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On July 22, 2019 the civil settlement of the Equifax data breach in 2017 was announced.  As was reported in the fall of 2017, including in our article here, Equifax, one of the major 3 credit bureaus, suffered a data breach that exposed personal information on over 140 million Americans.  This is more than half the adults in the United States, so if you’re not sure if you’ve one of those affected, odds are slightly better than not that your data was exposed, but there is now a definitive way to know if your personal information was exposed.

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Key Things to Know

The first thing to determine is whether you’re eligible for a remedy in the settlement, because your data was exposed in the breach.  To find out, you can go to this website: https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/eligibility.  You will need to enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security Number (SSN).  Please note that this website is not operated by either Equifax or the government, but by the Settlement Administrator.  Based on the website copyright information and other contact information it would appear that the settlement administrator is JND Legal Administration.

This process to determine eligibility seems simple enough, so the next step is understanding what you could get if you are qualified.  As you could likely guess, there is access to credit monitoring and identity protection products, and there is cash.  While the cash might seem preferable, there are some things to consider:

  1. The entire settlement is for $575 million, and that will include money to pay attorney’s fees and other professionals involved in the settlement.  So it appears there is about $425 million available for actual remedies, based on information provided on the FTC website.  Since there’s over 140 million people eligible for the settlement that leaves about $3 per person if everyone were to file a claim.
  2. While the cash will be as much as $125 per person (although the math works out to much less available), the available access to credit monitoring is guaranteed to eligible individuals regardless of how many people file a claim.

Non-cash Remedies for Eligible Claimants

The main non-cash remedy is a total of 10 years of credit monitoring services, provided free, with the first 4 years being access to 3-bureau credit monitoring (the three main bureaus being Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union), and the remaining 6 years being access to single bureau credit monitoring, of your Equifax credit bureau data.


Cash Remedy for Eligible Claimants

If you already have credit monitoring, and you would prefer cash, that is available.  Here’s the problem – you would only get $125 if 248,000 or fewer of the other 140 million (in other words 0.18%) eligible claimants took the cash. There was only $31 million set aside for the cash remedy.  So the $125 was really a maximum figure, if everyone takes the cash the pool doesn’t grow but simply gets split among all the claimants.  If all 140 million eligible claimants all opted for the cash each person would only get $0.22.

This is why you may have seen news reports over the last few days advising folks not to opt for the cash.  Obviously, the entire arrangement of the pools for the remedies could have been better, but this is where we are.  Somehow it was determined that credit monitoring for 10 years is worth $125 (even though freely available services like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and others exist), but again, the overall settlement including $425 million for consumer remedies, to cover up to 140 million people so that indicates that the actual spend in products and services is $3 per person, but the value is $125 – that never really works out.

So bottom line is that the settlement options aren’t great – but given that you could end up with as little as $0.22 in cash, you would be better off taking the 10 years of credit monitoring, even if it’s duplicate to an existing service you subscribe to, or simply wait and see.

Filing Deadline and Key Dates

The July 22nd announcement of the settlement was publicizing the proposed settlement – it still needs to be approved by a judge.  That is scheduled to occur on December 19, 2019.  Obviously it’s possible that after reviewing the settlement and determining that half the people in the claim pool opted for cash and they would spend more on postage for 70 million checks than the value of the checks things could change.  It’s also possible the settlement gets approved as is.

Two other key dates to consider – one before the hearing and one after:

  • One month before the hearing, November 19, 2019 is a deadline for opting out of the settlement, or remaining in the settlement class but filing a formal objection.  We do not provide legal advice at Credit Wizard, but in short – opting out of the settlement means that you retain the right to sue Equifax for damages caused by the breach, but must then hire your own attorney, pay any filing fees, and generally speaking pursue the claim from scratch.  Objecting to the settlement, if you so chose, does keep you in the class, so you won’t need to do any additional work to receive your remedy (once you registered your claim as described above).  If either of these seem like options you may want to consider we recommend you speak with an attorney.
  • A little more than one month after the hearing, January 22, 2020, is the deadline to file your claim.  So you can wait until after the hearing if you would like to decide whether to file your claim, and to choose your remedy.  In the interim between November 19 and January 22 your options will have been reduced – if you do not opt out or object by the earlier date, you cannot do it after you see if the settlement as proposed is approved or rejected and revised.  But if by chance many fewer people take the cash than is currently feared you may decide you want to take the cash remedy because the award is going to be in the area of $10-$20 and you want breakfast or lunch on Equifax, while if the numbers as the deadline approaches are as expected and the cash is under $1 so you take the credit monitoring, that’s fine too.

That’s what the wait and see approach is – but be sure to set your reminder for mid-January 2020 to review the options, file the claim. and make sure you get what you’re owed.  Instead, if you’re certain that you would like 10 years of credit monitoring – basically set it and forget it – file your claim now and you need not worry.  And likewise, if you really want the cash – even if it’s just 22 cents, file now and get it over with.  We hope this helps, and will provide another update if circumstances warrant it later in the year.