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Sep 16, 2022

We welcomed back Karen Poff to the show today. Karen manages the Northern Shenandoah Valley Financial Education Program through Virginia Cooperative Extension. The goal of the program is to help people manage money more effectively. They offer workshops, series classes, speakers for groups, and individual consultations about personal finances, budgeting, credit, banking, insurance, recordkeeping, getting out of debt, identity theft, planning for retirement, and other topics that can help you secure a healthy financial future. These programs are funded through tax dollars and in most cases there is no fee to the participant.

Karen serves the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Page, and Warren as well as the City of Winchester. If you'd like to hear other conversations I've had with Karen on a wide range of money-related topics, click here.

We tackled six of the most popular questions that are asked during the Managing Your Money Series that Karen offers several times a year. Karen was generous enough to share all of her notes from our conversation as well as links.

I need legal advice, but I can’t afford a lawyer. Is there any way I can get help?

Blue Ridge Legal Services: This is the nonprofit legal aid society providing free civil legal assistance to low-income residents of the Shenandoah Valley and Roanoke Valley of Virginia.

To apply for assistance, contact the office between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.

Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc.

P.O. Box 436

303 S. Loudoun Street, Suite D

Winchester, VA 22604



(540) 662-5021

(800) 678-5021 (Toll free for clients)

Virginia Lawyer Referral Service: If you think you need a lawyer, we will work to connect you with an attorney in your area for $35. You then receive a consultation of up to half an hour with a Virginia lawyer who can help you figure out your best next step.

Finding a Lawyer Using VLRS

Call (804) 775-0808 (metro Richmond)

or (800) 552-7977 (Statewide and Nationwide Toll-Free Number)

Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed on state and federal holidays. The VLRS is a telephone-only service; it does not handle walk-in customers.


With all of the security breaches and identity theft out there, how can I protect myself?

Fraud Alert/Extended Fraud Alert (Free)

  • Alerts the credit agency to potential fraud
  • Requires identity verification before issuing credit
  • Lasts one year/seven years

Credit Lock (May or May Not Be Free)

  • You ‘lock’ and ‘unlock’ your credit file from your mobile phone
  • There may be a fee

Credit Freeze (Free)

  • Restricts access to your credit file
  • Stays in place until you lift it
  • Available for minors (under age 16)


How do I cash in my old paper Series EE savings bonds?

Some financial institutions are still cashing them for people, so you can call yours to see if they do. If not, you can mail them in with FS Form 1522, which you can download from If the value of the bonds is over $1,000, you need to get the form notarized. Be sure to send it certified, return receipt requested, and insured, since you’ll need to include the original bonds.


Will getting pre-qualified for a mortgage cause my credit score to drop?

A pre-qualification is a soft inquiry, which does not affect your credit score. But a preapproval is a hard inquiry and will likely drop your score a little bit. For more information about the differences between prequalification and preapproval, you can check out this article:


How does Buy Now, Pay Later affect my credit score?

Buy now, pay later loans are point-of-sale installment loans that allow a purchase now and payment in the future. Most of them are usually only a ‘soft’ credit inquiry. They accept payments with bank accounts, debit cards, credit cards, etc. They may not report positive payments to the credit bureaus. There is usually no interest, but they charge late fees if you miss a payment. They don’t have the same protections as credit cards.

Each company has its own terms and conditions, so it is important to read the fine print. Some do a ‘hard’ inquiry, some charge interest, some charge additional fees, etc. Know what the payment terms are, what happens if you pay late, what the return policies are, etc. And realize that this is consumer debt, just like a credit card or loan, and should be included in your debt-to-income ratio. Also, people report that they tend to spend more when using buy now, pay later than they would otherwise.

Any time a loan is offered to you on-the-spot, such as for buy now, pay later, or car repairs, or buying furniture, etc. think to yourself – can I get a better deal on this loan somewhere else?


Is it safe to use P2P payment systems?

Peer-to-peer payment systems let you send money to others quickly and easily. Examples are Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, and Zelle. They are linked to a form of payment, such as a bank account, credit card, or pre-paid card. Many are offered by non-bank companies, so your money is not insured by FDIC for the time it is not in your bank account. Those that are offered directly through a bank (such as Zelle), offer a little more protection. They may charge fees to sign up, send money, receive money, use a credit card, or make a transaction.

Be sure you understand their policies and what will happen if something goes wrong. Be sure you understand what fees they charge. For example, paying from your bank account might be free but there is a charge for a credit transaction (or vice-versa).  Knowing the policies will help you avoid fees as much as possible. Also, know their policies for resolving disputes. What happens if they make a mistake and pay the wrong person or the wrong amount or if you mistype something and pay the wrong person or if there is identity theft/fraud related to your account.

They also may share or sell your information. So know their privacy policies and use the privacy settings you prefer. If you are uncomfortable using particular service, just tell the person paying you that you want to be paid another way.


How can you get your own questions answered?

Sign up to get information about Managing Your Money classes:

Sign up for a Quick Money Chat: