While the specifics will vary from one case to another, there is no chance in the whole world that the debt will be forgotten. You still owe.
Dear Mary: I love your website and Everyday Cheapskate daily emails! I have recommended your site to all my friends. I also love saving money with your homemade laundry detergent. Do you have a recipe for dishwasher detergent as well? — Paula, Texas
Dear Paula: I would not recommend making your own automatic dishwasher detergent. I've tried; I've researched; and I suggest that all alternatives will be disappointing.
I also do not suggest that you boost or extend your commercial brand detergent with baking soda or borax. You will end up with either dirty dishes or dishes and glassware that have become permanently etched.
Your best money-saving tip is to measure carefully the amount of detergent you use in each load of dishes. Use a tablespoon measurer, not the ever-popular dumping method. Or buy dishwasher pods, and use one per load. Consult your dishwasher owner's manual. Be sure to wash only full loads and store your automatic dishwasher detergent in a cool, dry place, which is probably not under the sink where this product is usually stored. A moist environment can render dishwasher detergent ineffective in a short time.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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