Equifax Settlement: Should You Take the Money?

Contributing editor Lisa Gerstner discusses the Equifax data-breach settlement and the recent Capital One breach. Also, hosts Sandy Block and Ryan Ermey offer up strategies for hosting and shopping yard sales.

(Image credit: Anya Berkut)

Ryan Ermey: Just when you were starting to figure out the details on the Equifax settlement, the FTC clarifies, then another breach hits at Capital One. Luckily, our intrepid credit writer Lisa Gerstner is on top of both stories and is here to explain everything to you and us in our main segment.

Ryan Ermey: On today's show, Sandy and I give you tips for profiting from and shopping at yard sales, and a new edition of Deal Or No Deal focuses on scoring bargains at banks and brokerages. That's all ahead on this episode of Your Money's Worth. Stick around.

Ryan Ermey: Welcome to Your Money's Worth. I'm Kiplinger's associate editor Ryan Ermey, joined, as always, by my partner-in-crime Sandy Block. Sandy, how was your weekend?

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Sandy Block: It was good, Ryan. Not as good as yours.

Ryan Ermey: Yes. As the listeners can probably hear, I am fresh from a bachelor weekend in San Diego, which is why my voice might sound a little bit ragged. And I apologize for that. But we have an excellent show for you today.

Ryan Ermey: You know, Sandy, you know what being out in that lovely California sunshine made me think about?

Sandy Block: I can't imagine.

Ryan Ermey: I wish a better segue than what I'm about to do. But summer's a good time, and really I would say high time for yard sales.

Sandy Block: Yes.

Ryan Ermey: And this is the kind of summery hard-hitting content that we like here at Kiplinger's, but always personal finance-related. So we have some tips for your garage sale. And I have some from an unpublished story from my vaults from years ago. You have crowdsourced some. So let's get into it.

Ryan Ermey: My first piece of advice is that you should plan ahead. You don't just decide to go out this weekend and do it. You have to give yourself some time to go through all your stuff. Go room by room, drawer by drawer, put things in boxes. And one of the pieces of advice I got in terms of planning is that Friday actually tends to be a good day to hold a yard sale.

Sandy Block: Better than Saturday?

Ryan Ermey: Well, because Saturday is the day that everyone is doing.

Sandy Block: Ah, competition, yeah, yeah.

Ryan Ermey: You want to be the only game in town. So if you set up bright and early on a Friday, advertise robustly, which we're going to talk about in a minute, you should be able to attract substantial traffic.

Sandy Block: Good deal, Ryan. All right, Fridays.

Ryan Ermey: So, and talking about advertising, you want to advertise online. Craigslist is probably the best source to do it.

Sandy Block: Because people are already looking for used stuff on Craigslist, right?

Ryan Ermey: And Craigslist has a section for-

Sandy Block: Oh, for yard sales, okay.

Ryan Ermey: ... garage and yard sales. So what you're going to want to do is list all the items that you plan to sell beforehand so people can take a look and see if there's any kind of good stuff they want. Although, the one piece of advice here is that you probably shouldn't sell an item before the sale because people may show up wondering where it is.

Sandy Block: Bait and switch.

Ryan Ermey: The other way to advertise is to put up signs the analog way. That's still popular. But no need to get too detailed on the signs, just a big neon arrow that says "sale," because that's all people are going to read anyway. Sale, point them in the direction of your place, and that's pretty much all the advertising you're going to need.

Sandy Block: And that's free.

Ryan Ermey: Now, you want to know what sells before you list your stuff. And I'm going to rattle these off very quickly: tools, small appliances, china, glassware, pet items, children's items-

Sandy Block: Children's clothes, yep.

Ryan Ermey: ... clothes and toys, and sporting goods. For anything electronic, have a power strip or fresh batteries on hand to show the buyers that it works.

Sandy Block: Yes.

Ryan Ermey: Unpopular items, things that you shouldn't put out there: adult clothing, which might be out of style, plus no one can try it on, outdated tech, no one wants your VHS tapes, books, those are probably taken to the library, and big ticket items because you're not going to get a good price. People are going to yard sales looking for a deal. No one is going to give you a good price for your ex-husband's Rolex.

Sandy Block: But you might feel pretty good about selling it cheap.

Ryan Ermey: That's true. What did you learn from your crowdsourcing?

Sandy Block: Okay, this was really interesting. I actually crowdsourced on my Facebook page, and I got some tips for people who give yard sales and also for shoppers at yard sales-

Ryan Ermey: Oh, I like this.

Sandy Block: ... because I used to watch "Antiques Roadshow" all the time, and invariably there'd be some guy or some gal who had something that they bought for $5 at a yard sale that was worth like $10,000.

Ryan Ermey: A fortune, yes, of course.

Sandy Block: And I want to be that person. So obviously people look at yard sales for deals. Usually they find china and kids' clothes and books. But some of the tips that I got I thought were really interesting for getting a yard sale, one is to combine with your neighbors, because then you ... people love neighborhood yard sales. There's more stuff. Then you can combine your advertising. So combine your yard sale.

Sandy Block: One friend, actually, this sort of contradicts something you said, he said that when they held a yard sale, they did have one big ticket item, a washer dryer.

Ryan Ermey: Ooh.

Sandy Block: And because people were interested in that, it drew a lot of people. And even though it sold early, people who came looking for it bought other stuff. So it was a little bait and switch, but not really because they were honest. It just sold soon.

Ryan Ermey: Sure.

Sandy Block: Brought people in. So that was good.

Sandy Block: Our investing editor Anne Smith had a great suggestion. If you have kids, have them set up tables with lemonade and baked goods.

Ryan Ermey: I like that, put them to work.

Sandy Block: Yeah, put them to work, they could make some money. People love that stuff. So I thought that was a really good tip.

Sandy Block: Now, for people who go to yard sales, bring small bills and change.

Ryan Ermey: Yes.

Sandy Block: Because you know that your neighbor's not going to accept your credit card and probably isn't going to be too happy if you pull out a 20, so small bills.

Sandy Block: This was one of my relatives, she said, "Stay hydrated," so she must go to a lot of yard sales.

Ryan Ermey: She's a marathoner.

Sandy Block: And this applies to givers, and shoppers, and sellers. Plan to arrive early. And if you're giving a yard sale, assume people will arrive early. I heard from people who said that people showed up at their house the night before.

Ryan Ermey: That's...

Sandy Block: People take yard sales really seriously. So if you say that the yard sale's starting at 8:00, do expect people to show up at 7:30.

Ryan Ermey: Now, did any of your people give you advice as to whether you should put labels in terms of prices on your items? Because I remember when I reported this story, people seemed to be at odds over whether that's a good philosophy or not.

Sandy Block: That came up in my crowdsourcing too. It was interesting, I got two different views on this. One is yes, price things, because that gives you a bargaining place. And people might offer less, but that basically, you know ... And I think that might apply if you are actually selling things that you think have some value. If the purpose of your yard sale is just to get rid of stuff and maybe make a little bit of money, then I think the argument is no price, just best offer.

Ryan Ermey: So one of the arguments for not doing it that one of my bygone sources made was that she had some old blanket, she would've gotten rid of it for two bucks, but some lady came up and said, "I want the blanket." She said, "Name your price." And she said, "I don't know, 20 bucks?" And she sold it.

Ryan Ermey: But the flip side of that is you don't have a price on something, someone knows that you have something valuable, like say your son's baseball card collection or whatever-

Sandy Block: Right, the Roadshow watchers like me, yeah.

Ryan Ermey: ... you get rid of it for a song, and then whoever's thing that is, is upset, especially if you have all these people kind of coming and going, and different people were helping you out and working it, like we were talking about having the whole neighborhood do it. So that makes it good, organized, and it really gives, to me at least, a sense of stress relief that you don't have to completely make up prices on the fly for everything if people are mobbing you.

Sandy Block: Right. And thanks to online and Ebay, it's pretty easy to get an idea of what things are worth.

Ryan Ermey: Right.

Sandy Block: So I would do a little research, particularly if you have something like baseball cards.

Sandy Block: The final thing I want to mention, Ryan, is several people said this, and I think it's really important, is get help.

Ryan Ermey: Yes.

Sandy Block: Because you're going to have strangers coming to your house. So don't do this by yourself. You really need to have at least one or two other people keeping an eye on the items, keeping an eye on the money.

Sandy Block: One of my relatives said, "If you have an estate sale, you should have somebody in every room of your house," because people have been known-

Ryan Ermey: Sticky fingers.

Sandy Block: ... to go estate sales and walk out with the good china or something like that. So don't do this alone. You do have strangers showing up. You don't know what their intents are. So get help.

Ryan Ermey: Right. And the other side of that advice, you want people watching your stuff to make sure no one walks out with it. You want to keep the cash on your person. Don't have it in a box somewhere on a table that you might walk away from. You want to have a fanny pack or a carpenter's apron or something that you can put cash in. If it gets to be an uncomfortable amount of cash, go inside and put it in your house. And, obviously, like you said, don't accept $100 bills, don't accept checks.

Sandy Block: No checks.

Ryan Ermey: So there you go, advice for shoppers and sellers. Either clean your stuff out or help clean someone else's house out and get new stuff. And protect yourself, make sure that no one steals your beloved stuff.

Ryan Ermey: Bad News, folks, you may not be getting that $125 Equifax settlement. Lisa Gerstner breaks down the details next.

Ryan Ermey: We're back, and we're here with Kiplinger's contributing editor, Lisa Gerstner. And the timing of this interview is serendipitous, or unlucky depending on who you're talking to, because we were planning on talking about this Equifax settlements, and in the interim there's been another breach at Capital One. So Lisa, why are these breaches such a big deal?

Lisa Gerstner: I think it's a couple of things. One is the scale, particularly this Capital One breach that just came out, and then the Equifax breach where they reached a settlement recently. You're talking about a hundred million US individuals with Capital One, that's coming up on a third of the US population. And with Equifax, you're talking about over 147 million people, which is almost half the US population. So there's a good chance you were affected by one or both of these.

Lisa Gerstner: And then, just the type of information that was stolen, there's a lot of different ways that criminals can use it. So with the Capital One breach, I guess, luckily, most of it did not involve Social Security numbers. There were 140,000 people whose Social Security numbers were taken, and 80,000 people who had bank account numbers stolen.

Lisa Gerstner: But the vast majority of it involved names, dates of birth, email addresses, phone numbers, that kind of thing. And while that's not quite as damaging as a Social Security number, it really sets up seeds to do phishing attacks. So they can do these very targeted attacks where they actually use your name and your information, and they might say, "Oh, we see you have this account. Can you confirm that you're the customer by giving us your Social Security number?" There are a lot of ways they can use that to try to get more information out of you possibly. So that's the concern with the Capital One breach. I think that's one of the big things they could do with that.

Lisa Gerstner: And now, with the Equifax breach, it did involve Social Security numbers by and large. And that's a piece of information that criminals can do a lot of harm with. They can open credit lines in your name, get medical care, rent an apartment, file a tax return. There's a lot of really difficult things to deal with that they could do with that. So with the Equifax breach, that's the big concern, and especially because that information can sit around for a long time. Your Social Security number and your birth date generally don't change, so-

Ryan Ermey: Generally speaking...

Lisa Gerstner: ...information about you.

Sandy Block: So Lisa, I already went on the website and found out that I am not affected, and we'll post the link where you can do that. But millions of people were. And I think the big question going on right now, the big question we hear all the time is: What are the details of the settlement?

Lisa Gerstner: There's a few different components. So the first one is that you can choose between two things. You can get 10 years of credit monitoring. So this is where a service will scan your credit reports and look for changes like new accounts that could signal identity theft, or you can choose a cash payment.

Lisa Gerstner: So with the credit monitoring, you're going to get four years of three bureau monitoring, which is good, that covers all three major credit agencies, and you do want to find out what's going on in every one of those reports. So that's actually a pretty good value. I don't know of any other service that offers free monitoring of all three bureaus at once. After that, you get six years of just your Equifax report monitored. So that's one option you have.

Lisa Gerstner: The second one is just to get a cash payment, if you already have credit monitoring, is how they're wording that. So you're supposed to see that as an alternative. And it's been quite confusing and a little bit misleading because at first they were saying, "You'll get $125 if you choose this cash payment." But now it has come out, oh, well, there's actually this limited pool of money that they have for these cash payments, it's $31 million. And so many people have already made a claim that the FTC says, "Actually there's no way you're going to get $125." So-

Ryan Ermey: Yeah, people like free money too much.

Lisa Gerstner: Yeah. People want that money. And many, many people have claimed it. So now their thing, "Oh, you probably want to get that credit monitoring because you're going to be disappointed with the amount you get." The FTC is actually saying this already. Luckily, if you've already made your claim, you do have the option to go back and change it. They say they're going to be emailing people who claimed the cash and giving them the option to take the credit monitoring instead.

Lisa Gerstner: So that's one component of it. The second one is you can get cash reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses that you incurred related to this breach. So that could be fees you paid to freeze your credit reports because at the time the breach came out, people still had to pay fees to do that, fees for credit monitoring, things like that. They say you can even get reimbursed for fraud or identity theft that you experienced. To me, that's a little bit more of a fuzzy area. It's very hard to say, "Oh, this credit card was opened in my name, and it was tied to the Equifax breach." It's hard to say that. It's hard to say how lenient they might be on those claims. So that's just something to keep in mind if you're going to try to claim that.

Lisa Gerstner: And then you can also get up to $25 per hour spent just cleaning up or dealing with the breach in the aftermath. So if you spent time freezing your credit reports or you spent time on the phone with the credit agencies, that's something that you can claim. If you're going to claim less than 10 hours, you actually don't need to even provide any backup for that. You can just kind of describe what it is. Again, they also are saying now that there is a $31 million pot for that. So if people claim more than that in time, you won't get your full fees back on that. So that's something to keep in mind again is, depending on how many claims they get, you may not get everything back that you're asking for.

Lisa Gerstner: And then a couple other things, you get free identity restoration if you are an identity theft victim that lasts for seven years. And everyone in the country, regardless of whether they're a victim of the Equifax breach, get six extra Equifax credit reports free per year. So this is besides the three free ones you get from each bureau at annualcreditreport.com. You can get extra reports from Equifax.

Lisa Gerstner: So those are just some of the main components of the settlement that you should be keeping in mind.

Ryan Ermey: So whether I'm just going for the 125 or if I'm looking for restitution in the sort of bigger amounts that you talked about, what kind of documentation should I be collecting? What do I likely need to provide? And when do I need to provide it by?

Lisa Gerstner: Yeah, so documentation is largely going to apply to those out-of-pocket expenses I was talking about. So for that, you may want to try to dig up old credit card or bank statements to see if you can find where you paid fees, maybe for freezes of credit monitoring.

Lisa Gerstner: I'm actually trying to do that myself, and it's kind of a pain because this news came out almost two years ago at this point. My credit card website doesn't even have those statements available, I have to ask for them. So I asked for them two days ago and now I'm waiting for these statements to come up so I can see, oh, what fees did I pay? Are they on this credit card statement? You have to decide, is it worth the work-

Ryan Ermey: It's like doing a FOIA request.

Lisa Gerstner: ... to do this. And it might be a few bucks a pop if you had to freeze all three of your reports and you spent a few bucks on each one, and then you had to unfreeze them later, and freeze them again. It can add up. So it might be worth doing that. So anyway, bank and credit card statements might help you prove that, any receipts that you have or emails confirming that you bought some service, those are the kind of things I'd be looking for.

Lisa Gerstner: So for these claims, you have until January 22nd of 2020, next year, for any current claims from the breach until now. And then after that, there is an extended deadline. So if something happens next year and the following years, you have until January of 2024 to make those claims. So at least currently you still have a few months if you're kind of taking your time like I am trying to get these old statements and figure out what this is. So that's how you do that.

Lisa Gerstner: Like I said, for the time claims, if it's less than 10 hours, you actually don't need to provide documentation. If it's going to be more than 10 hours, then you do need to find documents, maybe phone records and things like that, to show. And that could be difficult too if this happened two years ago, you know, what kind of records do you have on that?

Sandy Block: So Lisa, even if you're not an Equifax victim, the likelihood that you eventually will be affected by a breach seems pretty high. So should everybody sign up for credit monitoring?

Lisa Gerstner: I think so. Just like you said, Sandy, even if it's not specifically the Equifax breach affecting you, I think we all have to assume our personal information is out there, and we need to be careful. So I think credit monitoring is a good idea. If you can't get the Equifax monitoring from the settlement, there are other options. Credit Karma will monitor your credit for free with a couple of different agencies, and then Experian has one through through freecreditscore.com too, so you can try to cover it that way. Just helps you keep an eye on those reports.

Lisa Gerstner: One thing to keep in mind is that credit monitoring doesn't prevent identity theft. It just shows you if it may have happened, new accounts popping up on your report. So if you're trying to prevent new credit lines from being opened, the best thing you can really do is freeze your credit reports. So that completely blocks lenders from viewing them, and then responds to your request for new credit. So if an identity thief is out there, has your information, and tries to open a credit line in your name, it's unlikely they're going to be able to do that because most lenders aren't going to give out credit without being able to peek at your credit report.

Sandy Block: And you can do that for free, right?

Lisa Gerstner: That's right. So there's a federal law that went into effect that now it's free to both place and lift a freeze on your credit report. So, unlike a couple years ago, you don't have to worry about those fees now.

Ryan Ermey: Well, there you have it, folks. Go get your free credit monitoring if you can. Lisa, do you have that website off the top of your head? It did freak me out because it was a .com, and it was like, "Oh, you got your Social Security number stolen. Here, give us your Social Security number and we'll let you know if you were affected." It did kind of freak me out, but it's a legit site, right?

Lisa Gerstner: It is. And that's very understandable. And it's good to use that caution. So it's equifaxbreachsettlement.com, type it in exactly like that. There's a possibility that there will be imposter sites that are maybe a letter off trying to trick people into giving them their personal information.

Lisa Gerstner: So yes, go directly to that site, and that's where you'll find information that you need on making a claim... to see if you're even eligible for the claim in the first place.

Ryan Ermey: And while you're on the internet, be sure to swing by Kiplinger.com. Lisa has a piece that just came out recently on the Equifax breach. I think by the time this airs, she will have another piece on the Capital One breach. She is our master of all things credit.

Ryan Ermey: And Lisa, thank you so much for coming on.

Lisa Gerstner: Thanks for having me.

Ryan Ermey: Coming up, find out how signing up with a new bank or brokerage could save you a bundle. Don't go anywhere.

Ryan Ermey: We are back, and before we go, another edition of Deal Or No Deal that is really nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to talk about something I'm already working on, which is the Online Broker Rankings, which will be coming out in the October issue of Kiplinger's.

Ryan Ermey: So this upcoming deal isn't actually part of the calculus that goes into the rankings, but brokerages do offer deals that incentivize you to sign up with their brokerage. And all of these I'm going to mention, I mean, they scale up or down depending on how much you deposit. You may not be able to get the full amount that I quote because that may be for people that have $150,000 to deposit. But even on a smaller scale, I mean, you might get some free stuff out of it. If it's $100-

Sandy Block: It's $100.

Ryan Ermey: Yeah. It may not seem like much if you're moving $10,000 over into a brokerage account, but if you're investing in a brokerage account anyway, it's like, if there's a $100 bill on the sidewalk, you're going to pick it up.

Sandy Block: Yeah. Yeah. For sure.

Ryan Ermey: You might even cross the street to pick up.

Sandy Block: Oh yeah.

Ryan Ermey: So here's the current deals. And now, these brokerages, they ... It's like H&M, there's new deals every month. So all of these are expiring soon. So if you have money to move, keep an eye on these, but new deals pop up.

Ryan Ermey: So at TD Ameritrade, you can get up to $2,500 cash to go along with 90 days of commission-free trading for signing up with a brokerage account there.

Ryan Ermey: Schwab will give you $100 if someone who already has a Schwab account refers you, which, you'd think it would be the other way.

Sandy Block: Right. You should get the $100, yeah, the person referring should get the $100. But whatever.

Ryan Ermey: Counter-intuitively, you get the $100-

Sandy Block: It's $100.

Ryan Ermey: ... for being referred.

Ryan Ermey: Merrill Edge will give up to $600 for signing up.

Ryan Ermey: Fidelity will give you up to 500 free trades for two years. Once again, this all depends on how much you're depositing.

Ryan Ermey: Ally Invest, up to $3,500 and 90 days of commission-free trades. Now, the 90 days of commission-free trades happens no matter how much you deposit, but 3,500, you have to deposit I'm sure a small fortune.

Ryan Ermey: First Trade will give you up to $200 and transfer fee rebates for when you transfer your money over. If you're charged a $25 wire transfer fee, they'll rebate you that money. And they'll also give you $50 for each friend that you refer. So that's the normal way.

Sandy Block: Yeah, yeah, you get rewarded for bringing your friends along.

Ryan Ermey: Yeah, Schwab's got it backwards.

Ryan Ermey: And finally, the last deal among the ones that I'm writing up, Trade Station, if you open a new account by August 31st, you get commission-free trading through the end of 2019 if you place six or more trades per month.

Ryan Ermey: And make sure you keep an eye out for my upcoming Online Broker Rankings. It has been a beast of a story to work on. I work hard for the people, trying to save you all some money, find the right brokerage for you. So be on the lookout for that. And I imagine it's something that I'll talk about on these very airwaves.

Sandy Block: And one thing I want to add, Ryan, because I've written about this before, is very often you can get these same kind of deals, say you've got an IRA with a particular financial institution, oftentimes just rolling your IRA into some of these names that you just mentioned, they'll give you several hundred dollars just for doing that.

Sandy Block: So say you've got a 401(k), you want to roll it into, you're retiring and you want to roll into an IRA, or maybe you left your job, look around for these deals, because very often you can get this money simply for moving your money from one account to another. So it's not new money, it's just money that you've had, but you're putting into there, and they will give you money for doing that.

Ryan Ermey: We'll link all this stuff in the show notes, all the deals. And just go with a magnifying glass and read the fine print, and see what you're entitled to.

Ryan Ermey: What do you got for Deal Or No Deal, Sandy?

Sandy Block: Okay. So just before we recorded this today, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter point, which is widely expected. So my deal is online banks, savings accounts with online banks, no one is earning a lot of interest on savings accounts now, but you can earn a whole lot more by banking online.

Sandy Block: And I have a question for you Ryan, when was the last time you walked into a bank branch?

Ryan Ermey: Oh, baby. I mean, other than the ATM outside-

Sandy Block: Right, right, like-

Ryan Ermey: ... honestly, I went into one, it's got to be five years ago now. And I went up to the teller to cash a check or do something. They were like, "You know, you can do that-

Sandy Block: Outside.

Ryan Ermey: ... outside at the ATM." And I was like, "Doesn't the T in ATM stand for teller?'

Sandy Block: Well, and that's my point, why pay for a brick and mortar, because that's basically what ... When you use a brick and mortar bank, you're paying in terms of, oftentimes, higher fees and absolutely no interest.

Sandy Block: In our August issue, we have our annual rating of best banks, and our best internet bank is Ally Bank, which is now paying 2.1% on a savings account. Now, that may not sound like much, but I did a little googling around just before this podcast, and I'm not going to name names, but at some of the bigger banks that have branches that nobody goes into anymore, they're paying rates of about 0.03%, 0.05%. and I did find one example of a big bank that's paying 2%, but in order to get that 2%, you need to have $25,000, you have to have a regular balance of $25,000. so you have to give them $25,000 and not spend it. And you have to walk into the bank and ask for this account.

Sandy Block: So basically, I think most people, if you're comfortable doing your banking online, you take your money out of ATM, you can track your account electronically, you're not going to get a whole lot of money on your savings. But why not get 2% versus oh 0.03%? Why not at least earn a little bit more online? And we'll post our story and some of our rankings of banks and things.

Sandy Block: So shop around, compare rates, and get the best deal on the money that you have.

Ryan Ermey: Sounds like a plan, Sandy.

Ryan Ermey: That's it for this episode of Your Money's Worth. For show notes and more great Kiplinger content on the topics we discussed on today's show, visit kiplinger.com/links/podcasts.

Ryan Ermey: You can stay connected with us on Twitter, Facebook or by emailing us at podcast@kiplinger.com. And if you like the show, please remember to rate, review, and subscribe to Your Money's Worth wherever you get your podcasts.

Ryan Ermey: Thanks for listening.

Sandra Block
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.